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Alaska Wildlife Guide



The Soldier's Summit Trail

Alaska Highway, Yukon Territory



The Alaska Highway

    The trailhead for Soldier's Summit is at Km 1650.8 of the Alaska Highway, just west of the Sheep Mountain (Tachäl Dhäl) Interpretive Centre. The parking lot is not very big-rig friendly, but there is a much larger viewpoint parking area right across the highway. There are no outhouses on the trail or at either parking area, but the interpretive centre has them.

Click on each photo to greatly enlarge it

Soldiers Summit Trail, Alaska Highway
This is a broad view of the Soldier's Summit trailhead and Sheep Mountain (now known as Tachäl Dhäl), from the viewpoint on the opposite side of the Alaska Highway at Km 1650.8.

Soldiers Summit Trail, Alaska Highway
On Thursday, June 29th, 2017, Parks Canada hosted an Alaska Highway 75th Anniversary celebration at Soldiers Summit. Most of the celebration activities took place at the Soldier's Summit trailhead parking lot rather than up at the summit, and a more comfortable date was chosen. The highway opening ceremony actually took place on November 20, 1942, and the 50th Anniversary celebrations were done up at the summit on November 20, 1992. However, it was very cold - about -30°C with a breeze that took it even lower!

Soldier's Summit Trail, Alaska Highway
This new display of interpretive panels and Kluane Park news was installed just before the 75th Anniversary celebration.

Soldiers Summit Trail, Alaska Highway
In 2017, Parks Canada published a very good new brochure, "Plants of Soldier's Summit and Tachäl Dhäl (Sheep Mountain)". I've scanned a copy of the brochure and put it online for download (pdf, 1.7MB).

Soldiers Summit Trail, Alaska Highway
This sign at the start of the trail reminds hikers that this is bear country, a fact that's well worth keeping in mind, especially if you're hiking alone as I usually am.

Soldier's Summit Trail, Alaska Highway
One example of each of the plants in the brochure "Plants of Soldier's Summit and Tachäl Dhäl (Sheep Mountain)" is identified by a sign in 4 languages - Southern Tutchone, English, French, and Latin.

Soldiers Summit Trail, Alaska Highway
Four versions of the Alaska Highway can be seen in this photo, the original tote road at the upper left, the military highway as opened in 1942, the re-routed highway along the lakeshore, and the new Shakwak Project highway which was completed in 2008.

Soldier's Summit Trail, Alaska Highway
The main trail sign is located a few hundred yards up the trail.

Soldier's Summit Trail, Alaska Highway
There are benches and interpretive signs with lots of historic photos places at several points along the trail, all offering spectacular views over Kluane Lake and/or the Slims River. The sign here, entitled "The Trail of '42", has facts from 3 dates:
- April 3, 1942: Arrival of US Army troops in Whitehorse
- May 22, 1942: Tenders called for construction of the permanent Alaska Highway
- August 24, 1942: From a soldier's diary: "Corduroy again today. Road still in bad shape after recent rains. Slowly this mud hole is resembling a road."

This interpretive panel was replaced by a new and different one in 2017.

Soldier's Summit Trail, Alaska Highway
One of the new interpretive panels:
"A War Time Road. Fearing a Japanese attack along the Alaska Coast during the Second World War, the United Sates wanted a military supply road connecting Alaska to the south. In 1942, the Yukon's population more than doubled as American troops and civilians poured into the territory. In just eight and a half months, they built a rough road more than 2,400 km (1,500 mi) long, from B.C. to Alaska. It brought momentous social and economic change to the Yukon.
'In about a week's time we expect 6,000 troops here and a whole bunch of supporting civilians.' (U.S. General Hoge to Beresford Alan, Whitehorse Detachment Commander, 1942.)
'We travelled with either dog packs or by sleigh with dog teams [before the highway.]' (Lena Johnson, Kluane First Nation Elder, 2016.)
'My dad asked: "What was that big thing, going around here, and making big dust?"' (Grace Margaret Johnson, Kluane First Nation Elder, 2016.)

Soldier's Summit Trail, Alaska Highway
Some of the interpretive panels have audio in English and French, including this one entitled "Many Faces":
"Men and women came from many places to work on or along the highway. They were soldiers from the United States, contractors and civilians from across Canada, and First Nations - many of whom worked as guides, woodcutters and seamstresses.
One-third of all the soldiers building the road were African American. Many came from the southern U.S. and had never experienced a cold northern climate.
The U.S. Army segregated African American and white soldiers at the time. Listen to this 1992 interview with Joseph Haskin, and African-American with the 93rd Regiment. He's speaking to CBC reporter Sarah Locke. [52 sec.]"

Soldier's Summit Trail, Alaska Highway
The view across the Slims River Flats. The interpretive panel here which was replaced by a new and different one in 2017, had comments about the effect of the road construction on First Nation communities such as Champagne.

Soldier's Summit Trail, Alaska Highway
The same view as above, with the new bench and interpretive panel. The new interpretive panel describes the dramatic changes that the Alaska Highway brought to the lives of the First Nations people of the region.

Soldier's Summit Trail, Alaska Highway
Kluane Lake and the new highway. From this sign:
- November 1, 1942: From a soldier's diary: "Bitter cold. Canteens frozen and diesel like soft lard."
- November 13, 1942: From the Whitehorse Star: "Plans completed for dedication of the Alcan Highway next week... ribbon to be cut 10 a.m. Nov. 20."

This interpretive panel was replaced by a new and different one in 2017.

Soldier's Summit Trail, Alaska Highway
The new interpretive panel is entitled "Kicked Out": Pressure from overhunting along the road prompted the Canadian government to establish the Kluane Game Sanctuary in this area in 1943. Eventually everyone - including First Nations - was barred from hunting here.
'No provisions have been made in the regulations to protect the rights and interests of the Indians. These people have been pushed aside and left without available means of living.' (Father E. Morisset to J. Aubrey Simmons of the House of Commons, 1950.)
Four decades later, local First Nations regained their right to hunt in their traditional territory.
A large population of Dall's sheep living in this area provided food and warm clothing for local First Nations until the establishment of the Kluane Game Sanctuary, when hunting was no longer permitted."

Soldier's Summit Trail, Alaska Highway
One of the photos on the sign above shows a group of men with a dead black bear on the fender of a Dodge truck. The caption says: "The Yukon waived the non-resident hunting fee of $100 for U.S. Army and Public Roads Administration construction crews, allowing them to hunt as residents."

Soldier's Summit Trail, Alaska Highway
The Soldier's Summit Trail offers good hiking even in the winter. It's southern exposure gives it maximum sun, and the wind that often blows down the Slims River valley clears most of the snow that does accumulate.

Soldier's Summit Trail, Alaska Highway
In 2017, an interpretive panel was installed to show the lower Kluane Lake levels and larger Slims River Flats that occurred as as a result of the re-routing of the Slims River.

Soldier's Summit Trail, Alaska Highway
The location of the highway dedication. A re-creation of that event was held here on November 20, 1992, to mark the highway's 50th anniversary. This was the final event of many held all along the highway that year.

Alaska Highway opening at what is now called Soldier's Summit
This postcard with a National Fim Board (NFB) photo of the opening ceremony was distributed by Provincial News of Edmonton - the caption reads:
The official Canadian-American opening of the Alaska Highway.
Approved by Northwest Service Command, U.S. Army.
NFB photo.

Soldier's Summit Trail, Alaska Highway
The main plaque from the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada says, in 3 languages: "The Alaska Highway. The Alcan Military Highway from Dawson Creek, British Columbia to Big Delta, Alaska, was opened here at Soldier's Summit on 20 November 1942. Relying on local Native guides and generally following existing trails, United States military and civilian personnel finished the road in under 10 months. Intended to support the airfields of the Northwest Staging Route, much of the road became part of the Alaska Highway. Its completion in 1943 opened the Northwest to southern exploitation of natural resources, altering Yukon settlement patterns and changing Native ways of life."

Soldier's Summit Trail, Alaska Highway
Few people continue on past the summit, but the views are even better just a few minutes past that point. This view is looking to the south up the Slims River. Three versions of the highway can be seen, as well as Parks Canada’s Tachäl Dhäl (Sheep Mountain) Visitor Centre.

Soldier's Summit Trail, Alaska Highway
Another view up the Slims River, with the Fall colours of mid-September.

Soldier's Summit Trail, Alaska Highway
The original Alaska Highway at Soldiers Summit in 1943, from the 1944 book Lower Post or Freeze. Compare it with the modern photo above.

Soldier's Summit Trail, Alaska Highway
Here's a closer look at the Tachäl Dhäl Visitor Centre.

Soldiers Summit Trail, Alaska Highway
Here's what Tachäl Dhäl (Sheep Mountain) is famous for - Dall sheep (Ovis dalli). These all-white thinhorn sheep live only in northwestern Canada and Alaska. They prefer to live at or above treeline, where they can see danger approaching from a long distance. Unlike mountain goats which prefer inaccessible cliffs, sheep will usually be found on steep, grassy slopes that face south to get the most sun possible.

Soldiers Summit Trail, Alaska Highway
Flowers brighten up the mostly-barren soil. The harshness of the climate here can be guessed at by the fact that very little plant growth has occurred on the roadbed in the 60-odd years since it was last used.

Soldiers Summit Trail, Alaska Highway
A final look at the massive delta of the Slims River as it empties its load of glacial silt into Kluane Lake.




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