Hiking to the Samuel Glacier (the Chuck Creek Trail)

On Thursday night (September 29th), I had set up camp at the Chuck Creek (Samuel Glacier) trailhead. The large, level, sheltered parking area there would be a perfect base for what I knew would be a long day on the trail.

At 06:55 on Friday morning, the view to the northeast from the door of the motorhome was quite stunning. But it was cold – about -3°C (27°F), so I was in no hurry to start hiking.

Dawn view from the Samuel Glacier trailhead in late Fall
The view to the southeast at 07:28.

Dawn view from the Samuel Glacier trailhead in late Fall
A couple of other campers had joined me late on Thursday night. I shot this just after 08:00. It wasn’t getting any warmer, but I finished off the article I was working on, had breakfast, and started to get ready for the hike.

RVs at the Samuel Glacier trailhead in late Fall
This image from Google Earth shows the basic layout, from the trailhead to the right, to the glacier view where I turned around, to the left. This region is still low-resolution on Google Earth. Click on it to open an interactive map in a new window. For more detail, though it doesn’t show most of the road/trail, see the applicable section of topo map 114 P/10.

Samuel Glacier, BC, on Google Earth

The trail is entirely within Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park, but there are no highly-visible signs noting that, no park rangers, and no fees. This park of almost 1 million hectares of rugged wilderness is fairly new, just having been established on October 15, 1993, and has no services.

We finally hit the trail at about 10:20, with the temperature sitting at about freezing in the shade of Kusawak Mountain, but with no wind. There are 51 photos in this post in an attempt to show you the wide range of conditions along the trail, and each photo caption includes the time I shot the photo. In this case, it was 10:31.

Hiking to the Samuel Glacier (the Chuck Creek Trail)
Although the trail sign calls this the Chuck Creek Trail, by 10:43 we had already climbed above the Chuck Creek drainage. It’s a very short creek – a tributary of Nadahini Creek.

Hiking to the Samuel Glacier
10:49. After the initial few hundred meters/yards of brush along the trail, the trail/road became very good, and the views were wonderful. Brush may not sound like a big deal, but it hides grizzlies, and there are a lot of them in this country. Seeing them, sometimes very close, and sometimes having to use bear-bangers, are common comments about this trail.

Hiking to the Samuel Glacier
10:55 – damn!! This bear was very close to the road, but with the brush I couldn’t be sure exactly where the road was. But… although it looked like he was feeding, he wasn’t moving. I watched and I waited. And then I waited for another couple of minutes. No, it couldn’t be a bear. On we go, with my bear spray in my hand, the trigger guard off.

Bear on the Samuel Glacier trail
Haha – that was my bear! A bare/bear rock in shadow. But it made Tucker very nervous – he barked like hell when he first saw it. He wouldn’t go near it until I started walking around it, and then he was behind me 😉

A bear rock on the Samuel Glacier trail
11:01 – yes, this day rated a 10. Nice work indeed, Mother Nature!

Hiking to the Samuel Glacier
At 11:14, it was clear that the mountains directly ahead were the ones in which the Samuel Glacier was still hiding.

Hiking to the Samuel Glacier
11:18 – brush and one of many little creek crossings along the trail. Because of the potential of meeting a bear, Bella and Tucker had been back on-leash for a while. I still often think about our bear attack in Tumbler Ridge in late April – if they had been loose, it could have had a very different result.

Hiking BC's Samuel Glacier Trail
11:21 – it was warming up nicely, but there was still lots of ice around.

Ice along the Samuel Glacier Trail
At 11:22, the largest creek yet took some care to get across without getting wet feet.

Creek crossing on the Samuel Glacier Trail
There’s pretty much a perfect day to be out in the mountains with my very happy little girl.

My Sheltie-cross Bella on the Samuel Glacier Trail
I’d forgotten my tripod at home, but at 11:35, a convenient rock allowed for a selfie. With the bear spray still in my right hand because brushy stretches continued to be fairly common.

Hiker on the Samuel Glacier Trail in BC
11:44 – lots of wet stretches, lots of brush. Pieces of pipe/culvert were starting to show up from the road’s mining days. The kids were often distracted by willow ptarmigan, Arctic ground squirrels, and heaven knows what other creatures.

Pipe along the Samuel Glacier Trail
Just before noon, it was time to get out of my base layer. It was certainly needed that morning, but was far too warm for that now. And while we were stopped anyway, eating a bit of our lunches was in order as well.

Getting changed along the Samuel Glacier Trail
As we got packed up to start hiking again at 12:07, I could see that there was a very long stretch of brush and probably wet road ahead, and decided to take another route to avoid both.

Samuel Glacier Trail
12:35 – the new route was straight up the side of Nadahini Mountain.

Nadahini Mountain, on the Samuel Glacier Trail
12:37 – the view was much better from about 1,400 meters (4,593 feet). The batteries had died on my trail GPS (a Garmin Summit), so I’m just guessing at the altitude I reached. Up in an area where I could see bears for a very long distance, it was great to be able to let Bella and Tucker off their leashes, too – at least most of the time. Every now and then, I leashed them again when there were too many distractions for young dogs to resist.

Above the Samuel Glacier Trail
At 12:47, Bella thought that this creek growing its own popsicles was just the best thing to play with! 🙂

Icy creek above the Samuel Glacier Trail
12:48 – there are several gullies cutting the slopes of Nadahini Mountain and the other unnamed peaks of the Datlasaka Range, and I kept going higher avoid them. This one, though, went too high on the slope to get above, and had pretty reasonable slopes anyway, so I hiked across it.

Gully on the slopes of the Datlasaka Range, BC
The Mineral Lakes off to the south, at 12:53. In the vast valley that I could now see, I saw nothing moving – in particular, no bears and no caribou, both of which I expected to see.

Mineral Lakes, BC
Looking straight up another wash to the unnamed peaks at 12:55.

Hiking on the Datlasaka Range, BC
By 1:10, I had started angling down the slopes, as I could see that there were no bad gullies ahead. This is the view back to the east-southeast, with the Mineral Lakes on the right, and Clear Creek below. Occasionally flashes of light could be seen as sunlight reflected off the windows of vehicles on the Haines Highway towards the left of this photo.

Along the route to the Samuel Glacier, BC
At 1:15, I could see a large very wet area ahead, so stayed above the worst of it. More and more of the Samuel Glacier could be seen as I walked, and my goal was the top of the ridge just to the right of centre in this photo, where I expected that the toe of the glacier would be visible.

Along the route to the Samuel Glacier, BC
1:24 – still angling down and avoiding most of the brush, wet areas, and other obstacles. Below, I could see the guy from the white van at the trailhead heading back, and I was curious as to whether he was on a trail or just going cross-country as I was. I’d not seen any mention of a trail in this area, so I expected he was choosing his own route.

Along the route to the Samuel Glacier, BC
I was quite surprised to find an old Cat track at 1:39. Not surprised since it is an old mining area, but surprised that I’d not seen it mentioned in any trail description, though hikers had obviously been following it, as I did.

Old Cat track on the route to the Samuel Glacier
1:44 – the Cat track was an excellent route, as it avoided the same sort of obstacles that I wanted to avoid. So up and down we wandered across the low ridges.

Old Cat track on the route to the Samuel Glacier
By 1:49, I had left the Cat track as it was veering away from the ridge that was my goal. This odd hummocky slope has me wondering what might have caused it. The Arctic cotton grass – the white dots to the lower right – are usually a good indicator that wet ground is there.

Hummocks on the route to the Samuel Glacier
Looking back at the only cairn I’d seen so far, at 2:00. Built in another area of hummocks near the edge of a large outwash plain, I expected that it marked the best route, especially since I’d first spotted it directly ahead on my route. As it turned out, however, I found a better route a bit higher up on the hike out.

Cairn on the route to the Samuel Glacier
Crossing the outwash plain at 2:04. It’s hard to imagine the volume of water that it took to create this. Wikipedia explains an outwash plain: “…also called a sandur (plural: sandurs), sandr or sandar, is a plain formed of glacial sediments deposited by meltwater outwash at the terminus of a glacier.” A creek at the western side of the outwash was hard to cross in many places without getting wet feet, but a short detour took me to an area where it split into several braids, each of which was easy to cross.

Outwash plain on the route to the Samuel Glacier

Bella and Tucker had been really good about staying with me, partly because they were always in front of me, and if they started off after anything, an immediate correction brought them back. After we crossed the outwash plain, though, they dropped behind me, and Tucker disappeared. I called and called and called, and finally spotted him near the top of a distant ridge to the north, still running hard. He finally responded to my now-frantic calls, but it took a long time for him to get back to me.

At 2:18, I reached the ridge I had been aiming for, and got the view of the Samuel Glacier that I had expected.

Samuel Glacier, BC
A closer look at the Samuel Glacier – actually, the south arm of the glacier. There was obviously so much more to see here, but I was still very upset from Tucker’s side-trip, and was also very conscious that we were no longer The Land of the Midnight Sun. I had a long trek back before the sun went behind the mountains and the world started to go dim.

Samuel Glacier, BC
The main arm of the Samuel Glacier to the north would take a fair hike to see much of, so that wasn’t an option this time.

The main arm of the Samuel Glacier
One more shot looking to the south from the ridge, and 3 minutes after getting there, I started the hike back. I decided to leave Bella free, but Tucker had to be on a leash to keep me sane. Kids!

This is what’s left of the unnamed glacier in the Datlasaka Range that created the large outwash plain. Even the topo map, from aerial photos shot in 1979 and 1980, show it as being much larger.

Unnamed glacier in the Datlasaka Range, BC
2:30 – imagine the forces required to not only split that boulder that Bella is passing, but even to move the top part of it. The natural processes in glacial areas fascinate me.

A large boulder split by Mother Nature
We were soon back on the Cat track, and decided to follow it to the road, and the road all the way back to the trailhead. This photo was shot at 2:57.

At 3:02, we reach the first crossing of Clear Creek. I brought water shoes but had expected larger creek crossings. This was small enough that I just took my boots off and walked across barefoot. A tiny cairn, barely visible to the right of centre in this photo, indicated the start of the trail on the far side of the creek.

Crossing Clear Creek on the hike back from the Samuel Glacier
On the trail – the old mining road – at 3:11.

The trail back from the Samuel Glacier
3:17 – “anybody home?” 🙂

The trail back from the Samuel Glacier
3:18 – now well thawed by the sun, the trail was very muddy, and slippery in places.

The muddy trail back from the Samuel Glacier
3:22 – there was a lot of water seeping from the slope above the trail in many places.

The muddy trail back from the Samuel Glacier
At 3:29 we reached the main crossing of Clear Creek, which was also very easy – easier than I had expected.

Crossing Clear Creek on the trail back from the Samuel Glacier
On one of the truly superb sections of the trail, at 3:45. The Haines Highway cut can be seen on the distant slope.

The trail back from the Samuel Glacier
The distinctively post-glacial landscape at 4:19. Just ahead, I saw a couple of people setting up camp far below the trail. About 15 minutes later, I heard a bang-banger, and 3-4 minutes later, a second one. That’s not good!

The post-glacial landscape along the Samuel Glacier trail
4:31 – Bella hates! anything that sounds like a gunshot, and the bear-bangers made it difficult to keep her with me.

Along the Samuel Glacier trail
At 4:43, with the highway in sight and the trailhead just a few minutes away, I had to bring Bella right back and put her on-leash to keep her safe.

Back home, at 4:55, 6 hours and 35 minutes after leaving. YukonHiking.ca says that the trail is 21 km (13 mi) long, so about 22 the route I took. Bella and Tucker were as tired as I was, and we were all soon in bed. I got up after about 2½ hours, but the kids wanted to stay in bed. I made them get up for dinner, and then they crashed again.

Back at the Samuel Glacier trailhead

I was actually rather disappointed in the Samuel Glacier trail, which often just felt like a slog. I think that as an overnight hike it would be superb, but perhaps even in July when the sun is up for 18 hours or so it would be better. There’s more to see – the main arm of the Samuel Glacier in particular – so I expect that I’ll be back again.

I’m having a hard time right now. My Dad, who took me to places like this as far back as I can remember as a child, died at noon yesterday, nearing his 94th birthday. Finishing this piece has been both cathartic and upsetting, and I’ll have to see how writing about the third hike of this trip goes. And I have a lot that I want to tell you about him now, my friends….


Hiking to the Samuel Glacier (the Chuck Creek Trail) — 13 Comments

  1. Murray, So very sorry to hear about your father. Hope you are doing okay. I would love to hear more about him – he obviously inspired the explorer/adventurer in you. Take care – and once again – so very sorry to hear this news. Joan

  2. Murray, sorry for your loss of your Dad. We will keep him and you in our prayers. Will be looking foreword to you celebrating his life by your writing and photography like you excite our imagination of the Yukon, Alaska and Canada. You do such a great job.
    John & Marion

  3. So sorry to hear of your loss. I remember talking with your father on a cruise in Alaska. He was always there when you had a presentation onboard. You and your family are in our thoughts.

  4. So sorry to hear about your loss and will keep you in my prayers Murray. You are surrounded by such calmness and spectacular scenery that will help you get through this hard period of loosing someone so close. Needless to say that you also need to keep an eye on Tucker which seems to like wandering around….Take good care.

  5. Murray, you inspire me on a daily basis as I know you dad did for you. So sorry for your loss. I look forward to hearing more about you and your dads adventures through the years.


  6. Hello from Oklahoma. Found your blog in 2007 when I was researching our first cruise to Alaska. I so enjoy your pictures because there isn’t anything like your scenery around here. I am very sorry to hear about the loss of your Dad. I’ve obviously learned about him also when reading your blog. My thoughts are with you during such a sad time.

    • Your photos brighten my day! I look forward to see the beauty up there! If our health allows we’ll be up in the Yukon next May!

  7. Sorry for your loss, just keep all those great memories of your Dad, they will keep you going. Our prayers and thoughts are with you and family.

  8. Looking forward to hearing about your adventures with your Dad. My late father told me of his amazing time in the Yukon while serving in the RCAF in 1943-44 stationed at Whitehouse and Aishihik Lake. I have never been to the Yukon, but plan on making the trip next year. Keep up the great stories, they inspire me! God Bless…

  9. One of the reasons I so enjoy your writing, your pics, your sense of adventure and interest in all that you trip across, my own driving interest in all things nature and natural, which is probably inherited from my own father, who had that wanderlust and sense and need of adventure.

    He is gone now too, so I can thank and remember him again at this time, as as well as your own late father…god bless. The day you posted this report I was nearly 4000 miles away from my own AK trip where I had intended to capture some of the magic that you so wonderfully with us constantly.

  10. Hi Murray, thanks so much for this blog. My hubby, cat, and I liveaboard in Juneau and hiked the first couple miles of the Chuck Creek trail on our way back from Anchorage a couple days ago. The ferry ride from here to Haines and the Haines pass must be a couple of the most spectacular stretches on the planet!

    I found a trail on a “Haines Road” flyer/map that I cannot find info on anywhere else, though. Called “Three Guardsmen Pass Trail”. It appears to be on the opposite side of the road from the guardsmen, running parallel to the road for some miles. Are you aware of this trail?

    Also, did you notice what appear to be mine tailings or glacial moraine above the Chuck Creek trail, within the first mile, on the right? We had a hard time figuring out what it was, and clouds were sitting directly above it at the time.

    Thanks much! An area we want to explore more!

    • Hi Erica. Thanks for your note. I’m pleased that you got over to see a bit of the country – yes, it is pretty incredible.

      I’ve never seen that brochure, but the “trail” will be the route of the 1955-1971 Haines-Fairbanks Pipeline. It’s rarely used because it’s not a very nice route for hiking (following the highway as it does rather than heading into the backcountry), and it’s hard to follow in many places.

      The bare gravel above the first mile or so of the Chuck Creek trail is a series of glacial moraines and scourings – if the clouds had lifted you can see the tiny bits of ice that still remain.

      I’m hoping to get back over to that area for another few days of hiking before the season ends.