Saturday, August 18, 2012

Interlude: Gold Mint Trail

     Back in the beginning of June I had started poking about Hatcher Pass, exploring what had just become our effective "back-yard." What with the season's record-setting snowfall still lingering in the high country, my first attempt at hiking up the Gold Mint trail was stymied at around the four-mile mark due to deep snow (pictures here and here). Fast-forward a couple months and with a few days of forecasted decent weather I headed out to see how far I could get this time. A couple miles of maintained trail eventually peters out (along with 90% of the traffic) down to a single-track that weaves its way alongside the headwaters of the Little Susitna. My initial plans for this outing were to attempt to ford the river and get up into the Arkose Rdge massif on the other side, but after a couple of hours I gave up on this crazy idea. Not easy footing with sandals, the water was cold, fast and deep; and due to the glacier runoff, what in the spring had been clear snowmelt was now a silty gray that hid the bottom. Coincidentally enough, as soon as it got to my crotch (and a couple inches from the sleeping bag compartment of the pack) I decided to recall my g-friend's admonition to "be careful," and so bailed out to pursue "Plan B."

     After pitching the tent on a gravel bar on Tuesday around midnight when it became too dark to see, I pushed on to the back end of the valley, where for the last mile the faint path headed a thousand feet uphill towards Mint Glacier and the surrounding peaks. At the top of the cirque was a hut maintained by the Mountaineering Club of Alaska, which serves as a popular jumping-off point for many a climbing adventure. I headed off to find a sweet little spot perched on an outcropping that overlooked the watershed underneath Troublemint Peak and with Backdoor Pass as a backdrop.

     A few hours in the evening were spent surveying the surrounding terraced moraines and fields of scree and talus, before hunkering down for the night and a sudden rainstorm. This made for a cautious descent amidst the early morning mist, and guaranteed a thorough soaking from the miles of underbrush, but the view was just as spectacular on the valley floor as it was up at five-thousand feet. No wildlife aside from the usual marmots, ground squirrels and picas; only encountered a couple other hikers who were leaving as I started out, and a couple coming in as I was exiting. 16-miles round-trip + extra explorations, with plenty of time spent admiring the carpet of alpine flowers still in bloom, and the occasional lone bumblebee poking about... much like a stray hiker looking for that one last outing of the season.

(A few more images uploaded here.)

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