Backcountry Getaway: “Home, Sweet Hut”

In Destination, Hatcher Pass, Trip Report by scott

Contributor Naomi Stock was feeling blue ’cause…no travel. Then she and a friend set off to a hut in the mountains…for a sweet slice of Alaska. -Scott

Naomi waits for water to boil while taking in the view from Snowbird Hut. Photo: Will Balcao

This summer I found myself struggling with cabin fever, without any hope to travel like I wanted. My planned trips to Guatemala and Puerto Rico were cancelled and without any trips to look forward to, I felt trapped in Alaska like I never have before. One fall day, a friend invited me on an adventure that I never could have imagined would heal my quarantine-ailed soul the way it did. Out on Snowbird Glacier in Hatcher Pass, I felt the peace and the vast beauty of Alaskan backcountry, and the world opened its doors to me again.

Will is on top of the world, looking down on Hatcher Pass. Photo: Naomi Stock

Just above Snowbird Glacier in Hatcher Pass sits a public use hut owned by the Alaska section of the American Alpine Club (AAC). There is no fee to use it, and no reservations are accepted.

However, travelers can support the hut by becoming a member of the AAC or donating directly via THIS LINK.

Hikers, skiers, splitboarders, climbers, and alpinists can all find themselves staying in the hut, sometimes alone, but often together. It overlooks Snowbird Glacier, surrounded by glacially sharpened peaks, the valley behind it seemingly leading all the way through to Willow.

Naomi is ready for another game of cribbage after the long hike to Snowbird Hut. Photo: Will Balcao

Snowbird Hut has a heater, a kitchen area with dishes and a camp stove, four bunk beds, a loft, and a table for eating, playing cribbage, and trip planning. There’s a well-maintained dignified outhouse nearby, and a firepit for the warmer seasons. The most outstanding features of the hut are the large windows facing the glacier and the striking Nunatak peak that rises out of the glacier in the south.

Naomi in the rain: beautiful fall colors, along with typical September weather. Photo: Will Balcao

So, on a rainy Thursday morning in Anchorage my friend Will and I found ourselves driving to Hatcher Pass with gear, food, fuel and supplies rattling around in the backseat and with bikes on the rack.  

Shortly after noon we arrived just past the bridge in the Reed Lakes parking lot on Archangel Road, which has since been closed for the winter. We started out on the bikes for the flat first mile or so to save time until we stashed the bikes in the woods, locking them to a tree for a little extra security. From there we set out on foot. 

I am not a good or experienced hiker, and the trip to Snowbird Hut was the longest hike I’ve done with a full pack. It was hard. The hike from the Reed Lakes parking lot is four to five miles long, depending on who you ask, and can be technical at times. The second mile is the steepest, rising above the valley floor into the mountains, and the last section crosses boulders, snow, and the glacier itself to get to the hut. 

Will and I spent about four hours on the trail, arriving at the hut around dinnertime. I’m the slower of the two and there were definitely some challenging moments, but I was determined to finish the hike and to be proud of myself at the end of the day. All of my hard work was worth the reward.

Backcountry views looking north towards Willow.

September in Hatcher Pass delivered exactly as you might expect: pouring, soaking rain for the first two hours, and wet flurries of snow the rest of the way. The valley was bursting with fall colors. Reds and yellows and greens crept up the sides of the mountains surrounding our journey. Peaks were barely dusted with white termination dust, warning us of a cold night to come high up in the Talkeetna Mountains.

Once in the hut we met a fellow traveler who was there for his last night and enjoyed the camaraderie of sharing the hut with this stranger. That night was full of music and wind, and thankfulness for a full day of friendship and adventure.

The next morning we woke up under a blanket of snow. Winter had come to Snowbird Hut. Our day, which had originally been meant for climbing rare Alaskan backcountry rock, was spent basking in the warmth of the hut, playing cribbage, and enjoying each other’s company. The snow outside continued to fall, and the comfort of the hut was impossible to leave behind. 

Snow day in the mountains. Winter has arrived. Photo: Naomi Stock

We cooked pancakes and mac and cheese and ramen noodles, and drank gallons of pour over coffee. As our day wound down, footsteps echoed from the porch. The next batch of adventurers had arrived! A group of four filed into the hut after a long trudge through the snow to get to us, and again Will and I enjoyed the camaraderie of staying another night in a public hut. 

The next morning it was hard to leave the hut behind. Two days of Alaskan backcountry views, of removal from the stress of the world around me, of the calming view of falling snow had reset my mood. While it was difficult to leave, my time at the hut prepared me to return. As I drove back to Anchorage, music playing softly over the radio, Will asleep in the passenger seat, I knew that I would be OK. 

Snowbird Hut. Photo by Paxson Woelber (Creative Commons license)

I may not be able to fly south just yet to take in the vivid colors of Guatemalan culture and eat pan dulce and speak Spanish, but I have the best views in the world in my backyard, and I get to experience them independent of the chaos around us. I don’t have to go anywhere just yet, because there’s still so much left to experience where I am.

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