The Sockeyed Blog

Ben Johnson's Blog

Eagle Plains

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Our wish to see the aurora was fulfilled. At around 10pm I looked out the back window and saw a shimmering band of green light. The band began to dance around, and we figured it was special enough to get bundled up and head outside. The lights were indescribably beautiful. The moved as if they were sentient, changing shape from bands to curtains to swirls. Directly overhead they reached their apex in complex patterns against a carpet of stars. Back in the van we fell asleep with the curtains open so we could continue to watch the lights. Near the top of my tick list of things to see on this trip were the northern lights, so I was delighted they made an appearance.

The morning glow licked the mountains, and at about 9:30am we visited the excellent new Tombstone Interpretive Centre (closing the next day for the season). We sipped local mountain herbal tea and took in the displays on local history, flora and fauna.

Staff recommended a number of hikes in the area. We chose one up towards Grizzly Lake, about 10kms south. It was perfect hike under cloudless skies. We spent the first kilometre through light forest, then we climbed steeply up onto a ridge and into the open. We climbed up on lichen-covered rocks with creeks dropping far below us. At 3km, we came to a viewpoint up the broad Grizzly Creek valley toward the sheer-sided peaks that symbolize the Tombstone Range. The most prominent was Mount Monolith, standing above Grizzly Lake at the head of the valley.

We climbed continuously along the ridge with wide open views of mountain peaks and valleys in all directions. The trail continued on, but we stopped on a saddle overlooking Monolith and soaked up the view before heading down the 750m back to the bottom.

We drove for the rest of the day. The road took us north over the Continental Divide and through the rest of the Tombstone Mountains. After the Tombstones came the tundra-like Blackstone Uplands, habitat for moose and birds. The next major landscape we passed through was the northern Oglivie Mountains, characterized by gentle-sided mountains of fractured light grey limestone and mineralized streams with orange and reddish banks, and smelling of sulphur. On ridges, crests of jagged rock emerge, forming towers and spikes. Cliffs of dolomite also loomed over the road in a few places. The road was rough, probably the roughest of the trip, rutted and potholed. I’m not sure it was as bad as what we experienced around the Alaska border.

Driving along the Olivie River, we emerged from the mountains and crossed the river before heading across a broad, flat valley, then up Seven Mile Hill onto the Eagle Plains, a long stretch of rolling larch and spruce landscape as far as the eye can see. It was almost enough to make one a bit agoraphobic – the endlessness of it. Behind us the sun sat low in the sky for hour upon hour, an infinite sunset you can only experience this far north. Our road actually traced the backbone of the Continental Divide.

In the middle of the wilderness, we came to our destination, the Eagle Plains Hotel, a hotel and service centre built intentionally in the middle of the Dempster and open year-round (!) The RV park was shut down for the season, but they let us park for free and even hook up to electricity. We warmed up some leftovers and turned in for a reasonable sleep in this very exposed-feeling area.


Written by sockeyed

September 14, 2010 at 18:09

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