Backpacking, Travel

Mint-Bomber Traverse Alaska

Flying in the world of COVID-19. Not as bad as I thought it would be; most everyone kept their masks on and were thoughtful of other people. O’Hare airport wasn’t as empty as I maybe expected but it certainly wasn’t packed. We couldn’t find the TSA pre-check lane at first so we started out waiting maybe 5 minutes in the regular security lane and then once I got up to the TSA person she said “you know you have pre-check right” and pointed us to the other side of the airport where we went through pre-check with no line at all.

September 25 – The flight to Alaska wasn’t completely full, but back to Chicago seemed to be a full flight. There were no meals but we were given drinks and snacks so people took their masks off to eat and drink.

We spent our first night in an Airbnb in Anchorage and set off in the morning for 3 days and 2 nights in the Alaskan wilderness. One of the most difficult hikes I’ve ever done but worth the effort and if you’re planning on doing it just do 1 million squats to prepare. 😆

September 26 – We started out on Gold Mint Trailhead at around 11 a.m. and while a bit muddy and overgrown in places overall it was a simple trail fairly flat until you get towards the end where Mint Hut hides just about a third of the way up the mountain.

The hut is adorable and we were the only people there so we sprawled out and I made a monster bed out of the mats and sleeping bags that were left behind. There is a spot just off to the right to fill up water, we didn’t filter since we were high up and it’s a flowing stream but it probably would be a good idea because we did hear there’s giardia in a lot of the water around Alaska. It got down just below freezing but I was quite warm in the hut. We also heard some of the huts have heat systems but this one didn’t seem to and we didn’t really need it anyway.

September 27 – The beginning of this day is a straight slog of bouldering up more than 3,000 feet to Backdoor Gap. We needed to go through what looks like the goal posts in the second image but were seduced by a shorter looking gap a bit to the right which turned out to be very incorrect, treacherous, and added about an hour of time to our hike since we had to turn back and course correct. It should be noted that there is no set trail through any part of the hike between Mint and Bomber Huts, you should have a good GPS and topo map available to know navigate this section specifically.

When we finally reached the top of Backdoor Gap (4ish hours later) I yelled with joy because the terrain changes drastically to Penny Royal Glacier and you’re just so happy to be done bouldering. Heading down the glacier was fairly simple as it was covered fully in snow so we just popped on our crampons (we just had micro-spikes and those worked well for us) and easily walked across and down to bomber hut. After the glacier there may have been a bit more bouldering but mostly you walk through a soft tundra. There is one river crossing but there are a good number of places to cross without getting your feet wet. I fell on my butt slipping on a wet rock though so, lol, be careful. You’ll also want to fill up your water at the river as there’s not a great place to fill up near the hut.

Northern Lights! There were four other hikers at Bomber hut when we got there but there is plenty of space for 6+ in the hut and they turned out to be awesome hut-mates because they stayed up and woke us at about 3 a.m. when the Northern Lights were out and just unreal. I didn’t know this because I’ve only seen photos but the real life Northern Lights are not green! They are swooshy and white and beautiful but totally different than photos can capture.

September 28 – We’re on the clock… We had to make it out, hopefully shower, and get to the airport by 9 p.m. At first we thought there was just no way we wouldn’t make it and then throughout the whole hike I flipped between “it’s fine” and “we’re screwed”.

We got up fairly early and out the hut door by 9 a.m. Leaving behind our four friends who we were sure would still beat us to the trailhead. The start of this hike is just gentle tundra with some rocks, then you get to the glacier area and put your crampons on and it gets a bit tougher. It’s a pretty good uphill but compared to bouldering for hours I can do glaciers all day. To get to the Bomber wreckage you have to head left a bit and it took us a minute to find it but once you recognize the wreckage is not just another boulder it’s impossible to miss and worth the little bit of extra time to go see this WWII bomber.

After a few moments at the wreckage you head to the right where you’ll likely see human tracks leading to Bomber Pass. There are ropes at the very top to help you get up the steepest section and then from the top it’s bouldering, once again, all the way down to Reeds Lake. It had started to snow right as we got to the top and that was ok but near the bottom it turned into drizzle and did make the rocks a bit more slippery.

There is a section after Reeds Lake of flat trail and then a bit more bouldering which at that point was a bit punishing since all you want to do is walk on a trail of solid ground, especially when you have a plane to catch. After a few more sections of bouldering over a river we made it out to Reeds Lake Trailhead, but we parked at the Gold Mint Trailhead which is about 3 miles away. Lucky for us one of our four friends from the Bomber Hut was insanely fast and made it out ahead and drove us to Gold Mint meaning we had time to shower quickly at a rest stop/gas station before heading to the airport and making our flight ❤️.