Morning at the Bomber Hut dawned clear, at least by Alaskan standards. High overcast skies gave way to impeccable visibility throughout the valley, every detail of faraway peaks crisp and sharp in the cold morning air. Bitter winds rattled the cabin, howling across the tundra plains and seeping through our clothing. It was not, as we had hoped, a pleasant day to spend relaxing by the lakeside. Donning fleece pants, down booties and a down jacket, I slipped down the loft ladder to prepare our favorite expedition food: chocolate chip pancakes with hot chocolate, a carb- and calorie-rich breakfast essential to the success of the day to come.
Zipping up our raingear as tight as possible, Zach and I ventured from the cabin into the sprawling valley ahead. We wandered through rolling hills of tundra, turned brilliant shades of red and gold in the autumn chill. Blueberries, impossible to find near Anchorage this year, covered the ground in surprising abundance. After crossing a river, we filled up our water bottles and began the interesting process of following the map where it seemed no map should ever lead.
While it is important to remember that our navigational skills by topographic map and compass were mere days old, the “route” seemed to lead us first through a large, marshy thicket of dense bushes, its leaves in the transition from yellow to brown. We painstakingly bushwhacked through the brush, yelling out warnings to potential bears, making every effort not to step in frequent patches of mud and marsh. From there the route (a line of orange highlighter my father had drawn for us) indicated an ascent up a nearby ridge to turn the corner into the next valley. This ridge, harmless in appearance, was significantly steeper than it seemed. The approach included the traverse of a field of giant boulders, moss covering the gaps between them much in the way a layer of snow covers crevasses on glacier. At the base of the ridge, the only way was straight up. We grasped bushes for assistance, hauling ourselves slowly up the steep tundra slope to the top. Exhausted, we collapsed in the wind shelter of a huge boulder. Zach, in his fatigue, sought dry ground by curling up in a gap beneath the rock itself.
The deceivingly steep tundra hills
Before us lay yet another valley, which we were to descend into, crossing several rivers, before climbing up a series of daunting hills of tundra on the other side. We would eventually make our way to the talus fields of a distant pass, leading to the Snowbird Glacier, and on its moraine, a brand-new hut. This valley proved exceptionally difficult to decipher on the map, resulting in a remarkably strenuous climb of a series of tundra knolls aided by the presence of strongly rooted bushes. It seemed impossible that we could have gone the right way. Nevertheless, we eventually reached the lake, an undeniable landmark, realizing to our astonishment that we had been on the right track all along. The route was simply a lot harder than we had anticipated. A black bear wandered the hills, but took no interest in us.
Back to our favorite terrain, the talus field, we followed the shoreline of a glacial lake at the top of the pass. Suddenly, we stood at the bottom of a vast, dramatic glacier, jagged spires of rock protruding from its perimeter. Awestruck, we cautiously set foot onto the ice, nearly bewildered at the ease of walking on its gritty black surface. Onward we ventured into the late afternoon, powered through our exhaustion by the necessity of finding the hut before nightfall. Scanning the moraine in every direction, our eyes at last came to rest on a startlingly obvious set of gigantic red arrows painted on a boulder – and pointing, oh-so-not-helpfully, in both directions! What!? Luckily, we were able to deduce through delirious tiredness that we should probably investigate the area beyond the boulder, finding to our great relief that the beautiful new Snowbird Hut stood just atop the moraine ridge, Tibetan prayer flags flapping in the breeze.
The hut, brand new last year, is absolutely stunning. With huge corner windows, stainless steel countertops, heating via stove and warm wooden interior, stumbling through its doors was a dream come true. We wasted no time in discovering our favorite Backpacker’s Pantry dish to date: “Pad Thai”, paired deliciously with “Italian Pasta with Beef” and “Mocha Mousse Pie”. We spent the evening admiring the incredible view from the hut’s windows, reading some hilarious mountaineering-related literature we found, and generally having a splendid time.