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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.

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