DESTINATION: HATCHER PASS, ALASKA

 

In August we had rain every day, and you see evidence of that in the luxurious green terrain. We continued up this pass until the greenery turned to bare rock.

We recently got an amazing invitation from Yamaha to join them in Alaska. Most press junkets are to highlight a new machine or even a few new machines. In this case, we did give the Yamaha Wolverine X4 XT-R a thorough shakedown, but the point of the trip was to highlight the Destination Yamaha program.

We crossed this stream that was off to the right in the last photo. We joked with the Yamaha crew that it was a shame they couldn’t find any place scenic to take us.

WHAT IS DESTINATION YAMAHA?

If you go to the Yamaha USA website—www.yamahamotorsports.com—there are five tabs at the top of the page. One is the “Destination Yamaha” tab. Clicking it will bring up a map of North America with 50 pins dropped on it. Clicking on a pin will reveal a business name and what type of Yamaha machines are available from that business. Clicking the “Learn More” bar will reveal what services the Yamaha partner offers.

In most cases the offerings are rentals, and they can be ATV, motorcycles (dirt or street), side-by-sides or snow machines. In the case of Snowhook Adventure Guides of Alaska, there are no rentals, just guided tours. After taking the Hatcher Pass tour, we are more than glad that we didn’t have to rent machines and navigate on our own!

This cabin holds all the Snowhook riding gear. Our machines were fresh, and none of them had more than 2000 miles on them. The Wolverine X4 was a great choice for the trails.

HOW IT HAPPENED

Yamaha arranged our excursion to be much like an adventure that any red-blooded OHV nut would plan when finances and time available permit. We flew into Anchorage, Alaska, and headed straight from the airport to Great Alaskan Holidays RV rental service. An RV is a highly popular way to visit Alaska, and Great Alaskan had what looked like hundreds of late-model RVs ready and waiting. None of them are over two years old!

This is the Snowhook kennel area for the sled dogs. We were encouraged to interact with the dogs. They are powerful, energetic and handsome. Nevertheless, we opted for engines.

The operation is streamlined with minimum hassle either picking up or dropping off the vehicle. We picked up five motorhomes with five different drivers and were on our way in about an hour! Dropping off was even faster. You may choose various options for fueling the RV (like a rental car), but you needn’t worry about dumping the tanks, filling the water or anything else. Just drop it off and take your gear out. Our rental worked out to about $500 a day with all expenses included. Rental cars and hotels in a remote area like Willow, Alaska, wouldn’t be that much cheaper, and we were parked right on a riverbank close to all anticipated activities.

Most of the trails are old enough to be down a surface that is almost all rock. Others were made up of soil. The brown trees you see are victims of beetle infestation.

HATCHER PASS

The next morning we hit Snowhook Adventure Guides of Alaska. We were a little surprised to see a company that raised sled dogs and offered sled dog rides and tours also had UTV and ATV tours. The dogs are clearly the passion. Snowhook has been around since 2004, but in the early years it was heavily involved in racing dogsled teams. Now, Snowhook has “race dogs, young dogs, old dogs, dogs who don’t think they’re dogs, and rescued dogs.” With the support of wife Rebecca, owner AJ has completed six Iditarod races, won two mid-distance races, has six top-five finishes in other mid-distance races (and one sprint race), and received two Humanitarian Awards for giving exceptional dog care on the trail. For AJ, the Humanitarian Awards are a bigger honor than any race win.

This was as high up as we went in this pass. Behind us are the trails we used. From left to right are Casey Cordiero, Jered Korfhage, John Pangilinan, Emily Kantner and Scott Newby.

Snowhook’s summer Dog Sled Adventure Tour shows the unusual integration of dogs and UTVs. People taking summer dog-sled adventures ride in a Yamaha Viking VI with a dog team pulling it. Apparently, the dogs are trained to pull at specific speeds—speeds slower than they want to run naturally. The Viking’s brakes are used to manage the dogs’ speed in training. From there, it became easier and more comfortable to use the UTV as a “sled.”

At times the trails were quite narrow and restricted by steep banks and brush. It was even a little claustrophobic at times. We had to keep our elbows tucked in.

Check out the offering on the website. Snowhook has a wide range of dog, OHV and helicopter adventure options. After a stop to see the dogs and the kennel operation, we drove to the UTV tour staging area. Rates for the 3.5-hour Hatcher Pass tour are as follows: An ATV for a rider 16 and older is $225. Two people (a driver and a passenger) can take a UTV on the tour for $300. A driver and up to three passengers can take a four-seater on the tour for $350. Both Yelp and Tripadvisor have five-star ratings for Snowhook.

We wouldn’t have tried this “road” without the guides. It was a little damp. Yamaha’s Scott Newby is leading here with trips expert and outdoorswoman Emily Kantner.

THE RIDE

Hatcher Pass cuts into the Talkeetna Mountains. There is a main road that is largely dirt but well maintained. Fortunately for OHV fans, there are various offshoots and routes you would expect in an area mined for over a century. The area is the third-largest gold-mining area in Alaska, and it is responsible for over 600,000 ounces of gold.

According to Snowhook, “Hatcher Pass is famed for adventure, scenery, wildlife and much more. This tour travels through this rugged landscape of towering mountains, glaciated valleys and mountain streams. Hatcher Pass offers not only stunning scenery but gold panning, berry picking and historical mines.”

This was our camp spot in Willow, Alaska. We had water and electrical hook-ups, so we were set even with the on-and-off rain. We were close to the action.

According to Wikipedia, “Hatcher Pass is named for Robert Hatcher, a prospector and miner. Placer mining in the Willow Creek district began in 1906. Hardrock gold mining began a few years later from high-grade vein lode deposits. Placer mining for gold continues today. 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 reopened. At least one mining company is actively exploring for gold in the area now.

“The Fishhook Road rises to 3,886 feet to cross Hatcher Pass at the head of Fishhook and Willow Creeks in the southwestern corner of the Talkeetna Mountains. Steep-walled cirques, jagged aretes and hanging valleys above U-shaped valleys characterize the terrain. Trees grow only in the lowest valley bottoms. Brush, which is often dense, grows on lower mountain slopes, yielding to open tundra as elevation increases. Glaciers occupy the headwaters of major drainages. Some nearby peaks are over 6000 feet.”

This shot is farther up the main route through Hatcher Pass. The scenery remained amazing. Note the route is anything but smooth. We were constantly on the lookout to dodge rocks.

THE DRIVE

We drove 2022 Wolverine X2 XT-R and 2022 Wolverine X4 XT-R editions. We hit wide, smooth roads; stream and river crossings; rocky trails; and routes so narrow our X4 barely fit between the brush. The scenery and especially the greenery were intense. The riding was always interesting, and it required the driver’s full attention.

It was comforting to have experienced guides leading and other employees bringing up the rear. There was no chance we would have seen the great routes and trails if we had been searching on our own. It was great to be part of the tour. E-mail Snowhook Adventures at [email protected] to start your adventure.

HATCHER PASS

ELEVATION: 200–6000 feet

TRAILS: Mostly dirt roads and mining tracks

FULL-SERVICE TOWN: Anchorage

NEAREST AIRPORT: Anchorage (75 miles)

GETTING STARTED: www.alaska.org

GETTING THERE: Our base camp was Willow Creek Resort, Alaska. It is an RV park near Snowhook Adventures.

GETTING AROUND: Once we were at Snowhook Adventures we had late-model Yamaha Wolverine X2 and X4 machines.

BEDDING DOWN: There are not many options for lodging in Willow. That was why we chose the RV park. There are hotels in nearby Wasilla.

EATING OUT: There are a few restaurants in Willow, but we chose to cook in the RVs.

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