I Fought A Glacier and Won

Before I became “patient zero” at Alpine Fit, my love for the outdoors was born out of a sense of personal growth and accomplishment. I like who I am as a person when I have 40lbs strapped around my iliac crests. That woman is unstoppable, and unbreakable.

The Bomber Traverse is not for the faint of heart. It is an eighteen mile trek with a 5,500 ft elevation change, two glacier crossings, and the witness of a plane crash site that took six lives.

To be completely honest, I took a tinder date on a crazy hike that nobody else would attempt with me, and I stand here today a better person for it. We started out with the intention of spending the night at Snowbird Hut, which is the leftmost icon on the map below.

hatchers pass huts alaska david staeheli trail alpine fitPhoto by David Staeheli

Our trail is mapped by the royal blue line. We got a rather late start, (famous last words), and didn’t get to Snowbird Hut until 6pm. The land of the midnight sun inspired us to change our entire plan, and push on to Bomber Hut, which is the icon immediately right of Snowbird Hut. We figured that we’d already hiked five miles in three hours, what was 3 more miles with plenty of daylight left? We were both brand new to the trail, but the people overnighting at Snowbird highly praised the whole traverse and we pushed out of Snowbird thirty minutes later.

Of course, that was five miles of plainly marked, fairly well traveled trail. We were immediately met with significant mountain runoff that had created swampland.  The next three miles beyond Snowbird were perhaps the longest miles of my life. To this day, after much further research, I’m not entirely sure there is a trail between the Bomber and Snowbird huts. We bushwhacked up, down, and around several valleys and ridges for four more hours and whether it was in the light of the moon or the remnants of the sun, we finally spotted a white dot: Bomber Hut.

bomber traverse deborah johnston alpine fit backpacking hatchers passPhoto by Deborah Johnston

We camped outside the hut that night, as not to disturb those already inside. I had brought my REI Camp-Dome 2, which I bring on every hike regardless of the presence of huts along the trail, just in case I get stuck between them or they are full. We used my trusty Brunton Vapor All-Fuel stove and whipped up two boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, and headed to bed around 11:30pm.

bomber traverse deborah johnston alpine fit backpacking hatchers passPhoto by Deborah Johnston

I fancy sleeping in, and have always taken more time in the mornings to warm up my brain than most. So whenever I go out, this is what I do. Maybe it’s a character flaw or a result of my city schedule, but I sleep better out in my tent snuggled up to my pup. Given this, my partner woke up three hours before I even stirred. We explored the area for a bit and went to cook breakfast inside the hut. After breakfast, we packed up and headed out, walking like we should have been in wheelchairs. Keira, the chocolate lab in this case, was in no better shape than her two-legged counterparts. She waddled in behind us instead of running ahead and whipping up a ruckus like she’s been known to do. As we approached Bomber glacier, we stopped for a photo op.

bomber traverse deborah johnston alpine fit backpacking hatchers passPhoto by Deborah Johnston

The gray specks in the middle of the glacier and up the slight slope is the crash site of the B-29 plane that claimed the--at the time unnamed--glacier as its final resting point in 1957. Six men died as a result of the crash, and four more remained on the glacier for two days before being rescued.

We crawled up the left side of the photograph along the rock outcroppings, then crossed horizontally to the wreckage. Neither of us had brought any sort of ice traction gear (not even microspikes), so we shared his set of hiking poles. Once we got to the actual wreckage, we didn’t stay long. Due to the nature of the accident, it felt wrong to disturb or take many photographs of the wreckage, so we continued on. It took three hours total to traverse from the point where I’m standing, to the far upper right of the photograph.

bomber traverse plane crash b29 deborah johnston alpine fit backpacking hatchers passPhoto by Deborah Johnston

bomber traverse deborah johnston alpine fit backpacking hatchers passPhoto by Deborah Johnston

This was the second glacier we had traversed to get to this point, and by far the most treacherous I’d ever been on. While there was no danger of crevasses, the slope of the glacier turned out to be much steeper than we could have ever anticipated, and we risked sliding down the sheer face of the glacier with every step.

bomber traverse deborah johnston alpine fit backpacking hatchers passPhoto by Deborah Johnston

In addition to this, we had to climb up the steepest part of the glacier, using a gravel slide for traction. Once we got to the top of the glacier, we had to climb up an even steeper mudslide to which a rope was affixed. The humans made it up the hill alright, but Keira couldn’t quite figure it out so I had to drop my pack at the top and climb back down to carry her up. She wears a harness or “saddle bags” at all times that has a handle attached to the top for this very purpose. It can be a lifesaver.

bomber traverse deborah johnston alpine fit backpacking hatchers passPhoto by Deborah Johnston

Once we were to the top, I could see the Upper Reed Lake, which I had previously been to. Just like that, even though we had roughly six more miles to go before we reached the car, the end was in sight. The hours we spent on the Bomber Glacier without traction gear were truly life-threatening, and not to be revisited without at least microspikes. As we took a snack break on that ridge, we could feel the tension and stress leaving our bodies. We felt like we had conquered the whole world! We worked our way down a massive boulder field as a downpour started, and we spent the rest of the day slipping and sliding down the much more frequented Reed Lakes trail.  

I’m not sure there is a better feeling than standing at the top of a ridge, one side looking down on two beautiful iridescent glacial lakes, and the other looking down on a huge, terrifying glacier with a bomber plane resting on it. Knowing that I am physically and mentally capable of conquering such feats is what drives me to going on these traverses and thru hikes.

bomber traverse deborah johnston alpine fit backpacking hatchers passPhoto by Deborah Johnston

And this is what brought me to Alpine Fit. A sense of direction, adventure, and a need to tell the world that not only can I accomplish these great feats, but that anybody can. Because a great feat to you might be climbing Denali at the age of 16, or it might be attending the local 5k Breast Cancer Awareness Walk/Run. This past season, my great challenge was finishing the Bomber Traverse, but a day hike to Rapids Camp off of the Eagle River Nature Center trails might be yours. So, no matter your starting point or end goals, know that the Alpine Fit team is made up of individuals just like you: accomplishing their own great feats everyday. We strive to produce excellent products that will keep you outdoors longer so that you can achieve your own greatness.

Deborah Johnston

Deborah is a full time college student with a true passion for the outdoors. She grew up 75 miles north of Anchorage, Alaska, and truly made the wilderness her backyard. Deborah was drawn to Alpine Fit as a way to combine her favorite hobbies with her work, and has proven to be an essential addition to the Alpine Fit team. At a lofty 5'11", matched with a highly athletic physique, she embodies Alpine Fit's founding principals: to design and create outdoor clothing with fits for different body proportions. Deborah is currently pursuing a bachelors degree at the University of Alaska Anchorage. On any given weekend, you can find her biking, skiing, or backpacking all across Alaska. Conquering beasts found among the mountain ranges she was raised in, her proudest accomplishments are the completion of Crow Pass and the Bomber Traverse. Keira, her chocolate lab, accompanies her everywhere she goes and has earned her title as a "shop dog" at Alpine Fit's HQ.