Hiking the Gold Mint Trail
A treasure trove of beauty on one of Southcentral Alaska’s best hikes.
By Anne Sanders
Hatcher Pass, located in the Talkeetna Mountain Range, is a place with a rich history, and in more recent decades has been a paradise for mountain recreation. Hatcher Pass is named after Robert Lee Hatcher, a forerunning prospector of the Willow Creek mining district, which encompasses Hatcher Pass and the surrounding areas. Independence Mine, Archangel, and Gold Mint are familiar place names that all pertain to the Hatcher Pass area. Hatcher was the first man to find gold in all three of these popular locations which many have claimed as their favorite hiking destination.
The Gold Mint Trail holds a special sort of significance in the Hatcher Pass area because Hatcher, with the help of his wife, spent almost four years of hard labor mining the Gold Mint claim. Most of his gold claims in the Talkeetna region Hatcher either sold or leased. The Gold Mint Mine and the Talkeetna Mine (located near the headwaters of Archangel Creek) were two of his claims that Hatcher chose to work himself. Unfortunately, the Gold Mint Mine was not as prosperous as he had hoped. After an unsuccessful few years Hatcher left the Willow Creek mining district for the Kenai Peninsula, where he continued to be an important figure in the history of Alaska gold mining.
Throughout the rest of the day we gradually
realized there were other items that
may have been useful to bring.
Although the Gold Mint Mine yielded a disappointing amount of gold, the area today supplies a different form of treasure. Situated just past the old Mother Load Lodge site, the Gold Mint Trail begins at the opposite end of a large parking lot, and parallels the glacially fed Little Susitna River. A little over eight miles away at the end of the trail is Mint Glacier. Most hiking blogs and other trail information will tell you that the terrain is relatively easy for the majority of the hike. At the end of the trail there is a rapid incline leading to the glacier, but the scenery from up high makes it well worth the effort.
As with every type of excursion there are a number of ways one should prepare themselves when entering the wilds of Alaska. Young and in love would only begin to explain the lack of precautions my husband and I took when we started off from the trail head on a promising spring morning six years ago. Sometimes growing up in Alaska, surviving the cold winters and building a thick skin against the harsh elements, can create a dangerous attitude. An attitude that creates a false sense of security, and the feeling that preparedness belongs to the tenderfoot, and has no business with the rough, tough, born and raised Alaskan. We weren’t completely naive. With a little food, decent footwear, and a couple of water bottles we had the bare necessities of survival. Throughout the rest of the day we gradually realized there were other items that may have been useful to bring.
At one point in the hike we ran into a creek where spring snow melt and recent rains made the water too high for us to boulder hop across. This minor setback would not deter us from our goal. Our shoes were far from waterproof so off they went and I began mentally preparing myself for the icy water. I’ve waded through mountain streams, swam in lakes in the spring months when their shields of ice haven’t fully melted away, but no matter how many times I subject myself to the stabbing sensation of breathtakingly cold water; I never get used to it. Wading through the creek was a cruel torture yet it gave me an exhilarating sense of accomplishment. After making it to the other side, I silently congratulated myself while nursing my poor feet, and had the sobering realization I would be repeating the same process on the way back.
As we reached the steep portion of the trail, leading to the glacier, it started to rain. This was the point of the hike where lack of preparedness came in. Neither of us had rain gear. To make matters worse the climb became very slippery and more difficult. We hustled up the steep slope and found relief at the Mint hut–a small cabin run by the Mountaineering Club of Alaska, and useful resource for mountain climbers planning overnight trips in the area. It provided a welcome reprieve from the dowsing of rain outside. After a while the rain subsided, but we decided it would be safer to forgo hiking the extra distance to get a closer look at Mint Glacier. We were cold, wet, and at the swift rate the weather was changing it was possible we’d spend the next eight miles back to our car completely soaked.
The views surrounding the cabin made us glad to have made it as far as we did. Even with limited visibility the scenery up close was enough to overwhelm our senses, and convince us that returning would have to be part of our future plans. With the rain easing off and some good pictures of the mountain valley, we finally hit the trail. It was a long trek through endless puddles and slick rocks. Our wet feet quickly began to ache and develop raw blisters. The lack of sun combined with a sharp breeze made us chilled, even though we kept ourselves constantly on the move. Down the steep slope, past the large beaver dams, through the freezing creek waters, over the rocky trail, and after the sixteen mile round trip hike, we were finally back to the warmth of our car.
The Gold Mint Trail is one of numerous hiking destinations just off the winding mountainous road, leading to the cluster of old mining claims that make Hatcher Pass a historic landmark and scenic beauty. If you’re looking for a fun hike, good exercise, and quintessential Alaska beauty, then plan a trip up the Gold Mint Trail.
Originally published in the May 2013 issue of Last Frontier Magazine.