After a night of soup and grilled cheese in the camper (and de-thawing and warming up from our boat trip), Andrew and I packed up our day packs with cameras, layers, and snacks for a morning hike. We woke up at 4AM, got dressed, grabbed our gear and headed out. Our destination: Mount Marathon (or at least part of it). We had plans to do some other things in Seward today, but we really wanted to hike at least part of the famed Mount Marathon.
Let me step back. Mount Marathon is located pretty much in downtown Seward. Its apex is 3,022 feet above sea level. As the story goes (and like so many things), some guys were in a bar in Seward talking about how it would be impossible to get to the top of the mountain and back down in an hour. One guy claimed it wasn’t impossible and so, Mount Marathon was born. While he did not make the 60 minute time limit, he did create a tradition in Seward that still lives on today. Every year on the 4th of July, people from all over the world come to Seward to run a slippery, rocky, dangerous, and ridiculously unsafe route straight up Mount Marathon and back down. Every year, a whole handful of runners are injured. One year, a runner was event lost (and as a result, certain safety rules were added). Still, these crazy thrill-seekers come out and make their way up and down… for the glory and the pride, regardless of the probability of broken bones. Interestingly enough, there is a hospital located at the start of the racing route (coincidence, I think not). The race itself is about 3.1 miles from start to finish with average uphill speeds of 2mph and average downhill speeds of 12mph. Here’s a picture of the top of the mountain from somewhere along the trail that we took- see the line that goes basically straight up and down? That’s the up-route. The down route is that curved line that coming in from the right.
While hiking this straight up and down route seems tantalizing, we put aside our dare-devil tendencies and instead set our eyes on the Jeep Trail— an old rock road that goes up to the town’s water supply. From there, you can jump on the Sheffield Waterfall trail that supposedly has a more gradual incline around the mountain, past the Sheffield Waterfall, into the Marathon Bowl, and up the spine of Mount Marathon to its peak. As I mentioned earlier, we had other things planned for the day, including a drive to another campground out of Seward and towards Homer. For this reason, our goal was to make it to the tree line if possible before we needed to turn around. Here. Here’s the map at the trailhead (I added the yellow arrows to show the general route we would have taken to go all the way up).
As mentioned in a previous post, we were camping in the state campground directly on the water (close to the harbor) because of our boat trip and its early departure. From this point, the Jeep Trail Head of Mount Marathon is a little less than 1 mile walk a little towards downtown Seward. You simply leave the state campground and walk to the main straight and make a left. You walk down to Jefferson Street and make a right. You walk straight down Jefferson until you hit the trail head (about 3 blocks). Not too shabby. At the trail head you will find a sign and simple map posted that shows a variety of trails going up and around Mount Marathon (posted above). Tip- we took a picture of the map with our cell phones so we’d have a reference just in case. I’ll note here that a lot of the references I found online prior to this trip stated that the trail was really hard to follow. It was definitely questionable in some areas on which way you were supposed to go, but generally speaking you could find your way. We did end up using the map once or twice.
After taking the obligatory “before hiking” photo, we started up the Jeep Trail. Think baseball, softball, and basketball-sized rocks covering a 45 degree-angled trail. That’s basically what we were hiking up. It was rough and tiring but because of the steepness of the trail, we made more ground at a faster clip than what we had anticipated. As you climb further up the mountain, the rocks yield to a more typical tree needle and dirt path, still on a fairly hefty incline. You get a chance to see just how enormous the trees really are and there are a few places were stumps of fallen trees remain and those stumps are at least 7 feet tall. We got some great pictures through the forest. We were also hiking completely alone; it was awesome.
We continued on and much to our surprise, we reached the tree line in less time than we thought, so we could continue on the trail that wound around the mountain. Ah relief at last we thought, but to no avail. The trail continues its grueling up-hill path (admittedly with a few reprieves here and there). In a few places I was even crawling up because of how slippery and steep the trail became at points— which is crazy considering the trail we were on is the easy trail in comparison with the running route. At one point we did hike off the trail a bit and up a small hill to a clearing in the trees where we had a beautiful view of the water, mountains, and our campground. We really lucked out with the weather on this day.
We continued on, approaching our time turn-around deadline, being passed by one other person who was hiking with his dog and just booking it. It was quite obvious that he hikes this mountain fairly often, telling us the shortest way to the top and what not. We continued on and started climbing another steep portion towards the Marathon Bowl (after both a snow and two minor stream crossings) until we could again see Seward below us. From here, we were shocked to see that we also had full service on our cell phones. We checked in with my parents who were around the camper and actually pulled out their binoculars and could see us waving way up on the mountain. After a brief chat with them, we also called Andrew’s parents to check in and say hello. We were able to FaceTime with them— on a mountain. How crazy is that?! I know I know, who makes a cell phone call while on a hike, but admit it- if you’re going to check in with your parents and say hello, that’s a pretty sweet place to do it- especially since we could show them the scenery.
After the call, we decided to head back down the mountain. We didn’t make it to the waterfall, but we did make it much further than we had planned. We will definitely do this hike again sometime so we can get to the peak. We made it back down in one piece and walked back down to the harbor to grab some breakfast from a local restaurant called, “The Bakery”. We dined on breakfast burritos with eggs, cheese, pico de gallo, and reindeer bacon (at least we think it was—definitely wasn’t regular bacon). After breakfast, we stopped by the Kenai Fjords National Park Visitor Center (on the harbor) and then we headed back to the RV, packed up shop and headed into downtown Seward. My parents dropped Andrew and I a few blocks from the Sea Life Center where we strolled down the main street, looking at giant murals and paintings on the walls of the buildings in town. We also made an obligatory awesome coffee stop at Resurrection Coffee Company, an old church that had been turned into a coffee shop. We ordered our coffees and browsed around the awesome insides- covered with arts and crafts created by local artists. We purchased a small carved twisty piece of birch wood that has a tag stating it was handmade in Seward, AK. I think it will make a most excellent Christmas Tree Ornament.
After coffee, we walked down to the Seward Sea Life Center and paid our general admission dues so that we could go in and see the sights and exhibits (we did not opt to do any behind the scenes tours). The Sea Life Center is actually pretty cool- it consists of two floors with the lower floor boasting a large gift shop and the upstairs boasting exhibits, hands on exhibits, and of course, the Sea Life! They have areas and tanks with sea birds (including puffins!), stellar sea lions, harbor seals, and sea otters. You can watch from inside or you can walk outside and look at the animals. While it’s super cool to see the animals up close, you can’t help but feel really bad for them considering how small and cramped their quarters are… on our boat tour, we saw these magnificent creatures in all their glory- free to move and go wherever they want at any time. Here, a giant mammoth stellar sea lion is stuck in a tank that only allows him to swim in a circle. Pretty sad when you think about it.
The displays at the center included information on how the different species of animals are doing since the latest oil spill, hands on games that teach about over-fishing, and videos and signs about the importance of our oceans and protecting them. The day we were there, they also had some kids coloring and other activities going on as well as a raffle contest. My mom entered and one a bag with some Sea Life Center items.
After our trip around the Sea Life Center, we walked the pretty much 1-block distance to the Seward Brewery, where we purchased a glass growler and had it filled with Rockfish Red beer. Since we were in a hurry to get on our way to a glacier and then on to our campground for the night, we didn’t stay and have samplers or food—but the place looked really cool and you can look through a large glass window when you walk in the door to see their brewing set-up. We will definitely be coming back here next time!
On our way out of town, we stopped by the Smoke Shack to pick up lunch—an old railroad car converted into a BBQ restaurant. We went in and ordered food to go and we were welcome to sit down and they brought us water while we waited- great hospitality and delicious food! We ended up with pulled pork sandwiches (mine was a bit different- made with jalapenos and maple syrup, yes please). They also had a selection of about 6 different sauces from orange-jalapeno (not as spicy as you think!) to a vinegar sweet and sour to chipotle ranch. Everything was delicious and the sandwiches were huge! We also got an appetizer of Cajun brie- basically think melted brie, tomatoes, jalapenos, and onion with some chipotle seasoning and served up with crostini. Perfecto!!! Definitely check this place out!
From Seward, we drove a bit up the road to Exit Glacier; still a portion of the Kenai Fjords National Park. Here you can take a trail that goes right up next to the glacier. At one point you could touch the glacier and even walk on it, but it has receded and become unstable, so now you can just walk up next to it (still pretty awesome). Additionally, you can backpack up past the glacier to the Harding Ice Field where all of the Kenai Fjords Glaciers stem from. You can camp up their and do further exploration and hiking (put it on the list for next time).
After Exit Glacier, we finished our drive to Russian River Campground, about ½ the way to Homer (located on the opposite side of the Kenai Peninsula from Seward). We set up shop and made dinner. A wonderfully awesome day!
Resources and Tips for the Traveler:
- Take a picture of the trail map before starting a hike (especially with Mount Marathon—some off-shoots of the trail that aren’t clearly marked)
- Take snacks on your hike—you may not be hungry when you start hiking, but you will be (string cheese is light and delicious)
- Seward Sea Life Center– Probably not necessary if you did the boat tour into Kenai Fjords NP and saw a lot of wildlife, but it is still interesting to see the animals up close and to check out the exhibits and demos (Cost: $20; discount for military and AAA)
- Smoke Shack (Trip advisor link; no website)- great lunch stop on the way out of town (Address: 411 Port Avenue, Seward).
- Marathon Campground on the Water (for RVs) (Cost: $15/night or $30 with hook-ups; they do check to make sure you registered; Check out the Seward City campground website for more information: http://www.cityofseward.us/index.aspx?NID=864)
- Kenai Fjords NP Visitor Center (Seward Address: 1212 4th Avenue, Seward)
- Bakery on the Harbor (Trip advisor link; no website)- great for breakfast and coffee before the boat! (Address: 1210 4th Avenue, Seward)
- Seward Brewery (We paid $25.68 for a Glass Growler filled with beer; Address: 139 4th Avenue, Seward ); Buy a growler and have it filled; then you can stop at other breweries along the way and just refill the growler!
- Exit Glacier (Cost: None Address: Turn onto Exit Glacier Road at Milepost 3 of the Seward Highway. Continue 8.4 miles and you will end up in the parking lot ); Cool hike! After you walk up to the glacier, take the trail that goes out to the glacier view point—it’s a great vantage point of the riverbed and the entire glacier and definitely worth it! Also, if you have more time, you can hike up to the Harding Icefield where this glacier (and many others) originate. You can also camp up there! We will be doing that next time!
*Note- be sure to say hi to the guy in the Exit Glacier Visitor Center! He’s a character and super-friendly!