The Gold Mint Trail In Hatcher Pass

Is there anywhere more beautiful than Alaska in late summer or early fall? I spent my 27th birthday hiking out to the iconic Mint Hunt. I had seen the hut in photos previously, and I instantly fell in love. There was something about that view coupled with the bright red cabin— I knew that this had to go on my bucket list. True to form, we got a late start hiking. I don’t think we actually started until around 7 pm, which, in hindsight, was not the best idea. Alaska summer daylight hours always trick us into thinking that late-night hiking won’t be a huge deal. It was not my best decision. By 9 pm, the rain started, and it became pretty dark.

We intended to spend the night at Mint Hut, so we weren’t too worried about how long it would take initially, but the heavy rain (unusual for Alaska) and the darkness (also unusual for the summer season) really slowed us down. The last half-mile scrambling up the rocks took us almost an hour in the wet, slick darkness. We reached the hut at around 1:30 am, freezing and starving, after what felt like a full-on rock climb up the last bit. To our surprise (although it shouldn’t have been surprising,) the hut was already occupied by another group who had arrived earlier in the evening. Fun fact: you can’t reserve the hut for yourself; you have to sign up to be a part of the Mountaineering Club of Alaska, and it is very much a “how many people can you fit in the hut” sort of operation. If it’s completely full, plan on pitching a tent!

We changed out of our wet clothes in a tiny covered outdoor area and did our best to be as quiet as possible when we settled into our sleeping bags. The occupants did not give us the same courtesy in the morning; at 5 am, they got up and made no adjustments to their movements or the volume of their voices. For two hours, they stomped around the cabin and called out loudly to each other. Bleary-eyed and exhausted after less than three hours of sleep, we slowly began to pack up our things and get ready for the hike back. Although it was late summer, it was freezing. Our camera was so cold it wouldn’t turn on until we had stuffed it under our shirt for 30 minutes. Even then, the shutter speed was slow; our photos grainy. But I’m so glad we had a chance to document this bucket list item of mine, however imperfectly.

Later, Rob told me he was afraid we were going to become hypothermic. The conditions were less than ideal, and the weather and darkness had altered the trip in a challenging way. We did have a tent and a Jet Boil to heat up soup and backpacking meals, but we suspected a bear was following us along the river. This is not the first time that has happened to us on a long hike, so we wanted to keep moving.

The hike back was absolutely exhausting but exhilarating. I had completed a difficult bucket list hike for my birthday, and I was incredibly proud of myself, even though I was almost asleep on my feet. When we hit the valley, the weather shifted, and we had bright sunshine and almost 80-degree weather. We quickly stripped layers and proceeded to get sunburnt along the way back home. To this day, it was one of the most challenging hikes I’ve ever done, and I count it as a personal feather in my cap that I could complete this for my birthday.

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