Destination Alaska: Grizzly Pass

Hike to a private paradise deep in the Talkeetna Mountains.
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Hike to a private paradise deep in the Talkeetna Mountains.

Imagine Wyoming’s Wind River Range with black rock, remnant icefields, few trails, and no people. That’s the Talkeetna Mountains, located 56 miles north of Anchorage. This 29-mile out-and-back links an on-trail start to a tough off-trail route, passes two backcountry huts, crosses a scary-narrow and near-secret mountain pass, and finally reaches a seldom-visited valley in the heart of the range. En route you’ll cross the Mint Glacier, which is exciting yet nontechnical (though light crampons or microspikes make travel easier). From the Gold Mint trailhead, follow buffed trail with marked mileposts along the Little Susitna River.

When the path fades after mile five, persevere through bogs and willow into the head of the valley. There, a thready trail turns west and climbs 700 feet to a plateau, where you’ll find the Mountaineering Club of Alaska’s Mint Hut (membership required for use, mcak.org). If the weather is good or the hut busy (it’s first come, first serve), there’s excellent camping just a mile beyond: Continue climbing northeast to a gorgeous lake—unnamed and unmapped (it’s on ours)—with views of Montana Peak’s buttressed pyramid and the jagged Mint Spires. The next day, traverse the Mint Glacier and climb to a gap locally named Grizzly Pass—the key to finding total solitude. Just before reaching the knife-edged saddle, skirt one large crevasse by rounding it on the left. After the pass, descend to the headwaters of Moose Creek where, in clear weather, you’ll spot your next goal: Dnigi Hut.

The rarely visited hut (also MCAK) sits below imposing buttresses that rise 1,800 feet. Basecamp here for explorations into the remote headwaters of Kashwitna River.

The Way From Palmer, drive two miles north on the Glenn Highway. Go left at Hatcher Pass, then 13.8 miles to the Gold Mint trailhead. Parking: $5/day.

Contactdnr.alaska.gov/parks