Hut to Hut Across Alaska’s Talkeetna Mountains

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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 popular 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.

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.

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The weather quickly moved in, but we were ready for that. The colors of autumn are best enjoyed, and photographed, under a subdued sky. We left the Snowbird Hut in a light rain and dived into the bushwhack up Bartholf Creek. Bashing through alders and willows isn’t so bad when every step is an explosion of color. The tiny Bomber Hut lies at the half-way point of the popular Bomber Traverse and was a welcome sight. We quickly moved in out of the weather. 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.

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The crappy yellow cord leading up to Backdoor Gap kind of seemed like an affront to the adventure we were on. 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. The lesson from our first day was still fresh in our minds and we committed to hand-over-handing up the rope. We found the whiteout to be even thicker descending the other side. Tedious navigation by GPS thankfully lead us to the Mint Hut.

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Our route across the Talkeetna Mountains had us crossing numerous glaciers, all bare ice in late summer. We packed sturdy crampons and light ice axes to help with so much of this terrain. The weather started to break while heading up the Mint Glacier leading to Grizzly Pass and the final leg of our traverse. We saved the most exciting part for last. Over Grizzly Pass was new territory for us. And a new hut. The Dnigi Hut is 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.

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