I left Anchorage friday night around 8pm and got to the Mint trailhead around 9pm. It was wet and miserable — the rain coming down like crazy and the trail muddy and nasty (which makes all the trees hanging over the trail soak you to the bone). Pharaoh and I started hiking and within minutes we were soaked. I was wearing a crappy windbreaker (since my jacket is lost in the mail somewhere) and was getting quite cold so I booked it and slogged the nine miles to the hut in 3 hours.
There is still a ton of snow there for July – snow is all the way up to window level! The Talkeetna Mountains got over 300 inches of snow this year – twice as much as the average year.
Slept late on Saturday but we were up and hiking by noon — on our way to the Southeast ridge of Troublemint – the most inaccessible summit in the Mint Valley. We reached the col, tied up the (unhappy) dog and picked our way up shattered rubble and loose rock to a steep gully. I soloed the gully only to find it was scary, loose and steep at the top. Ralph and Brad had taken a slightly different route and disliked the steepness so they asked me to toss a rope down. After hauling them up we roped up and I lead the first pitch – an easy 5th class ramp up to a little ledge. Ralph lead the next pitch – 80 feet of vertically balanced talus to an awesome ridge sidewalk that was about 18 inches wide with a 200′ drop on the right and a 400′ drop on the left. There was also a perfectly balanced detached block right at the narrowest section which all three of us grabbed only to mutter groans and curses as we gingerly stepped over it. The pitch ended on a little shelf with us tied off on a huge blade of rock. A little inspection of the next pitch revealed a steep chimney, followed by a possible rap and then about 500 more feet of steep rock. Since it was already 6pm and Ralph’s 17 year old daughter was hiking in, we decided to descend. We down climbed the ridge pitch and rapped the ramp, and then unroped and descended to Pharaoh, the glacier and eventually the hut at 10pm.
Next day it dawned a typical Mint Hut day – cloudy and on the verge of rain. Ralph’s daughter and the two she hiked in with had started late and at 4am, exhausted at not finding the hut, had finally set up a tent and crashed in the field below the Mint Hut We were all tired and the weather was crappy so we spent most of the day hanging out until finally around 4pm when the weather cleared a little we went out and climbed around the hut. We bouldered on ‘Shark’s Tooth’ – a 30 foot boulder near the hut. I climbed the steep face (there was 4 feet of snow on the ground so the landing was soft) and later we toproped ‘Condimint’ – a slab climb near the hut. The climbs are tough – especially when soaking wet and slimy from melting snow.
Monday we awoke at our regular time: 9:30 am. We ate, packed and at noon Brad and I (Ralph stayed behind with Pharaoh due to new boots and new blisters) set off to reattempt Troublemint. This time we reached the col and were climbing at 1pm (instead of 3 as we did before) and the weather was perfect (whereas before we could see at most 300 feet into the fog). Instead choosing our originally route Brad and I traversed right to a 35 degree gully and then quickly ascended 800 feet of scree and nice snow to the south ridge – not roping up until after passing our previous highpoint.
The gully topped out on an exposed section of ridge and a dirt ramp which we 4th classed up to a little perch high above the clouds which had rolled in at hut level. There we ate lunch and traded our mountain boots for rock shoes and our ice axes for the rack. Brad lead the first pitch – an easy gully/chimney to an airy ridge walk. I lead the second pitch – a traverse across a sidewalk perched just beneath the summit and above 3000 feet of air on the east face. The sidewalk ended on the northeast ridge in the perfect little perch high above the Terra and in the blinding sun.
By luck the summit pitch landed on Brad – which he openly groaned about. I anchored myself in well, lay back to enjoy the sun and tried to keep from falling asleep while Brad crawled up a boulder to the summit block – which is about the side of a cargo van tuned on end. The final moves consist of placing a cam below your feet and then standing up on faces holds, gripping a tiny sidepull with the left hand and standing up by smearing on lichen with the right foot and slowly reaching out with the right hand until you can grab a rail and hoist yourself up to the actual summit which is about the size of two phone books side by side but slanting at a 30 degree angle. The moves aren’t any harder than 5.6 but the summit leans out over nothing and the only thing around you in all directions is air and the glacier 3000 feet below you. Brad summited, then traversed over and set up a rap station off an old fixed nut. I lowered him down to a ledge, then crawled up (the summit isn’t big enough for 2 people) and sat on the summit for a minute before scurrying down to the rap station.
We downclimbed/rapped the route; downclimbing the ridge and snow gully and rapping the steep rock and loose rubble sections. At our final rappel the sun dropped below the horizon casting a pink alpenglow shadow on the Chugach and Talkeetna mountains in front of us. And finally after being roped up for almost 9 hours we unroped and downclimbed the final pitch of snow, traversed the slope to the col, downclimbed the snow/scree to the glacier and then skipped (well… limped) back to the hut on top of a nice crust in the beautiful still midnight dusk.
The next day brought sunny skies for a peaceful slow walk out to the car, pizza, beer, work, and more late night sitting around a table with maps scouting out our next trip.