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Sunday, June 16, 2019

Hiking Slims River in Kluane National Park

When we took our trip to Alaska in 2016, one of our favorite stops was Kluane National Park, above the beautiful Kluane Lake.  We took a memorable, dramatic hike on Sheep Creek Trail, ending up high above the Slim River Valley.

This time we wanted a different side of Kluane National Park, so we picked a hike on the Slim River West Trail.  The path leads up a long distance, perhaps 25 km, to the head of the glacial valley.  It requires a backpack.  You can camp below an observation post.  For us, that would probably be a four day adventure.  Unfortunately, due to weather and head colds, we only had time for a day hike, so we chose to walk up the trail to Bullion Creek, about 7 miles.  Not being entirely recovered from our colds, we thought this would be about the right level of strenuous for us.

This is the view up Slim River Valley from the Kluane National Park Visitor Center, where the river empties into Kluane Lake.  It was a great preview for our hike and gave us a thrill of anticipation -- as all good hikes should:

To the east, a high peak and glacier beckoned to us from behind the Kluane Range.  It reminded us of the fact that, up behind the Slim River Valley, to the south, the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park (U.S.) and Kluane National Park (Canada) together share a mountain range that includes the tallest peak in Canada and an immense icefield from which numerous glaciers spread in all compass directions.  We had stepped on the southernmost of those, the Kennecott Glacier, when we visited Kennecott and McCarthy on our 2016 trip.  We weren't going to get to step on a glacier today, but we were going to get some great glacier views!

The trailhead is about 2.6 km up a gravel road, and is a jumping-off point for three different trails:  Slims River, which we were doing today, Sheep Creek, which we did in 2016, and Bullion Plateau, which would be another adventure for another visit.

The trail is an old wagon road, probably one which led to mines.  Bullion Creek, our destination, was not named frivolously.  For the entire hike, the trail pointed at some gorgeous mountains:

Soon after we passed the junction for Sheep Creek Trail, we encountered this side trail with a very steep climb up to a height of land giving a panoramic view of the Slims River Valley:

Looking southwest, we could see the next section of our hike, climbing to what looked like limestone hills and then back down into the glacial moraine and alluvial fan comprised river valley:

If you'd like to understand what the Slim River Valley holds in its entirety, take a look at this 360-degree view we had of the Slims River Valley from our height of land.

Having absorbed a very rewarding view, we continued on our way.  When our path led us back down into the rocky and gravelly river valley, we stumbled upon some old mining equipment.  This was a discarded track from a caterpillar tractor, perhaps discarded by some of the miners who worked this valley after the Alaska Highway was constructed in the 1940's:

The trail is marked periodically by cairns, rather than blazes.  Many of the cairns looked like they had not been well maintained.  One, in particular, was so collapsed that Kathy insisted on rebuilding it.  Some of the river stones were so perfectly round that they would not balance on the cairn.  Kathy succeeded in adding this little round beauty, but, by the time we returned this way later in the hike, the breeze had already caused it to roll off the top of the cairn:

We were warned by the ranger at the Visitor Center that the trail would involve one or two stream crossings, so we came prepared with stream-wading sandals.  Here, Kathy braves the cold, glacial waters of Sheep Creek.  This is the creek that carved the steep, fabulous canyon that we hiked and viewed from Sheep Creek Trail in 2016.

We were surprised that, with the very warm air temperatures (it got as high as 80F), we could hike in t-shirts (rare so far this year), but more importantly, the stream water was soothing and welcome to our hot, sore doggies:

After we crossed Sheep Creek, we traversed into the next stream drainage -- the marshy alluvial area of Coin Creek, which the park has graced with a sturdy boardwalk over the outright-wet section:

We were hoping to see some moose in this area, and, while we saw scat and tracks, we didn't see the critters themselves.  Similarly, while we scanned the mountainsides for the ubiquitous Dall Sheep (a breed of Thinhorn Sheep, distinguished from Stone Sheep by being white rather than tan or brown), we saw none this year where we had seen a whole herd above us on our Sheep Creek Hike in 2016.

The trail had separated from the old wagon road at the boardwalk and meandered separately from the road through the marsh for a distance before they rejoined.  We noted that the return fork to the trail was disguised enough that we might miss it, Kathy pulled out some trusty bright orange parachute cord and decorated an obvious bush with it so that we couldn't miss our turn on the way back:

Approaching Bullion Creek, we found the park's trail marker -- a huge post meant to mark the trail on the near side of the Bullion Creek drainage for those who, returning from further up the trail, try to find the trail across a drainage of rocks and gravel that is nearly a half mile wide.  Kathy took a moment to pose with the trail marker:

Here is a view across Bullion Creek toward the glacial cirque at the upper end of the trail.  We would have crossed and hiked a little further, but the next 2 miles of hiking would be relatively unremarkable, parallelling the base of the Bullion Creek Dunes showing as the cliffs on the right of this photo:

We decided to have lunch here and spend some time exploring the Bullion Creek alluvium.  Here, we spied two thick, pier-like posts planted deep in the center of Bullion Creek.  We could not conclusively determine why they were put there or what structure they might have been part of...perhaps a wooden bridge.  But the surrounding scenery was far too dramatic and distracted us from this train of thought.

Kathy searched out a spot where dark sand ("paydirt") held the possibility for finding gold with her pan.  We weren't sure that this was permitted in the park, but we had seen not notices against it, and we decided it might be prudent not to ask the ranger (better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission).  And, anyway, panning doesn't disturb the environment like digging or speciment collection (assuming we find no gold).

While Kathy scoped out her panning site, David walked around looking at the wide variety of volcanic-origin rocks such as quartz, gorgeous sandstones, limestone pieces, speckled granite, and more.  It wasn't long before he found this rock art.  The spiral shapes recall ancient petroglyphs, but there was no doubt that this was the idle -- if inspired -- work of some more modern campers:

Kathy, meanwhile, was lost in Panning Land:

The return trip was a chance to revisit all our favorite pieces of this hike, but it did offer one new diversion.  We knew that grizzly bears are in the area, and we had seen scat periodically along the trail.  We had our bear spray handy, and we had made it a point to talk loudly while we were hiking in order to warn any local bears that we were approaching.  However, no encounters.

That is, until we encountered this print:

It didn't show the characteristic foreclaw marks of a grizzly, so it is possible it was a black bear, but we had not been led to believe that black bear roam this region.  So the mystery remains whether it was a black bear or grizzly; but there was no doubting its ursine nature.  The tracks followed the sandy trail for almost a mile.  What gave us the shivers was that the bear had trod the trail SINCE WE HAD WALKED IT EARLIER IN THE DAY.  There had been no prints when we were hiking out to Bullion Creek.  Now they were there...and they were headed the same direction we were headed.  So there was every chance we might run into the big, furry lug at any time.  We increased our loud chatter and kept an alert eye out around us.  But never did we see Old Orso.  You can't imagine our mixed feelings.  We would love to spot and maybe get a photo of a bear.  On the other hand, we want no close encounters of the ursine kind.  So, we felt a mixture of relief and disappointment as we hiked the last 100 yards to our trailhead.  Maybe another day.

Oh, did we mention that Kathy didn't find any gold in her goldpan?  Yes, maybe another day.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Burwash Landing

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Hi Blog!

We are camped in Destruction Bay along Kluane Lake in the Yukon. The weather is a bit brisk today. We are both suffering through head colds. With both of us under the weather, today would be a good museum day. Just down the road from us is the small community of Burwash Landing. It is home to the Kluane Museum of Natural History.

On our way to Burwash Landing we stopped at a roadside memorial to a local resident. The memorial was surround by small mounds with various artwork. This mound featured wood burle art carvings.

This mound had a wonderful soap stone carving.

Don't let the unassuming structure fool you. Inside are some beautiful exhibits of various Yukon animals. 

No trip to Burwash Landing would be complete without a photo of the biggest gold pan in the world. Fred O'Brien, a Roman Catholic missionary, painted the mural on the gold pan.

The exhibits show the animals in their natural habitat. Where possible, raw materials like rock and wood were used. The backgrounds were hand painted landscapes. It's almost as if the fox is looking at Kathy.

The museum also has a video room. We spent some time watching a documentary on the Yukon Gold Rush.

After the museum, we stopped at Kluane Energy for a bite to eat before doing the historic walking tour of Burwash Landing.

Our first stop was Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Church. Father Morisset, a chaplain with the US Army, built this church in 1944 with materials from an abandoned army mess hall.

The church is still used to this day.

Old Copper Joe's House was one of the first buildings built on land donated to the Kluane First Nations people. Joe's father, Copper Chief, was a powerful man whose family controlled the White River copper supply.

Our walking tour took us down to the old docks. Before the Alaska Highway, supplies were brought down the Kluane Wagon Road from Whitehorse to Silver City, at the east end of the lake, then ferried over the lake to Burwash Landing.

A small boat house stands guard, remembering a time when this was a busy port.

Along the shore were several boats --

-- relics of a bygone era.

Once filled with cargo, now they carry only ghosts.

Burwash Landing started with the Burwash Landing Resort. In 1904 the Jacquot brothers started a lodge and guiding business. Their business was small until the Alaska Highway came through. When the Alcan was opened to civilian traffic, an RV park was added. It was still operating in 2012. It has since been sold to the Kluane First Nation. The fate of the historic stucture is still under debate.

Moose Horn Cabin was built in 1939. During the early 1950s, Jack Saunders, his wife and seven children lived in this little log house. Originally from Alabama, the Saunders family were the first African American family to live in the area.

This log home was built in 1929. Bill Brewster rented it in 1950 and ran a small general store out of the cabin.  He was an important influence in making Kluane National Park more accessible to visitors, for which we are thankful.

As we drove around town to look for some other historic structures, we saw this yard full of tiny houses. We stopped to investigate and learned that it was actually a cemetery. The tiny structures are Spirit Houses. In certain cultures it is believed the spirit of the deceased remains for 40 days to prepare for the afterlife. The little houses keep their spirits from getting restless.

This gave us lots to ponder as we drove back to Destruction Bay, to finish a day that was a lot to achieve for cold sufferers.  Never fear...we have more adventures planned!

Monday, June 10, 2019

Around Kluane Lake

Here we are, back at Destruction Bay on Kluane Lake, on the Fringe of Kluane National Park.  Back in 2016, we were all about Soldiers' Summit, red chairs, and Sheep Creek Trail.  This time we're going a little further afield.

One thing we are repeating today is a 4 km hike to the top of the "island" at the East end of the lake, opposite the Visitor Center.  We'll start with a selfie from there:

We're camped again this time at Destruction Bay Lodge -- pretty rustic with only Central water fill and septic.  But we have power and a pretty setting:

We took our first coffee walk down to the shoreline.  The lake looks drier and lower than in 2016.  We think it's the long term, cumulative impact from an earthquake prior to 2016 that had diverted the flow of one stream supplying the lake.  It may also have been due to the lighter than average snowfall this last winter.

After a stop at the Visitor Center to get oriented and ask about trails and grizzlies and peer through the telescopes at the Fall sheep with their nursing kids, we headed off to find the ghost town of Silver City, the site of a pioneering trading Post on the East end of Kluane Lake.  The road into Silver City is well maintained because a fishing lodge and B&B also shares the road:

Along the way, we saw maybe 8 cabins in various stages of decay:

One she'd still stands that is shown in an historic photo of the town on an interpretive board along the highway:

The view of the high Kluane peaks from Silver City is majestic:

Our next stop was the local airport --

-- to visit the Arctic Institute of North America, which is operated by the University of Calgary.  We were a little surprised at the modest headquarters for an organization with such an august name:

Admittedly, there is an entire compound.  This HQ appears to be the nerve center only:

The Institute is a multi-disciplinary research institute and educational organization located in the University of Calgary. It is mandated to study the North American and circumpolar Arctic in the areas of natural science, social science, arts and the humanities. In addition, it acquires, preserves and disseminates information on environmental, physical, and social conditions in the North. The institute was created in 1945 by a Canadian Act of Parliament.  It has offices at McGill University in Montreal and presences with the U.S. and Greenland.

Having satisfied our curiosity, we drove back to the parking lot for our jumping off spot for our hike to the island.

 idea of the institute began in the early 1940s when a group of Canadians disHaving satisfied our curiosity a out other t

It wasn 't long before we had scaled the height of the island.  We got beautiful, expansive views to the South up the Slim River Valley --

-- and east east along the Kluane Ra he toward Haines Junction --

-- and northwest across the lake:

Closer to the island, the Slim River wound it's braided way to the near shore of Kluane Lake:

We finished feasting our eyes and feasting on lunch and took one last look at the views before walking back to the Jeep.

The weather seems to be favorable for at least two extended outings, so we hope to share more of this region before we leave here in five days.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Fishing the Tagish River

Hi Blog!

During our stay at Six Mile River Resort, we had to fit in our activities around the weather. Saturday, June 8, 2019, was our last full day here in Tagish. The weather forecast called for increased chance of rain and wind later in the day. The best time to fish would be in the morning, but when we woke, the temperature was only 48 degrees. While not the most ideal weather for kayak fishing, it was the weather we got. We took our time getting ready in hopes of warmer temps.

Our RV Park is right across the street from the Tagish Bridge Recreation Site which has a nice beach, boat launch and food truck. We carried our kayaks across the street and down to the beach. If you look carefully, you can see our boats off to the right.

The Tagish River is best know for its lake trout, but the river also holds northern pike, Arctic grayling, lake whitefish, round whitefish, pygmy whitefish, least cisco, inconnu, burbot, longnose sucker, slimy sculpin and lake chub. Some of these species we've never heard of let alone know which to catch. However, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

As soon as Dave launched, the current and wind took him. Bye Dave!

The owners of the campground recommended we paddle into a small arm of the Tagish River just down stream from the boat launch. Out of the current of the main river, we let our kayaks drift with the wind. Dave was the first to hook a fish. It put up a fight and broke the tippet, taking off with Dave's fly. Impertinent fish! Kathy also hooked a fish that within minutes snapped the tippet, leaving her flyless.

A neighbor heard us making a ruckus in the slough and came out to investigate. He said the whole area is filled with northern pike. Their teeth are so sharp, if you don't have a metal leader, you're going to lose your lure. We sort of figured that out, but it was fun while it lasted. We just didn't want to lose any more flies. Before heading out to the main channel, Dave caught a goose flying by.

Just as we were drifting out of the slough, a young bald eagle landed near Kathy's kayak with a small fish.

It didn't take long for word to spread. At one point, there were six immature bald eagles quarreling over the fish. The original fishman prevailed and the rest went on their way.

When lunch was over, the eagle took a bath and dried off his wings.

The wind kept pushing Dave's kayak closer and closer to the eagle. He or she didn't seem to mind too much.

However, once Dave got too close, the bird took flight.

Back out in the main channel, we paddled into the wind. We passed the boat launch and went under the bridge.

Our campground is to the left of the bridge.

As we paddled upstream, we could see the cell tower and fire tower where our new friend Robert works. He is constantly scanning the area with his high power binoculars, looking for forest fires. We knew he could see us, so we waived!

The clouds they promised us started appearing. We sort of thought this one looked like a moose. (Can you say, "Flying Bullwinkle"?)

There are several cottages along the river bank. The docks are fairly high compared to the current lake level. As more of the snow melts in the higher elevations, the river levels rise. The park ranger we spoke to the other day said her family doesn't even put their boat in the water until the summer solstice.

These folks have their own plane.

We drifted our way back toward our original boat launch. Between the current and wind, we hardly had a chance to cast before we were back to the bridge. Dave got one hit, but the fish shook the fly. Casting became difficult as the winds increased. We decided the smells from the food truck were too enticing. We beached the boats and headed over for lunch.

The lunch truck specializes in donairs. Think gyro, but with beef not lamb. A donair has spiced ground beef moulded into an elongated log that's roasted on a spit. The donair meat is then shaved, sautéed and stuffed into a pita, along with fresh tomatoes, raw onions, and a special sweet sauce made with sweetened condensed milk, vinegar and garlic powder.

While no fish were landed, we did get to wrestle with some northern pike. With storm clouds looming, we lugged our kayaks back across the road and packed them up for the next adventure. Tomorrow we move to Destruction Bay along the shores of Kluane Lake.

Until then, stay thirsty my friends.