Hatcher Pass

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Hatcher Pass
Marmont peak 015 g.JPG
Elevation 3,886 ft (1,184 m)
Location Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Alaska, United States
Range Talkeetna Mountains

Hatcher Pass (3886 ft./1148 m.) is a mountain pass through the southwest part of the Talkeetna Mountains, Alaska. It is named after Robert Hatcher, a prospector and miner. The nearest incorporated communities are Palmer and Wasilla approximately 12 miles (19 km) to the south, and Willow approximately 26 miles (42 km) to the west. The communities are at an elevation of approximately 250 feet (76 m) in the Mat-Su valley.


Gold Cord Lake in Hatcher Pass

From the west, the pass is reached from the Parks Highway by a road winding approximately 40 miles (64 km) up the valley of Willow Creek. The pass divides the alpine headwaters of Willow Creek on the west from Fishhook Creek and Independence Bowl on the east side. To the east the road drops into and follows the Little Susitna River canyon downstream, and south, some dozen miles to the abrupt mountain front at the edge of the broad Matanuska-Susitna Valley. The road is unpaved and minimally maintained for about 20 miles (32 km) over the pass. This central portion of the road is usually closed by snow from late September to July. Although closed to car traffic, this section of road is heavily traveled in winter and spring by snowmachines and skiers.

Mills, adits, sky-trams, and other extensive early-1900's mine workings throughout the area of the pass record the activity that brought the road in. Now only a handful of people live and work in Independence Bowl, and none in the surrounding valleys.

There are no known historical native settlements in the area, although Dena'ina Indians hunted for caribou, sheep, and moose in the western Talkeetna Mountains until the 1930s. Human development in the area, including the road over the pass, is almost entirely due to gold mining.[1]

Almost all the land around the pass is public; there are numerous widely distributed small private land holdings, mainly mineral estates. The area is popular for daytrip recreation; sledding, skiing, snowmobiling, hiking, camping, hunting, white-water kayaking, berry-picking, climbing, recreational gold-mining, mountain biking, etc. Independence Mine State Historic Park consists of 271 acres (1.10 km2), with well-preserved mine buildings, and a mining museum which offers underground mine tours, in Independence Valley, an alpine valley just below the pass.[2][3] A large tract of land organized as the Hatcher Pass State Management area includes and surrounds the State Park and the pass.[4]

Food and lodging is available at The Hatcher Pass Lodge in Independence Valley.


The area has a rich skiing heritage. Historic photos show miners recreating on skis. In the 1930s, Anchorage skiers were bused to the Fishhook Inn to use the rope tow there.[1] That was only one of several small rope-tow ski lifts that have operated near the pass over the years up to the 1960s, although only traces of them can be found now.[5] Many proposals to build a modern alpine ski area have been advanced over the years. In 2005 the Mat-Su Borough extended the electric grid and built a short access road to the proposed site of a base lodge.[6]

The pass is one of the most popular road-accessible backcountry skiing areas in the state. Usually it is the first urban-accessible area of Alaska to get skiable snow in the fall.


The backcountry alpine skiing season generally extends from late September to late April.

Groomed skate and diagonal skiing trails winding amongst historical mining facilities in the high alpine area near the Hatcher Pass Lodge and the museum have a season that typically extends from October to April. Studies, surveys, and permitting for a potentially world-class Nordic ski area in the forests and glades at the base of Government Peak were completed in 2010. Clearing of trails is scheduled to begin in early 2011, construction of an access road to the area is scheduled for summer 2011.[7]

Snowmachines are prohibited within large areas of the Hatcher Pass State Management Area that are frequented by skiers. There are several backcountry huts in the area; a wilderness loop can be traveled over the mountain passes and glaciers linking these huts.


The Independence Mine State Historic Park offers tours in the summer months

Hatcher Pass is in the Willow Creek mining district. Over 500,000 ounces (14,000,000 g) of gold has been produced from the district.[8] The first mining claims were staked in the Hatcher Pass area in 1906. Underground hard-rock mining of gold from quartz veins accounts for most of the mineral wealth extracted from the Hatcher Pass area, although the first mining efforts were placer mining of stream gravels, and placer mining in the area has continued sporadically to this day. The first mill in the area started operating in 1908. Underground mining continued at a variety of locations around the pass until 1951. In the 1980s, one of the area's hard-rock mines was briefly re-opened. At least one mining company is actively exploring for gold in the area now.[9]


Looking down the Little Su River and across the Matanuska Valley at the Chugach Range, from near Hatcher Pass.

The Fishhook Road rises to 3,886 feet (1,184 m) to cross Hatcher Pass at the head of Fishhook and Willow Creeks in the southwestern corner of the Talkeetna Mountains. The area has been heavily glaciated. Steep-walled cirques, jagged aretes, and hanging valleys above U-shaped valleys characterize the terrain. Trees grow only in the lowest valley bottoms. Brush, often dense, grows on lower mountain slopes, yielding to open tundra as elevation increase. Glaciers occupy the headwaters of major drainages. Some nearby peaks are over 6,000 feet (1,800 m) tall.[10]


Historical marker developed by Alaska State Parks

At Hatcher Pass the southwestern margin of the Cretaceous to Tertiary age Talkeetna Mountains batholith is in intrusive contact with an older pelitic schist unit. The Talkeetna Mountains batholith in this area consists of a 74 Ma (million years old) tonalite body to the east and a 67 Ma quartz monzonite to the west. The schist consists mainly of metamorphosed and deformed sedimentary rocks, probably of Jurassic age. Plutonic bodies of Jurassic age, including dikes, occur within the schist; some are deformed indicating they were intruded before deformation of the schist, whereas some are not and so must postdate deformation. Unmetamorphosed Tertiary terrestrial sediments of the Chickaloon and Arkose Ridge Formations lie to the south of the schists and intrusives.[11]

Gold-bearing (+/- Ag, W, Sb, As, Cu, Mo, Pb, Te, Zn, Hg) veins occur in the 74 Ma tonalite, the schist, and the Jurassic intrusives, but not in the 67 Ma quartz monzonite or in the Tertiary sediments.[10]

The Castle Mountain Fault is a major tectonic feature. It strikes ENE and passes a few miles south of Hatcher Pass. It can be clearly seen crossing the Hatcher Pass road where concrete barriers and fencing protect the road from landslides of the "incompetent" rocks on the fault trace. Studies show that magnitude 7 earthquakes can be expected to occur on this fault with approximately a 700-year recurrence interval. The last big earthquake was probably 650 years ago.[12][13][14]

Recreational Activities[edit]

An Arctic ground squirrel at Hatcher Pass

Activities that can be enjoyed in the Hatcher Pass area include Nordic skiing, downhill skiing, mountain climbing, white water kayaking, rock climbing, mountain biking, paragliding, hiking, snowboarding, and back country camping.[15][16] Hatcher Pass Road is a good paved biking trail until Mile 17 when the road changes to gravel.[17]


  1. ^ a b http://www.dnr.state.ak.us/mlw/planning/mgtplans/hatcher/pdf/Ch2_Recreation.pdfHatcher Pass Management Plan, Chapter VI, p.54
  2. ^ adn.com | mat-su : Gold, history draw curious into mine
  3. ^ http://www.dnr.state.ak.us/parks/units/indmine.htmAlaska State Parks website
  4. ^ Hatcher Pass Management Plan
  5. ^ http://alsap.org/Alaska Lost Ski Area Project
  6. ^ http://www.hatcherpass.com/Content/HatcherPass/history.cfmMat-Su Borough, Alaska, Hatcher Pass Project website
  7. ^ http://www.adn.com/2011/01/15/1650910/access-to-nordic-area-in-pass.html
  8. ^ Ray, 1954, USGS Bulletin 1004, Geology and Ore Deposits of the Willow Creek Mining District, Alaska
  9. ^ http://ardf.wr.usgs.gov/ardf_data/Anchorage.pdf Alaska Resource Data File, USGS Open File 98-599
  10. ^ a b Ray, Geology and Ore Deposits of the Willow Creek Mining District, Alaska, USGS Bulletin 1004, 1954
  11. ^ Madden et al., Ages and Geologic relationships in the Willow Creek gold mining district, southwestern Talkeetna Mts., southern Alaska, USGS Open File 87-143, 1987
  12. ^ http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2007/1043/pdf/of07-1043_508.pdf
  13. ^ adn.com | mat-su : Quake isn't matter of if, but of when
  14. ^ News Article Anch.Daily
  15. ^ http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/indmine.htm
  16. ^ Frommer's Alaska 2009, Wiley Publishing, INC, 2009, 277
  17. ^ Eyewitness Travel ALASKA, DK Publishing, INC, 2006, 2008, 87

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 61°46′11″N 149°18′32″W / 61.76972°N 149.30889°W / 61.76972; -149.30889