Solitude is what comes to mind when many Alaskans think about rock climbing in Hatcher Pass. This wonderful granitic alpine playground has hundreds of routes of sport and trad climbing; when combined with bouldering it can push that number into the thousands.
Although the second most crowded hiking trail in Alaska is in Hatcher Pass (Reed Lakes Trail) you will rarely find yourself behind another party while gearing up for a climb, and it's easy to be the only one at the crag on a beautiful sunny day. Climbing in Hatcher Pass has been occurring since at least the 60’s although most of the development began in the late 1970’s to 1990’s with a recent resurgence in new routes and cleaning. Until recently many of the bolts were still button heads or the occasional star-drive, old bolts that are occasionally pulled out by hand. Recent rebolting efforts by a few dedicated individuals have created a much safer experience for both leading and lowering.
When you arrive in Alaska don’t forget to rent a car. It's the only way to get to the climbs outside of offering yourself as a belay slave for a ride, which is also not uncommon. A drive of around an hour and a half will get you to the first climbs, although Hatcher Pass is also known to have long approaches. By the end of the summer, seasoned veterans will talk about having their “Hatcher legs”. Approach times vary from 10 minutes to several hours and can require a decent gain in elevation.
There is camping at several areas along Archangel Road, which is where the majority of routes are located. This road has changed significantly over the years but even now driving to the end may end up being the crux for many parties. Once you arrive peaks of granite surround you in all directions. The rock in this area is older than many of the larger granitic formations so the rock faces tend to be smaller than other areas like the Alaska Range. Most routes are between one and four pitches with just a few that reach higher but difficulties range the entire spectrum from 5.5 to 5.13d.
To have a successful day you’ll need to do a few important steps. The first is to check the weather, acknowledge that it says it is probably going to rain, and then go anyway and see what happens. Hatcher Pass is a fickle area that can be beautiful for weeks on end or rain the majority of the summer. The key is to get there early and climb before the afternoon showers tend to come through. There is a visual indicator that occasionally works for Anchorage. If it’s raining and you can’t see the mountains in Anchorage, it might just be good in Hatcher Pass.
If you are going for sport climbing and can climb moderate grades with ease into the 5.10 range then you should take a trip to the Zulu Wall, Wishbone Wall, and the Monolith. These areas all have some enjoyable sport climbs but can range from well-protected to, is that my next bolt way up there, territory. Most crags will have some sport routes nearby although generally each crag is a mix of sport or trad lines, and many routes may require several pieces of gear to supplement the bolts.
If climbing trad then you are in luck, as many routes are now within your grasp. A trip to Hatcher Pass will likely include the Monolith and the Diamond. These two classic areas are also the most likely to be crowded on a sunny day so you won’t find as much solitude. Consider heading to the Crack Garden, a new area that has become a favorite due to the quality of its lines, or go all the way back to Reed Lakes and explore around the Monkeys Face and the High Dive. New lines have gone up around these areas recently and are ripe for exploration.