The Snowbird Hut is only about 5 miles from the Reed Lakes Trailhead, but don't let the mileage lull you into complacency: you'll need good routefinding skills to make it up and over the pass, plus confidence traveling on ice and snow—there's minimal crevasse-fall danger on the Snowbird Glacier, but you should be prepared to self-arrest. The hike in is a lungbuster: vertical gain is just under 3,000 feet.
Time To Complete
You could do the 10-mile round-trip hike to the Snowbird Glacier and back in a day. For a truly Alaskan experience, though, spend the night in the remote Snowbird Hut.
The hut is open year-round; but avalanche danger often renders the pass inaccessible in winter. An avalanche forecast is issued weekly at http://hatcherpassavalanchecenter.org/, and all winter backcountry travelers should be capable of terrain management and companion rescue.
No fee is required to use the first-come, first-serve hut, but consider a donation to the American Alpine Club for maintenance if you spend the night there.
Few longtime Alaskans would argue this point: the Snowbird Hut is probably the best public-use hut you’ll find on the Last Frontier. The thirty-year-old hut was acquired by the Alaska Chapter of the American Alpine Club in 2005, then overhauled—and moved up the moraine—in 2010. Today, the 18-by-18-foot hut can comfortably sleep 12, though you won’t want to spend much time sleeping: there’s plenty to do in any direction.
What Makes It Great
Set aside most of a day to make your way to the Snowbird Glacier. In addition to strenuous hiking and sometimes difficult route-finding (especially in winter, when Hatcher Pass has notoriously flat light), you’ll want to take your time taking in the ruins of the long-defunct Snowbird Mine. The pass at the top of the Glacier Creek drainage is worth the effort it’ll take you to get there: expect captivating views of the Snowbird Glacier, the distinctive nunatak, and the rugged Talkeetnas.
You can’t reserve the hut in advance, but don’t sweat it: the Snowbird is remarkably roomy. Regardless of the season, the Snowbird area—one-third of the famous Bomber Traverse; the other two huts are maintained by the Mountaineering Club of Alaska—is ripe with opportunities to adventure.
The very bold set out for aid climbing on the aptly-named Because It’s There Wall, while intermediate to advanced skiers have their pick of a vast swath of terrain above and below the hut. On colder days, the hut provides: pick out a board game and cozy up by the kerosene stove.
Who is Going to Love It
An overnighter at the Snowbird Hut isn’t necessarily an experts-only affair, but a fair amount of backcountry experience and comfort are required. Hikers need not have advanced glacier travel experience or even necessarily rope up—though there’s very minimal danger of crevasse fall on the section between the pass and the hut, hikers will need to make their way around several dangerous moulins. The glacier isn’t particularly steep, but, depending on the season, travelers should be equipped with traction and a way to self-arrest. Additionally, navigation and route-finding skills are an absolute must, and winter travelers should be well-versed in avalanche safety.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The gateway to the Talkeetnas is about 60 miles from Anchorage. From Anchorage, follow the Glenn Highway (AK-1) to the Parks Highway (AK-3), just outside Palmer. Take the Trunk Road exit to North Palmer-Fishhook Road. Follow signs for Hatcher Pass Recreation Area. When Archangel Road is open, drive to the Reed Lakes Trailhead. When it’s closed, you’ll park in the small dirt lot across the road from Archangel Road—add three miles to your hike-in distance.