Hiking to Bryant Lake and Glacier

Two weeks ago (August 5-8), I hosted an Alaska hiking club in the White Pass, and members from Haines and Anchorage came to explore this incredible area, with Bryant Lake (called Fraser Lake by many people) our first major hike.

I’d been worried about the weather ever since we’d started planning this a few months ago, but it was looking great in Whitehorse and even as far south as Tutshi Lake, seen in this photo.

By the time I reached Summit Lake, though, clouds had moved in and a strong wind had kicked up. The first arrival and I added a layer of clothing and went down to the beach for a while anyway.

Beach on Summit Lake, BC
When I heard the whistle of the WP&YR steam train heading north from the summit, we raced north to the good viewing spot overlooking the Thompson River. I love any train, but this steam locomotive, built for the White Pass and Yukon Route by Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1947, is extra special.

WP&YR steam train
Next, I wanted to make the short but far-from-easy hike up to the canyons on Summit Creek that I’d seen from Summit Creek Hill 3 weeks before. While from a distance this valley looks easy to cross, it’s actually thick, chest-high brush.

Hiking near Summit Creek in the White Pass
Hiking up to cross a ridge that looked like it would take us to the upper canyon, we came to this creek with a bed that was so level it looked almost like paving stones. It’s not the first time I’ve seen such formations, but they’re rare and I have no idea what causes it.

Hiking near Summit Creek in the White Pass
Success. The bottom of the upper canyon on Summit Creek. A couple of hundred meters/yards up the part of the canyon seen here, I see on Google Earth that it takes an abrupt 90-degree turn and gets even deeper, so I have more exploring to do here yet 🙂

The upper canyon on Summit Creek
And a few minutes later, the top of the lower canyon. I was hoping that we’d be able to hike into both canyons, but there was no way to do that.

The lower canyon on Summit Creek
Starting to set up camp beside the South Klondike Highway just south of Summit Creek on Friday evening. The highway is never very busy, but gets very quiet once the cruise ship tours quit for the day, and is closed from midnight to 08:00 between the US and Canadian border posts (this spot is about halfway between the two posts).

RV camping beside the South Klondike Highway just south of Summit Creek
On Saturday morning, a thick, cold fog blanketed the White Pass, but I went for a drive to see if there were any clearings where we could hike. No luck to the south, but to the north, the Bryant Lake valley was all clear. As I got back to camp, this hoary marmot (of the subspecies Marmota caligata caligata, I believe) was sitting on the guardrail 100 yards from the motorhome, and hung around for a longer photo session.

Hoary marmot in the White Pass
Because of the weather, we didn’t get to the trailhead until just after 10:30. It was quite incredible to be able to quickly hike out of the cold fog!

The height of Bryant Lake was raised with an earthen dam 40-odd years ago, to provide water for the Department of Highways and Canada Customs posts at Fraser. Some people cross this creek by walking along the wood-and-insulation-encased water pipe, others, including me, wade the creek.

A creek crossing on the hike to Bryant Lake.
We reached Bryant Lake at 11:30. I don’t know what’s in that little building with the “High Voltage” sign on the door.

Bryant Lake, BC
From the lake, we could see that the valley was still filled with that cold fog. I really like looking down on clouds 🙂

Looking down on clouds in the White Pass.
Just before we reached the lake, we saw a group of hikers heading up the route to the peak on the left. YukonHiking.ca calls it “Fraser Peak“, but they also use the incorrect name “Fraser Lake” for Bryant Lake (as does Google). Like most of these mountains, it probably doesn’t have a name so you can call it whatever you want.

Bryant Lake, BC
The trail along the south side of the lake is fairly well used, though we saw nobody, and except where it crosses a large rock slide, is quite good.

Hiking around Bryant Lake, BC
The trail goes up and over this large granite outcropping.

Hiking trail along Bryant Lake, BC
The rock slide is a bit of a challenge, but the higher you go on it, the smaller and easier to navigate the rocks are.

Rock slide on the trail along Bryant Lake, BC
Bryant Lake is stunningly beautiful anywhere you look, but the head of the lake is particularly so. Two creeks flow into it, and there’s a large area of shallow water. We ended up spending a long time on a coarse-sand beach at the far end.

The head of Bryant Lake, BC
Well that’s bizarre – this well-preserved mouse was on the bottom of a little pool of water along the lake shore.

Dead mouse at Bryant Lake, BC
The water isn’t warm by a long shot, but Ryan tried to suck us in! The prettier the water colour, the deeper and colder it is.

Bathing in Bryant Lake, BC
I like the feeling of sun-warmed mud much more than cold water!

Walking through mud along Bryant Lake, BC
At about 1:30, I suggested that we hike to the main glacier that feeds Bryant Lake. From the valley below the glacier, the Chilkoot Trail is a short but very steep hike. While the fireweed flowers (Epilobium angustifolium) were all about finished at this altitude, the dwarf fireweed or river beauty (Chamerion latifolium) seen in the foreground still had lots of life in it yet.

This image from Google Earth shows the location of the glacier (which seems to have no name) in relation to Bryant Lake and the Chilkoot Trail. Click on it to open an interactive map in a new window.

Walking up the valley was tougher than it looked like it would be, with lots of water and marshy areas as well as lots of tough brush. But it was so beautiful that none of us minded. Arctic cotton (Eriophorum callitrix) livened up some of the wet spots.

Arctic cotton near Bryant Lake
For those of us with water shoes of whatever kind, the creek provided the easiest walking in a few places.

Creek running between an unnamed glacier and Bryant Lake, BC
Even this grass in shallow water was enough to stop me for a few photos.

Grass in shallow water
At least six terminal moraines were visible as we walked toward the glacier. It’s been a very active glacier over the past few thousand years, advancing, retreating, and advancing again over and over.

Glacier above Bryant Lake, BC
The creek cutting through the third and largest of the terminal moraines.

Old terminal moraine of the glacier above Bryant Lake, BC
Three more small terminal moraines are visible in this photo. This is where most of us stopped.

Old terminal moraines of the glacier above Bryant Lake, BC
The view back down the valley to Bryant Lake.

I need to dig out my photos from 20+ years ago – my memory is that the ice was down almost to the bottom of the bare solid rock.

glacier above Bryant Lake, BC
Just before 3:30 pm, we started back, making a quick stop at the beach to pick up the gear we’d left there. The light was lovely for the walk back along the lake.

Dwarf fireweed along Bryant Lake, BC
The fog had cleared out of the lower valley by the time we could see it again.

Hiking down to the White Pass from Bryant Lake, BC
One final shot, taken at 5:45 pm. We reached the highway at 6:15, and a few minutes later were back at camp.

Hiking down to the South Klondike Highway from Bryant Lake, BC

The plan for Sunday was to hike along the Canada/USA border from the highway to the railway – if the weather cooperated.


Hiking to Bryant Lake and Glacier — 5 Comments

  1. Love the look or that rocky country and that low scrub sure deceives you doesn’t it – looks like you can just walk about anywhere!

    Did you take any other pics of that steam train consist?

    As always, thanks for sharing your big and small adventures! (I wondered about that pile of gear too…still okay water bottle, share mug, socks, etc. Probably just stashed for the day and lost when they returned…)

  2. Mind sharing some of those steam train pics…? Even a regularly scheduled excursion is a treat, but add in that lovely country…oh wonders!