In proper celebration of the summer’s third NOLS reunion, I felt it was time to take adventure to the next level. While summer escapades of the past have been mostly limited to day hikes, car camping and easy overnight trips, I deemed Zach’s arrival in Alaska the perfect opportunity to embark on something a little more challenging. At my father’s great encouragement, we chose the Bomber Traverse, a 4-day hut-to-hut trek through vast wilderness, where we hoped to test out some of the skills we had acquired on our mountaineering course in India this spring. While my father smiled fondly at memories of hiking the traverse with a group of boy scouts, my mother warned at the ruggedness of the terrain, describing her utter disbelief that hikers would dare venture where we were going. Their combined reactions confirmed my belief that we were making a good decision.
After getting a bit of a late start (due to a last-minute briefing on compass navigation and an obligatory run to the store for s’mores ingredients), Zach and I arrived at the Gold Mint trailhead in Hatcher Pass by early afternoon. Packs heavy with emergency food and fuel, camping gear, satellite phones and my ever-present camera equipment, we nevertheless set off at a brisk pace towards our first hut, nine miles away. The first eight miles or so were mostly flat, winding along a river drainage through tundra and low brush bursting with fall colors. Beaver dams formed occasional pools reflecting mirror images of the surrounding mountains, eerily beautiful in their stillness. Fog hung on the mountaintops, newly christened with recent snowfall.
Several hours into our hike, we finally began heading uphill. The trail switchbacked up a steep tundra slope near a waterfall, transitioning rapidly from marshy lowlands into rugged alpine terrain. We arrived at a rocky, foggy pass, its wide expanses of flat tundra seemingly perfect for a mountaineer’s hut. Luckily, we had been forewarned about the elusive Mint Hut – it’s not where you think it is. Following my father’s extremely counterintuitive instructions, we left the level plateau and headed down the other side of the pass, heading in the opposite direction of the next day’s route. Sure enough, there stood the Mint Hut, gleaming friendly red in the evening light.
Having never stayed in one of the Alaska Mountaineering Club’s huts before, we were instantly impressed. Not only did the cabin provide ample space for cooking, eating and sleeping, it was fully stocked with cookware, sleeping pads, a small library, down booties and a fully functional guitar. After making a first confused attempt to locate our whereabouts via topographic map and compass, we layered up and prepared a freeze-dried feast of hot chocolate and “Kung Pao Rice with Chicken”. This was followed by the roasting of delicious s’mores over candlelight (a slow process, but not impossible) while Zach played songs on the guitar. All around us loomed what my mother had very aptly described as “rugged mountains” – jagged peaks of rocky, glaciated terrain littered with sprawling fields of scree and talus.
While our longest distance day lay behind us, I couldn’t shake the feeling that what lay ahead would prove much, much more challenging than mere mileage. We fell asleep to the total and complete silence of the mountain air, resting up for the day ahead.