Unsurprisingly, our second day of epic trekking began with oversleeping about three hours or so. Anxious to get moving to allow ourselves ample time, we hurried through a breakfast of instant oatmeal and hot chocolate, cleaned the cabin, and examined our surroundings. Our next objective, the intimidating Back Door Gap, towered above us, a narrow pass between jagged spires of foreboding black rock at the top of a massive talus field. For those of you who may not know what talus is, I shall clarify: Imagine a gigantic field of slippery boulders that seem the result of some apocalyptic landslide and which often shift underfoot. While the gap itself wasn’t terribly far from the cabin, the terrain was incredibly daunting. We struggled to locate any suggestion of a trail, following sparsely placed cairns until they simply stopped and we were left to simply scramble up the forbidding face of loose rock. Under the weight of our packs, this was difficult. I started the hike by falling three consecutive times, crushed between my backpack and rock. The future seemed ominous.
Zach figuring out the map.
Hours later, as the wind picked up and snow began to fall, we reached the top of Backdoor Gap. The Mint Hut, a pinpoint of red in the distance, seemed a tiny splash of color in a vast landscape of sweeping rock, ice and fog. We stared down the other side of the pass at the Penny Royale Glacier, a curving mass of solid ice essential to our descent. Luckily, someone had attached a fixed line to the steepest part of the climb down, helping us lower ourselves – instead of fall – from the top of the pass onto the face of the glacier. Aside from a single crevasse only a foot or so across, the glacier was friendly and solid, just steep enough to manage, albeit clumsily, without crampons.
See the hut?
Looking for the fixed line.
Descending with serious help from the rope.
According to some friendly hikers we met near the base of the glacier, the Bomber Hut would be easy to find in the valley below. We assumed the worst was over – with Backdoor Gap and a glacier crossing behind us, what could really be that hard? Here we greatly erred; it was not the physical challenge of the trek, but the psychological strains of bewildered routefinding that would plague us for the rest of the afternoon. Vast fields of steeply sloped talus, rivers that confused us with their endless criss-crossing and forking, and lakes not shown on the map left us tired, feeling lost and incredibly unsure of our location in relation to the hut. When at last we crested a knoll of tundra and saw the silver speck of the Bomber Hut gleaming in the distance, it was with joyous relief that we stopped to snap a few pictures before heading down to our home for the night.
Can you see the hut?
Delighted to finally be on the right track.
The Bomber Hut, smaller and more simple than our previous cabin experience, was notable for its beautiful windows and sheer quantity of light pouring in. Cozy with a clean, organized kitchen and collection of books, it seemed more like a house than a shelter. Backpacker’s Pantry’s “Risotto with Chicken” tasted nearly as good as the real thing, paired with hot chocolate and the red wine we’d brought in via Nalgene (and warmed via MSR stove to achieve what people in heated houses refer to as “room temperature”). Dense clouds of fog blanketed the landscape as the sky grew dark, leaving us to wonder what hiking conditions the morning would bring.