Have you ever heard of Hatcher Pass? Neither had we. It’s the old (and only) mining road in the Talkeetna Mountains which are between the bigger and more well-known Alaska Range to the north and the Chugach Range to the south. It’s become a secret backcountry recreation area for outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds. Helen and Mike and Nick and JS thought we’d love it. Reason enough to head that way.
O. M. G. Exclamation point.
From the small city of Palmer, situated in the broad Mat-Su Valley just north of Anchorage, the road heads west and up (and up!) into a steep valley, switchbacking its way for 19 miles to Hatcher Pass. The entire drive is jaw-dropping as we’re staring up at 6000-foot granite peaks, and back down at the valley floor 250 feet above sea level. The low valley makes the peaks look even taller! The view from the summit amazes as two other valleys come into view.
We’ve never seen mountains like these! The taller summits are steep, rocky granite faces chiseled into arêtes – narrow ridges left behind as glaciers carved out bowls on either side of the rock. They’re remarkably steep and freeze-thaw cycles have continuously eroded the peaks, leaving colorful skirts of scree fields below. Below tree line, and on the shorter summits, the mountains are covered in short, grassy, brushy tundra dotted with granite boulders. And the colors! Imagine an infinite palette of grays and silvers. And the greens! Yet another infinite palette of shades unnamed. Add to this splotches of purple exploding as the fireweed was blooming everywhere!
After picking up our jaws, we decided it was a great evening for a hike! It was about 5pm and still quite sunny. This is Alaska! It rains a lot and right now it’s not raining! Midnight sun! (Ok, 11pm by this time in the summer…) We could see a relatively short trail around the aptly named Summit Lake. We also see a trail that went up, somewhere, toward the Hatcher Peak. We headed up!
The April Bowl Trail took us up from the pass to a bowl with 4 tarns – smaller, left-behind glacial lakes. We would’ve been completely satisfied with the hike at that point, and then we saw the trail continue up the side of the bowl. We decided to follow it for a while to get better pix of the tarns, and soon we were on a ridge above the bowl. Looking over the other side over other peaks and valleys was astounding. We continued across the rocky edge of the bowl, descending the other side, pondering this secret place.
The Hatcher Pass Recreation Area is run by Alaska State Park Service. After spending the night in one of their convenient parking lot/campgrounds, we got up early to hike to Reed Lakes. This trail followed Reed Creek to the base of a bowl jammed with beaver ponds and lodges, and the site of the former Snowbird Mine. Switchbacks through the brush took us from there up above the ponds to giant boulder fields. Although we couldn’t see it, we could hear and feel the river flowing beneath the boulders as we continued our climb to the next bowl, where we were surrounded by mountains. The trail continued with a gentle climb to Lower Reed Lake, gorgeous glacial green waters at the base of dark gray scree strewn peak. The last pitch took us to yet another bowl, again surrounded by peaks on 4 sides and the Upper Reed Lake at the foot of Lynx Peak. We’ve run out of words to describe it. Please take a look at the photo and help us out…