Route: Whitehorse – Haines Junction – Whitehorse – Watson Lake – Tetsa River – Fort St John – Edmonton -
16.08.2017 28 °C
We started our Yukon adventure properly, once we arrived in Whitehorse. Whitehorse is the capital of Yukon with a population of 30,000, which equates to almost 80% of the whole Yukon Territory. It’s an attractive town set on the banks of the Yukon River.
This time round we had two nights and one day to enjoy what the town had to offer. The day’s activity consisted of a walk along the river and visit to the world’s longest Salmon ladder. The Salmon ladder had been installed to enable the Chinook salmon get past the Whitehorse Hydro-electric dam, and continue onto their spawning grounds up stream. The ladder is also part of the longest salmon journey in the world, 2000 miles from the Pacific Ocean to their spawning grounds in the upper reaches of the Yukon River.
From Whitehorse our journey took us northwest to Haines Junction and the Mount Logan Lodge, 9km out of town. Haines Junction is the fourth-biggest town in Yukon, but with only a population of 900. The drive to Haines Junction was spectacular as usual, with the Kluane Mountain Range looming larger in front of us with every kilometre we travelled.
By the time we arrived at the lodge, the mountains were to be at the bottom of the garden, literally. Although just off the highway, the lodge is actually in the Kluane National Park, Canada’s largest and contains its highest mountain, Mount Logan at 5,959meters.
We had three full days at the lodge and made the most of it to explore the Kluane National Park on our doorstep. Our first day started with a lung-bursting hike up towards the summit of Sheep Creek Mountain. All around us were amazing views of snow-capped mountains, glaciers, and river canyons and in the distance the rarely sighted Dall sheep.
That was followed by a more relaxing drive along the edge of Kluane Lake.
And then, one of the highlights of the whole trip, a flight deep into the heart of the Kluane National Park.
We took the flight from Silver City airstrip in a Helio Courier H295, a four seated plus pilot, light aircraft. And were joined by two friends staying at the lodge with us. Tom, the pilot, flew us out over Kluane Lake and then deep into the Kluane National Park interior. We flew up glacier flows, over mountains, around mountains and eventually landed on the Hubbard Glacier. Words fail me to explain further this incredible experience; you had to be there, as they say (perhaps the photo’s might help). Stepping out onto the glacier and knowing we were the only people up here was incredible and to see Canada’s highest mountain, Mount Logan, up close was amazing. We then took off from the glacier and followed a similar flight back, but at a lower altitude, awesome. During the flight, Tom (a New Zealander) our pilot, gave us a load of amazing information about the environment we were in, a few of which are listed below:
1. The St Elias Mountain Range, which we were amongst, is the highest coastal mountain range in the world;
2. Canada’s highest mountain, Mount Logan, has the greatest girth of any non-volcanic mountain in the world, at well over 100sqkm;
3. Mount Logan was first summited on 23 June 1955, by an international team of Canadian, British and American climbers. It took 65 days to climb, including the hike in and out of the region.
4. The Hubbard Glacier, which we landed on, is 1400m thick in some places and over 5km wide;
5. Apart from the first 10-20km this National Park is almost impenetrable, without the aid of an aircraft;
6. The Kluane National Park is part of a greater trans-frontier park that stretches deep into Alaska; and
7. That transfrontier park, Kluane / Wrangell–St. Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek International Park, is the world largest protected land area. However, this was a “porky Pie”, it is in fact the forth, after the Ahaggar National Park, Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area and the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park.
After all of that, the next day we took it easy. We explored Haines Junction (didn’t take long) and visited its great Village Bakery. Day three, and we were ready to hike again. This time, three short hikes in the south part of the park, all with different terrain – sub-alpine, rock glacier and lakes.
Sadly it was then time to leave Kluane, but more adventures awaited us, so not too disappointed. For the next three days we were mostly on the move, back to Whitehorse for two nights, then on to Watson Lake for one night, taking in sights on the way. That pretty much finished our Yukon sector.
From Watson Lake we headed back into British Columbia, still on the Alaska Highway, but travelling east this time. With the exception of some kamikaze Squirrels and Chipmunks (running across the road in front of the car – fortunately they all survived) and arrogant Ravens (who flew off the road only at the last minute), wildlife sightings in Yukon had been fairly sparse. However, the drive into British Columbia changed all that. The road going in this direction was particularly nice, following the Liard River and then gradually rising up into the Rocky Mountains. Then with about 100km under our belt, we came upon the first highlight of the day, two small herds of Bison right by the roadside, the first ever sighting for me and only the second time for Anne. Hundreds of photo’s later, we eventually moved on, happy even if we weren’t to see anything else in the day. But then, marching out of the woods came a Black Bear. He or she, headed for a small pond, jumped in, cooled off, grabbed a few berries and marched back into the woods, amazing. But our luck hadn’t ended yet. A further 100km down the road, we came across a flock of Stone Sheep, licking the salt off the side of the road. We were now getting cocky about what we might see next, but at the same time believing it couldn’t get any better. Then, just before our destination it did, we came across a full-grown female Moose drinking and eating in a small roadside lake. What a day for wildlife, we even saw a North Western Toad at our lunch stop.
For the next three nights, home would be a Cabin near the Tetsa River, just outside the Northern Rookies Provincial Park. This was a time for a few short local hike and a bit of relaxation. Because it was hot, exceptional hot for this part of the world, 33C in the shade when 12-14C is the norm. Then it was a journey breaker in Fort St John, before arriving in Alberta’s capital Edmonton.
When we started driving along the Alaska Highway, Anne remarked how busy it was compared to when she was last there, about 20 years ago. So we decided to do a survey of who/what was using it. We picked the 435km stretch from Watson Lake to Whitehorse and found that the most common vehicle was an RV. See survey results below.
Salmon is one of Canada’s biggest industries and also a vital ingredient in the health of the ecosystem. However, their numbers are falling every year, over-fishing, habitat loss and pollution being the main culprits. The government is now starting to take measures to rectify this, and one of those measures is the fish hatchery that was associated with the salmon ladder we visited. At around 6 years of age, salmon return to their birthplace, spawn, then die. With only one chance to reproduce, they need a bit of help, and that’s where the fish hatchery comes in. The hatcheries, collect eggs and sperm from the salmon, breed the fish in a safe environment, tag and mark the young fish for future monitoring then release them back into the river. This increases survival rate enormously and will hopefully help increase fish stocks for the future.
We were reliably informed that the Chinese are now regular visitors to Whitehorse in the winter. Why, you may ask, as it is bitterly cold and covered in snow everywhere. The reason is, they believe that if a child is conceived when the Northern Lights are visible, then it will have good fortune for life.