In a past column we featured some winter ski trails in Hatcher Pass, particularly in the Independence Mine Recreation Area. But Hatcher Pass also offers some fantastic summer hiking and climbing opportunities, among them the Reed Lakes Trail.
The Reed Lakes Trailhead is reached via Archangel Road, which begins at Mile 14.4 on the Hatcher Pass Road. Turn right and follow the gravel road for about 2.4 miles. Just after passing Archangel Creek you should find a parking lot on the right with a sign marked for the Reed Lakes.
The first part of the 8.8-mile (round trip) hike is a very easy flat, wide trail. After a couple of miles or so it goes up pretty steeply (there are switchbacks). Be prepared for a scramble on some good-sized boulders comparable to those found between Eagle and Symphony Lake in Eagle River’s South Fork Valley. The boulders aren’t that difficult to navigate, but aren’t recommended for most dogs and small children.
A recent letter to the editor in the Alaska Dispatch News highlighted the risk of taking dogs across the boulder field. While some dogs have a knack for boulder hopping, many do not.
After a brief period of flatness, the trail gains elevation again and you get your first glimpse of Lower Reed Lake. There are more campsites here than at Upper Reed Lake. But if you’re feeling motivated, it’s really worth the climb to the upper lake, which is not much more than half a mile farther over relatively gentle terrain. Surrounded by granite peaks and spires, the emerald-green lake is one of the most idyllic places I’ve found in the Talkeetna Mountains.
Snow melts late in the Talkeetnas and the best time to hike this trail is July through September. Weather changes quickly, so extra clothing layers, rain gear and a warm hat is recommended.
Good scramblers only: If you’re really motivated and a good mountain scrambler, I suggest extending this hike to Bomber Glacier, where you’ll find the remains of a B-29 U.S. Air Force bomber that crashed in the winter of 1957.
The Bomber Glacier is two more miles and about 2,000 elevation gain through the small low gap in the ridge north of Upper Reed Lake. Scramble up the gullies toward that low point and you’ll crest out about 30 feet above the glacier that ramps gently down to where the bomber lies. Earlier in the summer there is snow on the relatively flat glacier and walking is safe. Otherwise, if it’s icy, crampons or Kahtoola microspikes will be required.
I’ve been there three times and never needed crampons. I’ve done this trip in one day, but an overnight at Upper Reed Lake– especially if weather is nice–would make the trip really enjoyable.
There is a beautiful, well-kept Mountaineering Club of Alaska (MCA) hut in the valley below the Bomber Glacier for members only. For information on MCA membership (dues are only $20/year for individual and $25/year for family) click here:
We once overnighted at the MCA hut, took Penny Royale Glacier up and over Backdoor Pass to the Mint Glacier Hut, and hiked back out—a strenuous two-day trip.
April Bowl Trail: A much easier but worthwhile hike can be found at Mile 19 of the Hatcher Pass Road, which is at the 3,885-foot summit of the pass where there is a small lake–aptly named Summit Lake.
The 2.2-mile (round trip) April Bowl Trail begins with switchbacks that take you through a small valley with a cirque lake and several ponds. Gaining about 800 feet, the trail soon turns into a ridge trail and is extremely narrow and rough, ending with Hatch Peak at 4,881 feet.
This is an ideal hike for the family and it’s really nice to hang out by the ponds with a picnic lunch.
I don’t think I’m alone in my disdain for bashing through alder and willow thickets, which is why I like the Hatcher Pass area so much. You drive to bush-free alpine terrain to begin your hiking, which in Alaska is a blessing.
If you venture to Hatcher Pass you’ll invariably find countless other trails to explore. Hands down, this historic gold mining area is also a gold mine for both hard core and moderate hiker.
Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer and ECHO News team member who lives in Eagle River with his wife Rebekah, a retired Birchwood ABC school teacher. To reach Frank, email: [email protected]