Alaska RVing: Portage Glacier & AK Wildlife Center

On Wednesday, August 5th, we went on a Portage Glacier cruise, visited the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, then drove the 108 km (80 mi) to Seward and got settled for our first multi-day stay of the trip.

While the others were getting ready for the day, I went for a walk to get more photos of Williwaw Campground, which is one of our favourite campgrounds of the trip. We had lost our sunshine, but Portage often gets very localized weather so I still had high hopes for the day. This was our double site, #29 (see a map of the campground).

The entrance to Williwaw Campground. The hanging glacier above is called the Middle Glacier, but that may not be an official name. That might sound odd, but although the number of glaciers has never been systematically counted, the total is probably over 100,000, and only about 600 of them (far less than 1%) have been officially named by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.

The entrance to Williwaw Campground, Alaska
The Williwaw Creek salmon viewing deck.

The Williwaw Creek salmon viewing deck.
We went to the dock for the Portage Glacier cruise in time to get tickets for the 11:30 sailing. Without paying much attention when we arrived, I told Cathy that we get tickets in the lodge. She said “lodge?”. It was gone!! So I raced back to the other Portage Glacier Lodge and got tickets there. I had seen the sign adversing tickets but thought that they were just brokering them – it never occurred to me that the cruise office was now there. The old lodge at the dock can be seen in this photo from one of my many previous cruises.

MV Ptarmigan at the Portage Glacier cruise dock
Looking back at the dock, with the Byron Glacier to the left. There’s an excellent, fairly easy trail leading up to the Byron Glacier.

Portage Glacier cruise dock and the Byron Glacier
Portage Glacier isn’t the most impressive glacier you can see in Alaska, but for me, any big ice is wonderful to see, and for a quick look at a low price ($39 each), Portage is tough to beat.

Portage Glacier, Alaska
The glacier has retreated a long way since I first saw it in 1990, but the retreat seems to have slowed or even stopped in recent years. To see what it looked like 60-odd years ago, see this postcard from the mid 1950s.

Portage Glacier, Alaska
There are several other glaciers visible during the cruise.

A hanging glacier above Portage Glacier, Alaska
Captain Tom Callahan has been master of the MV Ptarmigan for many years, and clearly loves his job. He’s a great guy to chat with – I really enjoy his dry sense of humour.

Captain Tom Callahan has been master of the MV Ptarmigan for many years
As we docked, I could see that Bella was ready to hit the road again!

Husky driving an RV in Alaska
We didn’t go very far, just over to the Portage Glacier day lodge for a good lunch. There’s lots of parking there, so we then unhooked the Tracker and took it the 6 miles to the wildlife centre.

Portage Glacier day lodge
Halfway back to the Seward Highway, we stopped to see the Explorer Glacier, and chatted with a young woman who was up for the summer and was paddleboarding there with friends.

Paddleboarding below the Explorer Glacier, Alaska

We reached the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC) at 2:00, with no schedule in mind for when we needed to leave, as there’s lots to see. Admission was $12.50 each for Cathy and I, $9 each seniors rate for MJ and Jim.

The “ghost forest” was caused when this area dropped about 8 feet during the great 9.2 magnitude Good Friday Earthquake of March 27, 1964. That put the trees’ roots below sea level – the salt water killed the trees, but the salt also preserved the wood so the trees are still standing.

Ghost Forest at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
Up-close moose were a fine way to start our wander around the property. As much as possible, I drove the others close to each of the animals and then found a place to park for a bit. I took 150 photos during the 2 hours we were there, but will just show you a tiny sample of what we saw :)

Moose at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
From the main parking area for the outer loop, you can walk or take a shuttle bus, but you can also drive around, as I did.

Parking at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
The sign here let people know, among other facts, that porcupines don’t throw their quills as many people think (so a quill-proof shield around them isn’t necessary).

Porcupine at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
Moose calves are really funny looking!

Moose calf at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
The bear habitat was under construction the last time I was at AWCC – it is wonderful!! From the elevated walkway, black bears can be seen to the left, and brown bears (grizzlies) to the right. Although mortal enemies in the wild, we saw a black and a brown bear having a bit of a chat through the wire that separates them.

Bear habitat at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
The two creatures that I want to see most are orca and grizzlies. Due to harsh backlight, I shot most of my grizzly photos as HDR images so as not to lose the glacier background.

Brown bear at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
Before going back to the motorhomes, I had one more spot to show the gang – the viewpoint over Portage Lake to the Byron Glacier on the road to the Whittier tunnel. From this viewpoint, half a dozen glaciers are visible.

Portage Lake and the Byron Glacier, Alaska
We had hoped to be able to camp in one of the City-run RV parks on the waterfront in Seward, but after driving around and around looking for an empty spot for a while, gave up and eventually ended up at “Seward’s only luxury RV Park!”. More about that in my next post :)

RV camping on the beach in Seward, Alaska

Alaska RVing: Palmer to Portage

We had built some flexibility into our itinerary, and that had already become useful, as the days were much shorter than we thought they’d be (that could have something to do with our “early to bed, late to rise” regime) :) We had also re-thought some of our campgrounds, and had now cancelled Homer completely as well as changing our destination for Tuesday night (August 4th) to Williwaw Campground, near the Portage Glacier.

Tuesday would be a very short driving day, only 169 km (105 mi), but full of activities, starting with the musk ox farm a few miles from our campground at Palmer.

Because of tight parking space at the farm, we left the motorhomes (and the pets) at the RV park, and were on the road in the Tracker at 10:30. Our first stop, though, was at a spectacular viewpoint overlooking the Matanuska River. This first photo is looking upstream.

Matanuska River, Alaska
And this one looks toward the river’s mouth at Knik Arm of Cook Inlet.

Matanuska River, Alaska
We got to the Musk Ox Farm just after 11, so had a few minutes to look at the displays before the next tour started. This panel shows the regional designs used by the knitters at the Oomingmak cooperative, who turn qiviut, the musk ox’s underwool, into scarves and other items. I bought Cathy an Oomingmak nachaq a dozen years ago – you have to see and feel it to believe the quality, and once you do, the price tag (almost $200) makes sense.

Qiviut scarf designs - Musk Ox Farm - Palmer, Alaska
The farm’s main building is a “colony barn”, one of the few left from the 1935 Matanuska Colony agricultural project. When we return to Palmer with more time (next year is the plan), I want to tour the valley using Helen Hegener’s excellent book, The Matanuska Colony Barns.

Colony barn at the Musk Ox Farm - Palmer, Alaska
I’ve been to the farm more times than I can count over the past 25 years, as it was a must-stop on virtually every tour I did, and the guides for the hour-long tour through the property have been consistently excellent.

Musk oxen at the Musk Ox Farm - Palmer, Alaska

Musk oxen at the  Musk Ox Farm - Palmer, Alaska

Musk Ox Farm - Palmer, Alaska

After we left the farm at about 12:30, we went back to the RV park, had lunch and then went to the Fred Meyer’s store in Palmer to do a major shopping, mostly for groceries and refreshments.

Our next stop after leaving Palmer was the Alaska Aviation Museum at the Anchorage Airport. I had thought about dropping the RVs and taking just the Tracker in because I knew that parking wasn’t RV-friendly, but as we got to the museum, a pickup pulled up beside us, seeing my indecision about where to go, and said that we could park on the Civil Air Patrol property across the road from the museum.

Alaska Aviation Museum
For anyone interested in old planes or even in Alaska history in general, the museum should be considered a must-see. I could spend an entire day there, but a quick look in something like the 90 minutes we spent gives a good idea at the importance of aviation in developing Alaska.

Alaska Aviation Museum
This display is about Wiley Post and Will Rogers, who were killed in the crash of their Lockheed Orion Sirius Explorer near Barrow in 1935.

Wiley Post and Will Rogers display at the Alaska Aviation Museum
This 1931 Fairchild Pilgrim 100B, registration N709Y, has been restored to flying condition. Built to carry 9 passengers, it was the first modern airliner in the sense that it had steam heat, luggage racks and a toilet.

1931 Fairchild Pilgrim 100B at the Alaska Aviation Museum
I couldn’t resist spending $5 for 5 minutes in their flight simulator. I wasn’t very impressed with the graphics, and my attempted landing on an aircraft carrier with my P-38 wasn’t successful, but it was good fun anyway, and I’ll no doubt give it another try the next time I’m there.

Flight simulator at the Alaska Aviation Museum
Our final stop was the control tower cab (which came from Merrill Field a few miles north), where you can watch the action on the Lake Hood float plane base (PALH/LHD), and hear the conversations between the real control tower and the pilots.

Alaska Aviation Museum
This is N2899J, a 1961 De Havilland Canada DHC-3 Turbo Otter operated by Rust’s, whose large base is right beside the museum.

N2899J, a 1961 De Havilland Canada DHC-3 Turbo Otter
Cathy had never seen a rig like the one launching N401WC, a 1973 Cessna A185F Skywagon 185. Yes, the back half of the truck is missing. This is a common rig to launch float planes with – take a 4×4 pickup and cut the back off. It makes it much more maneuverable, there’s less maintenance, and wrecked 4x4s are cheap.

N401WC, a 1973 Cessna A185F Skywagon 185
I have a love-hate relationship with the Seward Highway – I love the scenery, but hate the traffic. It’s by far the most dangerous highway in Alaska, and Friday and Sunday are the worst as people from “Los Anchorage” head to the Kenai for the weekend. The more 4-lane sections that get built, the safer it gets, but it still creeps me out. This photo shows a typical view along Turnagain Arm.

Seward Highway along Turnagain Arm
Crossing Virgin Creek, just south of Girdwood, the sight of the glaciers at the south end of Turnagain Arm is exciting, as we’d be camping right below them.

Crossing Virgin Creek on the Seward Highway, Alaska
As you can see, traffic isn’t a big problem mid-week (no, it wasn’t just all backed up behind me! :) ).

Seward Highway along Turnagain Arm
Williwaw Campground is off the Seward Highway on the road to the Portage Glacier and Whittier. It’s a beautiful campground, all paved, operated by the US Forest Service (see a map of the campground). We reached it at about 6:30, and soon were set up in this large, level double site (#29), which cost $28 total.

Williwaw Campground
After a simple barbecued dinner, Cathy and I took the dogs to the salmon viewing deck on Williwaw Creek adjacent to the campground. Monty has always been fascinated by fish, but Bella shows no interest in them at all.

Salmon viewing deck on Williwaw Creek, Alaska
Monty has started to show some rather odd behaviours. Just before 10 pm, he decided that it was bedtime, and built a nest under the picnic table. He’s always nested like this to some degree, but has become much more obsessive about it in the past few weeks.

Husky nesting
I bought a bundle of firewood for $6 so Cathy could cook us some of her pies, and we had a wonderful evening, with a waterfall pouring off the glacier above us as the background music. This would be one of our favourite campgrounds of the entire trip.

Wednesday would be another day of little driving but lots of activities as we made our way to Seward.

Alaska RVing: Tok to Palmer

Monday, August 3rd, would be one of our longest driving days – 458 km (285 miles) from Tok to Palmer.

Our peaceful forested site at the Tundra Lodge & RV Park in Tok was a really nice place to start the day off, made even better by a little bit of puppy-love :)

Puppy love in our RV
We’re not doing early-morning starts unless there’s a very good reason, and this day, we weren’t on the road until almost 11:30. The first 201 km (125 mi) are on the Tok Cutoff, running between the Alaska Range and Mentasta Mountains, as seen in this photo which was shot a couple of minutes after noon, and then along the edge of the Copper River Valley. The road surface varies a lot, with some new pavement and some long, fairly rough stretches with lots of frost heaves and some potholes.

Tok Cutoff Highway, Alaska
For many miles, Mount Sanford, a shield volcano in the Wrangell Mountains, is visible across the Copper River Valley. It is 4,949 meters (16,237 feet) high.

Mount Sanford, a shield volcano in Alaska's Wrangell Mountains
That’s the smile that I’m working to keep on Monty’s face as much as possible. I love driving my own “bus” – driving other people’s buses never felt this good.

Murray and his old husky Monty driving the RV through Alaska
A huge rest area at the Chistochina River bridge, 145 km (90 miles) from Tok, was the perfect place to a very leisurely lunch stop. Being able to get all of us out of the hot sun (it hit close to 80F) was great.

Lunch at a huge rest area at the Chistochina River bridge, Alaska
Mount Sanford and the Chistochina River, from the highway bridge.

Mount Sanford and the Chistochina River, from the highway bridge
A mile from the junction of the Tok Cutoff and Richardson Highway, a viewpoint with interpretive signs offers a wonderful broad view of the Copper River and Wrangell Mountains.

Copper River and Wrangell Mountains from a viewpoint on the Tok Cutoff
Dropping down from 1,013-meter-high (3,322 ft) Eureka Summit, 95 km (59 mi) south of Glennallen on the Glenn Highway, Gunsight Mountain can be seen just to the right. A notch in the peak’s saddle gave it its name.

Gunsight Mountain, Glenn Highway
Whenever I can, I stop at this memorial 111 km (69 mi) south of Glennallen to pay my respects. It reads: “TROOPER BRUCE A. HECK
Gone But Not Forgotten
On a cold winter night, on January 10, 1997, Alaska State Trooper Bruce Heck gave his life in the line of duty near this location.
While on duty in the area of mile 157.9 of the Glenn Highway, Trooper Heck attempted to arrest a suspect who had run into the woods after wrecking a stolen taxicab. In dub-zero temperatures and deep snow, a struggle ensued where the suspect overpowered Troper Heck and took his life. The suspect, who was arrested by other officers who arrived on the scene shortly thereafter, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
In 1999 the Alaska State Legislature designated the Glenn Highway from Mile 128 to Mile 189 as the TROOPER BRUCE A. HECK MEMORIAL CORRIDOR so that his sacrifice will not be forgotten.
This monument is placed in remembrance of Trooper Heck’s selfless act of giving his life while protecting the citizens of Alaska.

Alaska State Trooper Bruce A. Heck memorial, Glenn Highway
We didn’t make as many stops as I’d prefer to have made, but this pulloff was irresistible, to get another portrait of the rigs, but mainly…

RVs at a pullout along the Glenn Highway, Alaska
… to get this shot of the mountain known as Lion’s Head.

The mountain known as Lion's Head on the Glenn Highway, Alaska
Our home for Monday night was the Mountain View RV Park in the hills a few miles northeast of Palmer, which we reached just after 6:30. We got 2 grassed, fairly spacious, fully-serviced sites for $34.20 each including taxes. There are a total of 68 full hookup pull through sites, as well as some partial-service sites.

Mountain View RV Park, Palmer, Alaska
As expected, Charlie was loving his first big adventure. The change in him since MJ and Jim adopted him has been wonderful to watch – from being very insecure, he’s now the most loving little guy anyone could hope for. The park has lots of grass including a large dog walking area.

A look at the laundry facilities – a bit tired but functional. The wifi was quite poor, even right at the office. I had planned to post on the blog while we we travelling, but by now had given up on that idea.

Mountain View RV Park, Palmer, Alaska

The picnic table between our sites was a fine place for a barbecued dinner, and we enjoyed the light until quite late. The next day wouldn’t be a long one in the way of miles driven, but we had lots of activities planned.

Alaska Highway RVing: Whitehorse to Tok

We got home last night from 17 days touring Alaska in our motorhome, accompanied by Whitehorse friends who rented a motorhome from Fraserway. We drove 3,345 km (2,078 miles) in the RVs, plus another couple of hundred in the Tracker we towed. Total driving time in the RVs was just under 45 hours. This was our itinerary:

Sat Aug 1 – to White River: 409 km (254 mi)
Sun Aug 2 – to Tok: 229 km (142 mi)
Mon Aug 3 – to Palmer: 449 km (279 mi)
Tue Aug 4 – to Portage: 158 km (98 mi)
Wed Aug 5 – to Seward: 130 km (81 mi)
Thu Aug 6 – in Seward: 0 km/mi
Fri Aug 7 – in Seward: 0 km/mi
Sat Aug 8 – to Talkeetna: 383 km (238 mi)
Sun Aug 9 – to Denali: 245 km (152 mi)
Mon Aug 10 – in Denali: 0 km/mi
Tue Aug 11 – in Denali: 0 km/mi
Wed Aug 12 – to Tangle Lakes: 224 km (139 mi)
Thu Aug 13 – to Tok (via Copper Center): 476 km (296 mi)
Fri Aug 14 – to Congden Creek: 375 km (233 mi)
Sat Aug 15 – at Congden Creek: 0 km/mi
Sun Aug 16 – at Congden Creek: 0 km/mi
Mon Aug 17 – home: 267 km (166 mi)

That looks like this on a map…

Alaska RV route map

After editing, I have 1,875 photos. With good Internet only for a few hours during the entire trip (at Talkeetna), I was only able to post a handful of pictures on Facebook, and blogging the trip seems quite intimidating at the moment, but we saw some amazing things, so I’ll give it a shot.

Getting away from Whitehorse took a bit longer than we had expected, but as we headed west on the Alaska Highway, we left the rain, and just after 3:00 pm, we made our first stop, at one of our favourite beaches on Kluane Lake. MJ and Jim had rented a 23-foot Class C motorhome, the largest that Fraserway offers in Whitehorse, and we expected to make good use of Cathy’s Tracker.

RVs at Kluane Lake, Yukon
MJ and Jim’s dog, Charlie, is a wonderful little rescue, and gets along great with Monty and Bella. He’s always seemed very adaptable, so we had high hopes that he’d enjoy his first trip.

Enjoying Kluane Lake, Yukon

I’ve seen many comments online this year about how rough the Alaska Highway is. I found it to be quite normal, which means that you need to take care and be alert for road damage that may or may not be marked. The only exception to that comment was a lengthy gravel section near the Donjek River that was extremely rough and washboarded.

Our destination for our first night was Discovery Yukon, formerly the White River Lodge, on the Alaska Highway at Km 1818, 409 km (254 miles) from our home. During the trip, we planned to stay at both commercial and government campgrounds, with location being the main criteria for which one we chose.

Discovery Yukon, formerly White River Lodge, on the Alaska Highway at Km 1818
There are 50 pull-through, full hookup sites, and we got 2 side by side, with a picnic table between us. The sites cost $42 each, with 10% off for our Good Sam membership.

RV sites at Discovery Yukon, White River
Scattered around the campground is a large collection of military construction equipment from World War II when the highway was built. This part of the campground doesn’t seem to be in use anymore – it was where I had hoped to be parked for the night.

WW II construction equipment at Discovery Yukon campground
Most of the equipment has deteriorated beyond restoration, but this ambulance would be a great project.

WW II ambulance at Discovery Yukon campground
This “Northern botanical garden” is a nice new feature.

Northern botanical garden at Discovery Yukon RV park
At about 9:30, with lots of daylight left, Cathy and I took the dogs for a walk along the highway to the bridge over the White River, just over half a kilometer west of the campground. Right at the bridge, the river changes its character dramatically, from being a mountain river upstream…

White River, Yukon
… to a braided glacial river downstream. Within a very short distance of the bridge, the riverbed is a couple of kilometers wide.

White River, Yukon
On Sunday morning, before hitting the road again, I spent more time checking out the artifact collection, which really is quite impressive. Overall the campground and the facilities in general at Discovery Yukon are quite nice – it’s a particularly nice place to wander with the dogs. My only complaint was that the advertised wi-fi barely functioned even inside the small lodge – it wasn’t really worth the time and frustration of trying to use it.

Artifact collection at Discovery Yukon campground
As were all sitting in our rig discussing the day ahead, one of Trans North’s Aerospatiale AS 350 helicopters came in to land, with a good-sized boat dangling from a sling! We actually knew that it was coming sometime today, as we had talked to a Whitehorse sheep hunter the previous evening. He told us a fascinating story about his party’s boat sinking up the White River, being rescued by helicopter, and now paying some $8,000 to fly the boat and motor out. That’s some adventure!

Boat rescued by a Trans North helicopter
Sunday would be an easy day, with only 229 km (142 miles) to drive to Tok, and nothing in the way of stops planned other than the border crossing. At Km 1865, travellers come to an odd assortment of “stuff” along the highway that no doubt produce many guesses as to what it is. I’ve watched it expand over the past 20 years or so – it’s a section of highway for testing various ideas to protect the permafrost that lies below the road, and so stabilize the road surface. See this page for more information.

Permafrost testing area, Alaska Highway
We stopped in to see the very nice Visitor Reception Centre at Beaver Creek. I used to spend a lot of time in Beaver Creek with tours, but few bus tours come this way anymore.

Visitor Reception Centre at Beaver Creek
Staff at our Visitor Reception Centres can always be counted on to have the information you need, even when you didn’t know before you walked in that you needed it – Sid was no exception to that rule :)

Visitor Reception Centre at Beaver Creek
Alaska welcomes the gang :) I actually took this photo as we left Alaska because the place was far too crowded as we entered Alaska.

RVs at the Welcome to Alaska sign on the Alaska Highway
We met a very large group of cyclists (50 or so) and their support vehicles at the border – some at the sign and the rest at the Customs crossing. They are members of a group called Texas 4000, and over 70 days will be riding all the way from Austin to Anchorage, gathering support for the fight against cancer. The first Texas 4000 ride took place in 2004, and since then over $4.5 million dollars has been raised for the cause. There’s a sign on the back windows of the van that says “We biked here from TX”.

Texas 4000 charity cyclists at the port Alcan border crossing
Just before reaching Tok, we made a short stop at one of my favourite rest areas, at the Tanana River bridge, Milepost 1303.

Rest area at the Tanana River bridge, Alaska Highway
Along the way, we stopped in to see one of my Facebook friends who I hadn’t yet met in person, and he invited us to have a look through his private museum (because it’s private, I’m not saying who or where). I was quite stunned by the size and variety of his collection, and by what he’s done with it – it takes a while to start noticing some of the details in the many rooms. For someone like me, it’s exciting to see the sort of passion it takes to create a place like this over a few decades.

Private museum along the Alaska Highway
There are several themed rooms in the museum, including this wonderful bordello bedroom, which would be unlikely to exist in a public museum here.

Private museum along the Alaska Highway
I could have spent hours there. This old apple box end says “We believe in trade with the Empire. This box material and apples are Canadian products. Nails made in Great Britain. BUY EMPIRE PRODUCTS”. It makes me think of the maps we used in school when I was young, with countries of the British Commonwealth circling the globe in pink.

Private museum along the Alaska Highway
Our home for Sunday night would be the Tundra Lodge & RV Park at the western edge of Tok.

Tundra Lodge & RV Park, Tok, Alaska
We were given sites #19 and 20 at the furthest edge of the campground. Lovely, large sites with water and 30 amp power for $33 US (currently $43.21 Canadian). After registering, I’d gone over to the Tesoro gas station next door to fuel up and wash the rig (the wash is free with a fill).

Tundra Lodge & RV Park, Tok, Alaska
The large, clean, washrooms were close by.

Tundra Lodge & RV Park, Tok, Alaska
Wifi is only available in the very comfortable lodge reception area, which was either a very long walk or a short drive from our sites, but was reasonably fast.

Tundra Lodge & RV Park, Tok, Alaska

The next day, to Palmer, would be one of our longest driving days, so we had a quiet night and were in bed early.

Yukon RVing: Back to Kluane Lake

For me and my family, Kluane Lake is an amazingly calming place, so last Friday, I got the RV loaded, and when Cathy got off work, I met her at the first rest area north of Whitehorse. In a few minutes, we had her Tracker hooked up to the rig and we were headed west on the Alaska Highway again.

By 6:30, we were well west of Haines Junction, and spotted fresh snow on some of the peaks! Snow in July? Come on, Mother Nature, that’s just not funny! The weather forecast for the weekend was good, though – there should be no sign on Winter at lake level.

Fresh snow in July in the Yukon

Once we reached Kluane Lake, Monty realized where we were and got very excited. He was right up front in lead dog mode, and the closer we got to Congden Creek Campground, the more excited he got – driving down into the campground a few minutes after 7, he could hardly contain himself. It feels so good to be able to make him so happy.

A new bear activity sign had been posted at the registration kiosk, so we’d be on extra alert for the weekend. As expected, all of the lakefront sites were taken, so we got set up in one of the large pull-through sites in the forest.

Bear activity sign at Congden Creek Campground, Yukon

Just after we arrived, a 5th wheel rig from Wisconsin arrived and set up directly across the road from us. Shortly after that, he fired up a very loud generator. The generator was still running when I went to bed about 10:00 pm – Cathy said that he didn’t shut it down until around 11. And at 08:00 Saturday morning, it was fired up again. The ignorance of some people just leaves me shaking my head. So much for our amazingly calming place.

By 10:00 am, though, a couple of lakefront sites had been vacated, so we moved down to one. From there we could barely hear the generator. Even Friday night, we did take the dogs for a long walk and a couple of shorter ones between some fairly heavy rain showers.

We got on the road for a bit of a wander after an early lunch. The first stop was the main trailhead at Sheep Mountain, from where the Slim’s River West, Sheep Creek and Bullion Plateau trails start. I was quite taken aback by the crowd – I’ve never see anywhere close to this many vehicles here (about 30).

Trailhead for Slim's River West, Sheep Creek and Bullion Plateau trails, Kluane Park
The coolest rig in the parking was certainly this Mitsubishi Fuso FG 4×4 that had been shipped over from Germany. I often wonder where these people are going that they think they need a rig like this.

Mitsubishi Fuso FG 4x4 camper
The main reason for coming back to Sheep Mountain, though, was to hike a short section of the original 1942 route of the Alaska Highway that I’d never been on. It used to connect with the Soldiers Summit trail, but a rock slide has cut that connection. In this photo you can see 3 of the 4 routes that exist – the oldest one is just a bulldozer track higher up the slope, that never became an actual road.

A section of the original 1942 route of the Alaska Highway
Part of the reason for hiking it was to see if anything remains from the construction era. All I found was this piece of the Canol pipeline sticking out of the bank (lower right in the photo). Down on the Slim’s River flats, a couple more sections of it can be seen from the highway.

A piece of the Canol pipeline on the original 1942 route of the Alaska Highway
Kluane Lake was as calm as I’ve ever seen it, so the beach would be the main focus of the rest of the day. We first went to the parking are at Km 1642.1, where there’s a large beach to play on.

A calm summer day on Kluane Lake, Yukon
Getting Bella to swim was great fun! She really got into it, and I wish that we had much more access to warm water so we could have more days like this.

Teaching puppy to swim at Kluane Lake, Yukon
Monty tires quite quickly, but he puts on some wonderful bursts of speed to keep the little one on her toes :)

Dogs running on the beach at Kluane Lake, Yukon
Saturday night was incredibly beautiful, and we took the dogs for another long walk along the beach at the campground. This photo was just a few minutes before 8:00 pm.

A calm summer evening at Kluane Lake, Yukon
Looking the other direction a couple of minutes later.

Evening sun on the beach at Kluane Lake, Yukon
Monty and Bella continued their water play – they’d certainly sleep well tonight :)

The pie master at work. Cooked over the campfire, what a yummy dessert!

Preparing pies to cook over a campfire
The girls enjoying life – while Bella watches a squirrel, Molly just soaks up all the great smells.

Dog and cat RV camping
Cathy and I keep pinching ourselves – we love this new life :)

Yukon RVing

On Sunday, we did a major exploration of the ghost town of Silver City at the head of Kluane Lake. But, I’ve run out of time to tell you about it. It’s now August 1st – the RV is all packed, and in about 3 hours we and good friends who have rented an RV to join us are heading up the Alaska Highway for a 16-day wander through Alaska, going as far as Denali and Seward. This will be our longest RV trip yet, and will take all the others into territory they haven’t seen before.

Yukon RVing: Exploring around Kluane Lake (Part 2)

Monday had been a busy and yet very relaxing day, and the plan was for the next couple of days to be similar.

We got off to a late start Tuesday morning (July 14 – I’m getting way behind!). Monty slept with me as usual, and Bella and Molly joined us early in the morning – perhaps 04:00 – for a few hours of snuggle time. That was all the encouragement I needed to stay in bed for a couple of hours longer than I do at home, and it was just after 07:00 when we finally got up and greeted the gorgeous morning. I wouldn’t be surprised if I never find another campground that I like as much as I do the one at Congdon Creek.

Morning at Congdon Creek Campground, Yukon
The dogs and I were back on the road just before 10:00, with no particular goal in mind. I mentioned yesterday that the creeks along Kluane Lake are a problem for highway engineers and maintenance crews. Nines Creek at Km 1676.8 of the Alaska Highway is an example – water hasn’t flowed down this channel in quite some time, but when the flash floods do happen again, everything is in place to handle it.

Nines Creek, Alaska Highway Km 1676.8
The next creek channel, though, Mines Creek, at Km 1677.5, sees heavy flows fairly regularly. It’s been many years since I’ve seen Mines and some of the other creeks along this section of the highway full and even overflowing, but I remember the sight well – it’s extremely impressive!

Mines Creek, Alaska Highway Km 1677.5
I wish that I had a better photographic record of all the lodges that have come and gone along the Alaska Highway since I started driving it in 1990. The Destruction Bay RV Lodge is one of the newer additions, having been built perhaps 15 years ago, but even it has been opened and closed at least a couple of times.

Destruction Bay RV Lodge, Yukon
I decided to take a few more photos at Burwash Landing. The first stop was the Kluane Museum of Natural History again, but this time I wanted to see what’s around back. It used to be promoted as part of the museum, and I quickly saw why it isn’t anymore. The cabin and cache in this photo are both rotten and vandalized – certainly not safe to invite visitors to see.

Rotten buildings at the Kluane Museum of Natural History
The really sad part about the back area is this fine collection of wagons and other artifacts that’s only partially protected and now seldom seen. I’d love to see this collection moved to the Yukon Transportation Museum.

Wagons at the Kluane Museum of Natural History, Burwash Landing
Jimmy Johnson built this log house for his very large family in 1929. It was originally located on the shore of Kluane Lake, but was bought by the Jacquot brothers, who owned the lodge and trading post, and moved away from the lake to be used as staff housing.

Jimmy Johnson cabin in Burwash Landing, Yukon
The “Moose Horn Cabin” was built by Louis Jacquot in about 1939.

Moose Horn Cabin in Burwash Landing, Yukon
As 3:00 approached, I drove back towards Sheep Mountain, for a look at another section of old Alaska Highway. This one is below the new highway at Km 1651.9.

An old section of the Alaska Highway at Sheep Mountain, Yukon
This boat launch is on that bypassed section of old highway.

Boat launch on Kluane Lake, Yukon
I should have taken advantage of the only calm period we had to launch the canoe, but didn’t.

A spectacular calm day Kluane Lake, Yukon
Next, I wanted to have a good look at the old Alex Fisher cabin at the foot of Sheep Mountain. This is the way it looks from the modern highway eastbound, with his grave directly above the cabin.

Alex Fisher cabin at the foot of Sheep Mountain, Yukon
You can drive right up to it on this section of the old highway, which runs off the short access road for Parks Canada’s Tachäl Dhäl (Sheep Mountain) Visitor Centre.

Tachal Dhal (Sheep Mountain) Visitor Centre, Kluane Park
Alexander Fisher was an important guy in this area for almost 40 years, doing a wide variety of things including having the mail contract.

Alex Fisher cabin at the foot of Sheep Mountain, Yukon
Looking from the cabin to the shed beside it, I was rather shocked to see a shadowy figure inside the shed, half hidden by willows.

Shed beside the Alex Fisher cabin at the foot of Sheep Mountain, Yukon
When I went for a closer look, this is what I found. A high-quality mannequin of a First Nations woman, typing on a computer. On the monitor, an “Error” message has been glued – it says: “Error. Cultural Identity not found.”, with buttons for “Accept Change” and “Try again”. I love it! A reporter from CBC saw a composite photo of this creation that I posted to Travel Yukon’s Facebook page, and phoned me for an interview. During their research for an article about it, they found the artist, Kelly Wroot. You can hear their interview with him here.

Art installation at Alex Fisher's historic cabin in the Yukon
We next climbed up to Mr. Fisher’s grave, which has a panoramic view of the Slim’s River valley. It’s a wonderful place to reflect on what life would have been like for people like him before the highway came. He died a few months before the first U.S. Army surveyors arrived.

Grave of Alexander Clark Fisher, 1870-1941 - Sheep Mountain, Yukon
This is the view from Mr. Fisher’s grave. The new highway is to the left, the abandoned section of highway runs across the middle, and the Parks Canada centre is to the right.

The spectacular view from the grave of Alexander Clark Fisher, 1870-1941 - Sheep Mountain, Yukon
One of the other little projects I had in mind for this trip was to get more photos of 2 of the abandoned lodges along the Alaska Highway in the area. This first we visited was Kluane Lake Lodge at Km 1641. After being abandoned for many years, it was re-opened shortly after I arrived, probably in 1991, but only lasted for about 3 years.

Abandoned Kluane Lake Lodge at Km 1641 of the Alaska Highway
I recall it as being run on a shoestring budget, and never did see a reason to stop in.

Abandoned Kluane Lake Lodge at Km 1641 of the Alaska Highway
The large pullout at Km 1642.1 was much busier than it had been the day before, with good reason – the beach was warm and calm. The ramp at the west end of the pullout was rebuilt several years ago and has no issues – it’s wide and slopes gently.

RVs in pullout on Kluane Lake at Alaska Highway Km 1642.1
The ramp at the east end is an entirely different situation, and I couldn’t believe that this guy went out it. It seems to me that he wasn’t too far from having a lot more work to do than just re-packing all the stuff that flew out of his cupboards!

A dangerous pullout ramp on the Alaska Highway
The next lodge to visit was the former Bayshore Lodge at about Km 1653. It closed in 2000.

Abandoned Bayshore Lodge on Kluane Lake, Yukon
The final thing that finished the Bayshore off was the last re-routing of the highway – the lodge was not very visible anymore, and the new access was simply too awkward.

Abandoned Bayshore Lodge on Kluane Lake, Yukon
Seeing the Bayshore close was particularly sad for Cathy and I, as the owners had become good friends. This was the last room I stayed in at the Bayshore.

Abandoned Bayshore Lodge on Kluane Lake, Yukon
Putting your heart and soul into a place and then having to just walk away…

Abandoned Bayshore Lodge on Kluane Lake, Yukon
Okay, enough sadness – time for some beach play!!!

Beach of Kluane Lake, Yukon

Dogs running on the beach of Kluane Lake, Yukon
We got back to the RV just before 6:30. This photo shows one of the reasons that I love Congden Creek – the sites are huge (the beach is about 100 feet in front of the rig).

RVs at Congden Creek Campground, Yukon
The wind had picked up again to the point that being outside wasn’t very pleasant, particularly for Molly, so we had a quiet night in. Molly still has some places to explore in the rig :)

My cat Molly exploring our RV
…but by 9:00, Bella was in bed – it had been a very busy day for my little girl.

My puppy Bella in our RV
Just after 05:00 on Wednesday morning, I opened my eyes for some reason, and saw an odd orange glow. When I got up, this was the view. Time to take the kids for a walk!!

Sunrise at Congden Creek Campground, Yukon
We spent half an hour walking up and down the beach. The changing colours and patterns in the sky, on water, and on the mountains were wonderful.

Sunrise at Kluane Lake, Yukon

Sunrise at Kluane Lake, Yukon

Once the colours had faded, we went back to bed for a couple of hours. By the time we were ready for the day’s activities, the wind had picked up again and clouds had moved in, so I decided to wander slowly home after lunch. Cathy would be getting home from Ontario Friday night, and I had lots of work to do before then.

I wanted to go for one more long walk, and decided that continuing past the end of the Soldier’s Summit trail would take us down to the Sheep Mountain interpretive centre. As it turned out, that’s not the case, though – a few hundred yards past this point, a large and extremely steep and rock slide made any further progress too dangerous to attempt with 2 dogs. Things happen for a reason, though – even with the shorter walk, Monty was done, and I had to help him up the RV stairs. I need to rely less on what he’s telling me by running down the beach laughing, and more on what I think he can handle now.

Soldier's Summit trail
It had been a wonderful 3 days, but Mother Nature had one more gift for me. There’s no sight that thrills me to the core more than seeing a grizzly, and just before 2:00, we came upon this magnificent fellow eating soapberries beside the road. The dogs couldn’t see him from their position on the floor – even though there are windows that they can see out, they didn’t go to them.

Grizzly bear eating soapberries beside the Alaska Highway west of Haines Junction, Yukon
When the 3rd vehicle stopped, he decided that he’d had enough, and slowly wandered off into the bush.

Grizzly bear eating soapberries beside the Alaska Highway west of Haines Junction, Yukon
Headed home, at Marshall Creek, just east of Haines Junction.

The Alaska Highway at Marshall Creek, just east of Haines Junction, Yukon

It’s now July 24th as I post this, and in a few hours, after Cathy gets off work, we’ll be driving out to Congden Creek Campground, again, but with Cathy this time. The weather forecast is good, but I’m not too worried about weather this time as I really don’t have any plans beyond relaxing and perhaps getting some writing done.

Yukon RVing: Exploring around Kluane Lake

Although I had planned to be on the road for much of the 2 weeks that Cathy was visiting family in Ontario, it didn’t work out that way, for a few reasons, one of them the weather. July has been very wet in Whitehorse, dampening both the forests and my enthusiasm for getting out into the mountains.

When I saw a good weather forecast for Kluane Lake last week, though, I decided that would be our next outing with the RV.

Weather forecast for Kluane Lake, Yukon
I originally planned to get away on Sunday, but by the time I got a bunch of Monty’s special meals barbecued and got the rig loaded, another storm had moved in, so I delayed until Monday.

Barbecuing dog meals
On Monday morning I was ready and finally excited to go. By 08:40 we were about 60 km (37 miles) west at the Takhini River Bridge on the Alaska Highway, where sweeping off the excess gravel from some resurfacing work was just being finished.

Sweeping the Alaska Highway
The rest area at Km 1566 as you near Haines Junction is certainly one of the most scenic on the entire highway. With nobody else there, it was a good place to give the dogs a run.

Rest area at Km 1566, Alaska Highway
For possible future use, I drove into Pine Lake Campground at Km 1572 and had a good look around. I can certainly see why it’s so popular with Whitehorse families – it has a great beach, a lakeshore interpretive trail, and cell phone service. It’s a popular party place, and is gated from 10pm until 8am. We probably won’t be going camping there.

Pine Lake Campground
My goal for this trip was to see a few places and things in detail – some new places/things like Pine Lake Campground, and some I’ve visited before, like the visitor information centre at Haines Junction. It’s a beautiful building, but for me it’s the revolving art displays that make a stop especially worthwhile.

Yukon Visitor Information Centre at Haines Junction
And I wanted to get my Yukon Gold Explorer’s Passport stamped :)

Yukon Visitor Information Centre at Haines Junction - Yukon Gold Explorer's Passport stamp
Designed for this space, the large “Ice and Flowers” installation was created by Doug Smarch, Jr., who grew up in Teslin, Yukon. It was inspired by the first drops of water in the Spring, which reflect back the faces that look at them, and uses the light from the large windows to add dimension to the thermo-formed clear acrylic masks. Flowers painted on the wall to the left (I wasn’t happy with the photo I took which included them) echo the decoration on the winter clothing that Doug wore as a child.

Ice and Flowers, by Doug Smarch, Jr.
As well as the art, there is, of course, lots of information for visitors, from these large displays explaining some of the history and geology of the region, to the details of hiking, accommodations, etc.

Yukon Visitor Information Centre at Haines Junction
In a series of rooms adjacent to the visitor centre is the excellent Da Ku Cultural Centre, which celebrates the culture of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nation.

Da Ku Cultural Centre, Haines Junction
Just after 11:00, we pulled away from man-made attractions and headed into the vast land of mountains, lakes, and glaciers known to many as Kluane Country. This photo was shot out the RV window at Km 1624.

Hanging glacier in Kluane Country
Kluane Lake – ahhhhhhhhh! I love Kluane, and our first stop on the lake was the large parking area at Km 1642, which is the first place that the Alaska Highway runs beside the lake.

RV at Kluane Lake, Yukon
The beach at this parking area goes on and on, for over a kilometer, I’m sure. It’s a superb place to play with Bella and Monty, with lots of sticks to throw into the water for the little one to fetch :)

Huskies at Kluane Lake, Yukon
Our destination was Congdon Creek Campground at Km 1666. There are only 8 lakefront sites (as well as 31 in the forest), and by arriving at 12:30, I got one of them. Within a few minutes, Molly in particular had settled in nicely. I’m still amazed by how much she loves this life :)

RV cat
After enjoying a leisurely lunch and another long beach walk with the kids, I unhooked the Tracker, and the dogs and I went exploring. A very strong wind had come up, so launching the canoe at this lovely bay had to be taken off the list.

Kluane Lake, Yukon
This interpretive area at Destruction Bay used to have a wonderful view of the lake. All of the signs installed for the 50th anniversary of the highway in 1992, like the one on the left in this photo, are in very poor condition now.

Alaska Highway interpretive area at Destruction Bay, Yukon
Behind the trees in the photo above, though, is this 1940s International truck, and a shelter with several more interpretive signs, and chairs set up as if it’s used as a classroom of some sort.

1940s International truck at Destruction Bay, Yukon
For Alaska Highway engineers and maintenance crews, the creeks that run under the highway into Kluane Lake have always been a problem. Flash floods are common, and the sand and gravel that they run across erodes quickly – the creeks regularly choose new routes that often don’t match the culvert locations. This is Copper Joe Creek at Km 1695.3.

Copper Joe Creek at Alaska Highway Km 1695.3, Yukon
Beside the current highway at Km 1696 is a well-preserved section of the old highway. The new highway in this area was built in about 2002, but this may well have been the bed of the original 1942 road.

A section of the old Alaska Highway at Km 1696 in the Yukon
Just west of the section of old highway, the new highway makes this odd detour. My memory of it is that a couple of old graves had been found in the location that is bypassed, but a woman I met in Burwash Landing later said that it was done to protect some rare flowers.

A detour on the Alaska Highway near Burwash Landing, Yukon
About 3 years after the bypass above had been built, though, a young man from Burwash missed the curve and was killed in the resulting crash. A large memorial to “Dougie” Twiss now dominates that space.

Memorial to Dougie Twiss on the Alaska Highway near Burwash Landing, Yukon
The next stop was at the Kluane Museum of Natural History in Burwash Landing ($5 admission). With the dogs in the car, it had to be a fairly quick walk-through, but it had been a few years since I’d been in.

Kluane Museum of Natural History in Burwash Landing, Yukon
It’s the extremely high quality taxidermy such as these Dall sheep and mountain goat that the museum is famous for.

Kluane Museum of Natural History in Burwash Landing, Yukon
But other displays are equally as well done.

Kluane Museum of Natural History in Burwash Landing, Yukon
Back outside, this installation tells the story of a garbage fire that got away in June 1999 and resulted in the community being evacuated and 5 homes lost.

Forest fire at Burwash Landing, Yukon, in June 1999
This Cat recalls the day when the Alaska Highway arrived.

1940s Caterpillar tractor at Burwash Landing, Yukon
It was time for a break for the dogs, so we went down to the beach in front of the abandoned Burwash Landing Resort for a walk. Then, probably for the last time, I looked through the resort windows into the lounge where I’ve hoisted many, many pints of beer over the past 30 years (I first came to the Burwash Landing Resort in 1985 during my airplane-based holiday).

Burwash Landing Resort, Yukon
With the kids refreshed, I made a stop at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church. It was built in 1944 by Father Eusebe Morisset, OMI, with materials from an abandoned army mess hall at Duke Meadows, on land donated by lodge owners Eugene and Louis Jacquot.

Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church at Burwash Landing, Yukon

Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church at Burwash Landing, Yukon
Fred and Margaret O’Brien, missionaries at Burwash Landing in the early 1990s, set up the front room of the old rectory as an exhibit to represent the classroom that was in use for many years.

School room at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church at Burwash Landing, Yukon
Thoroughly enjoying my explorations, the Burwash airport was the next stop. I probably hadn’t been here since 1985, and I doubt that anything has changed substantially. The terminal door was locked, and I didn’t bother to knock to see if anyone was there (a car was in front of the terminal, so there may have been).

Burwash airport, Yukon
In an airplane kind of mood now, I went back to the museum, where flightseeing company Rocking Star Adventures has a trailer. I discussed the options with them, and went away hoping that before I left, fewer clouds and much lighter winds would make it worth investing almost $300 for a 45-minute glacier flight.

Rocking Star Adventures flightseeing at Burwash Landing, Yukon
I had forgotten a couple of kitchen items for the RV, so stopped at the convenience store in the Talbot Arm Motel on the way by. A pound of butter at $6.75 and 2 rolls of paper towel at $7.25 will make me more careful about double-checking what I pack :)

2 rolls of paper towel, $7.25
We were back at the rig before 6:00 – it had been a fun 3 hours, even for Monty and Bella. After dinner, another long walk on the still-windy beach at the campground…

… and back through the large abandoned part of the campground. Although the Yukon campground guide still says that there are 81 sites, there have only been 39 for several years, the others having been closed because they were in an important grizzly feeding area (there are lots of soapberries, a favourite food).

Abandoned part of the Congdon Creek Campground, Yukon

We were all in bed early, and I had a few plans to make the next couple of days even more fun for all of us.

Review: Vikingcycle Asger Motorcycle Jacket

I really like motorcycle jackets. Until last year, though, I had to limit myself to only having 2 jackets due to the high cost – one for nice, warm weather and one for our more normal riding conditions here in the Yukon and Alaska. Last Spring, though, I discovered Motorcycle House, and specifically their line of Vikingcycle jackets. I was rather hesitant about ordering my first one – really, how good can an $80 motorcycle jacket be?

Well, I got a big surprise – I was really pleased with the quality of that first one, so a few weeks ago, ordered another. This time I chose the Vikingcycle Asger Motorcycle Jacket, which was a few dollars more, at $89.95. Given what I already knew about Vikingcycle jackets, my main criteria for this purchase was style. The Asger has a great “broad at the shoulders, narrow at the hips” look that’s enhanced by having polycarbonate shoulder armour on the outside of the jacket.

My first ride with the new jacket, when I picked it up at Skagway a few days after ordering it, was a cool day (about 6°C, 42°F) with a bit of rain – a good test for a motorcycle jacket. With the removable liner in, I was very comfortable with just a t-shirt and cotton shirt under it. I had started the ride with a fleece layer as well but soon took that off.

Vikingcycle Asger Motorcycle Jacket for Men - Alaska ride review
From both the front and back, I love the styling. It’s worth noting that although I normally wear a Large, with the Vikingcycle jackets it’s XL that fits me the best.

Vikingcycle Asger Motorcycle Jacket for Men - Alaska ride review
The styling, of course, is not the main reason you buy a motorcycle jacket – it’s the safety and convenience features. In the photo above, the jacket’s spine armour shows up well, but the rest of your body is well protected as well, as this image from the Motorcycle House page shows.

Armour on the Vikingcycle Asger Motorcycle Jacket
The Asger is well loaded with other features, as the tags indicate. The Tri-Tex waterproof fabric in particular got a good test on the first ride, and worked as advertised – through several light/moderate showers, I stayed dry.

Vikingcycle Asger Motorcycle Jacket for Men - Alaska ride review
I don’t carry anything except papers in my motorcycle jackets – anything hard that could puncture my body in the event of a crash goes in my saddlebags. Some riders, though, want to have a lot of stuff much handier than that, and this jacket is loaded with pockets, as you can see in this image. The one pocket I do use on my common cross-border rides, though, is my only complaint about this jacket – I want a zippered left-breast pocket to keep my bike registration and passport in, and the travel documents pocket on the Asger is much lower. When I pull up to the border, I don’t want to be fumbling or zipping that far down looking for my papers. It’s a minor thing, and one that won’t even apply to most riders, though.

Pockets on the Vikingcycle Asger Motorcycle Jacket
My next long ride wearing the jacket was again to Skagway but this time, although the day started off cool, it got up to about 18°C (65°F), allowing me to zip the liner out and open the vents. With just a t-shirt under it, it was perfect. Despite the looser fit which allows for extra layers of clothing (or some extra padding on the rider), the jacket has all of the adjustments needed to snug it up to avoid any buffeting.

Vikingcycle Asger Motorcycle Jacket for Men - Alaska ride review

Another great jacket at a very low price – with great service as well. It’s pretty tough to beat that combination these days :)

BC RVing: White Pass, BC/Alaska border (Part 2)

Our second night boondocking in the White Pass with the RV was once again warm and silent, and I kept the bedroom windows open to enjoy both.

The dogs got their first walk just before 06:00 on Sunday, and the light was beautiful. It looked like it was going to be a perfect day for the long hike I had planned. Another motorhome, with BC plates, had arrived just after we got back from yesterday’s hike.

RVs in BC's White Pass
I’ve always enjoyed mountain silhouettes fading off into the distance, and a light haze from forest fires in Alaska was giving me many opportunities to photograph them. I’ve shot this scene countless times over the years, but I sure like shooting it from the window beside my breakfast table :)

I was going to leave Monty and Bella in the rig while Greg and I hiked to the Inspiration Point Mine, which is far too tough for Monty, and too dangerous for Bella, but at the last minute decided to take them up the International Border Falls (or Boundary Falls) trail a ways to start their day off well. The trail starts at a large pullout just a few hundred yards south from our camping spot, and a couple of vehicles there indicated that some people had camped up the trail overnight. A few minutes before 09:00, with the temperature already over 20°C (68°F), we headed out.

International Border Falls (or Boundary Falls) trail, BC
The trail, which is unofficial but well used (at least on weekends), starts with a very steep descent from the highway into this valley, and then a creek crossing. Bella had a problem getting across the creek, which has large rocks on the bottom and was deep enough to almost force her to swim. As soon as she started to have a real problem, Greg immediately reached down and supported her just a bit to get her across. I was extremely happy that Greg was there – that sort of thing is huge in building a confident trail dog.

International Border Falls trail, BC
This is one of my favourite trails anywhere. It’s easy, has great variety, and I love waterfalls!

International Border Falls trail, BC
This is the highest waterfall on the trail – perhaps 50 feet high. A few minutes later, we met the group that had camped up the trail and were heading out, 4 women from Whitehorse.

International Border Falls trail, BC
This trail is tough to turn back on, as it just keeps getting better and better. Although Monty wasn’t showing any sign of tiring yet, I decided that this view would be our highest point, and at 10:20, we started back towards the car.

I shot this video at our highest point on the trail and at the highest waterfall.

It turned out that I had misjudged Monty’s ability. He had a bit of a problem getting up the very steep climb back to the highway, but I was right behind him to give him the little boost he needed. Back at the rig, though, I had to give him a lot of help to get up the RV stairs. I felt awful – I need to get it firmly into my head that superdog of a few weeks ago is gone.

During this morning, though, there had been a distinct change in Bella. She really came into her own, taking the lead and making very good trail choices even when faced with options that took a lot of thought. I was extremely pleased to see that.

I put Monty to bed, we had lunch, and just before noon, Greg and I drove a couple of miles south to the access point for the route to the historic Inspiration Point Mine.

As we neared the summit, a hoary marmot (Marmota caligata) ran across the road! I love marmots, but hadn’t seen one in years. A good omen for the day.

Marmot in the White Pass, Alaska
Ten minutes after we had left the motorhome, we were heading up Mine Mountain, climbing a rock cut off the highway and then following a tiny creek. There is no hint that anyone has ever been here before, and it may be a route that only I use. I really like that feeling.

Hiking on Mine Mountain, Alaska
Wild flowers were blooming everywhere there was soil among the granite. The carpet of blooming white heather went on mile after mile, but many other species were showing their best, too, including the lovely but poisonous Northern monkshood (Aconitum delphinifolium DC).

poisonous Northern monkshood (Aconitum delphinifolium DC) in Alaska's White Pass
One of the largest of the lakes on the route is in a bowl deep enough to keep snow through much of the summer. Perhaps 200 feet across and up to 20 feet deep, it was a bit too cold for a dip :)

Hiking around summer snow on Mine Mountain, Alaska
We stayed below the microwave tower, going around that summit.

Microwave tower on Mine Mountain, Alaska
That’s the kind of welcoming committee I like to see! Mine Mountain is the best place to get close to mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus) that I’ve ever seen. If they see you coming they’ll move off, but with the complex terrain, it’s common to just suddenly come upon them as happened here. As you can see, they weren’t alarmed, just cautious – it’s possible that they’d never seen a person before.

In the maze of fractures around the summit, I actually made a wrong choice as the final turn to go down to the mine, and instead ended up on a spectacular heather-carpeted ledge with several mountain goats resting on ledges south of us. Disappointed? Not by a long shot! Greg couldn’t believe that I’d packed a couple of still-cold beer up in my pack. What better way to celebrate reaching a spot like this than with an Ice Fog IPA from my friends at Yukon Brewing?

Celebrating on Mine Mountain with an Ice Fog IPA from Yukon Brewing
We spent a good hour or so on that ledge, enjoying the warm sun, watching the mountain goats beside us, and the White Pass & Yukon Route trains far below. This train, going uphill on a Summit excursion, has just passed the abandoned cantilever bridge which was the tallest of its kind in the world when it was built in 1901.

White Pass & Yukon Route train, see from Mine Mountain
Wow, a golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)! I wish that I’d seen him coming – I was just able to grab a couple of shots as he went by. I see bald eagles all the time, but a good sighting of a golden is a special event.

(Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) at Mine Mountain, Alaska

We finally left the ledge at about 4:00 when a cold wind from the south got too strong. I found the right route to the mine, wanting to know where I’d made the error for future reference, then we started back down towards the highway.

We were both tired when we got back to the RV a couple of hours later. The kids had had a lazy day and just woke up when we arrived. After a short walk with them, I heated up some burgers that I’d pre-made, and we had a bit of time to just soak up more of the amazing vista in front of us before I had to take Greg back to the Skagway airport for his 10-minute flight back to Haines.

I was in bed early Sunday night, and up early Monday morning. This was shot at 04:26, 31 minutes before sunrise, as I was walking the kids.

Dawn on the South Klondike Highway at the White Pass
By 05:20, the world was really lighting up! The photo hasn’t been modified in any way – this is what it looked like.

Sunrise on the South Klondike Highway at the White Pass

We had a lazy morning, and about 09:30, drove back to Fraser to launch the canoe on Bernard Lake. The American kayak tour company seems to think that they have some special rights to the boat launch, and a Customs officer came over and gave me grief about some micro-regulation (that if it actually exists, is bloody nonsense), but I soon had the kids out on the peaceful lake.

While Monty is an old hand at canoeing, this was Bella’s first experience. After they were in, I walked the canoe along the shore for a few minutes to get her used to the feeling, then stayed still once I got into the boat. Monty is very much Bella’s support in situations she’s not comfortable with, and she cuddled up to him for a few minutes. As you can see, though, it did’t take long for her to see that this could be fun.

My dogs Monty and Bella canoeing on Bernard Lake, BC
I’d never had the canoe on Bernard, so this was the first time I’d seen the mouth of the Thompson River. I was hoping for a sandy beach there to land on, but no such luck. The little Thompson River railway bridge a few hundred yards upstream is one of my favourite places to shoot trains from the highway.

Northern BC's Thompson River
The end of the lake wasn’t much more inviting for a play-day than the river mouth had been, and there’s no useful passage to Summit Lake, which is actually where I wanted to be. The sun was hot, though, and I didn’t want to over-do Bella’s first ride, so I started slowly back to Fraser just before 11:00.

My dogs Monty and Bella canoeing on Bernard Lake, BC
This is the photo that best sums up our Bernard lake experience – 2 very happy pups on a calm, stunningly-beautiful lake :)

My dogs Monty and Bella canoeing on Bernard Lake, BC
Nearing Fraser, we met a kayak tour group.

Kayak tour group on Bernard Lake, BC

And that was the end of our fabulous White Pass RV adventure – it certainly won’t be the last. We were home by about 2:30, planning to head west on the Alaska Highway to Kluane Lake on Thursday after a short spell of wet weather passes.

BC RVing: White Pass, BC/Alaska border

Cathy is in Ontario visiting her family for a couple of weeks, and I’m going to be on the road in the RV for much of that time. I’d thought about a few destinations, but my head just isn’t into anything lengthy or complicated right now, so I decided that for the first 3 or 4 days, I’d just take the kids down the South Klondike Highway to the White Pass and “boondock” by the side of the road (there are no campgrounds). After that, maybe west to Kluane Lake, but I’d decide when I was finished with the pass.

The weather in Whitehorse was quite awful on Friday, with a heavy cold rain falling for much of the day. I had initially planned on being on the road noonish, but there didn’t seem to be any point. We finally got away at about 5:30 pm.

Southbound traffic was quite heavy, with Yukoners in all manner of vehicle heading for the July 4th celebrations in Skagway the next day. I don’t think I’ve ever been to one, but a lot of people say that it’s great fun.

The rain had stopped by the time we reached the pass, so the dogs and I went for a long walk across the granite near Fraser, and were set up in a large rest area a kilometer north of the BC/Alaska border by 7:40.

Saturday began with a fairly thick fog, as had been forecast. The border station at Skagway is closed from midnight until 07:00, so there had been no traffic all night, but soon after the border opened, the parade of party-bound Yukoners began again.

A foggy morning in the White Pass on the BC/Alaska border

I didn’t have any firm plans for this trip – it was going to be mostly doing whatever came to mind. I drove the 11 km (7 miles) back to Fraser first, with the idea of launching the canoe either at the boat launch there on Bernard Lake, or on Summit Lake which requires a portage of a couple of hundred feet from the highway shoulder.

I decided to go and play with the dogs on the large beach at Summit Creek instead, but on the way back stopped for a few minutes at this little creek beside the highway. I actually did a U-turn and went back to it after seeing the amount of wild flowers along it.

The wild flowers are at their peak right now, and the recent rains have made this an especially good year for them.

Wild flowers in northern BC
The first-ever painted graffiti has appeared in the White Pass over the past few days, at the large Summit Creek parking area. I posted this and a couple of other photos on Facebook and Twitter, with a comment that Olivia, Curtis and Marcus are a special kind of stupid. Within a couple of hours, I’d gotten a private message on Facebook from Olivia’s mother, who was offended that I called her 10-year-old daughter stupid. Her, and I assume the other 2, were on some sort of summer school outing (with chaperones and armed with cans of paint). I’m not done with them yet…

Graffiti in the White Pass, BC
On to more fun things, though. Summit Creek empties into Summit Lake about half-way up the lake, and creates a large fine-sand beach that almost crosses the lake. It’s only stopped by what was at one time a granite island that allows the lake a narrow channel to flow through. There’s no trail to the beach, you have to pick your way through the granite.

Fine sand beach on Summit Lake, BC
I don’t think I’ve ever had such a “joyous celebration of life” dog as Bella. She’s always laughing, always playing, even when she’s by herself, and she loves beaches!

Puppy playing on the beach at Summit Lake, BC
A short video of the dogs playing.

The view south from the top of the granite that blocks the end of the beach.

Summit Lake, BC
After checking out the granite block’s nooks and crannies, it was back to the beach for more exploring. Whenever Monty stops to check anything out, Bella has to know what he found :)

Huskies playing on a beach in northern BC
Just after noon, Bella was pooped! It was time to get back to the RV for lunch anyway.

Tired hiking puppy
I had arranged to meet a friend from Haines at the Skagway fast-ferry dock at 3:00 so we could spend some time hiking over the weekend. I sure hadn’t expected a lineup like this at the border! I made it on time, though.

Lineup at the Skagway border crossing
In the summer, losing daylight isn’t much of a consideration for planning hikes, so I suggested that we follow the BC/Alaska border east from the highway summit that afternoon, hopefully to find a border monument that I’d read about. The monument right above the highway is fairly obvious if you look for it.

Canada/USA border monument above the South Klondike Highway north of Skagway, Alaska
Looking down past the “Welcome to Alaska” sign towards Skagway. There are no trails across this unnamed mountain, you just find your own way. This is the way I prefer to hike, as the odds of meeting anyone else are pretty much zero, and that odd preference is what prompted Greg to join me, to see what it’s like.

To say that this country is stunning is an understatement. The broad views are obvious, but it’s really the details of the granite, the water, and the flowers that make it so special.

If not for a chilling breeze, I think we both would have gone for a dip in this wonderful pool. Although they’re not obvious in this photo, there are even steps down into the pool in the foreground. Did the Mayans make it up here? 😀

Pool in the high alpine of northern BC
Looking closely is needed to see some of the flowers.

Tiny flowers
We found it! This is the view to the north, with the South Klondike Highway to the left and Summit Lake above me and the dogs. It was great being able to ask Greg to take photos rather than set up the tripod, which I had brought out of habit.

Canada / USA border monument high above the White Pass
Birds are not seen very often in the White Pass, and especially at even higher altitudes. Seeing this American pipit (Anthus rubescens) was exciting, as it’s a new bird to me (Greg identified him in my Sibley guide back at the RV). He was at the border monument – it’s not a good photo but he didn’t get close and was moving fast.

American pipit (Anthus rubescens)
Here’s an unusual sighting – Arctic lupine (Lupinus arcticus Wats) on the left and Nootka lupine (Lupinus nootkatensis Donn) on the right. The leaves are slightly different in shape, but the main identifier is the hairy leaves (on both sides) on the latter.

Arctic lupine and Nootka lupine in the White Pass of northern BC
Route-finding can be a bit challenging up here, but that’s part of the fun of it.

Tough route finding high above the White Pass
Monty in his glory. It’s time to tell you about him, and why you may see a different tone here every now and then. At 13 years old, Monty is very sick, and is failing quite quickly. He has inoperable nasal cancer, and as we headed out on this trip, I stopped to see our vet – her best guess is that he only has 5-6 months to live. So, to keep a long complicated story very short, my goal is to make every day his best day. Positive energy is hugely important to him, and I try very hard to not have any more bad days.

My husky Monty on the BC/Alaska border

We got back to the motorhome at about 7:30, and had a very pleasant evening, though a short one. We were all tired and went to bed early, with big plans for a Sunday hike or 2.