A Kluane Lake day – sunshine, sheep, and an ice cave

I’ve been so busy for the past many weeks that I’ve hardly been out exploring at all. Yesterday, though, a friend and I drove out to Kluane Lake, and it was superb – an absolute 10/10 day. Though very cold, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, we got some great wildlife encounters, and we even found an ice cave.

What am I busy with? Well, on Tuesday and Wednesday last week, we got another 6 inches of snow. Luckily, I already had a Bobcat booked to come over and get rid of the 4-5 inches of hard-packed snow that had accumulated over the winter, so he took care of the new stuff as well, and the driveway is now pretty much clear. That was only the third time I’ve ever called an outside contractor in for snow – once at our city house 12 years ago, and once here 5 years ago. Usually I spend dozens of hours chipping away at the hard-packed stuff for weeks – for $110, the Bobcat solution is much better.

A Bobcat clearing hard-packed snow from my Yukon driveway
The cabinetry for the new en suite bathroom won’t arrive for 3 weeks or so yet, so I’m still just working on it slowly. I got the shower fully installed and most of the drywall put up on Friday and Saturday. I’ll get the drywall finished today and start mudding it.

Building a new en suite bathroom.
The temperature on Saturday morning was nearing the all-time record low for the day, bottoming out at -31°C (-24°F). The forecast was for a high of -9C/+16F at Kluane Lake, so I picked Karla up at 10:00 and we headed west. An hour later, we took a detour off the Alaska Highway to go through the tiny village of Champagne, and stopped there for a few minutes. These hubcap “totem poles” are always a popular subject for photos.

Hubcap totem poles at Campagne, Yukon
Mileposts at Champagne – the new Kilometer 10 of the Champagne road, and the old M.P. 974.6 from when this was part of the Alaska Highway.

Mileposts at Champagne, Yukon
When looking for scenic mileposts on the Alaska Highway, it’s pretty hard to beat Km 1526 on a day like this.

Km 1256 of the Alaska Highway
Dimok Timber, the lumber mill along the Alaska Highway at Canyon Creek, is a fairly frequent photo subject for me.

Dimok Timber, Yukon
The views just keep getting better and better as you near Haines Junction. Many people who live in Whitehorse never leave town in the winter. I really think they’d enjoy getting out and learning to appreciate what we have in the Yukon.

The Alaska Highway near Haines Junction, Yukon><br />
There a huge ice cave west of Haines Junction, a 14-km round trip hike from the highway. It’s become a very popular destination recently. Yesterday there were 17 vehicles at the trailhead! I want to get up there, but it will certainly be a mid-week hike – there’s no way I’m going to a place like that with a crowd.<br />
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Karla is as passionate about photography as I am, so we stopped quite a few times. She also did some shooting through the windshield. The beauty on a day like this does pretty much leave you speechless after a while.

The Alaska Highway west of Haines Junction, Yukon
Where the highway drops down to Christmas Creek, the curving road and spectacular peaks make it an irresistible photo stop. There are decorated Christmas trees at both ends of the little bridge that crosses the creek 🙂

The Alaska Highway at Christmas Creek
We stopped at the Slims River Bridge for a few photos. Karla got down for a low shot. I was surprised by how little traffic there was – almost none.

The Alaska Highway at Slims River
There were about a dozen Dall sheep low on Sheep Mountain, including a ram and a ewe about 100 feet above the highway. I parked the car before getting to them and we walked up the highway to shoot them from below.

Dall sheep on Sheep Mountain, Yukon
What a surprise when the ram and ewe both climbed down the cliff for a visit!

Dall sheep beside the Alaska Highway at Sheep Mountain, Yukon
Meeting sheep who are this comfortable with people is really unusual, in my experience. Looking at the ram’s substantial horns and power, Karla called back to me, “Is this how I die?” 🙂

Dall sheep on the Alaska Highway at Sheep Mountain, Yukon
After a few minutes, the sheep climbed back up the cliff.

Dall sheep above the Alaska Highway at Sheep Mountain, Yukon
A final pose by the ram at a distance that didn’t even require a telephoto (well, a short one – 105mm). They then both climbed back up to where they had been, and we went back to the car and continued on.

Dall sheep ram above the Alaska Highway at Sheep Mountain, Yukon

Dall sheep above the Alaska Highway at Sheep Mountain, Yukon
Trucking the Alaska Highway looks like a pretty fine gig on a day like this! Some days, not so much…

Trucking the Alaska Highway
As I drove up the highway a bit further, we could see a massive pressure ridge on the lake, and it came to shore at a spot where we could walk down to it, at tiny Horseshoe Bay. A walk in the sunshine for some exploring – just what the doctor ordered. It had now warmed up to the forecast high, -9C/+16F.

A pressure ridge on Kluane Lake, Yukon
Pressure ridges are often formed when the water freezes and expands, and wind can often enhance the ridges. I had never seen one this large or complex, but conditions were perfect to create this.

A pressure ridge on Kluane Lake, Yukon
The pressure ridge stretched as far as we could see in both directions. This was the view back to the east.

A huge pressure ridge on Kluane Lake, Yukon
Thawing and re-freezing of some open leads added to the complexity of the scene.

A pressure ridge on Kluane Lake, Yukon
Karla found an ice cave that could be accessed by a hole just big enough for a person to get through!

Ice cave in a pressure ridge on Kluane Lake, Yukon
The cave is about 20×10 feet and 5 feet high. The colours and patterns inside were wonderful. Karla’s little dog Meeko usually has a really good sense of adventure, but she wanted nothing to do with his. It’s hard to say how long this will last – I expect a few weeks yet unless we get a very warm spell.

Ice cave in a pressure ridge on Kluane Lake, Yukon

Ice cave in a pressure ridge on Kluane Lake, Yukon
This was an incredible location to sit and enjoy life for a while. I found that it was about 5 degrees too cold for proper suntanning, but today I can see that my face sure got some sun.

Murray Lundberg at a pressure ridge on Kluane Lake, Yukon
This was the view along the pressure ridge to the west.

A pressure ridge on Kluane Lake, Yukon
It’s hard to imagine the forces and conditions that could bend and not break a sheet of foot-thick ice.

A pressure ridge on Kluane Lake, Yukon
We finally decided that it was time for a late lunch or early dinner, and at about 2:30 started walking back to the car. The Talbot Arm Motel in Destruction Bay seemed like a good option. The food was good, the view exceptional. Heading home, we had just passed through Haines Junction and Paint Mountain was ahead at 4:55.

Paint Mountain at Haines Junction, Yukon
At this point, we were both extremely pleased with the way the day had gone. It couldn’t have been any better. Until the herd of elk appeared 🙂

A herd of elk along the Alaska Highway east of Haines Junction, Yukon
There were about 25 elk in total, in two loose groups. There were quite a few yearlings.

Elk along the Alaska Highway west of Whitehorse

Elk along the Alaska Highway east of Haines Junction, Yukon
One final photo, of the wonderful light on the peaks right at Km 1490.

Snowy peaks along the Alaska Highway at Km 1490, west of Whitehorse

I got home at about 7:00. Although it’s gorgeous again outside (but very cold again), as soon as I post this, I have to get back to work on bathroom drywall…


A Kluane Lake day – sunshine, sheep, and an ice cave — 15 Comments

  1. Wonderful pictures Murray. What beautiful scenery at this time of year which makes me realize that at one point, I will need to go this time of year rather than always in summer. Thanks as always for sharing. Enjoy spring !

    • Thanks, Maureen. It’s sure strange to see the contrast between the photos you’ve sent of your deep snow in Quebec and hardly any snow here.

  2. thanks for the travelog, murray. we are headed out that way with camper, snowshoes and skis. your information will come in handy especically the pressure ridge.

  3. Your definitely doing a great job of selling winter travelling in the Yukon! How could anyone not want to be out and about on such a fantastic looking day?

  4. Truly beautiful photography Thanks for sharing, I look forward to more, Winter has a beauty of its own and no bugs to contend with,

  5. Murray: Thanks for sharing your wonderful pictures of winter in the Yukon. I have been up there a couple of times in spring and fall but not winter. Not sure how to manage it logistically once I get there. Now planning another trip this coming May/June. I was very interested in your thoughts about the Rokinon 10mm f2.8 lens you purchased. I have been looking to buy a landscape lens that would not break the bank. From what I have read this lens may fill that bill. What further thoughts you have had since you began using it. Look forward to hearing from you. Brian

    • Thanks, Brian. I’m not sure what you mean about managing a winter trip logistically. The only difference is clothing, and you can rent any gear you don’t have.

      While I’m 100% thrilled with the Rokinon 10mm lens, it may not be what you’re looking for, as it’s full manual (no auto-focus). I use it strictly for night/aurora shooting. For normal landscape/architecture shooting, I have a Canon EF-S 10-18mm that is perfect for that duty. The image quality is superb.

      • Hi Murray:
        For some reason I thought I would get a notification when you responded hence my late reply. What I meant logistically was when I have been up there in the summer and also the fall it was very straightforward to arrange to rent an RV for accommodation and travel. Not sure exactly how this would work in the winter. As for the lens I understood quite clearly what you were planning on using it fo. In the process of doing some research after reading your post however,it seemed to get pretty good marks for landscape photography on some other forums by some pretty knowledgeable photographers, albeit like many lenses it has some limitation in certain situations. Brian