Kluane Park, Yukon and Skagway, Alaska

Trip Start Apr 10, 2005
Trip End Dec 20, 2005

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Flag of United States  , Alaska
Sunday, September 4, 2005

(Karin at the helm..)

We've noticed that the weather is getting rainier and colder by the day (and especially the nights). We are sure glad we bought extra pairs of long johns and gloves and turtleneck sweaters before we left Prince George!

The Alaskan highway from the Canadian border down to Haines Junction was pretty awful. The melting permafrost has caused a lot of damage to the surface, creating waves and waves of pavement, with large sections crumbled away. We had to drop our speed to 60 km/hr or so after our car bottomed out uneasily on one of the harsher waves. We made our way to camp on the shores of Kluane Lake, and noticed at this point that one of our rear tires was completely bald. Not a bit of tread left on it, and the other was hardly better. Well, our best bet would be to get new tires in Whitehorse, and we'd planned to attempt a backcountry excursion in Kluane Park so the tires would have to wait.

We hadn't spent more than 3 minutes in advance learning about Kluane Park - all I knew was that they lend out bear canisters for anyone wanting to do backcountry hikes. With such a lack of planning we couldn't be too disappointed when the Park Ranger patiently made us aware that there's really not much chance of seeing Mount Logan. You certainly cannot hike in to see this mountain in a day or so, it involves some serious techincal mountaineering skills and equipment to get anywhere near it. What we could do was hike overnight along the front range, and watch a film on the interior areas. And this is what we did. The weather was sunny, already such a rareity, and we really wanted to take advantage so we set off on our hike that day.

We hiked about 8km or so into a rustic campground (we didn't need their bear canisters because they have food cache poles at this site). We had the place to ourselves. The scenery along the way was spruce forest moving into tundra plains in the subalpine area. A lovely glacial stream rushed nearby the camp and there was plenty of wood available in the area for a nice warm fire. (aside: I think it might be possible in the end, to measure some aspect of quality of your life by the number of campfires you've enjoyed). We thought we might be seeing the beginnings of the aurora borealis, since the skies were so clear, but after a few hours it still seemed a little lacklustre and perhaps those were just clouds after all? We went to our tent to find it frosty and we piled on all the clothes we had with us and got into our sleeping bags. It was still a chilly night. With dawn, the sun warmed the place fairly quickly and we could pack up our site in comfort. We decided to explore off-trail on the plateau a bit, before heading back to the car. The views were quite beautiful from here.

We hiked back to our car and tried to drive gingerly (if that's possible) along the road back to Whitehorse. We made it with the tires in tact (though sadly, still bald). We were held up in Whitehorse for a couple days getting the car serviced, so we did a bit of hiking locally and we visited the McBride museum in town where we learned to pan gold.

Once fully repaired, we headed out for Alaska, one last time - this time south to Skagway, the coastal town where thousands once poured through to reach the Klondike Gold Strike. Today Skagway is a popular cruise ship stopover and is at one end of the historic White Pass Railway, and the Chilkoot Trail. It is a strange little town. There are over 23 high end jewelery shops in town - more jewelery available than anything else. Traicee and I figure that the shops must have close business ties with the cruise ships - they're there to convince the tourists that jewelery is the proper souvenir to purchase from this stopover. Traic and I went to the cemetery instead. We went to find the famous gravesites of Jeff "Soapy" Smith (a famous really-bad-guy from the goldrush days)and his good-guy killer, Frank Reid. The two died in a classic ol' time shootout in 1898.

We camped 9 miles out of town in Dyea (pronounced, Die-yee...dunno what happened to the "a"). Dyea was once a rival town, equal in size to Skagway, but when the railway was built, Dyea dwindled off to a ghost town. We did tour the ghost town but there's not a whole lot left of it other than one false-front from an old realty office and some dips in the ground where privies once stood. There were a bunch of sled dogs doing some summer training in the area, pulling ATVs instead of sleds.

We left Dyea and Skagway and started our way south with brief stops at Teslin Lake (where we finally saw amazing Northern Lights), and at Liard Hot Springs before finally reaching Mile "0" of the Alaska Highway in Dawson Creek B.C.

This isn't quite the end of our Northerly adventures - our next stop is Yellowknife NWT.
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