A drive to Skagway, with lots of changes to see

I took a drive to Skagway on Tuesday. I hadn’t been down since April 19th, which must make it one of the longest stretches without a Skagway trip in the past 25 years. It turned out to be an important day, as I saw a couple of significant changes along the highway, so I’ve updated and posted a new edition of my e-book commonly called “Murray’s Guide“.

It was a cloudy, chilly, rather dreary morning when I left Whitehorse just before 08:30, but by the time I reached the Venus Mine on Windy Arm, it had gotten quite nice. It was still only 8°C/46°F, though – it hasn’t exactly been the July I was hoping for.

Venus Mine on Windy Arm
From the hill dropping down to Tutshi Lake, I could see a thick cloud bank down towards Skagway.

Tutshi Lake, BC
Work began on May 17th to replace the unique William Moore Bridge with a concrete “dam” structure, and is well underway now. The Alaska Department of Transportation summary of the project states: “The Alaska Department of Transportation, in cooperation with Hamilton Construction, LLC, is working to replace the Captain William Henry Moore Bridge on the Klondike Highway near Skagway. Upon completion, a roller-compacted concrete (RCC) structure will carry traffic over William Moore Creek and replace the aging bridge. Rock excavation required for the RCC structure will allow the State to straighten the roadway and build a new wayside parking lot south of the bridge. There will be no future access across the old bridge, but the structure will remain in place as a testament to the ingenuity and hard work of the Klondike Highway pioneers. This project is expected to be complete by the end of August 2018. This project will shutdown due to seasonal weather restrictions in the fall of 2017. Construction will resume after the spring thaw in 2018.” The new crossing is really ugly, but I’m pleased that the current bridge is going to be saved as an historic site.

Work is well underway to replace the unique William Moore Bridge
There were 4 large and very large cruise ships docked in Skagway, but the streets were surprisingly quiet when I shot the next photo from in front of the post office at 10:15. Most of the few people out walking were dressed for Fall.

A cruise ship dominates Skagway, Alaska
The Coral Princess and Celebrity’s Solstice were at the Railroad Dock. The Coral Princess can carry up to 2,590 passengers and 900 crew members, and the Solstice can carry up to 3,145 passengers and 1,253 crew members. Seeing them brought back some good memories – I worked on the Coral Princess as ship naturalist for 3 weeks in 2010, and sailed to Hawaii on the Solstice in 2014.

The Coral Princess and Celebrity's Solstice at the Railroad Dock in Skagway, Alaska
At the Broadway Dock, Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam which can carry up to 2,529 passengers and 929 crew members, and at the Ore Dock, the Ruby Princess, which can carry up to 3,782 passengers and 1,200 crew members. So, these 4 ships could carry 16,328 people into a town of about 1,000 residents.

Holland America's Nieuw Amsterdam and the Ruby Princess in Skagway, Alaska
I did a loop around town to see what’s new, and then stopped at the White Pass & Yukon Route railway’s Shops, where restoration work has started on 4 passenger cars. This one, called Lake Kluane, was built in 1893 and came to the WP&YR in 1937.

White Pass & Yukon Route railway passenger car being restored
On the way north, the clouds had lifted enough so I could get some photos of the bridge work. The vast majority of people who drive the highway never see the spectacular gorge that’s being filled in, but I used to stop there fairly often. The gorge is only 110 feet wide, but 180 feet deep (the William Moore Bridge deck is about 250 feet long).

William Moore Bridge on the South Klondike Highway
I made a stop at Tutshi Sled Dog Tours, operated by famous Yukon Quest and Iditarod musher (and long-time friend) Michelle Phillips, and had a nice visit.

Tutshi Sled Dog Tours
I also had a nice puppy fix πŸ™‚ These pups are old enough to be weaned, but mom clearly doesn’t mind.

Husky puppies at Tutshi Sled Dog Tours
The last time I saw Dail Peak (in April) there was still plenty of snow, and Windy Arm was still frozen.

Dail Peak on the South Klondike Highway
I saw one of these signs at the border crossing back into Canada, but didn’t get a close look. This is the stupidest, most tourism-unfriendly sign I’ve ever seen posted in the Yukon, and I want to know who in hell gave the Carcross Tagish First Nation permission to pretend that they have any authority to make regulations on the highway. Absolutely “don’t feed or get close to the bears”, but Do Not Stop for Bear Viewing – kiss my ***. Grrrrr…….

Do Not Stop for Bear Viewing in the Yukon
On the way south I had noticed some signs beside the road going into an old gravel pit beside the historic Conrad townsite. I stopped for a look, expecting that they were “No Camping” signs. But “Active Placer Mine” was a surprise. Yesterday, an email query about Conrad that was first sent to the Yukon News, then to historian Michael Gates, was passed on to me. It was from the guy who staked this claim – I love small towns! So yes, it is a new placer gold claim, and it is going to be worked this year in a small way. There actually is gold there – I’ve been sending people there to pan for decades. I won’t do it anymore, but Wes is liable to have his hands full policing that.

Placer gold claim at Conrad, Yukon
On the Alaska Highway, more changes are happening just a couple of miles from my home. The intersection of the Alaska Highway and the South Klondike Highway (known as the Carcross Corner), and business access roads there, are being completely re-designed.

Construction on the Alaska Highway at the Carcross Corner

Today is going to be a busy day, getting the motorhome ready to go out again. I’m going down to the Haines Summit tomorrow morning for 5 days, hosting a hiking club based in Anchorage. There’s no cell or Internet access down there, so I’ll be “going black” for most of those 5 days πŸ™‚

Back to Fort Selkirk on Canada’s Parks Day

Fort Selkirk is one of the most significant historic sites in the Yukon, and countless millions of dollars have been spent there in the past couple of decades. Few people will ever see the site, though, as you need to have a boat to get there. Each year on Canada’s Parks Day, Yukon Parks supplies those boats, and I returned to Fort Selkirk for my third visit last weekend.

The distance is a bit off and the time is way off on the map below, but you can still see the road part of the route by clicking on it to open an interactive version in a new window.

Map of the route from Whitehorse to Fort Selkirk, Yukon
It takes well over 4 hours to drive the 394 km from my home to the boat launch on the Pelly River at the historic Pelly Farm. I wanted to get the first boat at 10:00, so I was about to turn onto the Alaska Highway when I shot the first photo at 05:40.

Fireweed Drive and the Alaska Highway, south of Whitehorse
The last hour is 51 km on a dirt road that follows the Pelly River down from Pelly Crossing on the North Klondike Highway. I took my car the last time I drove in, in 2013, but asked to borrow Cathy’s Jeep this time. Sweet ride πŸ™‚ As always, SPOT was on the dash so Cathy knows where I am, and I have the ability to call for help.

Jeep Cherokee on the North Klondike Highway
There are some lovely views over the Pelly River from the dirt road. I shot the next photo a few minutes before 09:00.

The Pelly River from the dirt road that leads to Pelly Farm
At the 26-km point, there’s a sign noting that you’re halfway, and Yukon Parks put up a sign confirming that this is the right road. The first time in, many people must wonder about that – I sure appreciated the confirmation four years ago.

Parks Day at Fort Selkirk - sign on the dirt road that leads to Pelly Farm
We’ve had a great deal of rain this summer, and the road was much rougher than I remember it, but it was still not too bad. I had thought about taking the motorhome in, and I’m glad that I didn’t do that, though.

The dirt road that leads to Pelly Farm
At 09:50, yes, We Made It! πŸ™‚

You Made It sign at the Pelly Farm
The Pelly Farm started during the Klondike Gold Rush, and as the Pelly River Ranch, Dale and Sue Bradley still grow vegetables, beef, chickens and eggs that sell in Dawson, Pelly Crossing, Carmacks, and Whitehorse.

Pelly River Ranch
I had met friends from Whitehorse at Pelly Crossing, and they followed me in from there. A few photo stops, and staying out my dust, put them a bit behind me, but as soon as they arrived, we got signed in, and we were on the first boat as planned.

The sign-in table for Fort Selkirk boats
In 2013, there were 2 boats running and there were some lengthy delays. This year, 4 boats were available. We headed down the Pelly River at 10:15.

Boats ready to go down the Pelly River to Fort Selkirk
Boat driver Dale’s border collie, Snoopy, clearly knows his way around boats, and immediately took the command position so that everyone could be herded properly πŸ™‚

Border collie on the Pelly River boat
There are impressive basalt cliffs along the lower Pelly River, and when the cliffs turn north, you know that you’ve reached the Yukon River. With the many channels, it’s not otherwise clear for a couple of minutes yet.

Basalt cliffs at the junction of the Pelly and Yukon Rivers
Nearing Fort Selkirk at 10:30.

Crossing the Yukon River to Fort Selkirk

In the days when the Yukon River was the primary highway in the Yukon, Fort Selkirk was a vibrant trading community. When highways made the sternwheelers obsolete, though, Fort Selkirk was soon all but abandoned. The community is now a kilometre-long historic site that stretches along the bank of the Yukon River, with 2 cemeteries in the forest, one at each end of the townsite.

My main focusses for the day were the cemeteries, and the distant farm, which I had never seen. I also wanted to see what was new in the townsite, though, and to spend time with Karla and Emily. We started our tour at the interpretive centre in the Stone House, which was built by government telegraph operator Charlie Stone in 1935.

Stone House, Fort Selkirk, Yukon
This map in the Stone house shows the different ways of reaching Fort Selkirk a century ago. They include the Dalton Trail from Haines coming in from the south, the Yukon Telegraph Line running through Fort Selkirk, and the Winter Road providing access from Dawson and Whitehorse.

Map of the roads and trail in the area around Fort Selkirk, Yukon
Following my visit to Fort Selkirk in 2013, I posted 52 photos on the blog, and I’m trying to minimize duplication as much as I can on this post. But some buildings like St. Andrews Anglican Church, need to be posted agin. Built in 1931 of materials from the Yukon Field Force barracks, it’s the most elaborate one at Fort Selkirk, and the only one which was designed by an architect. The last resident minister there, Kathleen Cowaret, moved to Minto in 1953.

St. Andrews Anglican Church, Fort Selkirk, Yukon
This is an HDR image of the interior of St. Luke’s.

St. Andrews Anglican Church, Fort Selkirk, Yukon
Emily asked if she could ring the church bell. The rope even had duct tape wrapped around it to make it more comfortable for bell-ringers, so sure. I loved hearing it – it added a lot to the town for a few seconds πŸ™‚

The bell at St. Andrews Anglican Church, Fort Selkirk, Yukon
The next view of St. Luke’s is from the upper story of the Anglican rectory.

Fort Selkirk, Yukon
The kitchen in the Anglican rectory. There has been very little interior restoration done in any of the buildings.

The kitchen in the Anglican rectory at Fort Selkirk, Yukon
When I was here in 2013, the river was washing away the bank in front of the school, and it’s now about 40 feet back from its former position. Built in 1892, it’s the oldest known standing structure in the Yukon. I had started to notice that there are now fewer artifacts in the buildings than there used to be.

Schoolhouse in Fort Selkirk, Yukon
The Coward Cabin was built in 1898 as the Yukon Field Force officer’s residence and is one of only 3 remaining Yukon Field Force buildings. Moved from the Field Force complex and modified in the 1920s by Alex Coward, it’s a lovely home.

Fort Selkirk, Yukon
My favourite artifact is this old truck, which is pretty well hidden and I expect many visitors don’t see it.

Old truck at Fort Selkirk, Yukon
The Jas. Smart Mfg. Co. Ltd., of Brockville, Ontario, made all manner of metal products, but is best known for their well and cistern pumps like this very attractive one.

Jas. Smart Mfg. Co. well pump at Fort Selkirk, Yukon
Fort Selkirk is a wonderful place to be able to share with friends πŸ™‚

Fort Selkirk, Yukon
At the upriver end of Fort Selkirk now, we were in the are where the Yukon Field Force, a Canadian Army unit formed during the Klondike Gold Rush, were based. No buildings remain. Although the sign on the trail says “Field Force Cemetery“, that is just a plot with 3 graves, within the non-Native Fort Selkirk Cemetery.

Trail to the Yukon Field Force Cemetery at Fort Selkirk, Yukon
This is a visitor’s first view of the cemetery.

Fort Selkirk Cemetery, Yukon
Only 6 of the graves have legible names on stone or wooden markers. Looking back to the 2013 photo of this marker, I found a couple more letters to the left of “…ulmer, aged 52 years”, and was able to quickly track down Henry Bulmer, Jr. – from Montreal, he was manager for the Canadian Yukon Lumber Company, and died of peritonitis on August 9th, 1899.

Fort Selkirk, Yukon
“In memory of our darling baby
Wade T. Blaker
Son of Mr. & Mrs. Blaker
Born at Ft. Selkirk Dec. 1st, 1898
Died Mch 7th, 1899
Age three months 6 days”

Fort Selkirk, Yukon
While I was documenting all of the grave markers, Karla found a big bumblebee slowly working through the fireweed.

Photographing a bumblebee in fireweed at Fort Selkirk, Yukon
I got distracted by him for a couple of minutes, too πŸ™‚

A bumblebee in fireweed at Fort Selkirk, Yukon
This is the Yukon Field Force Cemetery.

Yukon Field Force Cemetery at Fort Selkirk, Yukon
This may be my favourite photo from the day. It was that sort of day – just out enjoying our amazing world. And Snoopy was happy to join us πŸ™‚

Girl and her dog at Fort Selkirk, Yukon
Time was passing quickly – it was well after 1:00 when we started walking back through the townsite.

Fort Selkirk, Yukon
While poking around behind the old Danny Roberts cabin, Karla found this awesome moose skull.

Moose skull at Fort Selkirk, Yukon
The final building we went to was the St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church. Built along the waterfront in 1898, this was the second Catholic Church in the Yukon – the log building uses French style piece-en-piece construction, which is unusual in the territory. It was moved to this site in 1942 by Father Bobillier.

St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church at Fort Selkirk, Yukon

St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church at Fort Selkirk, Yukon
Beside St. Francis Xavier is the trail leading to the Fort Selkirk First Nation Cemetery.

Trail leading to the Fort Selkirk First Nation Cemetery, Yukon
The first view of the cemetery, which has about 80 graves visible.

Fort Selkirk First Nation Cemetery, Yukon
Many of the graves have been painted in recent years, but only about 5 have names visible.

Fort Selkirk First Nation Cemetery, Yukon
Most of the graves are tagged for identification. I don’t know if the Selkirk First Nation can put names to those numbers.

Fort Selkirk First Nation Cemetery, Yukon
A few of the graves have “spirit houses” on them.

Fort Selkirk, Yukon

After visiting the First Nation Cemetery, Karla and Emily headed for the boat launch, to go home, while I went to see if I could find the farm. I got vague directions, but after a couple of kilometers walking away from the river, I decided that just didn’t make sense, and went back to the townsite. I met a woman from Historic Sites who said that there’s nothing at all to see at the farm, just an open field, but I had been on the right trail – the farm is 3.5 km from the townsite, far from the river.

At 2:15 I was the boat launch, but was in no hurry, so waited and talked to the boat driver for a while until other people showed up.

The boat landing at Fort Selkirk, Yukon
I didn’t catch my boat driver’s first name, but he’s a younger brother of famous Fort Selkirk guide Danny Roberts, who died in 2000. My driver was born in Fort Selkirk in 1941, and has no end of stories – a very interesting fellow, as was his brother, who I talked to in 1997.

Heading back into the Pelly River.

Baslat cliffs at the mouth of the Pelly River
The drive back to the highway.

One final photo of one of the 2 stretches of re-surfacing.

Construction on the North Klondike Highway

With a cinnamon bun stop at Braeburn Lodge, I got home at 7:30, 14 hours after leaving home. I was soon in bed – it had been a wonderful day exploring my Yukon!

Helicopter to a crashed USAF C-47 north of Haines Junction

A few weeks ago, I got a call from a friend who was trying to get 6 people together to fly to the most iconic of the many plane crashes in the Yukon – a C-47 high on a barren mountain north of Haines Junction. Yes, I was in!

Putting together something like that can be like herding cats, but Gerry made it happen. A last minute time change due to other commitments at Trans North Helicopters moved us from 1:30 to 6pm on July 12th, but in the Land of the Midnight Sun, that made no real difference.

I left home at 4:00 for the 169-km drive to the Haines Junction Airport. The weather was quite good in Whitehorse, as was the forecast for Haines Junction. Nearing Haines Junction, though, the weather reality ahead was much different.

Rainstorm ahead on the Alaska Highway east of Haines Junction, Yukon
I drove into a wild storm at the airport, with high winds and heavy rain. By 6:10, though, it was passing over.

A few minutes later, our magic carpet arrived – a 1994 Bell 206L-4 LongRanger, registration C-GESH.

Trans North's 1994 Bell 206L-4 LongRanger, registration C-GESH
We met our pilot, Ian, and after a quick safety briefing, the 6 passengers were getting buckled in. In the Long Ranger, even the person in the rear middle seat has great viewing.

Geting buckled into a Trans North Bell 206L-4 LongRanger
Away we go, heading north at 6:43. Pretty much as soon as we were airborne, I realized that I should have brought my Garmin Summit to track our route.

Flying over the Haines Junction Airport, Yukon
From my rear-facing seat, the view was to the east. The large lake is Pine Lake, with the Alaska Highway in the centre of the photo. There were rainstorms in every direction.

Aerial view of Pine Lake and the Alaska Highway
A close look at the slopes of Paint Mountain.

Paint Mountain, Yukon
North of Paint Mountain, Ian angled the helicopter off to the northeast. This is vast country, with the odd ATV trail the only sign that humans travel through it.

Flying over the Yukon wilderness north of Haines Junction
The valleys have a lot of thick brush, but one you get above that, there are some superb ridges for hiking. Most species of Yukon wildlife live down there – grizzlies, moose, caribou, sheep….

Flying over the Yukon wilderness north of Haines Junction
Flying up Marshall Creek at 6:49, we spotted the only cabin along our 100-km route. It’s the tiny green roof above and left of centre in the next photo.

A cabin on Marshall Creek, Yukon
Nearing 7,000 feet elevation, at 6:51. At one point, Ian asked if everyone was feeling okay, because everybody had stopped talking. I guess we were all just stunned by how incredible the Yukon is from the air.

It’s the great, big, broad land ‘way up yonder,
It’s the forests where silence has lease;
It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.

(“The Spell of the Yukon”, Robert W. Service, 1907)

It's the great, big, broad land 'way up yonder...
There are 3 Dall sheep rams down there. They were not happy about the noise, but we were gone in just a few seconds.

Flying over Dall sheep rams in the Yukon wilderness

Flying over Dall sheep rams in the Yukon wilderness

A couple of minutes before 7:00, Ian settled the helicopter on a saddle of broken rock literally in the middle of nowhere. He said that the C-47 was just ahead and below our position.

Incredible. I controlled my excitement so that everyone could get initial shots of the wreck without any people in them.

Crashed USAF C-47 / DC-3 high in the mountains north of Haines Junction, Yukon
The aircraft is a Douglas C-47D, the US military designation for a DC-3. This one crashed on February 7, 1950 while searching for a USAF C-54 troop transport that vanished while flying from Alaska to Montana. There were 44 people on board the C-54 – 8 crew members and 36 passengers, including 2 civilians, a woman and her infant son. That aircraft has never been found, though people continue the search each summer to this day.

Crashed USAF C-47 / DC-3 high in the mountains north of Haines Junction, Yukon
This C-47, U.S. Army Air Force unit number 45-1037, was based at Eielson Air Force Base in Anchorage. The Army Air Forces “Report of Major Accident” says that the accident occurred at 19:45 Zulu, which is 11:45 local time. “Aircraft departed Whitehorse, Canada, at approximately 0815, 7 February 1950 to participate in search for a missing USAF C-54. The crew was assigned a search area 35 to 50 miles south of Ashihik [sic – Aishihik] in the Yukon Territory. Upon arrival at the search area the weather was overcast to broken. Descent to 4000′ indicated was made and search was performed in the east side of the area. A parallel search of surrounding mountain peaks was not made due to low-hanging broken cloud. When the search of the eastern portion of the area had been completed, the aircraft climbed to an altitude of 7500 feet and contacted Whitehorse, giving a position report. A descent was then made to 5000′ and proceeded toward the western portion of the search area. The pass through which the pilot had intended to fly in order to get into the other portion of the area closed in due to ice fog. A turn was made and another pass selected which appeared to have ample clearance. Pilot applied normal climb power-settings and continued toward the saddle-back. A down-draft was encountered which stopped the climb of the aircraft. As soon as the aircraft was clear of the downdraft full power was applied to the engines. Another down-draft was encountered at this time and aircraft flew into the side of the mountain.”

Crashed USAF C-47 / DC-3 high in the mountains north of Haines Junction, Yukon

There were 10 people on board the plane, and remarkably, all survived, and injuries were relatively minor. The pilot was 28-year-old First Lieutenant Donald J. King. The rest of the crew consisted of co-pilot Second Lieutenant Homer L. Zachariae, radio operator Master Sergeant Charles R. Dunne, and flight engineers Sergeant Edward J. Wesloski and PFC Richard L. Toth. Also on board were 5 Canadian search spotters, Privates P.R. Sweeney, J.C. Shaw, R.H. Clappison, O.O. Carter, and M. Chimko.

From the next photo on, most of the photos have been processed as HDR images to bring out all the detail.

Crashed USAF C-47 / DC-3 high in the mountains north of Haines Junction, Yukon
When I began writing this post, it took a few hours to get the real story of the rescue put together. Ian told us that at least one member of the crew had walked to the highway. That would have been an incredible survival story, but it’s not true. The confusion comes in because another C-47 involved in the search had crashed on Mount Lorne south of Whitehorse on February 1st – the pilot of that crash had walked about 5 miles to the Carcross Road. The newspaper photo below is one of many articles about that crash, in newspapers across North America.

Crashed USAF C-47 / DC-3 on Lorne Mountain south of Whitehorse, Yukon
On Wednesday, February 8th, the day after the crash, newspaper articles started to appear. Due to the position report that the pilot had climbed out of the valley to make, and the fact that clear S.O.S. signals were able to be transmitted from the C-47, the crash site had been found fairly quickly. However, both “Aircraft Missing” and “Aircraft Found” articles appeared in various newspapers that day. The article that follows, and many others, use “Pon Lake” as a location reference, but there is no lake officially named that in the Yukon – I’m fairly certain that Pine Lake is the one being referred to. Most of the articles say that 12 men were on board, but there were only 10 according to the official crash report quoted above. Many reports say that the temperature at the crash site was -38°F (that’s -39°C).

Crashed USAF C-47 / DC-3 high in the mountains north of Haines Junction, Yukon

On Thursday, February 9th, newspaper reports included statements such as “Ten men, three with painfully broken bones, huddled miserably today in the wreckage of their C-47 search plane which crashed Tuesday on a frozen Yukon mountainside.” The injury reports were soon changed to one man with a broken leg, one with chest injuries, and a third in shock.

Food, sleeping bags, and a radio were dropped to the men at the crash site by the first rescue plane to spot them. Other aircraft dropped tents other survival gear, and firewood.

A rescue party was flown to an emergency airstrip which had been built on the ice of Pine Lake, and “slogged over virtually impassable terrain toward the crash site.” The rescue party was soon joined by four M29 Weasels, a tracked vehicle built by Studebaker, which were sent ahead to break trail. One newspaper reported that “The 10-man rescue party consisted of crack U.S. mountain ski troops from Camp Carson, Colo., and Canadian soldiers trained in Arctic rescue work.” and another said that “The veteran 10-man group was equipped with sleds, ropes, and ice axes for shopping out steps in steep, slippery places. The survivors will be placed on the sleds and eased down the peak with the ropes.”

By nightfall on the 9th, the rescue party (minus two of the Weasels which had tracks come off) had reached the valley to the west of the crash site. The men planned to climb the last 2,000 feet of steep mountainside in the morning. In the meantime, though 6 rescue personnel including a doctor had dropped to the C-47 from an RCAF Dakota by parachute (“Dakota” was the Canadian military designation for a C-47/DC-3).

Crashed USAF C-47 / DC-3 high in the mountains north of Haines Junction, Yukon

Crashed USAF C-47 / DC-3 high in the mountains north of Haines Junction, Yukon

Crashed USAF C-47 / DC-3 high in the mountains north of Haines Junction, Yukon

On the afternoon of February 10th, the rescue was largely completed when a USAF rescue helicopter made 5 trips to the base of the mountain below the crash scene and brought out 9 men. When darkness fell, “The 10th man, Lance-Corporal Mike Chimko, of Kelvington, Sask., remained with a ground rescue party at the base of the peak.” The pilot, Lt. King, told reporters that the slide down the 45-degree slope to the helicopter landing site was the only time during the ordeal that he was frightened: “If a guy couldn’t dig his heels in to stop himself every so often he had a free ticket to hell – he’d drop all the way into the valley.”

The story that Lt. Don King, the pilot, seems to have told reporters is very different that what the official report states. “We were flying through a mountain pass when the weather gummed in on us,” he recalled. “We were caught and just couldn’t get out. Visibility was practically nil. We swerved away from jutting rock and just before we pancaked at the top of the mountain I pulled the stick back.”

The closest brush with death during the crash was that of M/Sgt. Charles Dunne. He was half out of his seat when the aircraft struck the mountain. A propeller broke off and came through the side of the fuselage, breaking his leg. “If I’d still been in my seat it would have killed me.”

This photo of the crash scene was widely published on February 10th and 11th.

Crashed USAF C-47 / DC-3 high in the mountains north of Haines Junction, Yukon
So, that was how the C-47 arrived here and the crew left the site. Now, we have this amazing site to visit. The next photo shows the co-pilot’s side of the cockpit.

Crashed USAF C-47 / DC-3 high in the mountains north of Haines Junction, Yukon
The condition of the aircraft is remarkable. Covered in snow for most of the year, everything, inside and out, and in exceptionally good condition. Snow and ice driven by winds even keep much of the aluminum polished to a high gloss.

Crashed USAF C-47 / DC-3 high in the mountains north of Haines Junction, Yukon
The number on the tail, 51037, is a shortened version of its Army Air Force number, 45-1037.

Crashed USAF C-47 / DC-3 high in the mountains north of Haines Junction, Yukon
I mostly just walked slowly around the aircraft, marvelling at the scene. And now having followed the actual story through newspapers of the time, marvelling at the skill, teamwork and heroism that resulted in everyone surviving what could easily have been an unsurvivable crash.

Crashed USAF C-47 / DC-3 high in the mountains north of Haines Junction, Yukon
The interior looks much the same as it did once the air force parts-removal team finished with it 67 years ago.

Crashed USAF C-47 / DC-3 high in the mountains north of Haines Junction, Yukon
The position of this damage at the outboard edge of the engine means that it was the landing gear that caused it.

Crashed USAF C-47 / DC-3 high in the mountains north of Haines Junction, Yukon
After about 20 minutes at the crash site, a cloud started to blanket the slope, and it was time to get back to the helicopter. I wasn’t “finished” yet, but I had documented the site to my satisfaction. Now I just wanted to sit back and look at the plane and the mountains and think about the events that led to it being here.

Crashed USAF C-47 / DC-3 high in the mountains north of Haines Junction, Yukon
Walking back to the helicopter. The iconic C-47 vanishes into the mist.

Crashed USAF C-47 / DC-3 high in the mountains north of Haines Junction, Yukon
I stopped just long enough to lay down to capture a bit of colour in this now gray world.

Wildflower on a Yukon mountain-top
Well that’s not good! With a helicopter, it’s possible to fly with that much visibility (low and slow!), but it’s certainly not recommended.

Helicopter on a mountain-top in thick cloud
Within a few minutes, the cloud had blown over, and we lifted off the mountain at 7:38. Two minutes later, we passed over this small, still-frozen lake.

As much as I’m tired of the weather we get in the Yukon, outings like this confirm the fact that I can never leave this country. Most Yukoners who have left say that while you may leave the Yukon, the Yukon never leaves you.

At 7:46, just 8 minutes after leaving the crash site, the Alaska Highway could be seen in the distance.

Back over the Haines Junction airport at 7:49.

Aerial view of the Haines Junction airport, Yukon
It took a few minutes for Ian to get his bird tied down for the night, and then we went back to the office to pay for the trip. The cost broke down to $135.60 per person. Everybody agreed that it was an absolutely incredible experience for that sort of money.

Seat in a Trans North Bell Long Ranger helicopter
One last look at “Echo Sierra Hotel” and we were all on our way back to Whitehorse.

Trans North's 1994 Bell 206L-4 LongRanger, C-GESH
Just a few miles from the airport, the skies opened up in a major way! That would have been nasty up on the mountain.

Looking south (east actually) right at Km 1474 of the Alaska Highway, at 9:14 pm. What a crazy weather-day.

One final shot from the day, of part of the 8 km of Alaska Highway that’s being re-constructed to get rid of some really bad heaves that have been getting worse and worse for 20 years or so.

5 days at Kluane Lake: grizzlies, history, and beach fun

I got home from our 62-day wander around BC on June 26th, and on the 28th, was on the road again. I had come home a few days early so that Cathy could join us for an extra-long Canada Day (July 1st) weekend out at our favourite campground, Congdon Creek on Kluane Lake.

Cathy took the Tracker to work that day, and after she got off work, we met at a rest area at Km 1436 of the Alaska Highway, just west of Whitehorse. I hooked the Tracker up to the motorhome there, and by 5:00 pm, we were on our way. Just after 6:00, we stopped at the Otter Falls Cutoff lodge at Km 1546, fed the kids dinner and then went in to the cafe and had a leisurely dinner ourselves.

As we neared the campground a couple of minutes before 9:00 pm, we saw a grizzly along the shore of Kluane Lake at Km 1663. That put the weekend off to a great start – we seldom even stop for black bears, but seeing a grizzly is always a very special experience for us.

Grizzly bear along the Alaska Highway at Kluane Lake, Yukon
He was very focussed on eating a very specific light yellow flower, and paid little attention to us.

Grizzly bear along the Alaska Highway at Kluane Lake, Yukon
We spent half an hour with the bear, and then continued on.

Grizzly bear along the Alaska Highway at Kluane Lake, Yukon
Just a couple of hundred meters/yards from the Congdon Creek Campground entrance at Km 1666, more grizzlies! This was amazing.

Grizzly bear with new twins along the Alaska Highway at Kluane Lake, Yukon
There was very litte traffic on the highway at 9:30, but everybody stopped to watch this family. A semi-trailer even stopped and sat in the traffic lane for a few minutes while the driver took photos from the passenger window.

Grizzly bear with new twins along the Alaska Highway at Kluane Lake, Yukon
After about 10 minutes, the family came right up onto the shoulder of the highway. The cubs were really funny, standing up, and playing, as well as getting the business of having dinner taken care of.

Grizzly bear with new twins along the Alaska Highway at Kluane Lake, Yukon
We stayed with the family until they wandered off into the forest after about 20 minutes, and normal traffic resumed on the Alaska Highway.

Grizzly bear cub along the Alaska Highway at Kluane Lake, Yukon

We prefer to set up in lakefront campsites, but knew that they would all be taken by the time we arrived. They were, and we set up in site #28 up in the forest (there are a total of 39 sites at Congdon Creek Campground). The next morning, though, I took the Tracker down to the lakeshore, as as soon as the camper left site #8, I parked the Tracker on the site and then walked back and drove the motorhome down. Having a “toad” can be very handy! The Yukon family camped next to us in #30 was also watching for a lakeshore site, and one of the kids had come down on his bike to watch for an opening. While I got the first site to open, they soon got #6. The man actually came over and good-naturedly congratulated me on my method of getting the first opening πŸ™‚

The big event for me for our first Kluane Lake day, Thursday, June 29th, was an Alaska Highway 75th Anniversary celebration hosted by Parks Canada at Soldiers Summit. The party was scheduled to start at 12:30, but I went over about an hour early.

Alaska Highway 75th Anniversary celebration at Soldiers Summit, Yukon
I was really pleased to see new interpretive panels in the parking lot…

…and even a very good new brochure, “Plants of Soldier’s Summit and ThachΓ€l DhΓ€l (Sheep Mountain)”. I’ve scanned a copy of the brochure and put it online for download (pdf, 1.7MB).

Plants of Soldier's Summit and Thachal Dhal (Sheep Mountain
Although there was a lot going on in the trail parking lot, I expected that the actual ceremony would be done up at the site where the opening ceremony actually took place on November 20, 1942. The 50th Anniversary celebrations were done up there on November 20, 1992, but it was very cold! Anyway, I began my visit by walking up to that site. All of the interpretive panels along the trail have been replaced. Some, like the one in the next photo, have audio recordings of interviews.

Interpretive panel along the Soldier's Summit Trail, Yukon
To go along with the brochure, several plants now have signs identifying them, in 3 languages plus the scientific (Latin) name.

Prairie sagebrush along the Soldier's Summit Trail, Yukon
There are still some very nice places to sit and enjoy the broad views over Kluane Lake and the new Alaska Highway.

Bench and interpretive panel along the Soldier's Summit Trail, Yukon
This new panel includes a map showing the location of the 1943 road, the bridges that were built over the Slims River in 1943, 1955, 1956, and 2010, and the extent of the new shoreline since the retreat of the Kaskawulsh Glacier dramatically reduced the amount of water flowing from the Slims River into Kluane Lake. This was the first time I’d seen a name put to what used to be an island at Slims River Flats – it’s called Fish Heart Island (LutsiΓ―).

Interpretive panel along the Soldier's Summit Trail, Yukon
High above the 1942 highway opening site, the are even a couple of the Parks Canada Red Chairs. The Red Chairs are a program to encourage people to stop and enjoy a few particularly fine locations across Canada.

Parks Canada Red Chairs above Soldier's Summit, Yukon
Walking back down the 1942 road to join the party beside the new highway.

Soldier's Summit Trail, Yukon
By 1:00, the food tent was very busy. I was there early and had already filled up on stew and bannock and cookies.

The food tent at the Alaska Highway 75th Anniversary celebration at Soldiers Summit, Yukon
To bring a bit of 1942 life to the crowd, my friend Fawn Fritzen was singing period songs, with Andrea McColeman on piano.

Fawn Fritzen and Andrea McColeman at the Alaska Highway 75th Anniversary celebration at Soldiers Summit, Yukon
I love hearing Fawn singing these old songs. It’s hard to believe that music so beautiful was being produced during some of the most horrible days of the last century.

Fawn Fritzen singing at the Alaska Highway 75th Anniversary celebration at Soldiers Summit, Yukon
There were, of course, speeches, but all were kept short. Our Member of Parliament, Larry Bagnell, is almost always fun to listen to in any case, and he was clearly enjoying this celebration. There’s a long section of highway resurfacing going on west of Whitehorse, and Larry joked that since the original construction crews were averaging 8 miles of new road a day, it should only take a day to complete the work. I didn’t hear a response from the Highways Minister, who was in attendance πŸ™‚

MP Larry Bagnell at the Alaska Highway 75th Anniversary celebration at Soldiers Summit, Yukon
At 2:00, the speeches were over, things had slowed down at the food tent, and most people were walking up the trail to the summit to hear more highway stories. I headed back to the campground to join my family.

The food tent at the Alaska Highway 75th Anniversary celebration at Soldiers Summit, Yukon
We had an enjoyable day at our campsite and on the beach, then after dinner, went out on a grizzly hunt. We hadn’t got very far before meeting this fellow, who had some large patches of fur missing. We didn’t stay with him very long.

Grizzly bear along the Alaska Highway at Kluane Lake
We had no plans on Friday – it was a full day of relaxing at the campsite, playing on the beach, and going on grizzly hunts (we saw one more grizzly between the campground and Destruction Bay). Bella has started to be bothered by the rocks on the beach in front of the campground.

The beach of Kluane Lake
She much prefers the fine gravels and sand of the beach further down the lake. Tucker just likes any beach that he can run on, and really perks up when that word is spoken πŸ™‚

Our dogs Bella and Tucker on the beach of Kluane Lake, Yukon
We drove over to Destruction Bay to see how badly the new lower lake level has hurt the marina there. It has completely ruined it to the point that the docks have even been removed. It doesn’t seem to me that digging it out would be that big a job if there was any will to do it. In 1942 it would have only taken a few hours to fix the problem…

The former marina at Destruction Bay, Yukon
I really wanted to get the kayak out, but it was too windy at the campground, so we drove over to the south end of the lake, past Slims River Flats. I stopped at the Slims River Bridge to get a few photos.

Slims River Bridge, Yukon
The new, much smaller, Slims River, looking up the Slims River Valley into Kluane National Park.

Slims River, Yukon
Conditions were perfect at the large pullout at Km 1642. I launched the kayak, got Tucker on my lap, and with a lifejacket on Bella, she had lots of fun swimming after us. She loves fairly shallow water, but doesn’t like swimming until we put her lifejacket on.

Kayaking on Kluane Lake with my dogs

Kayaking on Kluane Lake with my dogs
It was an absolutely perfect Kluane Lake afternoon.

Enjoying the beach at Kluane Lake, Yukon
Back at our campsite for a steak barbecue.

Campsite #8 at Congdon Creek Campground on Kluane Lake, Yukon
The weather on Canada Day, July 1st, was cloudy and cool. At about 1:00, we decided to drive to Haines Junction to see what was going on celebration-wise. I stopped at the Slims River East trailhead to read the notices about the entire Slims River Valley being closed to hikers due to a problem grizzly. The fine for violating that closure is $25,000.

Slims River East trail - closed due to a problem grizzly
A slope above Christmas Creek definitely provided a Kodak moment or two.

Wildflower along the Alaska Highway at Christmas Creek, Yukon
We arrived at Haines Junction just as a heavy rain was shutting down the festivities and people were scrambling to get sound equipment and fabric chairs into the Convention Centre. We stayed for a few minutes, then went over to Frosty’s for burgers and ice cream. Bella and Tucker love soft ice cream cones! πŸ™‚

Rain shuts down Canada Day festivities at Haines Junction, Yukon
The rain followed us back to Congdon Creek, but then about 9:00 pm the skies cleared, so we headed out on another grizzly hunt. We met one grizzly about halfway to Destruction Bay, but he was pretty grumpy and didn’t want us there, so we quickly left. The next photo was shot at 10:01 pm in The Land of the Midnight Sun.

The Alaska Highway in the sunshine at 10 pm
A couple of minutes later, I took a couple of photos of the grumpy grizzly from a distance that wouldn’t bother him.

Grizzly along the Alaska Highway at Kluane Lake
On our dog walk the next morning, we saw a campsite that had been trashed by some local pigs. Park attendants might not be around for several hours, so I went back and cleaned it up. I just don’t understand that sort of disrespect in a place like this.

Trashed campsite at Congdon Creek, Yukon
On our last full day at Kluane Lake, I wanted to go for a long walk on the Slims River Flats. When the dogs and I got there, though, the wind was screaming. I decided to see if the far side was any quieter. The dust at the Slims River Bridge didn’t look promising.

A dust storm at the Slims River Bridge, Yukon
It was bit better, and I decided to head out across the flats and see what it was like. Within about 10 minutes, the wind quit. This is Bella and Tucker’s favourite place to play!

Dogs playing at Slims River Flats, Yukon
And mud – what awesome areas of velvet-soft mud to play in! The deeper the mud, the more Bella likes it (so does her Dad πŸ™‚ ).

Mud on Slims River Flats, Yukon
I walked and the kids played until I thought that Bella must be exhausted, then started back towards the car.

Slims River Flats, Yukon
The patterns of the mud offer some really interesting photography. Sometimes tiny blades of grass, or dog paw-prints, add to the interest.

Dried mud on Slims River Flats, Yukon
The only animal prints I saw on the flats were these ones. I couldn’t identify it positively, but I expect that it was a caribou.

Caribou tracks across Slims River Flats, Yukon
One final shot, with a very muddy Bella. We walked up to a distant spot along the lake with clear water and a fine gravel beach, and all of us got cleaned up.

Slims River Flats, Yukon

A very strong wind returned shortly after we got back to the campground, so it was a quiet evening. Monday was raining and dreary, and we headed home, arriving at about 4 pm. Now, I’m just watching for some good weather to return to head out for a few days camping and hiking at the White Pass or Haines Summit. I also have some healing to do – while cutting kindling to get a campfire started on Saturday evening, I cut the tip of my thumb off with the axe. I bandaged it up and we carried on, but went to Emergency on Monday night to have a doctor look at it – he said it looked good. It didn’t hit the bone, but it’s going to look odd for the rest of my life. *sigh* (sorry, no photo of that πŸ™‚ )

Our final count of grizzlies for the 5 days was 9 encounters, with 8 different bears. That’s by the far the most either of us has ever seen except in Denali National Park, where I saw 13 grizzlies on one incredible day a few years ago.

RV Life: Costs and Experiences during 62 Days on the Road

We got home from our 62-day RV trip on June 26th, and although we’ve already been on another 5-day outing to Kluane Lake, I want to finish off the story of the big trip by giving you a global look at the trip, including a summary of costs that may help you with RV trip planning.

The Route

We travelled 4,432 miles (7,091 kilometers) in the motorhome, another 3,270 in the Tracker. That’s almost 1,000 km less in the motorhome but almost 2,500 km more than last year in the Tracker. The map below shows our basic route – click on it to open an interactive version in a new window.

Map of 62-day BC RV trip

The Costs

We spent $2,959.96 for 2,623 liters (577 Imperial gallons) of gas for the RV, which got 7.7 miles per gallon. That mpg is less than last year’s 8.3 mpg, and I’m not sure yet what to make of that. We also spent $383.02 for 316 liters of gas in the Tracker, which gets much better mileage, though I have no idea what. The average price of gas was $1.137 per liter, with the lowest (not counting our commercial cardlocks in Watson Lake and Whitehorse) being Dawson Creek and Prince George at $0.999, and the highest being Lillooet at $1.299.

Ferry costs were substantial, at $687.30 for the 4 sailings. When Cathy was with me, driving the RV and Tracker on to the ferry separately saved about $50, and buying an Experience card saved about $26.

We stayed at rest areas, pullouts, parking lots and at friends’ homes for 16 nights – costing a total of $0
We stayed at a Municipal campground for 3 nights, costing a total of $100.50.
We stayed at Provincial Park campgrounds for 8 nights, costing a total of $203.00.
We stayed at a National Park campground for 3 nights, costing a total of $107.90.
We stayed at commercial campgrounds for 31 nights, costing a total of $1,133.80.
The total cost for 61 nights accommodation was $1,521.20, an average of $24.93 per night.

For more information about our overnights (pullout locations, park names and prices, etc., I’ve created a pdf (29Kb).

Attractions and tours: $536.96 – much of that was on 2 boat tours that I took without Cathy, to Hot Springs Cove at Tofino, and Princess Louisa Inlet at Egmont.

We spent $1,026.75 on restaurant meals, $225.83 on beer and wine, and $485.76 on groceries for meals we cooked ourselves (the motorhome was very well stocked with food and wine when I left home).

At the start of the trip I had some plumbing issues with the RV that I spent $203.86 on parts to fix. I had to have an exhaust hangar on the Tracker fixed in Terrace, which cost $68.95.


I spent about 160 hours writing 64 blog posts with over 1,500 photos (of the 7,256 photos in my folders after editing). The first post of the trip was on April 28th.

The Experiences

As happened after last year’s big trip, Cathy and I have discussed what the best experiences were, and can’t even come up with a short list. Really the only place that I just wanted to get through was the Fraser Valley – it’s just too busy. Having only 3 campground reservations for the entire trip (Saanich, Long Beach, and Port McNeill) allowed us to stop and stay wherever we wanted for as long as we wanted. We averaged 167 km (104 miles) per day, slightly more than last year but still a nice pace. There really is never enough time, though. There were many places that we’d like to have stayed for a week at.

This year, unlike last year, there were no negative experiences with either wildlife or people.

Murray and Cathy fishing at Port McNeill, BC

The RV & Toad

In my summary of our 56-day trip last year, I talked about the RV and toad – those thoughts haven’t changed, but I’ll repeat some of them here.

After 2 solid months in it, Cathy and I are convinced that the motorhome we chose is perfect for us – the only thing that I plan to add is a hydraulic lift to carry my motorcycle. The motorhome is a 2007 Fleetwood Terra LX 31M, a 31-foot-long Class A with 2 slideouts. It’s powered by an 8.1-liter Chevy Workhorse gas engine, with an Allison automatic transmission with overdrive. You can see a full tour of it as well as a discussion about our lengthy shopping process here. The photo below was shot at Teslin on our first day, April 26th. I bought the kayak for this trip – it’s much more practical than the 18-foot canoe I’ve hauled around on some trips. Although Cathy bought a new Jeep Cherokee to replace the old Tracker, which she bought new in 2001, it continues to be perfect as a motorhome toad/4Γ—4, so we’re keeping it.

RV, Tracker and kayak on the road
Although I’m not finished with BC yet for this year, we’ll be in the Yukon for most of the rest of the summer.

Murray and Cathy at Kluane Lake, Yukon

The push for home: Stewart to Whitehorse in 23 hours

Having decided to go home a few days early so that Cathy and I could go away for an extra-long Canada Day weekend, and with no good weather where I wanted to stop, I was home in Whitehorse 23 hours after leaving Stewart. The route is simply up Highway 37A (the Glacier Highway), then the Stewart-Cassiar, then the Alaska Highway.

I pulled away from the Bear River RV Park right after breakfast and a short walk, at 07:45 on Day 61 of the trip, June 25th. Home was 1,026 km away. Click on the map to open an interactive version in a new window.

Map, Stewart, BC to Whitehorse, Yukon
There are places where the bed of the Bear River appears to be a few inches above the level of the highway. The rock in the foreground was put there a couple of years ago to stop erosion when an overflow channel moved too close to the highway.

The Bear River near Stewart, BC
I was confident that I’d have the highway to myself for at least a couple of hours, so just stopped on the road to get photos of a couple of the best waterfalls along the Glacier Highway.

Waterfall along BC's Glacier Highway near Stewart, BC

Waterfall along BC's Glacier Highway near Stewart, BC
Low cloud and fog rising off the Bear River may have made the peaks vanish, but was still pretty interesting visually.

A misty morning on BC's Glacier Highway near Stewart, BC
At Km 40, the skies started to clear as I passed the Bear Glacier.

Clearing skies on BC's Glacier Highway near Stewart, BC
At 10:08, we reached the Km 265 post of the Stewart-Cassiar Highway, which is 106 km north of Meziadin Junction where the Glacier Highway meets it.

Northbound at Km 265 of the Stewart-Cassiar Highway
Along Eddontenajon Lake south of the community of Iskut at about Km 396, at 11:45. Rain showers were frequent enough to keep most of the bugs washed off the windshields, so I didn’t even need to stop to do that.

Eddontenajon Lake on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway
Dropping down from Gnat Pass to Dease Lake at Km 475. I’ve overnighted a couple of times at a pullout at Lower Gnat Lake, a particularly scenic spot on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway, just above the treeline. This time, I just stopped to take Bella and Tucker for a walk. My GPS said that I’d be home at 9:36 pm, so I was fairly sure that I’d push through.

Dropping down from Gnat Pass to Dease Lake at Km 475 of the Stewart-Cassiar Highway

I had a long fuel stop at Dease Lake, Km 488 – it was very busy. But while there, I had a long chat with a couple from Atlanta with a big motorhome towing a Jeep and dirt bike. They had just spent a few days in Whitehorse and couldn’t say enough about how much they loved it. That’s always nice to hear, and we do hear that sort of comment a lot from travellers.

I noted as I drove along Dease Lake that the Sawmill Point Recreation Area would be a good place to launch a kayak on a nice day to paddle over for a look at the ghost town of Laketon.

A scenic stretch of mountains at about Km 580.

Km 620, 6 k south of the small community of Good Hope Lake, at 4:20. A minute after taking the next photo, I was surprised to see a sheep alongside the highway.

Km 620 of the Stewart-Cassiar Highway
We stopped for dinner at the large Beaver Dam rest area at Km 649. Large fires burned through here in 2010 and again in 2012.

Old forest fire area at about Km 645 of the Stewart-Cassiar Highway
Heading west on the Alaska Highway at 6:05, I felt like we were almost home, but some of the storms were pretty wild and I was geting tired.

Storm on the Alaska Highway
At 7:10, I decided that the site of the long-vanished Message Post Lodge at Km 1111 would be a good place to spend the night. Bella and Tucker played and played and played in the large paved parking lot!

Message Post Lodge at Km 1111 of the Alaska Highway
It’s a lovely piece of property between two small lakes, but there’s only wreckage left now. It closed just before I started driving bus on the Alaska Highway in 1990.

Message Post Lodge at Km 1111 of the Alaska Highway
After 8:00 pm and Tucker wasn’t quite finished playing ball yet. But we were in bed shortly after that. I planned on a very early start so that we could see Cathy before she left for work the next morning.

My little dog Tucker in the RV
We were back on the road just after 03:30 on Day 62 of the trip, June 26th. I shot this right at 04:00 – back in The Land of the Midnight Sun.

04:00 on the Alaska Highway, the Land of the Midnight Sun
I pulled into our driveway right at 07:00. Our awesome Adventure was over!

Arrived home in Whitehorse with the RV after 62 days on the road

As I did after our 56-day Grand Adventure last year, I’ll be posting a summary of the costs and experiences next.

Driving the Granduc Road to the Salmon Glacier and beyond

On very wet Day 60 of the trip, June 24th, we spent the afternoon driving up what used to be called the Granduc Road out of Stewart. I picked up a copy of the “Glacier Highway and Salmon Glacier Self Guided Auto Tour” brochure (available as a 2.3 MB pdf download) at the Visitor Information Centre, and the very helpful woman there said that the road was only open as far as the Salmon Glacier, the last she heard. I hoped, though, to be able to drive beyond that, perhaps as far as the old Granduc mine site where I worked in 1975.

To orient you, here’s a map of our entire route for the afternoon, from the auto tour brochure.

Salmon Glacier Self Guided Auto Tour map
We left Stewart at 11:15, pausing briefly along the harbor to see if the boom boats were working. No, it was all quiet. It was not a good day to be heading into the mountains, with ragged clouds and a light rain, but it was worth a try.

Boom boats in the harbour at Stewart, BC
Northbound along the Salmon River at 10:30.

Driving to the Salmon Glacier on the Granduc Road at Stewart, BC
The clouds were high enough that I was actually pleased with the photo potential. Sunshine is great, of course, but misty clouds like this show the reality of coastal BC and Alaska.

Driving to the Salmon Glacier on the Granduc Road at Stewart, BC
At 7.6 km / 4.7 mile (from the Stewart Visitor Information Centre) is Moose Pond, named for the Loyal Order of Moose, a fraternal organization, not because moose are seen here.

Driving to the Salmon Glacier on the Granduc Road at Stewart, BC
At 10.0 km / 6.2 mile, I stopped for a look at the start of the Titan Trail. This 8-km / 5-mi trail was built to access the Titan Mine in 1922. It looks like a good option on a dry day.

Driving to the Salmon Glacier on the Granduc Road at Stewart, BC
The Titan trailhead parking lot is the ends of pavement. These signs warn that construction can be expected for the next 50 km (which is the entire road). The signs were installed by Pretium Resources, which is set to go into production at the Brucejack gold mine on their Valley of the Kings property at the end of the road this summer. They have built a new access road that joins Highway 37 south of Treaty Creek, though.

Driving to the Salmon Glacier on the Granduc Road at Stewart, BC
The ruins of the Riverside Mine, which began development for silver and copper in 1922, are at 14.1 km / 8.7 mile. It operated with sporadic success until 1961.

Driving to the Salmon Glacier on the Granduc Road at Stewart, BC
At 16.6 km / 10.3 mile, we came to Nine Mile (how odd!). Texas Creek, in the background, joins the Salmon River here. The wreckage of a bridge that provided access to mineral properties in the Texas Creek drainage until 1976 can be seen in the foreground.

Driving to the Salmon Glacier on the Granduc Road at Stewart, BC
At noon, we reached the most unstable part of the road. Slides often close the road here, especially in wet weather.

Driving to the Salmon Glacier on the Granduc Road at Stewart, BC
At 21.0 km / 13.0 mile, we crossed from Alaska back into British Columbia. A small cairn marks the border…

Driving to the Salmon Glacier on the Granduc Road at Stewart, BC
…and you can also see the border cut line. Every 10 years, the entire length of the border from Hyder north is cleared.

Driving to the Salmon Glacier on the Granduc Road at Stewart, BC
This is part of the 31 MW Long Lake Hydroelectric Project.

Driving to the Salmon Glacier on the Granduc Road at Stewart, BC
At the old Premier gold property, a great deal of rock is being moved, though I couldn’t tell for what purpose.

Driving to the Salmon Glacier on the Granduc Road at Stewart, BC

Driving to the Salmon Glacier on the Granduc Road at Stewart, BC
The toe of the massive Salmon Glacier, at about 27.7 km / 17.2 mile. For a rather nasty day, this had turned out extremely well.

Driving to the Salmon Glacier on the Granduc Road at Stewart, BC
On the edge of that cliff, a marmot was surveying his domain. I shot the photo from an adjoining cliff, not with the drone.

Driving to the Salmon Glacier on the Granduc Road at Stewart, BC
At 12:25, we had reached the first of increasingly-large patches of snow alongside the road.

Driving to the Salmon Glacier on the Granduc Road at Stewart, BC
Far below the road, the birth of the Salmon River in a cave at the base of the glacier.

The Salmon Glacier on the Granduc Road at Stewart, BC
The infinite patterns and the display of power of any glacier, but the Salmon Glacier in particular, fascinate me.

Driving to the Salmon Glacier on the Granduc Road at Stewart, BC
Deepening snow at about 33.0 km.

Driving the Granduc Road at Stewart, BC
The Salmon Glacier is the 5th largest glacier in Canada, but is by far the largest with this sort of road access.

Driving to the Salmon Glacier on the Granduc Road at Stewart, BC
The summit viewpoint, at 37.0 km / 22.9 mile. “The Bear-Man” sells Salmon Glacier postcards and books, living there in a tent and going to town once a week or so for groceries. Nice on a warm sunny day, but…

Driving to the Salmon Glacier on the Granduc Road at Stewart, BC
The summit viewpoint was a great place to let the kids have a snow-play, but with distractions and cliffs everywhere, they stayed on leash. They may have thought that we were close to home, because there was snow in their yard when we left in April πŸ™‚

Driving to the Salmon Glacier on the Granduc Road at Stewart, BC
The clouds soon moved in and shut down visibility badly, but the road was open past the summit, so I continued on for a look.

Driving to the Salmon Glacier on the Granduc Road at Stewart, BC
One of the places that I really like on what really is the Granduc Road past the summit is this tunnel. In the winter, and well into summer, the road went through this tunnel to avoid very deep snow that accumulated on the slope to the left. Deep as in 40-60 feet.

Driving the Granduc Road at Stewart, BC
The tunnel is about a kilometer long, and when it was in use, air-operated doors were at each end. Our bus driver would open his window and pull on a cable hung at a convenient height to open the doors to get in and out. Last year, I could see the other end of the tunnel, but this year, something was blocking it. As well, I could hear a massive amount of water in the tunnel, pulsing as if it was ocean waves, though no water was visible.

Driving to the Salmon Glacier on the Granduc Road at Stewart, BC
This short video lets you hear the water.

At 41 km, which is about half-way along the outside of the tunnel, I got stopped by deep snow and turned around. It was now 1:20 pm.

Driving to the Salmon Glacier on the Granduc Road at Stewart, BC
One of my goals for this drive up the Granduc Road was to assess the access for a group of fans of John Carpenter’s Antarctic thriller The Thing. It opened in theaters on June 25th, 1982, so I unknowingly missed the 35th Anniversary by one day. Anyway, the group, which has a Facebook page, is planning a 40th anniversary trip to the filming site, which is seen in the next photo. Fifteen years ago, I helped group founder Todd Cameron find the site for a visit in 2003, and I hope to be with the group in 2022.

The filming site of John Carpenter's Antarctic thriller The Thing at the Salmon Glacier near Stewart, BC
Due to difficult lighting, I’ve processed some of these photos as HDR images so you can see both the foreground and the snow and ice.

Driving to the Salmon Glacier on the Granduc Road at Stewart, BC
A creek that runs through the filming site has washed out the road that used to go across it, but the two ends of the road both reach the Granduc Road so access to all of the site is easy.

The filming site of John Carpenter's Antarctic thriller The Thing at the Salmon Glacier near Stewart, BC

The filming site of John Carpenter's Antarctic thriller The Thing at the Salmon Glacier near Stewart, BC
It was raining hard, driven by a strong wind, so I didn’t do any exploring of the site, which still has some helicopter and other wreckage from the filming.

The filming site of John Carpenter's Antarctic thriller The Thing at the Salmon Glacier near Stewart, BC
The main road seen here is the original Granduc Road which opened in 1965. It was later moved to the higher route used now, though I haven’t found the date of that re-routing.

Driving to the Salmon Glacier on the Granduc Road at Stewart, BC
The heavy rain certainly made for some wonderful waterfalls all along the road.

Waterfall on the Granduc Road at Stewart, BC
Summit Lake was chock full of icebergs.

Driving to the Salmon Glacier on the Granduc Road at Stewart, BC
A final look at the filming site before it vanished into the clouds.

The filming site of John Carpenter's Antarctic thriller The Thing at the Salmon Glacier near Stewart, BC
I was surprised to see a guy pulling a fairly large recreational trailer up towards the glacier. While it’s not unreasonable, it was the first one I’d seen in several trips up and down the road.

Driving to the Salmon Glacier on the Granduc Road at Stewart, BC
The Canadian border crossing between Hyder and Stewart, at 2:45. There is no border crossing post going into Alaska, and the Canadian one seems to me to be a ridiculous waste of money.

The Canadian border crossing between Hyder, Alaska, and Stewart, BC
We went back to the RV park, but then immediately went out for a long walk, to the Bear River and then towards town. It had been a long bumpy road for Bella. Tucker was hanging out the window laughing half the time, but Bella doesn’t like that sort of road at all. It must be a boy thing πŸ™‚

The Bear River at Stewart, BC

I was happy with the day, but there’s a lot more that I want to see, so I plan to get back again this year, when I see a solid spell of good weather.

Talking to Cathy on the phone that night, I decided to start north the next morning and get home quickly so we could go away for an extra-long Canada Day (July 1st) weekend. Due to poor weather, it turned out to be a very quick trip – 23 hours from Stewart to Whitehorse.

Exploring a bit of Stewart: history, cemeteries, and character

On Days 59 and 60 of the trip, June 23rd and 24th, I did a bit of exploring around Stewart, though rain and low clouds limited my outings in town. A drive up the Granduc Road to the Salmon Glacier will be the subject of the next post.

It was after 3:00 pm when I got settled at the Bear River RV Park. I started at the Visitor Information Centre, mostly to get a copy of the Granduc Road guide, then continued on to the Canada-US border. The Stewart harbour is always interesting.

Harbour at Stewart, BC
I don’t think that this float home is lived in anymore. It’s been there so long that a good-sized tree is now growing from the logs that I believe used to connect it to the shore.

Float home at Stewart, BC
The view to the east in downtown Stewart.

Downtown Stewart, BC
The Harbour Lights Grocery store is a colourful little business, with old grocery carts mounted along the roofline.

Harbour Lights Grocery store in Stewart, BC
The airport was my next stop. There’s quite a fleet of helicopters working out of Stewart now.

Helicopters at Stewart, BC
The only chopper that was in a good position to photograph was Geotech Aviation’s 2010 Aérospatiale AS-350B-3 Ecureuil, C-FVTM.

Geotech Aviation's 2010 Aerospatiale AS-350B-3 Ecureuil at Stewart, BC
I always take a wander through the long-abandoned section of what used to be called the Granduc Subdivision. When I worked for Granduc Copper here in 1975, the company tried to get me to move into this apartment building, but I refused to leave the hotel until they gave me the house that had been promised.

Abandoned apartment building in Stewart, BC
One of the projects on my list for Stewart was to at least start recording the grave markers at the two, possibly three, cemeteries in Stewart. It was already 5:00 pm when I began at the Ward’s Pass Cemetery, at Km 13.2 of Highway 37A. This is the cemetery that’s been in use since the previous one was buried in a huge rockslide in 1961.

Ward's Pass Cemetery, Stewart, BC
FindaGrave.com has published the photos taken by Diane Gravlee, an American visitor, in August 2013. They report 115 interments at the Ward’s Pass Cemetery. Mary Trace has researched the past residents of Stewart, Hyder, and the surrounding area, and produced a book entitled “People of the Portland Canal District.” It does not appear to be available to the public except for a copy housed at the Stewart Museum.

Ward's Pass Cemetery, Stewart, BC
Nearly half of the graves are marked with this sort of simple wooden cross.

Ward's Pass Cemetery, Stewart, BC
Vilmos Fekete was one of the 26 victims of the Granduc Mine Disaster, an avalanche that destroyed a mine camp on February 18, 1965.

Ward's Pass Cemetery, Stewart, BC
It’s unusual to find an “Unknown” grave in a fairly new cemetery.

Ward's Pass Cemetery, Stewart, BC
Henry Wilkinson, Lance Corporal, 16th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force. I was surprised to find 2 CEF veterans in this small cemetery.

Ward's Pass Cemetery, Stewart, BC
I expect from this headstone that William H. Ross was the pilot of a Hawker Hurricane in World War II.

Ward's Pass Cemetery, Stewart, BC
I spent half an hour photographing markers, then returned to the RV park to make dinner for everyone.

Ward's Pass Cemetery, Stewart, BC
For me, the Estuary Boardwalk is one of Stewart’s best attractions, and that’s where the dogs and I went for our long evening walk.

Estuary Boardwalk at Stewart, BC
The boardwalk offers both spectacular broad views, and closeups of the plants and creatures that live on the estuary. It’s also a good place to meet people – I spent a while chatting with the new principal of the school.

Estuary Boardwalk at Stewart, BC
I wanted to go to the museum to talk to a woman there about cemeteries, but my timing was off.

Museum at Stewart, BC
It was a lovely dawn on Saturday, June 24th. The next photo was shot right at 05:00. That sky didn’t stay long, though – by 10:00 we had low clouds and rain that kept getting heavier and heavier.

Dawn sky at Stewart, BC
On a dog-walk near the RV park at 11:00, I noticed that the “Welcome to Stewart” sign has been changed, with a large carved bear added, and the ore cart lowered to the ground.

Stewart, BC
I fueled up at the only gas station in town, and was pleased to see that the price was reasonable, at $1.129. At Meziadin Junction, the lodge was taking advantage of their position with prices 10 cents higher.

Petro-Canada gas station at Stewart, BC
That evening, after spending the afternoon up the Granduc Road, I went looking for what seems to have called the Barney’s Gulch Cemetery. It was in operation from about 1923 until it got buried in 1961. All I knew was that it was behind the garbage somewhere – the gated road to it is on the right.

Garbage dump access road at Stewart, BC
FindaGrave says: “All that marks the site, located behind the local dump, is a sign telling people to stay out, and rightly so.” It doesn’t say that, though – it just says to not disturb or remove anything.

Barney's Gulch Cemetery at Stewart, BC
There really is no sign that there is a cemetery under the forest, though – it was totally buried.

Barney's Gulch Cemetery at Stewart, BC
Looking back towards the highway, the cemetery forest is on the right, the garbage dump on the left.

Barney's Gulch Cemetery at Stewart, BC

Driving BC Highway 37A, the Glacier Highway, to Stewart

On Day 59 of the trip, June 23rd, I made the 60-km drive from Meziadin Lake Provincial Park along BC Highway 37A, the Glacier Highway, to Stewart. I had enough to see and do in Stewart for at least 2 nights, and was open to extending that for another night or two if the weather cooperated for my exploring.

It was a gorgeous dawn at my campsite on the shore of Meziadin Lake. At 05:25, one of my neighbours was already heading out across the lake in a canoe.

Canoeing at Meziadin Lake Provincial Park, BC
We were in no big hurry to leave. After a couple of long walks and leisurely breakfasts for us all, we pulled onto the Stewart-Cassiar Highway at 10:35. The junction with Highway 37A is just a few hundred meters to the left (north).

Meziadin Lake Provincial Park, BC
Right after turning onto the Glacier Highway, a mom grizzly and her yearling cub greeted me. There was unfortunately no place to pull off and spend some time with them (and perhaps get a photo or two). The incredible scenery starts almost immediately – the next photo was shot about 6 minutes after turning onto the highway, at about Km 58. Mileposts are measured from the Canada-US border, which is 5.6 km past the “Welcome to Stewart” sign at the Bear River bridge.

BC Highway 37A, the Glacier Highway
A large pullout at Km 52 is a chain-up area for Windy Hill, and a convenient place to stop and contemplate your surroundings.

BC Highway 37A, the Glacier Highway
The retreat of all of the glaciers in this region has been dramatic in the 42 years I’ve been coming here.

BC Highway 37A, the Glacier Highway
The star attraction of the Glacier Highway, the Bear Glacier, pops into view at about Km 40.5.

Bear Glacier on BC Highway 37A, the Glacier Highway
My plan was to launch my kayak and paddle across Strohn Lake to the toe of the glacier, and then to go hiking. I disconnected the Tracker, but before going down the short road to the lake shore, headed back up the highway to do some photography.

Bear Glacier on BC Highway 37A, the Glacier Highway
For northbound travellers, this sign could just as well warn of bears for the next 600 km or so. The Stewart-Cassiar is the best highway in BC for seeing bears. The next 40 km along the Glacier Highway, though, is good for grizzly bears, while beyond that it’s always black bears.

BC Highway 37A, the Glacier Highway
Granite and ice in spectacular combinations make this one of the finest short pieces of road in British Columbia.

BC Highway 37A, the Glacier Highway
Driving slowly when that’s reasonable, taking advantage of pullouts, and keeping your head swivelling will reward you with sights like this. This massive glacier is only visible for a few seconds between the peaks.

BC Highway 37A, the Glacier Highway
Very few of the glaciers have names.

BC Highway 37A, the Glacier Highway
Southbound with the Strohn Creek bridge ahead.

BC Highway 37A, the Glacier Highway
At the bear warning sign, a small side road leads to an old gravel pit, at the far side of which is this lovely waterfall. Thick brush makes getting to it difficult enough that I haven’t tried it yet.

Waterfall along BC Highway 37A, the Glacier Highway
The narrow little side road, which is paved, continues on to the south, paralleling the highway.

BC Highway 37A, the Glacier Highway
Another waterfall along the side road.

BC Highway 37A, the Glacier Highway
The road ends at this large parking area. Very odd. It’s a long-abandoned rest area, though. It was built in the 1960s, when the Bear Glacier could be seen from here. Now, the glacier has retreated so far that it can’t be seen. It’s also possible that avalanche and rockslide dangers caused the closure of the rest area.

BC Highway 37A, the Glacier Highway
Back at the Bear Glacier, I launched the kayak right at noon, but within a few minutes, a strong wind blew in. I returned to shore and waited a half hour or so to see what might develop, and finally decided not to take a chance of having to deal with wind and waves on a glacial lake in a boat that I had no experience with.

BC Highway 37A, the Glacier Highway

I didn’t take any more photos between the Bear Glacier and Stewart, because there are few places to get my rig off the road. I hoped to come back and do some shooting with the Tracker, but the weather went sour.

By about 1:30, I was set up at the Bear River RV Park. The wifi didn’t work at my site, which was one of the furthest from the office, so I took my laptop up to the deck at the office to work. While chatting with the manager there, we realized that a friend of mine in Whitehorse is her daughter-in-law! I haven’t met my friend’s husband, which is why I phrased it that way. I love small towns πŸ™‚

Bear River RV Park in Stewart, BC
With my computer stuff taken care of, the next order of business was to clean the Tracker. The RV park has built a car wash, and is it ever nice! For $6, the outside of the Tracker was soon shiny again, and I even got the engine compartment clean. Ready to go exploring…

New RV wash at the Bear River RV Park in Stewart, BC

Driving the Nass Forest Road from Nisga’a Lava Park to Meziadin Lake Park

On Day 58 of the trip, June 22nd, I took a shortcut to the Stewart-Cassiar Highway on what’s commonly known as the Nass Forest Service Road or The Cranberry Connector. When I last drove it about a dozen years ago in the Tracker, it was rough but not unreasonable. This time, it was a really bad route to use with a large RV.

I was stressed out about something that morning, but didn’t know what. As a result, we got off to an early start, without even feeding the kids or having breakfast. At 07:00, I had a last look around the very nice little campground at Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park, then packed up to go.

Campground at Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
While most of the area highway signs use the new community names, some old signs are still in place. New Aiyansh has returned to the traditional name Gitlaxt’aamiks. At 07:20, we made this left turn in the lava field that fills the valley floor.

BC Highway 113, the Nisga'a Highway
At 07:40, the pavement ended and the road narrowed. One of the many signs said that it’s 51 km to Cranberry Junction on Highway 37 (the Stewart-Cassiar Highway). Others warn that this is a “Wilderness road – road surface not maintained”, and that “extreme dusty conditions” could be encountered.

The western start of the Nass Forest Service Road, BC
The road was narrower than I remember it being. That could be a challenge if another large vehicle was met.

Nass Forest Service Road, BC
Within a few minutes, the road had gotten extremely rough.

Nass Forest Service Road, BC
Km 46 – it had taken 15 minutes to travel the first 5 km. By now, I might have turned around if there was any place to do that.

Nass Forest Service Road, BC
At 08:00, we came to very nice campground, at Gravel Lake. That was a surprise! Especially to see a pickup with a fairly large trailer camped there. By now, 20 minutes in, I was committed to the road, though I could have turned around there.

Gravel Lake campground on the Nass Forest Service Road, BC
One of the many one-lane bridges, at 08:12.

One-lane bridge on the Nass Forest Service Road, BC
At 08:30, I pulled over at a wide spot and took a short break to make the kids breakfast.

Nass Forest Service Road, BC
At 09:00, an hour and 20 minutes from the start, we were 14 km along the road. In many places, I could have walked quicker for hundreds of yards. A couple of times, the potholes were placed in ways that got the motorhome rocking from side to side so badly that I had to stop and wait for the rocking to stop before continuing.

Nass Forest Service Road, BC
At 09:20, we reached the junction with the road to Kitsault (to the left), called the Nass-Kinskutch Forest Service Road. That had been an hour and 50 minutes to go 19 km (take about 15 minutes off that for our breakfast break).

Nass Forest Service Road, BC
With a major mine having been there, and the Avanti Kitsault Mine now operating, I thought that it would be a much better road than this.

Nass-Kinskutch Forest Service Road to kitsault, BC
The road improved greatly past the Kitsault junction. While far from being a good road, it was a perfectly reasonable Forest Service Road. It’s hard to see in this photo, but the tire tracks going far to the left was a vehicle going around a tree leaning across much of the road.

Tree across the Nass Forest Service Road, BC
The Nass River, from a bridge over a tributary creek that we crossed at 09:40. Now we were making good time! πŸ™‚

Nass Forest Service Road, BC
You could see from the marks and chips that some traveller in the recent past had used a hatchet Not an axe) to cut off enough of this tree to get around it.

Tree across the Nass Forest Service Road, BC
At 10:25, “Betty” (the GPS) told me that I needed to turn left off “Highway 113” onto an “unpaved road.” How odd.

Nass Forest Service Road, BC
This was the “unpaved road.” Nice try, Betty – I’d had all the shortcuts I needed for one day! πŸ™‚

Nass Forest Service Road, BC
At 10:40 we reached the end of the Nass Forest Service Road at Cranberry Junction (it’s not a community, just a road junction), and turned onto the Stewart-Cassiar Highway. Ten minutes later, the sign ahead said that our destination, Meziadin Junction, was 66 km away.

Stewart-Cassiar Highway
We had a 20-minute delay to get around some resurfacing work. The chatty flagperson sure seemed to enjoy her job.

Resurfacing work on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway

Resurfacing work on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway
By noon, we were set up in a lakefront campsite at Meziadin Lake Provincial Park. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes were terrible again, and drove us inside. Haha, you can smell us but can’t bite us now!

Mosquitoes at Meziadin Lake Provincial Park, BC
Being in the motorhome was still good – Meziadin Lake is a gorgeous park.

Meziadin Lake Provincial Park, BC
The view out the side window. Many of the 20 or so lakefront campsites have trees, but I really like this area that’s wide open. All of these sites have electric outlets to plug into. Because of my laptop, that’s the one service I really do like having, but as soon as I get a chance I’m going to check into getting solar power for the rig.

Meziadin Lake Provincial Park, BC
There’s an excellent boat launch and dock. The boat in the photo belongs to the park operator, who uses it for fishing charters.

Meziadin Lake Provincial Park, BC
The entire park is immaculate. Meziadin Lake really is a gem in BC’s park system, and the operator does a great job running it. The building in the photo is the office and store that’s open for a couple of hours each evening. The park even has wifi! The park operator has been running it, but it’s now with a private service, and it refused to accept my credit card so I couldn’t log on.

Meziadin Lake Provincial Park, BC
Although the mosquitoes were too bad to sit still outside, Bella and Tucker and I went for a few walks and created enough of a breeze to keep them at bay. On a long walk out to the highway before bed, we had our route shortened by a black bear on the side of the road down by the creek (barely visible in the photo).

The Stewart-Cassiar Highway at Meziadin Lake Provincial Park, BC
Some stick-play with the kis on the beach in front of our campsite was a great way to end the day. I had thought about staying another day here, but decided to move on to Stewart the next day.

Meziadin Lake Provincial Park, BC