“OH EM GEE!” Atop Bomber Pass, our view of the Talkeetna’s stretched dozens of miles in the distance. The Alaska Range and Denali lay somewhere beyond, obscured by smoke. Behind us lay the loose scree and boulders we had ascended, with Upper Reed Lake and its lingering ice patches below. One of two formidable passes on our traverse, we stopped for a few minutes to take photos and enjoy the views of mountain grandeur before descending down to the snowfield on the other side via the frayed fixed ropes.
My friend Laura and I were hiking the Bomber Traverse, a ~25 mile mixed trail route in Hatcher Pass. We had left the trailhead close to midnight the night before, camping a few miles up the trail at Lower Reed Lake. We awoke to a sky free of clouds and smoke from wildfires in the area. Without a breath of wind, the lake offered a still reflection of the surrounding peaks in the area. We set off for the pass, hiking the last few miles of trail. Marmots, ground squirrels and songbirds kept us company, scurrying in and around the rocks, looking for handouts and observing us as we passed.
Beyond Bomber Pass, we descended to the snowfield, stopping to explore wreckage from a military plane that crashed in the 1950s. Marginal weather had forced the crew off track and into the mountains, killing 6 of the 10 on board. High atop the glacier, the plane seemed unlikely to have changed or moved much from the original accident, frozen in place for much of the year.
The snow brought a coolness to the air, despite the sun bearing down from above and reflecting off the snow from below. Although the temperature was well above freezing, the snow was still firm enough to hold our weight, prevent post holing and allow for easy travel off to the rocks below.
Thunderstorms in the distance made us think about waiting out any showers and lightning in the hut on the other side of the valley, but the sight of others already there quickly nixed that idea. We found ourselves at what would likely be the last campsite for at least 6 hours at 5 pm. Despite our tired states, we decided to push on rather than stop and make an early camp. We soon found ourselves navigating among boulders, loose rocks before heading up a glacier once more. The sun had melted out most of the tracks from those who had come previously leaving me uncertain about where we were supposed to go. The wide saddle above seeded doubt and left me bouncing back and forth in terms of where we were supposed to go. Laura wasn’t as bothered and quickly identified where we were and where we needed to go after taking a glance at the map halfway up the pass. Soon thereafter, we found the fixed ropes and ascended the last few feet to the top of Backdoor Gap.
After enjoying dinner and grand views, we descended down the boulders on the opposite side in a state of tired delirium. The boulders seemed never ending but the hut and the half dozen tents stretched out on the tundra below slowly grew larger and larger. We soon found ourselves back on the tundra, establishing camp at 1 am. Thrushes sang from somewhere in the rocks above and smoke descended into the valley as we settled in for the night atop the lichen. We left the next morning, hiking down to the trail and out to the trailhead. We left the tundra for the final time, replacing relative quiet and dry mosses and lichens, for alders, the rushing creek and endless stream of day hikers.
Hiking in Alaska is most often noteworthy due to the absence of humans. In such a large state, it isn’t a challenge to find plenty of areas on the road system that are devoid of other people. Hatcher Pass is not one of them. North of Wasilla, the area is close enough to Anchorage to attract droves of people making the hike properly crowded. We counted 3 tents at our first campsite and 5 plus at our second. In the entirety of our time out, there was only about 7 hours where we didn’t see any other people. Despite that, the hike’s constantly changing means of travel, from rock to snow to tundra to trail, kept travel interesting yet challenging and the beauty of the area lived up to the hype. Paired with great company, the amount of people was almost a non factor and one in which I would do again.