The Sockeyed Blog

Ben Johnson's Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Yukon

Conclusion in Whitehorse

leave a comment »

We began yesterday with a short but lovely walk up the North Yukon River from the campground as the sun crested over the mountains. It was cold and crisp – toque and glove weather – but the sky was cloudless and pure blue, and the landscape brown and golden. The crystal clear water of the river sparkled in the morning sun. Still water was covered in ice and we’re quickly moving towards winter.

We were sad to be leaving the Dempster. We really loved its diversity of environments, colour and wildlife. It was amazing to be driving for literally hours without seeing another car in either direction. It was fascinating to see the sun follow a low arc, leaving long shadows even at mid-day. And of course we’ll miss the people we met at the far end of our journey.

The last 70km were relatively easy. The road was in good condition and the sun shone. When we reached Klondike Junction, we had planned to powerwash the mud off our van, but the pump had frozen, so we had to live with a muck-encrusted vehicle for a while longer (so many shades of brown!)

The 500km drive down to Whitehorse was pretty uneventful. The weather was lovely, and we were treated to some great views of the Yukon River, but otherwise it was pretty much a long haul into town. It certainly wasn’t mundane – it would be a great drive anywhere else – but after the Dempster it just seemed like ordinary Yukon scenery.

We spent the night at Takhini Hot Springs again, just outside of Whitehorse. We had much-needed showers, then soaked for a long, long time in the hot spring pools as the sun went down.

Even though we were further south, it was another cold night, particularly for me as I sleep against the draughty back doors, but I turned on the heater and put on the kettle as soon as I was awake.

It was another cloudless day, and down here there are still quite a fall leaves on the cottonwoods. A short distance down the road from the hot springs is the Yukon Wildlife Preserve, a large expanse of land with a diversity of different habitats. We took a 5km stroll around the preserve and looked at elk, caribou, bison, a moose, deer, thinhorn sheep, mountain goats (hanging out high on rocky ledges), and muskox. The lynx and arctic fox eluded us. While not quite the same as spotting them in the wild, it was still an enjoyable way to spend a morning.

We finally drove into town. The first order of business was trying to get the mud off the van before returning it. By now it had hardened into a solid cake, notably on the back where it was a visible thickness. It took about $15 in loonies at the car was to spray and scrub enough of it off so that we could return it in a reasonable condition.

We strolled around downtown for the rest of the afternoon, stopping in bookshops, a cafe and gift shops. We spent a bit of time watching the fast-moving Yukon river, then drove to a campground just outside of town. Kristi whipped up a meal of most of the scraps we had left in the fridge and cupboard, and now we’re just relaxing, sad to see our vacation come to an end. We fly out tomorrow at lunchtime, and by dinner we’ll be back in warm, grey, rainy Vancouver.

Written by sockeyed

September 20, 2010 at 19:31

Posted in Travel

Tagged with ,

Tombstone Again

leave a comment »

It was grey and drizzly in Eagle Plains when we gassed up and headed out. The journey across the plains again felt somewhat bleak and overwhelming, with endless boreal forest rolling in every direction, largely devoid of animal life. It began to open up about an hour or so into the journey, at the same time as the sun began to shine through the clouds.

Dropping down towards the Oglivie River, the scenery and weather improved, and we were again among the interesting rock formations of the Oglivie Mountains, then the less-exotic Taiga Mountains. We stopped for lunch in the Oglivies near a outcrop known for fossils, but didn’t find any.

The mountains gave way to the Blackstone Highlands – the wider tundra plateau – then we climbed gently into the Tombstones again. At around 4pm we crossed the Continental Divide for the final time, and just a couple of kilometres short of the Tombstone campground, we pulled off the highway and drove a short distance to a microwave tower.

We got on our hiking gear and set out for a stellar hike up Goldensides Mountain. It was a steep grunt straight up a steep slope of scrub, then lose barren rock. Stopping to catch our breath, we turned to take in great views west towards Tombstone Mountain and the North Klondike River valley. Cresting the ridge, we were treated to spectacular 360 views, particularly when we hiked the short distance on the open heather ridge to the summit. To the north and south was the Dempster running along the valley. To the west was Tombstone and Monolith, and east were numerous other peaks and valleys. The sun was low and gorgeous, and there was the tiniest hint of snow on the north faces.

We soaked in the view for a while, taking pictures of the scenery and each other, then began the steep descent down about 300m to the van. Once there, it was a short drive to the campground where we snagged the same spot from a few days ago, and I whipped up a fajita dinner to be proud of at home. Now we’re just sitting under blankets and hoping for more northern lights.

Written by sockeyed

September 18, 2010 at 18:16

Posted in Travel

Tagged with , , ,

Back in Eagle Plains

leave a comment »

Another breakfast and a hungover Brenda greeted us when we got out of bed at 9am. She had intended to have her hair cut and coloured this morning prior to their trip to the Dominican Republic on Monday, but couldn’t face sitting in the chair in the salon, so she cancelled. It was good for us as we were able to spend a bit more time with her.

Moe prepared us a breakfast of pancakes and bacon, then we began to reload the van, take on water, and so on. It was very sad to say goodbye to our new friends, but I hope that we can see them again soon, which is not unlikely since her folks are in Vancouver. It would be great to come up here again; Moe is very excited to take us out to the other cabin on Husky Lake. We would love to show them some hospitality in our home. As a parting gift, Moe gave us the giant horn of a dall sheep!

The day was grey as we rolled out and remained so. Retracing out steps down the Dempster was largely uneventful as we crossed the Mackenzie and Peel, entered the tundra by the Richardsons, climbed the Continental Divide, traversed more open (and rainy) country, then eventually climbed back onto the Eagle Plain. The highlight was seeing a wolf near the Richardson Range near the caribou migration route. He or she was large, sandy, grey and white in colour, and had bright, intelligent eyes. Although the wolf cleared off the road as we approached, it wasn’t skittish, jogging parallel to us about 150m off in the shrubs. We both got good looks through the binoculars.

We are again encamped at the Eagle Plains service centre among the clouds. Our days have been very full here – time seems to fly by incredibly quickly – so we have had very little time to write or read. This evening was one of our first chances, and we are just relaxing and feeling cozy in our van.

Written by sockeyed

September 17, 2010 at 18:15

Eagle Plains

leave a comment »

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

Tombstone

leave a comment »

The morning was mostly about addressing logistical issues. A thin layer of low clouds settled above Dawson, so we felt less pressure to get out and about. We did a load of laundry at the RV park, then drove into town to stock up on groceries at a couple of decent local stores, then picked up two wool blankets at an outfitters. Despite having two fleece blankets and a synthetic duvet, we’ve been cold at night in the van; it’s not very well insulated and the propane heater is very loud (we do turn it on first thing in the morning).

After our errands the sun began to burn through, so we strolled around the town. Like everywhere in the Yukon, there are excellent interpretive plaques everywhere. We took in the old and old-timey architecture, dirt roads and wooden sidewalks. A fair number of the buildings are wonky due to the permafrost, just like many of the telephone poles along the side of the highways. We looked at the old saloons, post office, stores and the cabins of Robert Service and Jack London. We chatted about the Dempster Highway to a very nice and helpful woman in the Northwest Territories info centre, and had a tasty lunch (grilled cheese, yam fries, soup and cappuccino) in a more local restaurant on Front Street.

Our final stop in Dawson were the claim sites up Bonanza Creek, about 15kms from town. The weather had turned warm and clear as we walked around this area rich with so much history (thanks again to Pierre Berton for his book on the Klondike which I read before leaving). We visited the site of Robert Carmack and Skookum Jim’s original claims which started the Klondike gold rush. Bonanza Creeks was ripped to pieces by dredges in the 50 years following the rush, but enough time has passed that it probably is starting to look a bit more like it did when they found the original nuggets. There was 1km walk along the creek with a series of very good plaques talking about the area before the rush, the find, and the mining techniques used to extract gold. Downstream these is also a restored dredge (which was closed to touring).

By the mid-afternoon we were on the road again. 40kms west brought us to the junction with the Dempster, and we made a turn north. The road is gravel all of the way to Inuvik, but by now we are getting used to it. We climbed gently until we were among quite jagged and open peaks. Fall colours are further along here. There are still trees – spruce and some cottonwood – and rusty orange bushes. After about 50kms (at 60-70km/h), we came to Tombstone Territorial Park, which was created as part of the land claims settlement with the Tr’ondek Hwech’in. It’s a gorgeous place of rugged peaks and vast open spaces. It’s cold and dry, with the summits free of snow at this time of year. Ochre vegetation lines the valleys – home to caribou, moose and bears – and up gulleys towards the rocky peaks.

We drove a short ways past where we are staying to take in a view towards Tombstone Mountain 24kms away. It was early evening with the warm sun in our eyes, cottonwood fluff floating by, and no sound but the rivers and creeks below.

The campground is beautifully situated in the North Klondike River valley, just shy of the Continental Divide. Peaks surround us on all sides, and the air has an incredible freshness. The skies are clear, and with luck there will be excellent stars and perhaps even northern lights tonight.

Written by sockeyed

September 13, 2010 at 18:08

Posted in Travel

Tagged with , , ,

Dawson City

leave a comment »

An epic day, but we made it. 440kms doesn’t sound like a great distance, but over the roads we travelled today, it was. We went from Beaver Creek, Yukon to Dawson Creek, Yukon, in and out of Alaska like a boomerang.

The day broke crisp and clear, and stayed almost entirely cloudless the whole day. Things were stowed and we were on our way before long. By 9am (Alaska time) we crossed the border and drove in and our of low-lying fog. To our left was a massive valley, home of the Tetlin Wildlife Sanctuary. We stopped in a visitor’s centre and looked out over the fog-shrouded valley to the Nutzotin Mountains in the St. Elias.

We continued on this road – a vast qualitative improvement over the same route further east – about 80 miles to Tetlin Junction where we turned north and up the Taylor Highway. We climbed up into country made desolate by the spruce beetle; as far as you could see were dead, grey trees, looking like the landscape around Mt. St. Helens after it blew. There was some colour from the deciduous trees, but it felt bleak. The rolling hills and low mountains must have been beautiful just a few years ago.

We stopped at a pull-out next to some hunters scanning the landscape for caribou and moose. An unusual noise high in the sky got our attention, and we looked up to a cloud of sandhill cranes high in the sky, swirling and calling before wheeling to the south and flying away.

In the town of Chicken we had lunch next to an old mining dredge. The road west was heavily hit by flooding and landslides this spring, and by great fortune only just opened (we had confirmed by calling the Highways Department). The road was still in rough enough shape that we had to travel in a convoy with a pilot car. We drove in a small cluster of about six cars for around 25 miles over recently re-assembled roads. The area we passed through got more dramatic. We peered down precipitous slopes with rushing creeks below. The road was entirely gravel, so the group kicked up large clouds of dust.

Our pilot car retired at a junction. North it went to Eagle; we headed south towards Boundary and the Canadian border. The border post was one of the more dramatic I’ve seen. Apparently it is the most northerly land border in the US and Canada. It sits above the treeline among lichen-covered rocks.

The road we drove for the rest of our journey is called the Top of the World Highway, and this name is apt. As soon as we crossed the border, we drove a few hundred meters more to the summit of the pass, got out of the van and walked a short distance to a cairn. It was exhilarating. The mountains weren’t jagged and glaciated like those further south, but they had a grandness and openness; mountains rolled away in all directions, and the highway was draped like a thread off to the east.

We stayed at elevation for the next 90 or so kilometers, gasping at the landscape around us. The low sun (the golden hour for hours this far north) brought out all the relief and the colours. Heading east, the sun to our backs made it all the more dramatic. This area did not seem to suffer damage from the spruce beetle, so as we came among trees, they were healthy and green. The road was almost all gravel, and rough in places, so it was tiring driving, but it was one of the most amazing drives I’ve done.

It was not until we were about 10 or so kilometres from Dawson that we finally began to drop down. Around a bend the wide Yukon River appeared below us, and Dawson in the low sun. At the riverside a small ferry pulled up and lowered a gangway into the dirt and we drove on for a short ride across the swift current.

This are closing down fast for the season here, but we booked into a spot in an RV park across the Klondike River from town. Back in town we treated ourselves to a dinner out and the (Jack) London Grill: char for Kristi, a burger and beer for me. Back at the campground, a fox siting in the driveway just feet from us turned out to the be highlight of the evening.

Written by sockeyed

September 12, 2010 at 10:46

Posted in Travel

Tagged with , , , ,

Beaver Creek

leave a comment »

With some disappointment, we woke up to another cloudy day. The clouds were higher, however, and there was promise of sunshine.

After a breakfast of granola and frozen blueberries, we drove about 10kms back down the highway to Tachal Dahl, or Sheep Mountain, at the south end of Kluane Lake. The bare mountain is known for its population of dall sheep, but sadly none were to be seen.

We bumped about 1.5kms down a dirt road and parked when it looked too steep for the camper. From there we set out on a 12km hike above and along Sheep Creek. The going was easy along a former mining road, but it was steep, gaining about 500m. Again, we were among the blazing autumn colours. Down below the braided Slims River carried meltwater down from the heart of the St. Elias to Kluane lake, while other gravelly creeks fed in from the side. The clouds were high enough for us to see some of the larger peaks around us and even the distant toe of the Kaskawulsh Glacier. The higher we climbed, the more open the landscape got. In the sub-alpine, it was carpeted in scrubby bushes in autumn colours.

We reached our high point (1300m) where 40 Pup Creek cut our path as it made its way to Sheep Creek far below us. Unfortunately clouds started to roll in and obscure the surrounding peaks and distant views. A couple of parties who were behind us going up the trail probably missed out, although perhaps the clouds parted for them (weather changed quickly).

The walk down was smooth and easy, and we were back to the van shortly after 2pm. After a change of clothes and lunch, we were on the road northwest towards the Alaska border. We gassed up and emptied our tanks in Burwash Landing at the north end of the lake. At this point the Alaska Highway took a turn for the worse. This section is infamous for potholes and heaves resulting from the permafrost. The van didn’t do too badly, but it did force us to drive slowly. My gas/brake foot ached by the time we reached our destination. The scenery was gorgeous, however. We took in a stunning vista over the Kluane River, and the low angle of light illuminated the fall colours around us. The landscape changed as well; the very rugged mountains of the St. Elias gave way to more openness and smaller trees. Distances really opened up around us.

At around 7pm we rolled into Beaver Creek, apparently the most westerly settlement in Canada. It boasts a population of 140 year-round, swelling to 200 in the summer. We checked into the functional Westmark RV park (it has showers, which we’re excited about). We then walked from one end of the town to the other in the low, glowing light. The most exciting find was a Catholic church built out of corrugated metal, looking a bit like a miniature airplane hanger.

We’re about to eat some curry.

Written by sockeyed

September 11, 2010 at 10:44

Posted in Travel

Tagged with , ,