Trekking Hut to Hut Across Alaska’s Talkeetna Mountains
By Matt & Agnes Hage
Cooling temps and changing colors often prompt us to squeeze in one more trip. And in the mountains of Alaska, it really is a squeeze. The time from peak fall colors to the first snow cover can be as short as a week. This autumn we chose to expand on a popular trek in the Talkeetna Mountains north of our home in Anchorage. Adding an unknown start and an extended ending to the Bomber Traverse would allow us to explore new ground while revisiting some of our favorite huts. Oh yeah we forgot to mention the huts. A true anomaly in the mountains of AK, we would seek shelter in four tiny shelters on our 50-mile route from Hatcher Pass to the village of Eska. Built and maintained by the Mountaineering Club of Alaska and the American Alpine Club, membership is required to use these huts.
Our five-day traverse began with a long climb up to tiny notch in the jagged granite spires that would or wouldn’t give us access to these mountains. The trick is find a ‘gap’ that is not a shear cliff on the other side. After six hours of effort, our experimental pass clipped out a hundred feet from the glacier and didn’t go through. We had to reroute back to the standard ‘known’ route over Lane Pass. It took some hustle to make the first hut before dark.
Our route across the Talkeetna Mountains had us crossing numerous glaciers, all bare ice in late summer. Agnes crampons down the Snowbird Glacier above the well-known nunatak
Navigating up Bartholf Creek to the Bomber Hut. Autumn is short in the mountains of Alaska. Blink and you might miss it as the first snowstorm covers everything in a blanket of white. But when you catch it, you’re in for an explosion of colors.
Huts in Alaska are strictly BYOB. We packed a couple 32 oz cans from Seward Brewing Company for a proper après. Perfect size for backpacking.
A unique aspect of this traverse are the mountain huts, four in all. Each has its own character and is a welcomed sight at the end of the day. The tiny Bomber Hut lies at the half-way point of the popular Bomber Traverse.
Agnes commits to the crappy yellow cord leading up to Backdoor Gap. Thing is without the bright yellow rope, it’s very hard to find the right ‘gap’ in a whiteout. Which we were in and happy for anything to aid our navigation off the Penny Royal Glacier on this cold, rainy day.
hut /hət/ noun 1. A welcome sight after a long cold day in the mountains.
And the Mint Hut is no exception.
Another day, another glacier. But this is the last one. Stepping up the Mint Glacier leading to Grizzly Pass and the final leg of our traverse.
Literally standing at the precipice of the unknown deep in Alaska’s Talkeetna Mountains. We’d never been beyond Grizzly Pass. This was going to be exciting.
Boulder fields for days is not an exaggeration in the Talkeetna Mountains. The hours we spent ‘boulder hopping’ would actually tally up to a couple days. Agnes leading the way to our final hut on the traverse.
We enjoyed clear skies on our last morning starting out from the Dnigi Hut. The most remote hut in the Talkeetna Mountains, it only sees a handful of visitors each year. Dnigi translates to ‘moose’ in Dena’ina Athabascan. And we startled a few dozen moose on our hike out the valley.
The Mint Spires reveal themselves, as well as a Crayola-colored tundrascape, on our final day as we trek back to civilization.
The blueberries were so thick in the Moose Creek Valley, that they splattered our pant legs as we walked. Several times Matt would drop down and go into ‘grizzly mode’.
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