With decent weather, this has all the trappings of one of those singularly memorable experiences one can have. Traversing glaciers in an Alpine wonderland with spectacular views the whole way is a wonderful way to spend 3 (or more) days.
Equipment needed: crampons, ice axe.
Webmaster’s note: Martin has a lot of experience on glaciers. Please do not attempt the following if you have no glacial traveling experience. Your risk of a fatal injury is high!
This is a 3-day hike but can be done in 2 by those fit and motivated enough. The trailhead is right near the Motherlode Lodge on Palmer-Fishhook Road (Mile 14). Basically, this is a very sharp “V” turn in the road, you cannot miss it on any map. (You may want to shuttle a car to the trailhead for the Reed Lakes hike.) If at all possible, go during the week to ensure that the hut will not be overrun by other mountaineers. Just in case it is, bring a tent or at least a bivvy sack!
DAY 1 : Mint Hut
The trail is fairly well marked, and the first day’s walk is very easy for 90% of it. As you get near the head of the valley, the trail starts heading uphill. Stay on trail and you will not miss the Mint Hut, built and maintained by the MCA. It is about 8 miles to the hut with just about 2600 feet of elevation gain. Enjoy a warm cup of Joe as you watch the sun set on Montana Peak.
Day 2 : Bomber Hut
You will climb up the broad scree slope to Backdoor Gap, approximately 5715′ above sea level. I have heard conflicting reports of which scree chute leads exactly to Backdoor Gap, but am convinced it is the easiest-looking of the two choices. A more sinister route is off to the left of the “real” Backdoor Gap, so just go up the broad, “bouldery” scree slope. It is actually pretty fun bouldering up the slope, but BE CAREFUL as the rocks are not always as stable as they might appear to be. Although there is little to no risk of mass movement of the scree, individual boulders can often roll underneath you with no warning.
Once atop Backdoor Gap, enjoy the vistas surrounding you, and prepare for the descent onto Penny Royal Glacier. This is downhill bouldering, and just before you reach the blue ice, put on your crampons. Unless there is snow cover, roped travel is not necessary. It should be clear from July (probably June, too?) through late August. There may be a bit of a headwall crevasse, so choose the point at which you gain access to the glacier with reasonable caution.
Descent on the glacier is pretty quick and easy. There are few crevasses of any consequence. Angle your route so that you exit the glacier near the left side (as seen facing down-glacier). As you come around the ridge (which separates Penny Royal from Bomber Glaciers) you should see the Bomber Hut (3850′) about a mile or so away. It is fairly easy walking on glacial debris, followed by very pleasant tundra travel.
The whole journey may be done in just a couple of hours if you want it done quickly, but I prefer to take my time and marvel at the scenery.
Day 2 EXTRA STOP :
There is a ~6000 footer just behind the hut that is pretty easy to get up for a nice view of the valley (see Topo Map)
Day 3: EXIT
Head across the valley and gain access to the Bomber Glacier. The bomber itself will be off to the left and is an interesting side trip. Bomber Pass (5330′), your actual destination, is more or less straight ahead, maybe a little off to the right. It is the low spot along the ridge marking the head of the valley. It can be a little tricky, especially if the ground is frozen (in which case crampons are advisable). Once atop, it is a bit of bouldering downhill into the valley with the Reed Lakes. You’ll see Upper Reed Lake, aim for the right-hand shoreline. There is a light trail along the lake’s edge. From here, it is a straightforward, 8-mile hike out to the parking lot where hopefully your car is not on cinder blocks with the engine missing.
Lastly, a jaunt up Lynx Mountain is a great scramble, but probably best advised if you plan on camping at Upper Reed Lake…
The huts, Mint and Bomber, are built and maintained by the Mountaineering Club of Alaska. They are intended for use by members only. Dues are nominal, I think $15 per year. I strongly urge anyone who intends to use these huts to join the MCA. You will have access to a lot of great information and it is really an excellent way to find out about great hikes.
Also, please keep the huts as clean as when you found them, if not cleaner.
The huts do not operate on a reservation system. They sleep 6-8 people and are not often overflowing, but just in case bring alternate shelter. The weekend we went we had the huts but did share them with other groups.
Glacier travel on this hike is not particularly troublesome — these are fairly stable glaciers with few crevasses. Still, if you have not done much glacier travel avoid walking on anything other than “blue ice” and avoid walking too close to the few crevasses you do encounter.
GPS Waypoints :
BEGIN 61d 46.797m -149deg11.628 1809′
MINT Hut 61d 51.406m -149d 4.786m ~4300′
Backdoor Gap 61d 51.71m -149d 5.716m 5717′
Bomber HUT 61d 52.751m -149d 8.153m 3853′
Bomber PASS 61d 51.293m -149d 8.012m 5328′
END 61d 48.238m -149d 12.154m 2409′