A holiday weekend at Kluane Lake with a family of grizzly bears

My stay at home after the 59-day wander around BC and western Alberta was very short – 4 days. Then, despite mediocre weather forecasts, we made another drive out to Congdon Creek Campground at Kluane Lake for 4 nights over the Canada Day long weekend. It turned out to be a few days of exceptional encounters with grizzly bears.

The 4 days at home were busy ones, with many jobs to get done, but I also took advantage of the sunny periods.

Murray Lundberg, home in Whitehorse after a 2-month RV trip
On the drive out to Congdon Creek Thursday night, there was a large male grizzly in this patch of flowers along Kluane Lake, but I didn’t get any photos of him. I took this photo of the flowers the next day.

Bird vetch (Vicia cracca) in the Yukon
On the left is Dwarf fireweed (Chamerion latifolium, a.k.a. River Beauty Willowherb), and on the right is the other flower, which I don’t have a name for yet, but which is quite often confused with Dwarf fireweed at highway speeds.

Wildflowers at Kluane Lake, Yukon
On Friday morning, we drove the Tracker back to our favourite beach on Kluane, at the large pullout at Km 1642.1 of the Alaska Highway. It’s a great place to play with the dogs on the sand and fine gravels.

Beach on Kluane Lake
After dinner on Friday night we went out grizzly-hunting, and were rewarded almost immediately, just a couple of hundred meters from the campground entrance. This beautiful sow and second-year cubs are the same family we spent time with here last July.

Grizzly bears crossing the Alaska Highway at Kluane Lake, Yukon

Grizzly bears beside the Alaska Highway at Kluane Lake, Yukon
We continued on looking for other bears, and when we returned a half-hour later, the family was walking up Congdon Creek toward the mountains.

Grizzly bears at Congdon Creek, Yukon
One cub suddenly dropped and rolled over. Odd. Then the other one laid down as well. Mom tried to convince them to continue, but it was apparently nap time, so she gave up and had one as well! 🙂

Grizzly bears at Congdon Creek, Yukon
It was very windy, and we had taken a camp site in the sheltering forest rather than one of the lakefront sites we usually prefer. We drove back towards the Slims River, where high winds can cause very impressive dust storms. They were!

Dust storm on the Slims River flats at KLuane Lake
Just ahead of the campervan in the next photo is the Slims River bridge, hidden in the dust.

Dust storm on the Slims River flats at KLuane Lake
Looking up the Slims River.

Dust storm on the Slims River flats at KLuane Lake
Back at the campground entrance, the sight of vehicles parked along the highway took us back to our little family.

Grizzly bears beside the Alaska Highway at Kluane Lake, Yukon
Mom led the way down towards the beach, a location where we had never seen bears before. As the place they were going is a popular place for tenters, I followed them down in the Tracker to see if anyone needed assistance.

Grizzly bears at Kluane Lake, Yukon
There were no tenters, but a small camper was there, and a couple waking along the beach yelled to let us know about the bears. We stayed far back from the bears so we didn’t disturb what turned into quite a play session.

Grizzly bears at Kluane Lake, Yukon

Grizzly bears at Kluane Lake, Yukon

Grizzly bears at Kluane Lake, Yukon

Grizzly bears at Kluane Lake, Yukon

Grizzly bears at Kluane Lake, Yukon
Something suddenly spooked the bears, and off they ran, away from the camping area. When we drove back up to the highway, the couple we’d seen on the beach was walking our way, along the shoulder of the highway. They were obviously headed to the campervan, and we told them that the bears had left, but led them back to their van for safety, just in case.

Grizzly bears at Kluane Lake, Yukon
It was now 8:30 pm, and I took the next photo just before pulling back onto the highway to return to our motorhome.

Flowers along the Alaska Highway at Kluane Lake
On Saturday morning, the wind had calmed down and I moved the RV down to a lakefront campsite that had opened up. Then it was time for a dog-walk on the beach there, and the meadows along it.

Beach on Kluane Lake, Yukon

Meadow beside Kluane Lake, Yukon
Kluane Lake has dropped about another foot from its record low last summer. This has been caused by the re-routing of the headwaters of the Slims River due to the recession of the Kaskawulsh Glacier – the Slims is the largest river feeding into the lake, and is now down to a fraction of the flow it used to have.

Beach on Kluane Lake, Yukon
Bella thoroughly enjoyed another chance to get wet 🙂

Dog swimming in Kluane Lake, Yukon
Late Saturday afternoon, some impressive thunderstorms were building along the lake, and rain was falling up by the Slims River.

Thunderstorm on Kluane Lake, Yukon

Rainstorm on Kluane Lake, Yukon
The storms never reached us, and Saturday evening was a particularly fine one, enjoying a BBQ and campfire.

Murray and Cathy at Kluane Lake, Yukon

Camping at Congdon Creek, Yukon
We picked up our first rodent hitchhikers in the RV somewhere, probably in Whitehorse during the layover. We drove into Destruction Bay but they had no mouse traps, so I MacGyvered a mouse trap of the sort we used to build in the Overwaitea Foods warehouse 35-odd years ago. I caught both mice overnight. It’s not a catch-and-release, they drown in the bucket – I really hate doing it, but they can’t live in my motorhome.

Improvised mouse trap in the RV
We planned to take in a bit of the Canada Day celebrations in Haines Junction, but got there just as everything was shutting down. We consoled ourselves with soft ice cream cones from Frosty’s – the fur-kids approved 🙂

Sharing ice cream with the dogs
Back at the campground entrance, our grizzly family was back feeding!

Grizzly bears at Kluane Lake, Yukon
This time, the cubs led the way down to the beach, where they had another wonderful play-date.

Grizzly bears at Kluane Lake, Yukon

Grizzly bears at Kluane Lake, Yukon

Grizzly bears at Kluane Lake, Yukon

Grizzly bears at Kluane Lake, Yukon
We spent about 20 minutes with them (about half a kilometer away so as not to disturb them), then returned to our campsite.

Grizzly bears at Kluane Lake, Yukon
Monday was our final morning at Congdon Creek, and it started off in a dramatic way, but once again the rain didn’t reach us.

Stormy morning at Congdon Creek Campground at Kluane Lake, Yukon

Stormy morning at Congdon Creek Campground at Kluane Lake, Yukon
At Congdon Creek Campground, people are adapting to the grizzlies, not the other way around. More than half of the campground was closed many years ago to protect an important feeding area. The open cookhouse/shelter has now been closed so as not to attract the grizzlies to it.

Congdon Creek Campground at Kluane Lake, Yukon
The most recent and important adaptation has been the construction of an electrified enclosure for tenters – tenting (including soft-sided tent trailers) had been banned at Congdon Creek for many years.

Congdon Creek Campground at Kluane Lake, Yukon
The new enclosure has been getting very good reviews. A couple from New Hampshire that I talked to while taking these photos was extremely pleased with it – they had planned on sleeping in their small car at “the most beautiful campground [they] had seen.” 🙂

Congdon Creek Campground at Kluane Lake, Yukon
We pulled away from the campground just after 11:00 am, and didn’t get very far before finding another grizzly – this time an old male we hadn’t seen yet this year.

Grizzly bear at Kluane Lake, Yukon

Grizzly bear at Kluane Lake, Yukon
We weren’t nearly ready to go home yet, so stopped at our favourite beach again. We ended up staying there for about 4 hours.

Dogs playing at Kluane Lake, Yukon
We got driven into the shelter of the RV by a couple of brief rainstorms, but more often, we were watching storms across the lake while we were in sunshine.

Cathy and Murray at Kluane Lake, Yukon

After stopping for dinner at a new restaurant on the highway in Whitehorse, we were home by about 7:00 pm. I had about 16 hours to get the rig and myself ready to head out again, for 4 nights in the White Pass for hiking and canoeing with a buddy from Haines.



Comments

A holiday weekend at Kluane Lake with a family of grizzly bears — 11 Comments

  1. What a remarkable few days with the bears! Thanks for covering the other side of the camping equation, re: the tenting side.
    The security of a RV or hard sided trailer must be immense at bedtime; the secure enclosure for the tenters hopefully does the same. (so much as it is possible to do so)
    I have enjoyed your pics from that particular area each time you post them.

    • Thanks – I sometimes wonder if people are getting tired of reading about Congdon Creek. The tenters seem to be very happy with the enclosure, and I’ve heard no reports of any bears testing its security.

  2. Thank you for the wonderful pictures. Great photographs and interesting reports. Amazing!

  3. Awesome photos! We spent a couple of weeks in the general area there and never managed to see a grizzly…

  4. …..As a former Yukon resident I particularly enjoyed this tour and the bears.