As the sun starts to come up for longer hours and melt away the snow from the mountains, many outdoor enthusiasts, becoming antsy after a long winter, are finding their way into the highlands.
Hatcher Pass is about 50 miles away from Anchorage and provides an easy getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city. Whether you are looking for an overnight backpacking trip or just a day hike to beautiful alpine lakes, Hatcher Pass can be the perfect spring escape into the mountains.
Hiking in the mountains does come with its hazards. Before you go out, make sure you have the correct equipment and knowledge about the area. The hikes listed here are considered to be medium to hard hikes. They cross over dormant glaciers, and although they are considered dormant glaciers it doesn’t mean they are safe to cross with limited gear or experience.
If you are looking for a first-time hut trip experience and a quick glacier crossing, Snowbird Hut is a great place to start. The hut was rebuilt in 2010 and can sleep up to 12 people. The trail that takes you up to the Snowbird Hut is 5 miles one-way and is fairly steep. You can park at the Reed Lakes Trailhead just off of Archangel Road.
The start of the hike is fairly flat as you walk back into Reed Valley. At the first trail junction you will take a left and start to climb up and out of the valley. This part can be steep, muddy and rocky at times. Once you are at the top of the valley, walk out across the Snowbird Glacier until you get to a big red arrow on a boulder that will lead you off of the glacier and up to the hut.
Miranda Sheely was born and raised in Colorado and hiked to Snowbird Hut on her first Alaska hut trip.
“I really enjoyed this hike because it was a great way for me to get my feet wet with crossing a glacier and getting away from the crowds,” she said.
Sheely did it just as a one-night trip with two friends. The highlight of her trip was watching water run down the glacier then disappear hundreds of feet into the moulin, which is a well-like shaft that is nearly vertical within a glacier where water percolates from the surface.
When hiking to the Bomber Hut you also start at the Reed Lakes Trailhead. Most people like to hike to Reed Lakes for a fun day-hike. The hike to the upper lake and back is about a nine-mile round trip. If nine miles sounds like a lot to do in one day, then you can spend the night at the Bomber Hut. If you go a mile past Upper Reed Lake you will cross the Bomber Glacier and reach the Bomber Hut. This extra mile is not easy because you have to scramble up a rocky pass, and coming off of it onto the Bomber Glacier is very steep and can be challenging at times.
One of the highlights that people talk about on this trip is the remains of a TB-29 Superfortress plane crash on the glacier. This plane crashed on the glacier on Nov. 15, 1957 and killed six of the ten crewmembers aboard.
If you do plan on staying at the Bomber Hut, it is a first-come and first-serve hut, members-only. To become a member, you will have to pay $20 to the Mountaineering Club of Alaska (MCA). The membership fee gives you access to seven huts for one whole year.
The Mint Hut is also part of the MCA hut system in Hatcher Pass. This is one of the few huts that does not involve crossing a glacier. However, it has a much longer approach. To get to the Mint Hut, hikers need to park at the Gold Mint Trailhead. They will then follow the Little Susitna River back eight miles; this is fairly flat and easy terrain. The hardest part of getting to the Mint Hut is the last mile. After you have been hiking for several hours, you climb about 1,000 vertical feet in a single mile.
Tara McMurray is a born and raised Alaskan who loves to come up to the Mint hut in the summer with her husband and their dog.
“The last part of the hike is always a challenge for me and our dog,” she said. “I do not recommend bringing dogs on this trip if it is not good with boulder hopping and steep exposure.” Tara always likes to refer to this area as the Alaskan Alps due to its rugged, steep and rocky terrain.
If all of these hikes sound too easy for you, then you can challenge yourself by combining all of them into one trip. People call this the Bomber Traverse.
Originally, the hike starts at the Reed Lakes Trailhead and hiking to the Bomber Hut. When you get onto the Bomber Glacier you can walk straight down and see the Bomber Hut the whole way.
When you wake up the following morning, walk up the Penny Royal Glacier. You can exit the glacier through two passes; one is called the Backdoor Gap and the other is called Terminal Gap. Through the Backdoor Gap, you can look straight down at the Mint Hut, making it easy to find. Finally, on the third day, you have a flat and easy walk out.
Nowadays, most people are doing the traverse backward. People like to start with an easy, long and flat hike into the Mint Hut rather than doing a short and steep hike up the Reed Lakes trail and to the Bomber Hut. However, this can cause problems if you do not know where the huts are. Hikers have the challenge of climbing up to look for the huts rather than having the advantage of looking down at the huts from a high point which can sometimes be challenging.
If you do decide to venture out into the mountains this year, remember to pack and plan accordingly. With the proper gear and a friend who is familiar with the terrain, these hikes can be a great excuse to get out and explore.