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Friday, August 23, 2019

A Tale of Two Fishings

It was the worst of fishing, it was the best of fishing, 
it was the age of foolishness, it was the age of wisdom, 
it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the epoch of belief, 
it was the season of Darkness, it was the season of Light, 
it was the winter of despair, it was the season of hope, 
we had nothing before us, we had everything before us....

-- with apologies to Charles Dickens

We enjoyed two one-day stops in the Yukon on our way south from Alaska to British Columbia:  Johnson's Crossing and Nugget City at the junction of the east-west Alaska Highway and the north-south Stewart-Cassiar Highway.  We have Yukon fishing licenses, so we consulted our handy reference guide and found lakes near each stop to try to catch some more rainbow trout to put on the dinner table.

CHAPTER ONE - JOHNSON'S CROSSING, YUKON

On Tuesday, August 13, 2019, we drove about a half hour west of Johnson's Crossing to little Salmo Lake, a pretty little thing about a quarter mile long and 1/8 mile wide.  While the lake would be far to small for a healthy paddle, there was plenty of water to fish -- especially when the trout are feeding along the shoreline:


To put into the lake, we had to portage the kayaks about 20 yards down a path from where we parked the Jeep in a little turnaround-cum-campsite.  The day was sunny and the water still, so we started our fishing venture with high spirits and optimistic attitudes.


The water was so clear that it was possible to see healthy vegetation on the lake bottom, even some 100 yards out from shore:


No sooner had we put into the lake than another couple brought their canoe down to the lake on the opposite shore and put in to fish as well.  While there was still plenty of room for three boats to fish the lake, there is always the chance of interference when one watercraft passes someone who is trying to catch "the big one."  As it was, the couple in the canoe kept a respectful distance, chose the area they wishes to fish, and left us alone:


Kathy got the first strike, and a mighty fish it was!  In the photo below, she holds up her trophy.  We're still not sure how she could hold it up long enough to have the photo taken.


Unfortunately, that little fry was the only fish we caught that day.  It was disappointing because it was the first time we fished for dinner and went home hungry.  Oh, well, nothing in life is a given.  We packed up our kayaks, went home to cook something else, and planned for our move to our next stop.

CHAPTER TWO - NUGGET CITY, YUKON

Once settled at Baby Nugget RV Park (has a cute ring to it, eh?), we set out on Thursday August 15, 2019 to find the elusive rainbow trout in nearby Rantin Lake, which was a drive of not more than 5 miles from our campground.

The day was overcast and very windy, with gusts well over 15 mph.  It didn't look like a very auspicious day for catching fish, but, because the lake was maybe 5 times larger than Salmo Lake, and the winds would give us a chance to test our skills with our new kayak anchors, we thought it would be worth the effort even if we came home fishless.

Here's what the day looked like as we started:


The path down to the lake from where we had to park along the access road was longer and steeper than the access had been at Salmo Lake.  The winds made it a little challenging to get our kayaks out into paddling position with all the fishing equipment aboard -- including the ropes and all for our new kayak anchors.  But we succeeded at that first challenge:


The shoreline at Rantin Lake was more varied and interesting than at Salmo Lake --


-- again with lots of vegetation, including four or five areas with fields of lily pads.  Healthy aquatic vegetation means lots of healthy bugs, and those mean lots of big, fat, healthy trout.  We would have been optimistic except for the threatening, gusty weather.


We fished for 2 hours, with not a bite.  When we stopped for lunch, we debated whether to waste any more time, given the poor conditions.  However, as we ate our sandwiches in heavy thought, the wind died down a bit and the sun came out.  Suddenly we saw caddis-type flies coming off the lake, as well as a few sipping rises from our trout buddies.  This encouraged us.

When we put back into the lake, Kathy paddled a beeline up to a likely spot in the lee of a peninsula where the winds wouldn't push her kayak around, and there was a gathering of lily pads that might harbor some trout.  David chose to make another pass down the lake, using the wind to push him, with plans to end at the bottom of the lake on the far side where there was also some healthy vegetation, including lily pads.

Kathy struck fishy gold!  She yelled the news as she struggled to persuade her fish into the net.  David was too far away to get a photo, and was tempted to paddle straghtaway up to Kathy's area to chase what appeared to be the only fish in the lake that were active.  However, he decided instead to follow his plan.  About this time, he had arrived at the bottom of the lake and decided to set his anchor about 20 feet out from some lily pads, maybe 50 feet from shore.  He hadn't even finished setting the anchor when something BIG hit the fly on his unattended rod.  He heard the line go W-W-H-H-H-I-I-I-I-N-N-N-N-G-G-G-G! and struggled to get control of his rod and tighten the line to keep the trout from shaking off the fly.  This fish was a fighter and leaped several feet in the air repeatedly, but ultimately succumbed to the net. 

Kathy heard the struggles and paddled down to congratulate David from her spot on the opposite end of the lake.  Now that we had two trout, we had enough for dinner, and she asked if that was enough or if David wanted to keep fishing.  He said, "More!" so she paddled back up to her favorite spot.

No sooner had Kathy turned back up lake, and David had just put his fish away and was adjusting his anchor, when another trout hit the same fly in the same location!  This fish didn't fight as hard and eventually joined David's first trout in the creel on the back of the kayak.

We fished another hour or so, but the clouds and heavy winds had returned, and it was threatening rain, so we decided to hang up the fishing rods.  We paddled back to shore and admired our catch before cleaning the fish to prepare them for dinner:


Somehow, while the great fishing day at Salmo Lake had produced nothing, the unfavorable day at Rantin Lake had given us two meals of fish!  (Well, now, only one is left.)

 

Which just goes to show, you can never predict this whole fishing enterprise.  But, as long as we can keep catching those healthy, red-fleshed finny ones and have moist, flavorful trout for dinner, we'll keep heading back to the trout ponds.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Ascending the King's Throne

Kluane National Park!  It's one of our favorites.  We spent time in the park when we passed through the Yukon to Alaska in 2016, and we made a point to stop twice here on this trip.

In 2016, we climbed to Soldier's Pass above Kluane Lake, where the military celebrated completion of the Alaska Highway.  We hiked Sheep Creek Trail as well.  In both 2016 and earlier this year, we hiked out across the lakebed to an island and climbed the island for lunch -- one of our favorite spots.  Earlier this year, we hiked the Slims River Trail.  We also visited Kathleen Lake in 2016 and hiked the Cottonwood Trail.  But for this stop in Haines Junction, we wanted to return to Kathleen Lake in better weather, hunt down the elusive Red Chairs that were rumored to be there, and finish our hikes with a steep climb up King's Throne.

Here is a photo of Kathleen Lake, looking west.  King's Throne is the large mountain on the left.


This is a better photo of King's Throne, together with one of the boats that local Yukon residents like to bring to the lake to try their luck fishing for wild lake trout, whitefish and the like:


Our first task was to find the Red Chairs.  We heard that they were a short hike around the north end of the lake, so we set off.  When we found the chairs, they were already occupied, but the vacationers who were sitting in them graciously offered to let us take a photo of our own -- in fact, they obliged us by taking the photo!


Red Chairs -- check!  Now on to the more strenuous stuff.  We returned to the trailhead for King's Throne Trail and started up.  What could be so bad about this trail?  A woods road, and nearly level.  Piece of cake.


When we reached the divergence of King's Throne Trail and the Cottonwood Trail, which we had hiked in 2016, we were still on a level woods road.


The trail shrank to a fir-needle-and-moss-covered single track and started to rise through the spruce forest:


At about 1.5 miles, the trail became rocky and popped out of the forest, nearly above treeline, to show an alpine environment with moss-covered shale scree:


We gained 1600 feet in about 1.5 miles -- one of the steepest climbs we've undertaken, and much of it was on slippery rock and scree.  Going up wasn't so bad, other than being aerobic, but we wondered how difficult it would be to return down this loose, slippery stuff.  Thank goodness we had our trekking poles.  Halfway up, we paused to take in the views:


The higher we got, the steeper and scree-ier it got, but the glacial cirque of King's Throne was now in view and we pressed on, excited to see the top:


Finally, at the top, we stepped out on a talus field.  Kathy spotted a rock cairn and picked out a favorite rock to carry up and put on top of the cairn overlooking Kathleen Lake:


We were pretty sure the cirque was volcanic in origin, although the scree clearly had been left as moraine from an ice field or glacier.  We learned afterward that the cirque is believed to have been formed by glacial action and not by volcanic activity:


After munching lunch, we celebrated with a mountain selfie -- Kathy, Kathleen and David:


The view was stupendous.  To get an idea what it looked like from King's Throne, click this video link.

After resting our quads and digesting lunch, we started back down.  On our climb up, we had missed this lone tree sitting in the scree above treeline; but on the way down we paused to admire it and feature it in a photo with the lake below:


The climb down was treacherous, but we used patience and watched our steps, finding the best placement we could.  Our knees felt it after we got below the rock, and poor Kathy had to rest after that test of our strength and stamina:


We made it back without incident.  At the trailhead, we spotted a sign with a map of the trail which shows how much we roamed, squiggled and switched back and forth to get up those steep slopes:


It is possible to continue up the East Ridge to the peak of the mountain - but that would have increased our total mileage from 5 miles to 15 miles -- and the the East Ridge route, which is not maintained or marked, would have involved another 2,000 feet of elevation gain.  We were happy with our decision to declare success by hiking the trail, and looked back with admiration through our monoculars at the half dozen or so people we saw who were clambering further up toward the peak.

Maybe next time.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Joining the Gold Rush

Hi Blog!

On Wednesday, August 7, 2019, we had a whole day to explore Dawson City. We started with a tour of downtown in the morning, had lunch at Klondike Kate's and took in the Parks Canada presentation at the Robert Service Cabin. More on that presentation in the previous blog. After the presentation, it was time to seek our fortune.

We followed the old sourdough trail up to Bonanza Creek, the site where gold was first discovered in the Dawson area. Soon after the first cry of "Eureka" echoed through the hills, gold dredges were brought in to scoop the gold from creek bottoms. At one time, 24 different dredges worked the streams and creeks around Dawson City. Parks Canada has restored Gold Dredge No. 4 as a National Historic Site.


Just upstream from where Gold Dredge No. 4 has come to rest is the actual site where George Carmack, Dawson Charlie and Skookum Jim found gold on Bonanza Creek (f/k/a Rabbit Creek) on August 17, 1896. (That's almost exactly 123 years ago!)  The Discovery Claim is also part of the Parks Canada National Historic Site.


We had a great time following the creekside trail and talking to all the gold miners. Here Kathy takes a look in a gold pan to see if the minor struck it rich.


While there was no gold in the pan, Kathy struck it rich by finding more Red Chairs!


Kathy couldn't resist checking the creek to see if any gold was left behind.


Just above the Discover Claim was the location of a small town known as Grand Forks. During the gold rush, the dredges worked their way around the town. The town no longer exists, but the gold bearing soil on which it sat is still there. The Klondike Visitors Association has staked a claim to that area and allows visitors to pan for gold for FREE!



We parked at the trailhead for the gold panning area and set out to find our fortune.


Kathy has more patience for panning than Dave does. It's Dave's job to find likely areas for "pay dirt" and return buckets full to Kathy for processing.  David is also in charge of searching the area for other pretty rocks for Kathy's collection.


In the photo below, Dusty stands guard on the banks of Bonanza Creek. We were joined by several other tourists and a family from Edmonton. Their two young daughters were fascinated with the idea of goldpanning. We tried to teach them everything we knew, but alas our knowledge didn't help anyone find gold. Instead of striking it rich, we struck out. Oh well, tomorrow is another day.


On Thursday, August 8, 2019, we left Dawson City and made our way back across the Top of the World Highway to the Taylor Highway on our way back to Tok, Alaska. Along the way, we passed a public gold panning area on Jack Wade Creek.


We stopped and found a nice spot to set up shop.


Dave went off to find the pay dirt (and maybe some pretty rocks), while Kathy panned the findings.


Like most of the gold miners that came before us, we came up empty. We later learned that the folks who have the most success use a gold metal detector. Not sure our hobby of gold panning is serious enough to warrant a gold metal detector. Maybe we'll just stick with RVing, hiking, biking, fishing and paddling (and maybe some casual goldpanning)!

We'll be crossing the border in a few days. Looking forward to the Yukon and BC adventures ahead of us. Until then, stay thirsty my friends.


Robert Service Redux

The city of Dawson, Yukon, probably has the greatest claim to Robert Service, the writer and poet.  While he lived in Whiehorse, Yukon and wrote about his time there, he is perhaps more famous for his poems and stories about the gold rush in Dawson.  The first stanza of one of his most famous poems, "The Spell of the Yukon," is painted on the side of a building in Dawson:


Somehow, though the verse stands on its own, it has more meaning when seen along with the historic building in Dawson on which it is painted:


On Wednesday, August 7, 2019, before heading out to try our goldpanning skills on Bonanza Creek, the site of the original gold strike in Dawson in August 1896, we stopped by the original cabin in which Robert Service lived when he was in Dawson from 1908-1912.  It is now owned and administered by Parcs Canada and is part of the Klondike National Historic Site.

Parcs Canada offers a ranger talk and chance to walk through the cabin.  Before the talk, Kathy took a look inside Service's cabin:


Owned by Edna Clarke, the cabin was his personal refuge from the world.  After he left Dawson, Ms. Clarke decided that the cabin must preserved.  She closed it and eventually it was turned over to Parks Canada.

It is a simple cabin.  Comprised of two rooms -- a living/dining/kitchen and a bedroom, it supplied all of Service's basic needs.  The cabin currently boasts furnishings that available research indicate are comparable to those that Service had when he lived there, but the furnishings are not original:


After getting a look at the cabin,we walked over to a small amphitheater where a park ranger would give us a presentation on Robert Service.  From our seats, we could see the cabin and appreciate its setting on the hillside on Eighth Avenue with a view of downtown Dawson:


During his stay in Dawson, Robert Service worked at the Commerce Bank of Canada.  Here is an old photograph of the bank at the time that Service worked in it --


-- and this is a photo of the bank as it appears today.  While the building had been stabilized, it has not been refurbished.  Parks Canada is working on the project.  The bank sits near the banks of the Yukon River, across from the Klondike National Historic Site visitor center.


At the cabin, we were treated to a presentation by Sacha, one of the park rangers, who told us the history of Robert Service and his years in Dawson.  Sacha spiced his presentation with readings from some of Service's most famous poems, including "The Spell of the Yukon," quoted above --


-- and "The Cremation of Sam McGee," the poem which had brought Service fame and which he had written while living in Whitehorse.  While the real Sam McGee was not the one cremated in the poem, he was an actual friend of Robert Service and lived in Whitehorse.  Service sought his permission to use his name in the poem -- to Mr. McGee's everlasting regret because he was continually accosted on the streets of Whitehorse by fans of Service's poetry.

The City of Whitehorse has preserved the original cabin of the real Sam McGee.  We visited it in 2016 when we stayed in Whitehorse:


It was on that 2016 visit that we resolved to visit Robert Service's own cabin in Dawson, and it was satisfying to finally be able to close that circle on this trip.

Across the Top of the World to Dawson

On Tuesday, August 6, 2019, we took a side trip up to Dawson City, Yukon, from Tok, Alaska.  Our route would take us some 79 miles or so up the Taylor Highway, with its deep green valleys, high mountains and winding roads and rivers --


-- to Chicken, Alaska, a very small community whose sole purpose appears to be to cater to tourists.  "Downtown" is three small buildings, refurbished to tourist standards and apparently all owned by the same people:


The gold panning tourist site boasts a large chicken sculpture which always makes it into the tourist blogs (but we swear it won't make it into ours):


From Chicken, we drove another 96 miles or so across the Top of the World Highway toward the US/Canadian border, with panoramic views of the terrain below us:


The day was cloudy with showers, and one of the rain sprinkles left us with an unusual rainbow across the valley below us:


Before long, we reached a roadside rest stop that greets the tourist with a "Welcome to Dawson City" structure:


We spotted a sign for the Top of the World Golf Course (a.k.a. Dawson City Golf Course), and decided to detour down to the clubhouse to see if we could snag some golf souvenirs for our favorite golfer in the family.  Along the way, we stumbled across a stupendous view of Dawson City from across the Yukon River:


It wasn't long before we were back up on the highway and driving down to the ferry landing across from Dawson.  As we sat waiting for the ferry, it worked its way, sideways, across the Yukon River.  Its round trip probably takes all of 20 or 30 minutes, and it runs continuously through the day.


While we were waiting for the ferry, we spotted this paddlewheeler, the Klondike Spirit, working its way up the river toward Dawson, carrying tourists on a cruise:


Our ferry deposited us right on the waterfront in Dawson, and we made our way down Front Street to the Visitor Center, where we learned all about everything there is to know about Dawson.  Having checked into our hotel, we started a walkabout through downtown Dawson, a small town with a population of 1,500 or so souls.  As we returned to the waterfront and climbed onto the dike protecting Dawson from spring floods on the Yukon River, we caught sight of the historic Keno, another sternwheeler that has been permanently beached to serve as an exhibit for the Klondike National Park here:


We turned our steps upriver along the dike and enjoyed the early evening on the river before finding a place for dinner:


We decided not to be too ambitious our first night and retired early, getting up on Wednesday morning to commence our exploration of Dawson and its environs.  We joined a national park walking tour of the city, where we learned about the history of Dawson and about the continuity of the community -- both in the many buildings that have survived from circa 1900 to today, and in the community spirit that prevails in the town.

After our walking tour and some lunch, we hopped over to Robert Service's cabin which is maintained by Parks Canada.  See our next blog for a description of that feature.  After the cabin, we headed out to try our hand at gold panning.  Again, see the following blog entry for the story of our seeking of gold.

This made us very hungry.  We snagged dinner and then headed over to Diamond Tooth Gertie's for an 1890's style revue, complete with can-can girls, music and good clean (?) fun with the audience:


The most pleasant surprise we had was when we stepped out of the Diamond Tooth Gertie's revue to find a pair of buskers sitting in a pocket park across the street, enthusiastically (and skillfully) playing rowdy folk music and traditional Russian music on an accordian and banjo:


This video will give you an idea of the fun we had listening to the buskers.

We learned the next morning that buskers are new to Dawson, and the locals are not entirely sure how to react to them.  The locals worry about the buskers that are not all that entertaining.  We related to our hotelier that other towns we've visited have resorted to a permit system to permit buskers who are really talented but screen out the ones who are a nuisance.  We felt that buskers add measurably to a town's ambiance if they fit in and are talented.

The busker encounter was about all we could take, so we fell into bed, woke the next morning, found breakfast, headed back on the ferry across the Yukon River, and stopped at the Yukon River Campground to seek out the Sternwheeler Graveyard, a spot where old riverboats were taken to die along the Yukon River when their usefulness to the Dawson community had expired.

We walked along the riverbank and encountered this lone man strumming his banjo.  His lonesome notes called forth a time over 100 years ago, when such sounds probably floated across the water.  He paid us no mind as we walked past.


It wasn't long before we found the ruins of two sternwheelers, becalmed on the hill above the riverbank:


We worked our way into the woods, and Kathy found the remains of one of the paddlewheels -- minus the paddles.  They gave a ghostly tone to our walk:


Having satisfied our curiosity about the old paddlewheel boats, we hopped back in the Jeep and made our way back to Tok, Alaska, where our motorhome and cats waited (not so) patiently for our return.  We had a day to catch up with chores and errands before continuing on our travels to Haines Junction.  Check that next blog entry out for a great hike we had in Kluane National Park.