Finding Solitude in the Talkeetna Range
Overnight exploring up Hatcher Pass to one of Alaska's great backcountry huts, captured on 35mm film
Portra 160 35mm
Fall in Alaska is a short season, especially in the minds of those who grew up in New England. Not more than 12 hours after landing in Anchorage my wife, Allison, and I were standing in a parking lot at Hatcher Pass, our gear spread out on the pavement, making sure we hadn’t forgotten anything as we prepped to leave behind the comforts of our rented Subaru for a few days.
With a little extra daylight and the hopes of good weather, we had every intention of experiencing as much of this edge season in Alaska when tourism is down and everyone is beginning to prepare for the long winter ahead.
What I didn’t expect to find was almost total isolation in a popular place like Hatcher Pass. Throughout the 9 miles we hiked, winding our way through the valley, we came across two mountain bikers very early on, and two backpackers on their return later in the day. This had us practically running at some times, shouting “Hey, Bear!” (and other stranger variations) around blind corners in bush that towered over our heads. After reaching the boulder field where the hike turns into more of a climb, I realized we would probably be alone for the rest of the day and night, unless there were already other hikers at the hut.
"The easiness of the first 7-8 miles was all made up for in the final mile..."
The easiness of the first 7-8 miles was all made up for in the final mile of knee-to-chin steps and fingers clawing into loose dirt as we scrambled up the side of the last hill, which conveniently blocked the view of the hut until we were just a few hundred feet away. After a hot meal, we happily began hiking our way through the valley that continues behind the hut to take in the amphitheater of mountains surrounding us. We had hoped to find the famous glacial lake that sits behind one of the ridges not far from the hut, but eventually we deemed our pace was too slow, as stopping to take in everything around us with amazement felt mandatory.
As the sun began to set behind the peaks the sight before us was beyond what any photo could capture. The fact we we were experiencing a moment outdoors uninterrupted by crowds or human clutter truly made the moment even more special.
Light lingered in the valley as we wandered back to the hut to boil some water for tea. After a show of pink and orange clouds, the sky eventually turned dark blue and cloudless, leaving us with a night full of stars and the looming shadows of peaks above.
I woke to the sun peaking through one of the hut windows sometime before 6:00 AM, and stepped outside barefoot onto frost covered grass. We gathered ourselves slowly that morning, brushing our teeth, and focusing deliberately on simple human needs like food and water before taking in the view one last time. As the trail took us back to the valley below we wound through a maze of gold and red underbrush, but our minds were still lost in thought of what lay behind us, back at Mint Hut.