Hatcher Pass

Hatcher Pass

When asked what we should do this summer, a number of Alaskans mentioned Hatcher Pass. Saturday we took their advice and piled in the Subie for a day of Mat-Su Valley exploration. Hatcher Pass is a scenic 49-mile rugged mountain pass that connects the towns of Palmer and Willow in southcentral Alaska.  The road begins along the Little Susitna River and zigzags above the treeline to expose the craggy Talkeetna mountain  peaks. The area is popular in the summer for its whitewater kayaking, gold panning, berry picking and pristine hiking trails. Despite the 70° weather, most of the pass was still closed due to snow. Roughly 10 miles in we stopped at Archangel road (also closed) and walked two miles to the Reed Lake trailhead.

The clear day made for gorgeous panoramic views.

Arctic ground squirrel

Two miles from the trailhead we came upon an abandoned mining shack where Jessica took the opportunity to catch up on some required reading.

Shortly beyond, the trail gave way to deep snow drifts and enormous moss-covered boulders. After some aimless climbing, we stopped to survey the landscape. We picked a peak a half-mile above and scrambled over the muddy rocks and blueberry patches to the top.

The views from the summit were unfuckingbelievable.  Mountains like celebrities to gawk at and photograph like the nature paparazzi.

Once the magic of the moment lessened from paralyzing to manageable, we made our way down the mountain and out of the valley completing the memorable 6-hour out-and-back hike. Had we gone a bit further we would have reached Reed Lake, a landmark I’m sad we missed… but given our late start, I’m happy we saw what we did.


Around 10 p.m. we returned to the car and continued up the pass in search of somewhere to camp for the night. After a mile or so we reached the road closure and returned to a rocky pull-off we spotted earlier, which offered a bird’s eye view of the valley and a wall of alders for privacy from the road.

While I built a fire Jess cooked up chicken ravioli with peppers and onions.  We popped a bottle of red and ate dinner by the fire while the sounds of Bill Callahan drifted peacefully from the car speakers.

The sky at midnight.

The sky at 1 a.m.

That night we decided to try sleeping in the Outback. We put our gear in the front seat and laid our sleeping pads and bags in the back.  It was a safe, free and reasonably comfortable arrangement, one we agreed to do more of this summer. 20 minutes into an episode of Northern Exposure on my laptop and thus concluded another day on planet earth.