Another White Pass RV Weekend

The weather for our first multi-day RV outing in the White Pass hadn’t been very good, so we decided to give it another try this past weekend. I had the rig ready to go when Cathy got home from work, but we stopped at Carcross for a good dinner at The Bistro, so weren’t set up at a large pullout on the South Klondike Highway just south of Summit Creek until almost 9:00 pm.

The weather forecast was much better for Skagway than for Whitehorse, so just after 09:00 on Saturday, we took a drive to see if the weather was any better to the south. This photo was shot just north of the White Pass summit, and although we broke out of the clouds a few miles further on, there was no blue sky anywhere.

Playing on the beach with the dogs isn’t particularly weather-dependent – clouds and wind don’t slow Bella and Tucker down at all. Around noon, though, the skies started to clear, so we drove a few kilometers to the only trail in the White Pass that can be considered fairly easy – the one to Bryant Lake.

The trailhead is at about Km 35.2 of the highway (measured form the ferry dock in Skagway). There’s a large pullout on the east side of the highway, but the trail on the west side is quite indistinct and may take a minute to find. It fairly quickly becomes a good trail as you climb away from the highway, though. The elevation at the trailhead is 879 meters (2,884 feet).

Bryant Lake trail, South Klondike Highway
Looking back down the trail, 15 minutes from the highway. Shortly past this point, the trail joins the long-abandoned road that was built to construct a dam at Bryant Lake to supply water for the Canada Customs and Department of Highways camp at Fraser.

Bryant Lake trail, South Klondike Highway
The view to the north, with the highway and Bernard Lake in the distance. Fraser is out of sight in the centre of the photo.

Bryant Lake trail, South Klondike Highway
We just wanted to stretch our legs for a while, so at 3:20, at an elevation of 983 meters (3,225 feet), we stopped for a while and then started back down. Bella and Tucker found a wet area that was good fun to play in, and a bit further down, Bella found a large, fresh pile of grizzly poop that she proceeded to smear all over her head and face! There was a bit of a delay in the hike while Miss Bella got a thorough cleaning in a small creek 🙂

Dogs playing on the Bryant Lake trail, South Klondike Highway
The beach on Summit Lake is our favourite spot – it’s absolutely superb for playing with Tucker and Bella. It’s usually hard to tell when it’s time to call a halt to the play. Bella is exhausted long before Tucker, but will keep on going if he initiates another run. In this photo, Bella was savouring a smell she picked up on the wind during a brief break 🙂

Our sheltie cross Bella in the White Pass
We got back to the motorhome right at Wine O’clock. It was a gorgeous afternoon to just soak up the hot sun and enjoy the incredible scenery and our family. Tucker was so cute with his hair streaming in the wind.

Our little dog Tucker
My little lapdog. What a guy 🙂

Murray Lundberg and his little dog Tucker
I’ve discussed Summit Creek before as the place where tourists like to build cairns. I object to them, and many other people do as well, because throughout the White Pass, they get torn down pretty much as fast as they’re built. A particularly energetic busload of people on Saturday had made quite a mess on the route that we use to go to the beach, though…

Cairns built at Summit Creek by tourists
… so I spent a few minutes that evening putting things back the way Mother Nature intended them to be. Cathy said that it looked pretty funny from the motorhome – all she could see was rocks flying through the air.

Cleanup of Summit Creek cairns
Saturday night at 9:00 pm – Tucker’s bedtime 🙂

Puppy bedtime snuggle
On Sunday morning, things looked pretty bleak at 06:00, but the wind had been howling all night, so anything could happen.

At 8:50, a particularly strong small rainstorm was passing through the valley. This is looking north from “Outhouse Hill” just north of the summit – using outhouses when they’re available allows us to say off-grid with the RV much longer.

A rainstorm passing through the White Pass
We got a fair bit on sun through the day, and despite the ongoing wind, I finally launched my drone on Sunday afternoon. It performed beautifully, and I shot a couple of videos over our campsite. I’m still not happy with my skill handling it (or my knowledge of its capabilities), though, and need to get out with it a lot more. The videos have been posted on Youtube – a 0:44 HD one shot at 79 meters altitude (259 feet), and a 2:07 one shot at 38 meters altitude (125 feet).

Murray Lundberg with his drone in the White Pass
There was some very impressive cloud development to the north through much of Sunday. This was shot at 5:45 pm. I was going to let Cathy drive back home herself on Sunday night, but decided at the last minute to drive her so I could have the Tracker for my wanderings. My plan was to get some serious hiking done on Monday and Tuesday, and be home on Wednesday.

The light as I was driving back to the White Pass Sunday night was wonderful. This was Lime Mountain south of Carcross at 9:20 pm.

Along the South Klondike Highway at 9:20 pm
Windy Arm, at the Yukon/BC border, at 9:40 pm.

Along the South Klondike Highway at 9:40 pm
I even got several rainbows during the drive as a result of all the thunderstorms that were still passing through – this one was at 9:45.

Rainbow along the South Klondike Highway at 9:45 pm
In the White Pass at 10:10 pm. Yes, driving Cathy back to Whitehorse had been a very good idea.

In the White Pass at 10:10 pm
I had seen the moon rise over the ridge just north of Fraser as I came by, but at 10:50 it came over the much higher ridge above my campsite. A lovely way to end the day.

Hiking in the White Pass: Summit Creek Hill

My only big hike of our 4-day White Pass staycation – climbing Summit Creek Hill – started off as a short walk to photograph flowers, but the mountain kept calling my name 🙂

The Flower Valley

Just after 2:00 pm on Friday, I decided to go for a walk in a lush little valley directly west of the South Klondike Highway beside our camping spot. Almost hidden behind a low granite ridge, it’s barely visible from the road, but is quite unique compared to the rest of the White Pass. The skies looked like the weather could go sour at any time, but it was warm, perhaps 20°C/68°F, though when the sun peeked out every now and then it was very warm. I didn’t take Bella and Tucker because they make flower photography very difficult – and as it turned out, I couldn’t (or at least wouldn’t) have climbed the hill with them.

Hiking to Summit Creek Hill in the White Pass
There’s lots of water in the little valley – ponds and slow-moving creeks – and the soil is quite thick so the vegetation, though low, is thick, with lots of variety.

Hiking to Summit Creek Hill in the White Pass
I’ll do some research to identify them later, but initially I’m just going to post a few of the many flowers photos I shot. Most of these pink flowers in the area are white – I assume that some mineral in the soil makes some various shades of pink.

Hiking Summit Creek Hill in the White Pass

Starting up Summit Creek Hill

I’ve been looking at Summit Creek Hill for 26 years now, and decided to see how a route up it might start – even YukonHiking doesn’t list a summer route. The summit of Summit Creek Hill is 1,320 meters high (4,331 feet), and the spot I camped at is about 910 meters (2,986 feet), so it’s a good climb (see the 1:50,000 topo map). A ridge on the north side looked reasonable, and it was fairly easy to get through the willows, alders and various evergreens and up a rock slide to the area of mostly bare granite, which I’m a particularly big fan of. I wear Keen sport sandals on all but the most extreme of trails, and love them, for comfort and for their grip on pretty much any surface.

Hiking bare granite on Summit Creek Hill in the White Pass
Incredible. What a place to be able to get to so easily. Deep mosses and heathers between the bare granite made extremely nice walking – it would have been great barefoot if not for the fact that the reindeer moss over much of it was really crunchy.

Hiking Summit Creek Hill in the White Pass
One of my favourites alpine flowers is the Alpine Harebell (Campanula uniflora), and these two were particularly large for the species.

Alpine Harebell (Campanula uniflora) on Summit Creek Hill in the White Pass
By 3:00 pm, I had a good view of the mouth of Summit Creek and the beach that we play on.

Hiking Summit Creek Hill in the White Pass

Higher on Summit Creek Hill

A few minutes later, though, route-finding got somewhat more difficult, with lots of cliffs and dead-end ledges. Does this look like a “hill” to you? It sure looked and felt like a mountain to me! 🙂

Hiking Summit Creek Hill in the White Pass
It was great seeing the White Pass & Yukon Route’s steam train excursion from up there. I need to ride it again some day soon, though 🙂

The White Pass & Yukon Route's steam train excursion from Summit Creek Hill in the White Pass
Summit Creek has some great canyons visible from the hill. So much to hike, so little time…

One of the canyons of Summit Creek in the White Pass
The view to the head of Summit Lake, with a WP&YR train at the switching area there, right on the US/Canada border. The Sawtooth Range of mountains is beyond to the right.

Summit Lake in the White Pass
Looking down on my campsite.

Hiking Summit Creek Hill in the White Pass
The higher you go, the more extreme the granite gets. But OMG the views!

Hiking Summit Creek Hill in the White Pass
By 3:30, this canyon was becoming a bit of a problem, but I really wanted to get to at least that snowslide.

Hiking Summit Creek Hill in the White Pass
One of the dead-end ledges I mentioned before. You could maybe get across that with shoes that grip well, but the drop of 80 feet or so to the right made it inadvisable to try.

Hiking Summit Creek Hill in the White Pass
No problem, I soon found a way around that roadblock.

Hiking Summit Creek Hill in the White Pass
There were still plenty of flowers blooming even as I neared the snow, and any little patch of soil or even decaying vegetation had life of some sort on it.

Hiking Summit Creek Hill in the White Pass
This is where I quit. I was probably only about 300 vertical feet from the summit, but a combination of time, lack of gear (I hadn’t even taken my Spot), and being mentally tired made turning back here seem like a good idea.

Hiking Summit Creek Hill in the White Pass

The Descent

Ah yes, back to the flowers and very easy hiking.

Hiking Summit Creek Hill in the White Pass
This was the only patch of ferns I saw on the mountain – a brilliant green that practically glowed.

Hiking Summit Creek Hill in the White Pass
Reindeer moss (Cladonia rangiferina), a.k.a. reindeer lichen, with some flowers I haven’t identified yet.

Hiking Summit Creek Hill in the White Pass
What better way to end the hike than with a cool dip under the very warm sun?

Hiking Summit Creek Hill in the White Pass

The hike took me a total of 2:40 from start to finish, and I saw enough that I want to go back as soon as possible to see the summit, where there’s a series of small lakes/ponds among the granite. Next time, Spot and my Garmin Summit will be with me, as well as other gear!

Yukon RV Staycation: 4 Days in the White Pass

I want to be on the road exploring all the time now. I have another 2-week trip in mind for the near future, but last Thursday, I took the RV down to the White Pass for a 5-day “staycation”. The White Pass offers lots for me and the dogs to do, yet is a reasonable drive for Cathy to join us for the weekend. While “staycation” usually means sleeping in your beds at home at night, I think that this fits 🙂

We pulled away from home at about 09:00, and half an hour later I climbed up above the viewing area at Emerald Lake to shoot some photos illustrating the fact that a staycation can be pretty amazing when you live in what to many people is a Bucket List destination.

RV at Emerald Lake, Yukon
I can’t imagine towing a vehicle with the motorhome without a backup camera. Especially when I take the canoe, my sanity requires that I can keep an eye on the outfit.

Toad and canoe behind the RV, as seen by the backup camera

I drove up to the White Pass summit while deciding where to camp, and by 11:00 had decided on a pullout just south of the main pullout at Summit Creek. Large and almost level, with a great view and perhaps no buses stopping during the day.

On Bella and Tucker’s first walk at our campsite, I spotted this large “Voyager” canoe on Summit Lake. Almost certainly a new tour. Cool – I much prefer Summit Lake to Bernard where the kayak tours operate.

Voyager canoe on Summit Lake just north of Skagway, Alaska
Walking down the highway to go to the large sandy beach on Summit Lake, we met the shuttle driver for the canoe group as they were loading at the north side of Summit Creek, where they’ve moved some rock and set up an outhouse. It is indeed a new tour by Alaska Mountain Guides – so new that it’s not even on their Web site.

Parking and outhouse for Alaska Mountain Guides' Summit Lake canoe tour
Continuing on to the beach via the trail they’ve built through the granite, we met a couple of AMG staff packing boat motors back to the van.

Alaska Mountain Guides staff packing boat motors at Summit Lake
A nice camp has been set up for the canoe tours at the highway side of the beach, where 3 of the canoes were also tied up.

Alaska Mountain Guides' canoe tour camp at Summit Lake
This is the mouth of Summit Creek, which forms the large beach. It’s a fabulous place to play with the dogs. The water in the upper end of the lake, seen in this photo, is clear snow melt, while the lower side is much more the wonderful blue-green colour that shows that its waters come from a glacier.

The mouth of Summit Creek, BC
A lot of cloud soon moved in and a wind picked up so we headed back to the motorhome for lunch, accompanied by 3 gulls who seemed to think that we may have something for them.

Gull at Summit Lake, BC
There’s a short trail leading towards the lake from our camping spot. It leads to this view down the lake to the north, but there’s no good access down to the lake. Although I’d brought my canoe, I hadn’t yet found a reasonable place to launch it solo.

The White Pass is a spectacular and powerful place. Even looking at the little details can show a tortured past, with granite mountains having been pushed up and glaciers grinding them down.

Granite in the White Pass
I unhooked the Tracker and the dogs and I went for a short drive, about 14 km (8.7 mi) south to the “Welcome to Alaska” sign just north of the highway summit, which tops out at 1,080 meters (3,292 feet). I expect that this is the most-photographer sign in the region – everybody needs to have a photo taken of themselves with it 🙂

Welcome to Alaska sign on the South Klondike Highway
While Bella and Tucker and I are out exploring and playing, Molly stands guard over the homestead. Or lays guard. Or naps 🙂

Our cat Molly in the RV
Beautiful weather had returned by dinner time, so after we ate, we went back down to the beach for a big play. It was a gorgeous evening, and the sun wouldn’t set until 11:12 pm. The highway is very quiet by 6:00 pm, but even during the busiest part of the day, very few people come down to this beach.

Playing with the dogs on the beach at Summit Lake, BC
Of all the mountains surrounding us, this is the one that I love the most, and the light Thursday evening was lovely. Even the most detailed map, the 1:50,000 topo, doesn’t give names to any of these peaks.

Peak in the White Pass
Friday morning started off with a bit of sun, and the kids played hard on the beach.

A multi-use Northern beach – sandpipers, gulls, a dog and a barefoot person.

I showed the kids what fun a creek can be for ball-play. When the ball went into water too deep for Tucker, Bella would get it and bring it back to shallower water and drop it for him. She is the best big sister possible for the little guy.

Dogs Bella and Tucker playing with a ball in Summit Creek

By Friday afternoon, I was feeling like a challenge, so climbed the mountain right above our campsite – I’m going to write a separate post for that climb, though, as it’s a long enough story on its own (Hiking Summit Creek Hill has now been posted).

Back at the rig for dinner, the light on this peak made it even more tantalizing. Access to the valley leading up to it is fairly long, but it looks like it would be an amazing multi-day hike.

A peak in the White Pass
Cathy arrived just before 7:00 pm on Friday, and we had a wonderful evening around a campfire, but by 9:50 when I shot this, a storm was moving in from the south.

An approaching storm over Summit Lake><br />
Cathy wanted to go into Skagway on Saturday, but a beach-play was in order first, despite a strong wind that had blown all night. I dug a hole for the dogs, and Bella dove into it and got a mouthful of sand, immediately regretting it 🙂 Playing ball in the creek for a few minutes washed out some of it.<br />
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Driving into Skagway, we were surprised to see this large rockslide directly above the US Customs station (though on the opposite side of the valley). I’m sure that it’s happened very recently.

Rockslide in the White Pass
There were 2 cruise ships docked at Skagway, so there were a reasonable number of people around. This gorgeous yacht was docked in the Small Boat Harbor – “Magic Days” is 94 feet long, built in 1999 by Lazzara in Florida. I tried to find out what she’d cost to buy now (at 17 years old) – $2-3 million is what I came up with. Sweet!

Lazzara super-yacht Magic Days at Skagway

We didn’t stay long in Skagway – had some ice cream, got some fudge for later, and talked to a few people about the dogs – and the wind cancelled our thoughts about going to Dyea.

The wind Saturday evening was too strong to build another campfire or even to sit outside, but the light was lovely when a clear patch of sky crossed over.

Looking south on the highway Sunday morning at 04:55 – yuch!

A dreary morning while RV camping in the White Pass
A spectacular sunrise held some promise for the day. This photo is unfiltered – that’s actually what it looked like out the front windows of the RV.

Spectacular sunrise in the White Pass
People are funny – if other vehicles are parked there, it must be a good spot. No, the much better spot to go for a walk is a few hundred meters/yards ahead!

Camper-jam in the White Pass
The wind hadn’t slowed at all, but we spent a long time on the beach, and the sun came out long enough to get a family portait there.

Murray and Cathy with their dogs
A young couple who had just been transferred to the Coast Guard station at Sitka joined us on the beach for a while. They had two big dogs, and Bella and Tucker had a ball playing with them.

Dogs playing on the Summit Lake beach
Bella loves the water now, and will swim quite a way to fetch a stick (sticks are better than the ball for this, for some reason).

Wanting to for for another hike, I drove up to the White Pass summit area again late Sunday afternoon, but the weather was much worse there and I gave up the idea.

White Pass summit area
It was a much better afternoon to just relax in the motorhome. All the fur-kids were totally happy to just cuddle up while we read.

Although I had originally planned to stay in the White Pass until Monday evening, I’d had enough of the wind, so after dinner on Sunday night, I followed Cathy home. As we passed the new Conrad campground, I thought about stopping there for the night, but the wind was blowing hard there as well. It had been an excellent 4 days, anyway.

As I write this Tuesday morning, I’m still looking for some sunshine to hit the toad towards again, but am having no luck.

Kluane Lake: Five Days at the New, Smaller Lake

This is another very long post, mostly because I couldn’t see a logical way to split it into two posts. I made the Canada Day long weekend an extra-long weekend by going out to Congdon Creek Campground on Kluane Lake on Wednesday morning. Cathy drove out in the Tracker after work on Thursday, then we hooked it up to the motorhome for the return home on Sunday.

We chose Kluane Lake for 3 main reasons: we wanted to see what Kluane Lake looks like now that the flow of the Slims River has been greatly reduced; we love Congdon Creek Campground; and it’s great for the dogs. Here’s the simple route – click on the map to open an interactive one in a new window.

Map from our home east of Whitehorse to Congdon Creek Campground
I had gotten the rig almost ready to go on Tuesday night, so when I couldn’t sleep, I decided to be on the road for the 04:33 sunrise. I shot this photo at 03:10 (it never does get dark now).

RV in our driveway at dawn
I left the house just before 04:00, and a few minutes later, my old friend CPY made a good foreground for the start of a very colourful sunrise.

DC-3 CF-CPY at sunrise
Some of the mountains were really lighting up beautifully by 04:46, necessitating a stop along the Alaska Highway west of Whitehorse.

Sunrise colours along the Alaska Highway west of Whitehorse
I stopped at Otter Falls Cutoff and had a huge breakfast, and fed all the fur-kids before I left the parking lot there (a bit of the pancake that I’d saved for Bella and Tucker was enthusiastically received). At 07:00, I was at one of my favourite rest stops along the Alaska Highway, just east of Haines Junction at Km 1566. The most distant peaks are Mounts Kennedy and Hubbard, 13,944 and 14,951 feet high respectively (4,250 and 4,557 meters).

Rest area along the Alaska Highway near Haines Junction
The Front Ranges of the Kluane Range may be less than half the height of the main mountains, but they’re still very impressive.

Glacier in the Front Ranges of the Kluane Range
These RVers know how to maximize their trip. This pullout just east of Christmas Creek costs the same as “camping” at Walmart (free), but has a spectacular view. I found myself dreaming about going flightseeing with this incredible visibility, but I’d never do that without Cathy coming along.

RVs in a pullout along the Alaska Highway in Kluane Country
Just after 08:00, we reached Kluane Lake and the dogs and I went for a long play/walk. With reports on CBC that the Slims River had dried up, I didn’t know what the lake might look like. While the water level was down perhaps 10 feet from where it would normally be, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see it even lower.

Dogs playing on the much-larger beach at Kluane Lake
The Slims River has definitely not “dried up” or “disappeared”, but it’s certainly smaller than it used to be due to a new channel being cut at its headwaters due to the retreat of the Kaskawulsh Glacier.

Slims River, Yukon
This is where the change in the water level is the most dramatic – the treed area at left centre used to be an island. Hundreds of acres of new land are now exposed in the triangle between the island, the Slims River bridge, and the Soldiers Summit trailhead parking lot.

Dried-up bay on Kluane Lake
I had wanted to get to Congdon Creek early so we could get a lakefront campsite, and by 09:30, we were set up in site #8, one of our 2 favourites. Molly hadn’t been very happy for the first hour or so of the drive, but very quickly settled in. It’s wonderful to be back camping in the Yukon, where camping and firewood are free for Yukon seniors.

Cat in RV at Congdon Creek, Yukon
The beach in front of our campsite. Ahhhh, I love this place! Even more so with the massive new beaches.

Kluane Lake, Yukon
Bella and Tucker and I were soon heading down the beach, with squeaky-balls to keep their attention when needed. At the mouth of Congdon Creek, we found some good-sized patches of lovely soft MUD! Perfect for puppies to play in 🙂

The mouth of Congdon Creek, Yukon
…as well as boys! Walking barefoot in soft mud is just one of those pleasures I savour when the rare opportunity presents itself. I thought about laying down in it… 🙂

Barefoot in deep mud at Congdon Creek, Yukon
What a great start to the weekend. We kept walking and walking and walking down the beach…

Mud at the mouth of Congdon Creek, Yukon
Almost 4 km down the lake, it was time to turn back, but the kids were nowhere close to being out of energy. Tucker keeps getting faster and faster – Bella can’t catch him anymore unless he wants to be caught.

I am so incredibly happy to see these two so close. Happiest puppies in the world. We thoroughly wore ourselves out on Wednesday. It was a quiet evening, and we were all in bed early.

My puppies Bella and Tucker at Kluane Lake, Yukon
While out for our first walk on Thursday morning, I realized that these piles of gravel on the beach are ice push ridges, caused by the movement of the lake ice over the winter.

Ice push ridges on Kluane Lake, Yukon
Many species of wildflowers are about at their peak in the southern Yukon, including these Prickly Roses (Rosa acicularis).

Prickly Rose, Rosa acicularis
An interpretive trail at the campground was abandoned many years ago, and although we’ve still been using it, it gets more difficult each year as brush crowds in. I was extremely pleased to find that it’s been cleared this year, and when we got back from this walk, I went looking for a park employee to let him know how much I appreciate it. I got a note about it on the Yukon Parks Facebook page: “That was with the help of the youth from Y2C2 and the CAT camp (Conservation Action Team). We will also have a new interpretive panel later this summer about bear safety and the research Yukon College is doing there.”

Interpretive trail at the Congdon Creek Campground
The trail leads to a large (42 sites) but long abandoned section of the campground. Stories vary about why it was abandoned – bear problems, floods, lack of use. It’s still fully equipped, though – tens of thousands of dollars worth of picnic tables, firepits, outhouses, picnic shelters, etc.

Abandoned section of the Congdon Creek Campground
I believe this is Tufted Fleabane (Erigeron caespitosus) – the large field in the middle of the campground has lots of it growing. Environment Yukon’s booklet “Common Yukon Roadside Flowers” says that “The name ‘fleabane’ was given to this species because it was believed that bunches of the dried plant hung indoors would drive out fleas.”

Tufted Fleabane (Erigeron caespitosus) at Congdon Creek Campground, Yukon
This is the large field I mentioned above. Our campsite is just out of sight to the near left.

Congdon Creek Campground, Yukon
The weather was really erratic, going from hot sun to clouds and showers and back again. On Thursday afternoon, I pulled out the awning to provide a sheltered place to do some reading and writing until the light rain stopped.

Murray Lundberg and his dogs at their RV at Congdon Creek Campground, Yukon
Back on the beach, where lots of Dwarf Fireweed or River Beauty (Chamerion latifolium) is growing.

Dwarf Fireweed or River Beauty (Chamerion latifolium) at Kluane Lake, Yukon
With the sun back, going back to the mud seemed like a good idea, and the kids definitely agreed. Tucker kept burying his ball in it and digging it out again. Yes, he ate a lot of mud!

Tucker finally lost the ball and I had to go in to find it. Oh darn! 🙂

Barefoot in Kluane Lake mud
Kluane Lake’s pure (and very cold) water wasn’t quite as pure by the time we all got cleaned up.

Washing off muddy dogs in Kluane Lake, Yukon
Bella enjoys swimming more and more all the time, though I think she liked the warmer waters of Alberta lakes better than this glacial stuff.

Sheltie cross Bella swimming in Kluane Lake, Yukon
Back at the rig relaxing while we waited for Cathy to arrive on Thursday night. I’d been a bit worried about her making the 3-hour drive after a full day at work but she said it was easy. Cathy was really afraid when we got the RV that I wouldn’t be able to unplug. But even after 5 days I hadn’t had a tremor, much less a seizure 🙂

Murray Lundberg relaxing at his RV at Kluane Lake, Yukon
Cathy reported that when she came across the Slims River, an extremely thick dust storm was limiting visibility, so I went back for a look. I think the wind may have died down somewhat by the time I got there, but it was still pretty cool.

Dust storm at the Slims River flats on the Alaska Highway

The rest of the weekend was mostly spent in walking, reading, and playing with the dogs. We made an appointment to go flying on Saturday afternoon, but despite a good weather forecast, clouds moved in and killed it.

We went for a couple of drives. On the first one, I checked out some odd-looking posts and logs that were revealed by the lower water level. They don’t look natural, but I can’t make sense of them yet. This was the site of a US Army laundry in 1943, so my feeling is that it’s related to that facility in some way.

Old posts on the beach along Kluane Lake, Yukon
The wildflowers along the Alaska Highway are quite wonderful in many places.

Wildflowers along the Alaska Highway
Launching boats with the lower water levels was one of the things I’d been wondering about. Although it appeared that the concrete on this launch near the Slims River still goes far enough into the water, these guys were having problems of some sort on Saturday.

Launching a boat at Kluane Lake, Yukon
Despite high winds on Saturday, we were able to find a sheltered spot on the beach after a long walk, to just enjoy the view while the kids had a rest.

Dogs resting on the beach at Kluane Lake, Yukon
A heavy rain drove us inside for a while, but Molly’s world didn’t change much other than the disappearance of her birds.

Rain at Kluane Lake, Yukon, seen from inside our RV
As soon as the rain quit, we were back on the beach! What a pair 🙂

Dogs playing on the beach at Kluane Lake, Yukon
Don’t we all wish that we were this flexible?

Dogs playing on the beach at Kluane Lake, Yukon
We drove over to Destruction Bay to see what effect the lower water was having on their marina. It’s a large effect – these people just barely managed to get their boat off, as the bottom levels off before it really gets deep enough now.

Launching a boat at Destruction Bay - Kluane Lake, Yukon
We had planned on staying at Congdon Creek until late Sunday, but the weather really sucked, so we headed home at about 2:00 pm. It was a great weekend (well, 5 days), and Bella in particular will sleep well for days now.

As I write this, I’m watching for weather in any direction that’s conducive to a few days of high-country hiking, but I’m having no luck yet.

A Visit to Tutshi Sled Dog Tours

I’m playing catch-up here again. Since getting home from the big trip, I’ve been having too much fun to even take time to write about it. This post is about a ride on the motorcycle down to see my friend Michelle Phillips’ new sled dog operation on the South Klondike Highway between Skagway and Carcross, on June 27th.

It was a gorgeous day to get the bike out, and the South Klondike Highway is the best bike road around. I made a stop at the old Venus silver mine concentrator site when I noticed a new sign. It’s a federal government one warning about the presence of arsenic and heavy metals in some surface soils in the area, concluding with “Do not use area for recreation or food/medicine harvesting”. The arsenic isn’t something that humans have spilled here, it’s naturally occurring because of the oxidization of the arsenopyrites among the rocks mined at the Venus.

Old Venus silver mine mill site
A few hundred feet further along is one of my favourite views along the highway.

The South Klondike Highway, Yukon
I reached Michelle’s camp at 11:30. She ran the husky camp at Caribou Crossing for many years, but moved here this spring, opening in mid-May. As at Caribou Crossing, the main clientele will be cruise ship passengers from Skagway.

Tutshi Sled Dog Tours, Yukon
The entrance to Tutshi Sled Dog Tours, which is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm. The property is another former Venus silver mine mill site. The mill here only operated for one year in 1980-1981, and was finally disassembled and the area cleaned up in 2003-2004.

Tutshi Sled Dog Tours, Yukon
Basic admission to the camp is $5, which gives you access to the husky puppies. If you ever need to get rid of a bad day, cuddling sled dog puppies will do it. This little guy had apparently been busy, but wasn’t giving up his stick while he caught a nap! 🙂

Husky puppy at Tutshi Sled Dog Tours, Yukon
The camp is wonderful. Michelle has clearly put everything she’s learned about what people want to see into designing it. The spectacular scenery is quite a bonus.

Tutshi Sled Dog Tours, Yukon
The view from inside the musher’s cabin seen in the photo above. Tutshi Lake is at the base of the mountain in the background.

The view from the musher's cabin at Tutshi Sled Dog Tours, Yukon
The cart rides are the feature attraction, and seeing a team of very happy dogs arrive got everyone’s attention.

Husky cart ride at Tutshi Sled Dog Tours, Yukon
Michelle and her helper were quickly busy switching all the dogs in the team to go for another ride – one that I’d be on, riding in the back of the ATV. Hanging on and shooting takes some dexterity!

Tutshi Sled Dog Tours, Yukon
Only a video can show you how excited the dogs are as preparations are made to go for the 1.3-mile run.

I’d never been down to the back of this property, so was curious about what was there. Wow – what a gorgeous spot for a sled dog ride!

Husky cart ride at Tutshi Sled Dog Tours, Yukon
It was very warm, and when we reached a line of kid’s wading pools along the road, most of the dogs jumped in to cool down 🙂

Huskies cooling off at Tutshi Sled Dog Tours, Yukon
With no command from Michelle, the team quickly got themselves back into line and were ready to go again.

Husky cart ride at Tutshi Sled Dog Tours, Yukon
There’s quite a network of roads back there, and most of them have great views.

Husky cart ride at Tutshi Sled Dog Tours, Yukon
Another cooling-off break was joyously received.

Tutshi Sled Dog Tours, Yukon
With the team back in line, Michelle used that spot to take photos of our group.

Michelle Phillips at Tutshi Sled Dog Tours, Yukon
Heading back to camp. On some of the steeper hills, I noticed that Michelle fired up the ATV to help the dogs make the climb. I can think of some spots on the Yukon Quest trail where mushers would probably welcome that ability!

Husky cart ride at Tutshi Sled Dog Tours, Yukon
Almost back to the shade and sprinklers.

Husky cart ride at Tutshi Sled Dog Tours, Yukon
Switching dogs for another go 🙂 Several of the smaller tour companies are already stopping at the camp (word about high quality attractions gets around quickly in Skagway), and things were hopping.

Tutshi Sled Dog Tours, Yukon
Many people who stop just to cuddle a puppy soon decide to take a cart ride, and upgrade to the full $39 package. It looked for a while like everyone wanted to go for a ride 🙂

Tutshi Sled Dog Tours, Yukon
Maybe just a little more puppy time before I leave. As content as they look here, they never complain about being picked up. These puppies were 7 weeks old, and there was a 5-week-old litter as well.

Husky puppies at Tutshi Sled Dog Tours, Yukon
There’s a gift shop, of course. The next time I go down, I’m going to get a tshirt – I love the design.

Gift shop at Tutshi Sled Dog Tours, Yukon

As I got my riding gear back on, I was a bit surprised to see that I’d spent 90 minutes at the camp. Time does fly when you’re having fun.

On the way home, I made a short side trip to the new Conrad Campground to see if anything had changed since my visit in April.

Conrad Campground, Yukon
I was very pleased to see that two of my biggest complaints about the campground have been rectified. Vehicle access to the historic townsite is now blocked by a gate, and a trail has been built from the far end of the campground to the lake.

Gate at Conrad historic townsite, Yukon

That was an excellent day, putting almost 300 km on the bike, playing with dogs, and seeing progress being made on the campground. Back home, I had lots of work to get done so I could leave the next morning for 5 days camping at Kluane Lake.

RV Life: Costs and Experiences during 56 Days on the Road

We’ve been home now for 5 days, and although I’m not nearly caught up on a few jobs, I want to give you a global look at the trip, including a summary of costs that may help you with RV trip planning.

The Route

We travelled 4,992 miles (8,034 kilometers) in the motorhome, another few hundred in the Tracker (I didn’t keep track of the mileage on it). I made this map before I started, and it’s still substantially correct – click on it for a larger version. Part 1 was 3 weeks with just me and the fur-kids, Part 2 was the 5 weeks after Cathy joined us in Kelowna.

Map - RV trip around BC and Alberta

The Costs

We spent $2,988.17 for 2,742 liters (603 Imperial gallons) of gas for the RV, which got 8.3 miles per gallon. That mpg is a bit less than I planned on for the RV but not much and I’m not unhappy about it. We also spent $430.67 for gas in the Tracker, which gets much better mileage, though I have no idea what. The average price of gas was $1.09 per liter, with the lowest (not counting our commercial cardlocks in Watson Lake and Whitehorse) being Dawson Creek at $0.979, and the highest being Dease Lake at $1.319.

We stayed at rest areas, pullouts, parking lots and free campgrounds for 14 nights – costing a total of $0
We stayed at Provincial Park campgrounds for 17 nights, costing a total of $486.00.
We stayed at a National Park campground for 3 nights, costing a total of $114.80.
We stayed at commercial campgrounds for 21 nights, costing a total of $693.95.
The total cost for 55 nights accommodation was $1,294.75, an average of $23.45 per night.
For more information about our overnights (pullout locations, park names and prices, etc., I’ve created a pdf (29Kb).

Attractions: $208.10, most of which was the Jasper Tram and Calgary Zoo.

We spent about $1,300 on restaurant meals, wine, etc., and another $785 on groceries for meals we cooked ourselves. However, the motorhome was well stocked when I left home, and I hardly spent anything on food for the 3 weeks I was travelling alone.

We had some repairs done:
– repaired a rock chip in the windshield: $50.39
– the badly-installed RV windshields had to be re-done: cost to us $0
– damage to cabinets, mostly broken hinges and struts from crashing into a deer: ca. $30.
– broken dishes from the deer crash: $75.
– we replaced the windshield in the Tracker: $376, but that’s been broken for years.
– the kitchen faucet had to be replaced when high water pressure blew the cartridge out (I have a pressure reducer to prevent such things but it wasn’t on the hose – DOH!): $70.
– welding the towbar bracket on the Tracker, which broke on the last nasty day on the Alaska Highway: $50. I would rather have replaced the part, but Roadmaster wouldn’t sell me just that part – it’s either the entire $400 kit or nothing. Thumbs down to Roadmaster.


I spent about 120 hours writing 40 blog posts with almost 900 photos (of the 5,527 photos in my folders after editing). The first post of the trip was on April 26th.

The Experiences

Cathy and I have discussed what the best experiences were, and can’t even come up with a short list – there were just so many. For me, Tumbler Ridge, Farwell Canyon (seen below), and Bella Coola were the places that I most wished that I had more time. The Ancient Forest gets special note as the place that most impressed me as a show of what volunteers can accomplish in a spiritually powerful place. Our grizzly encounter on the Icefields Parkway was one that neither of us will ever forget (in positive ways except for seeing how stupid people can be).

RV at Farwell, Canyon, BC

Three negative experiences have stayed with me – being attacked by the black bear at Tumbler Ridge, killing the deer at Yale, and the jerk who gave us grief about our campsite at Meziadin. The jerk will soon vanish from my memory, but the other 2 are “lifers”.

The RV & Toad

After 2 solid months in it, Cathy and I are convinced that the motorhome we chose is perfect for us – the only thing that I plan to add is a hydraulic lift to carry my motorcycle. The motorhome is a 2007 Fleetwood Terra LX 31M, a 31-foot-long Class A with 2 slideouts. It’s powered by an 8.1-liter Chevy Workhorse gas engine, with an Allison automatic transmission with overdrive. You can see a full tour of it as well as a discussion about our lengthy shopping process here. The photo below is from a previous trip to Kluane Lake – I didn’t take the canoe this time.

RV at Kluane Lake, Yukon

What did I not bring that I should have? A short list of tools that are now on a “Must-bring” list, and the canoe.

The final comment is about the old Tracker, which Cathy bought new in 2001. She’d like a new car, but I think that I’ve convinced her that the Tracker is perfect as a motorhome toad/4×4. Crashing through the brush and rock-crawling to get to the abandoned rail line in Gnat Pass in particular was the sort of thing we can only do with a small and old vehicle. Even some of the gravel-road day-trips such as the one around the Gang Ranch, however, were not ones that I’d like to take a new car on.

The real summary for us is that the trip was near perfect. Averaging only 143 km (89 mi) per day was a nice pace, and we stopped pretty much whenever we wanted for as long as we wanted. Most people think that after 2 months on the road, getting home was great. It was in a way because we love our home, but we both hated for the trip to end.

Cheers! 🙂

RV at Whistlers Campground in Jasper

The Final Days: Boya Lake to Teslin Lake and Whitehorse

This is the final post about our experiences on the trip, though I’ll post a summary with some costs, and high points and low points. This post, post #40 from the trip, covers our final 3 days driving from Lower Gnat Lake to Boya Lake to Teslin Lake to Whitehorse – Days 54, 55, and 56.

This maps shows the route for the last 3 days – click on it to open an interactive version in a new window.

Map - Lower Gnat Lake to Boya Lake to Teslin Lake to Whitehorse

Once my railway exploring was finished at Gnat Pass on Thursday morning (June 16th), we headed north on Highway 37, the Stewart-Cassiar Highway. Our destination was the campground at Boya Lake Provincial Park, one of the highest-rated campgrounds in BC. It would be an easy day, only 177 km (110 miles). We stopped at Dease Lake for a load of fuel and a rather dismal breakfast at the commercial centre of town which includes a Petro-Can station and a large “if we don’t have it, you don’t need it” sort of store that includes a “cafe”. There had been an excellent restaurant next door, but I was disappointed to find it closed. Cathy was told that the young man who opened it had a bad back and couldn’t handle the work 🙁

I shot this photo at 11:20 along one of my favourite sections of the Stewart-Cassiar.

The Stewart-Cassiar Highway

Jade City

Cathy wanted to stop at Jade City (the Cassiar Mountain Jade Store), now even more famous than before due to the TV series Jade Fever which we watch.

Jade City on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway
Cool chess set. I found their jewellery prices to be very high, so I can only imagine what they want for this.

Jade City on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway
This young fellow setting up a template to cut some jade outside was very chatty, and we talked about jade for a while. My Dad and my older brother and I used to hunt for jade in the Coquihalla Valley decades ago, and then make it into jewellery in a big shop Dad had built in our back yard in Surrey.

Jade City on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway

Boya Lake Provincial Park

We reached Boya Lake Provincial Park at about 12:30. It’s a couple of kilometers off the highway, down this pleasant paved road.

Access road to Boya Lake Provincial Park
We were soon comfortably set up in a lakeside campsite, #31. Looking over all the sites later, we think that #31 is the best site in the campground, with a great beach access and a superb view.

RV in the campground at Boya Lake Provincial Park, BC
Once we were set up, I drove back to the entrance to register and pay the $20 nightly fee. You can also just wait for the operator to come around in the evening. I discovered that they also have canoe rentals, at $15 for 2 hours, $20 for 4 hours.

Canoes for rent at the campground at Boya Lake Provincial Park, BC
I’d been to Boya Lake before, but never on a sunny day. The colour of the lake in the sun is quite incredible. BC Parks says that: “The lake is noted for its colour and clarity. The bottom is composed of marl, a mixture of silt and shell fragments. The crystal clear waters and aqua-marine lake colour are a result of the light reflecting from the marl bottom.”

Boya Lake
This photo and the one above were shot right from the beach 50 feet or so from our campsite.

Boya Lake
The water wasn’t quite warm enough for me to go swimming, but Bella had a ball chasing balls and this big beaver-chewed stick. Tucker went in, but not swimming – he’s still isn’t a big fan.

Our puppy Bella retrieving a stick from Boya Lake
The rocks still have a layer of silt on them, but I rather expect that that will be gone after a few weeks of summer activity. There were hundreds of tiny fish visible, especially in the marshy area beside us. There were some bugs, but not bad – certainly nothing like Meziadin Lake had been.

The clear waters of Boya Lake, BC
A sign 100 feet from campsite said “Boya Lake shore trail 1.5 km return”. It’s a lovely trail, but is far longer than stated – maybe 1.5 km each way.

Boya Lake shore trail
The trail loops at the far end but there’s no real destination like a great beach, just some beautiful views and lots of flowers.

Boya Lake shore trail
We had a wonderful evening around a campfire, but by 8:00 pm this storm was moving in…

…and we were soon forced to move inside for a few games of Scrabble. Like a certain wanna-be politician, Cathy knows words, she has the best words. 🙂

Playing Scrabble in the RV
A large Class A motorhome that arrived that evening had a very bad experience. He backed into the picnic table, and tore a couple of inches off about 3 feet of the bottom of the fiberglass back fender, as well as doing a lot of damage to the table. It sure made an awful noise as it was being torn off 🙁

Damage to a picnic table from a motorhome

We thought about staying at Boya Lake if the sunshine had returned on Friday morning, but that didn’t happen. We were back on the road at around 11:00 as had become our norm. Friday’s route to the Teslin Lake Campground was a rather long one, 339 km (210 mi), and it was made even longer by a lot of strong and gusty headwinds and very rough construction on the Alaska Highway.

Rancheria Falls Recreation Site

By 1:30 I’d had about enough of fighting the winds and bumps so we stopped at Rancheria Falls, a Yukon Recreation Site at Km 1112.8 of the Alaska Highway. A combination of trail and raised boardwalk takes visitors to a pair of small but very scenic waterfalls.

Rancheria Falls, a Yukon Recreation Site
With some walking, some waterfalls, and some lunch, I was soon ready to get going again.

Rancheria Falls, Yukon
Shortly after leaving Rancheria Falls, we encountered the first of a series of strong thunderstorms that continued right to Teslin Lake. Some of the lightning was massive, pretty much filling my field of view, and at one point the winds were so strong I nearly pulled over.

Thunderstorm along the Alaska Highway west of Rancheria

Teslin Lake Campground

A few minutes after reaching the Teslin Lake Campground and getting set up, this storm hit. It’s too bad that the lightning and thunder didn’t get captured, because they were impressive.

By 6:00 the storm had passed and we could get out to enjoy the campground. Back in the Yukon, where nice campgrounds (and firewood) are free for Yukon seniors, and only $12 total for anyone else (or $50 for an annual pass).

Teslin Lake Campground, Yukon
The entrance to the campground is a bit difficult to find. There’s a sign on the highway saying that it’s 2 km ahead, then soon after, another sign saying that there’s a rest area 2 km ahead. About 2 km ahead, there’s a rest area sign at the driveway, but nothing about the campground, whose entrance is in a corner of the rest area.

Teslin Lake Campground, Yukon
The flowers around the campground were about at their peak.

Rose at Teslin Lake Campground, Yukon
The beach at the campground was the best beach we had in the 2 months we were on the road. The kids loved it. They are so incredibly good together – they make me smile a lot 🙂

Dogs on the beach of Teslin Lake, Yukon
A couple of kayakers paddled by at 7:30 – what a great way to spend the evening.

Kayakers on Teslin Lake, Yukon
Jammy-comfort in front of our last campfire of the trip, with a very tired and snuggly puppy.

Snuggling with a puppy in front of a campfire at Teslin Lake Campground, Yukon
The scruffy boys 🙂

Murray Lundberg and his puppy Tucker

Back to Reality

We didn’t leave Teslin until almost noon – neither Cathy nor I wanted this to end. By the time I fueled up the RV and dumped my tanks, it was 2:30 by the time I got home and had a look at some of the jobs ahead. Mowing the lawn was certainly Job #1!

I’ll be posting a summary of the trip – some data, costs and thoughts about the trip and our equipment – tomorrow.

Gnat Pass: Exploring the BC Rail Northern Extension

The plan for Day 53 of the trip – Wednesday, June 15th – was fairly vague. We’d simply leave our beautiful campsite at Meziadin Lake Provincial Park and just drive north on the Stewart-Cassiar until I didn’t feel like going any further. In the back of my mind, though, a look at a long-abandoned BC Rail project was a possibility.

We ended up going 309 km (192 mi) to Lower Gnat Lake, where we parked to overnight in a small pullout with a great view. Click on the map to open an interactive version in a new window.

Map - Meziadin Lake Provincial Park to Lower Gnat Lake
At 07:30, the day wasn’t looking like much, but we were by then well used to sudden dramatic weather changes at Meziadin.

Rainy morning at Meziadin Lake Provincial Park
By 10:15 as we were getting ready to leave, it was looking like a pretty good travel day. Despite bad bugs (mostly mosquitoes), we’d been extremely happy with our stay at Meziadin, and will certainly be back.

Meziadin Lake Provincial Park campground
The highway was in good shape, and with a few short stops along the way, we reached my favourite pullout at Lower Gnat Lake at 3:30 pm, greeted by a strong north wind and a looming rainstorm. It was perfect timing, as I felt like quitting for the day.

Lower Gnat Lake, Stewart-Cassiar Highway, BC
Molly loved this spot – swallows kept landing on the rearview mirrors just inches from her. She was so excited for a while that we thought that her little brain was going to explode! 🙂

Molly the cat on our RV dash
Tucker was happy with his window on the world, too. He was watching ducks on the lake when I shot this. We scanned the slopes for caribou or grizzly, but had no luck.

Tucker watching the world from the RV window
The storm passed by without dropping any moisture on us, so after an early dinner, I unhooked the Tracker to go for a look at the long-abandoned grade of BC Rail’s “Northern Extension” from Fort St. James to Dease Lake.

The BC Rail Northern Dream

Wikipedia has a good summary of the Northern Extension project: “In the 1960s, a new line had been projected to run northwest from Fort St. James to Dease Lake, 412 miles (663 km) away. On October 15, 1973, the first 125 miles (201 km) of the extension to Lovell were opened. The cost of the line was significantly greater than what was estimated, however. Contractors working on the remainder of the line alleged that the railway had misled them regarding the amount of work required so that it could obtain low bids, and took the railway to court.”

“The Dease Lake line was starting to appear increasingly uneconomical. There was a world decline in the demand for asbestos and copper, two main commodities that would be hauled over the line. As well, the Cassiar Highway that already served Dease Lake had recently been upgraded. Combined with the increasing construction costs, the Dease Lake line could no longer be justified. Construction stopped on April 5, 1977. Track had been laid to Jackson, 263 miles (423 km) past Fort St. James, and clearing and grading were in progress on the rest of the extension. It had cost $168 million to that point, well over twice the initial estimate. The trackbed can be seen on Google Earth all the way to Dease Lake, via the small towns of Leo Creek and Takla Landing.”

The access from the highway to the grade running south from Gnat Pass is the sort of route that makes me fight getting a new toad for the motorhome. A few more scratches on the very-well-travelled Tracker don’t matter. Very few vehicles can be towed “4 down”, that is without a trailer or dolly, and some of the vehicles she’s looking at (like this one) wouldn’t be going into any bush!

After some bush-crashing and rock-crawling, though, we were soon on the rail grade, which is well used by ATVs at that point. My impression is that the grade has been purposely cut in a few places to limit access by hunters, though pretty well all hunters up here have ATVs now. A pickup, though, couldn’t cross one particular rocky ledge that the little Tracker barely got across.

Grade of the BC Rail Northern Extension south of Dease Lake
After less than a kilometer, the grade was blocked by a rock collapse in a deep cut. An ATV track led up and around the cut, so I left Cathy and the dogs in the Tracker and went for a hike. The track around the cut was through thick brush, very grizzly-friendly, and I made a lot of noise!

Grade of the BC Rail Northern Extension south of Dease Lake
There was a couple of hundred yards of wet ground south of the cut. Once I got through it and saw this ahead, though, I knew that this was going to be a very hard hike to turn back from 🙂

Grade of the BC Rail Northern Extension south of Dease Lake
Some of the fills were nearly 100 feet deep. I’ve always been incredulous that this route was approved, and then abandoned so close to the final destination after spending hundreds of millions of dollars.

Grade of the BC Rail Northern Extension south of Dease Lake
A telephoto shot of the view to the south, with the Stewart-Cassiar Highway cutting across and dropping down towards the Stikine River, which is only about 30 km (19 mi) from our camping spot.

Grade of the BC Rail Northern Extension south of Dease Lake
This is where I reluctantly turned around. Rail grade cuts can be seen far ahead on the left, and the highway is on the right.

Grade of the BC Rail Northern Extension south of Dease Lake
I had a hard time keeping my mind off the railway that night, and by 08:00 on Thursday morning, I had hiked up to the grade directly above our camping spot.

Grade of the BC Rail Northern Extension south of Dease Lake
Liking what I saw, I went back and got the Tracker, intending to see if I could find the spot where construction actually stopped. Just south of Km 465, a short road took me to the rail grade, which I followed north 0.9 km to this spot. Directly below me is a cut from which the rock had never been hauled away. That was a good indication that I was near the end of the line.

Grade of the BC Rail Northern Extension south of Dease Lake
Continuing north, I drove or walked to the rail grade at a few other points.

Grade of the BC Rail Northern Extension south of Dease Lake

The End of the Dream

This appeared to be the end of the line, where construction was halted on April 5, 1977. There’s a large pullout at this spot, just a few hundred meters/yards from Gnat Pass Summit, which tops out at 1,241 meters (4,072 feet). The end of gravel on the Gnat Pass section can be seen in the distance to the south. However, I discovered thanks to a comment here after I posted the blog that there’s more finished or nearly-finished grade between Gnat Pass and Dease Lake – see, for example, this huge loop that gets the line down from the pass. On my next trip down, I’ll try again to find the northern end! 🙂

Grade of the BC Rail Northern Extension south of Dease Lake
Back in 1994, I drove south from Gnat Pass with my Blazer while wandering after the tour bus season had ended. As you can see, the grade then was in great shape – I quit at this point because I ran out of time.

The Dease Lake Extension of BC Rail in 1994

I was surprised to find while researching this post that a bridge had been built across the Stikine River for the railway, and it’s still useable (see photo). About 40 km (25 mi) of the line south of the Stikine River is accessible from a spot near Tatogga Lake, and a brief report at talks about it as a great bike route.

BC Parks notes in their information about Spatsizi Plateau Wilderness Provincial Park that “The Ealue Lake Road and Klappan Rail Grade are both unmaintained. Recent rain in August 2015 has increased water flow and washed out sections along the rail grade. These washouts have been temporarily fixed for 4×4 vehicle access.” Motorcycle site DualSport BC has a discussion that, while dating back to 2008, has some good information about the southern part of the line.

My impression from what I’ve learned to this point is that much of the line can still be travelled. Some of it is drivable with a 4×4, much of it by ATV, and even more (perhaps all of it) by mountain bike or even motorcycle. So much to explore, so little time! 🙂

Once I got back to the rig and had breakfast, we headed north again, with 2 only more nights on the road planned before reaching home.

Exploring Hwy 37a, BC’s Glacier Highway to Stewart

Well pleased with our decision to stay at Meziadin Lake Provincial Park for a third night, Day 52 of the trip – Tuesday, June 14th – was going to be laid-back. I did, though, want to spend some time on the Glacier Highway and see if I could reach the toe of the nearby Bear Glacier.

The day was perfect to do some glacier exploration, but I didn’t get away from the campground until almost 10:30, by which time most of the sites had already emptied. I saw one rig leave at 05:30 – that’s some vacation!

Rainy morning at Meziadin Lake campground
That’s the Highways gravel house, at Km 54.8 of Highway 37a (measured from Stewart – it’s 10.2 km from the junction with Highway 37, the Stewart-Cassiar Highway).

Highways gravel house, at Km 54.8 of Highway 37a
Surprise Creek, at Km 52.8. Fed by both glacier and snow melt as well as rain, the water levels of all the creeks was quite high, which didn’t bode well for my route-search.

Surprise Creek, Glacier Highway 37a
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, BC Highway 37a is called “the Glacier Highway” because you pass by about 20 glaciers and icefields (most unnamed – see map).

Unnamed glacier above BC's Glacier Highway
Given how rapid the retreat of the Bear Glacier has been over the 41 years that I’ve been watching it, I wonder how large this glacier was when I lived here? I should have taken more photos! 🙂

Unnamed glacier above BC's Glacier Highway
The view ahead at Km 45 – Cornice Creek is half a kilometer ahead. Going through these photos again makes me want to drive back there tomorrow for another week or two.

Km of BC's Glacier Highway
Above Cornice Creek is aptly-named Cornice Mountain. What fun those cornices would be for the guys with the avalanche mortars and bombs!

Cornice Mountain, on BC's Glacier Highway
There used to be a lovely rest area overlooking Strohn Lake and the Bear Glacier, but it was closed perhaps 20 years ago, not too many years after it was built. I expect that it was because of the danger of avalanches, but the Bear Glacier has also retreated out of sight of the rest area since it was built. The road to it is still open, but Mother Nature is slowly but surely reclaiming the ground.

Road to abandoned rest area along BC's Glacier Highway
A particularly fine waterfall along the road to the former rest area, shot with a fairly long telephoto lens. The brush between the road and it was much too thick to permit an approach, unfortunately.

Waterfall along BC's Glacier Highway
Back on the highway, this is the first view of Strohn Lake and the Bear Glacier, at about Km 40.5. It’s hard to imagine now that in the 1940s, the glacier filled the valley – the original road is hundreds of feet above the current one.

Strohn Lake and the Bear Glacier
The main glacier viewing area has this sign lit up…

Rockfall Hazard sign along BC's Glacier Highway
…because of this very steep and unstable slope above it.

Unstable slope along BC's Glacier Highway
A rough road leads down to the creek (the head of the Bear River) that I needed to cross to reach the glacier. I was able to wade most of the way across, but the last two channels were too deep, fast, and murky. If I hadn’t been carrying an expensive camera and so afraid of a fall, getting across would probably not be a big problem.

The head of the Bear River
Going downstream looking for a crossing, I found a well-anchored rope across the creek. The creek was both too deep and fast for that crossing, though, camera or not. I gave up the attempt to reach the glacier after about 20 minutes. I’d be back, with a canoe to simply paddle across Strohn Lake with next time.

Anchored rope across the head of the Bear River
The massive base of an old avalanche mortar is visible from the highway at about Km 50, and a short hike to it seemed like a good plan.

Access road to an avalanche mortar along BC's Glacier Highway
I was very surprised by the size of it. Although it’s secured from entry, all electrical equipment has been stripped from it, so I assume that it’s no longer used.

Avalanche mortar along BC's Glacier Highway
Bugs hadn’t been a problem at all during during my wanders so far, but back at the motorhome, the mosquitoes were very bad, so we had lunch inside while hordes of the little beasts licked their chops outside the screen. 🙂

Mosquitoes at Meziadin Lake
Cathy was in the mood for a drive, and there’s a fish ladder on the Meziadin River that I hadn’t been to in many, many years, so we headed out at about 2:00 pm. The one-lane bridge that carries the Stewart-Cassiar Highway over the Nass River always intrigues me, so we started out there. It’s always nice when a tanker truck comes along at the perfect time for the shot I really wanted.

One-lane bridge over the Nass River on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway
I had only a vague memory, combined with rather vague directions in The Milepost, of the location of the fish ladder, and the first turn took us to the Meziadin River just downstream from the lake. So we were close, and even knew the general direction to go from there.

Meziadin River just downstream from the lake
The next road took us to what was probably a fish ladder, but it wasn’t the very scenic site that I remembered and wasn’t very accessible, so we kept going along an ever-smaller road.

Fish ladder on the Meziadin River
There, that’s the place I remember! The weir forces most fish into the fish ladder on the near side of the river, though I’ve seen salmon jump the weir. The water, though, was dramatically higher than the last time I saw it. Mission accomplished 🙂

Fish weir on the Meziadin River
It had been an excellent day, and the weather had been good, but as we relaxed outside the RV that evening (with just enough wind to keep the bugs away), a storm approached.

Relaxing outside the RV at Meziadin Lake campground
By 7:30 pm, the winds from the storm forced us inside, and the rain began soon after.

A storm approaching Meziadin Lake campground

On Wednesday, we’d drive north until we felt like stopping, with Gnat Pass, south of Dease Lake, the likely overnight boondocking location.

A Glacier Day at Stewart, BC

At Meziadin Lake Provincial Park, Cathy and I both felt that we were home – back in the North. It looked and smelled familiar, and we soon decided to stay for a third night. On Day 51 of the trip – Monday, June 13th – we’d drive into Stewart for a look, with the main focus for the day being the Salmon Glacier Road.

We put just over 200 km (124 mi) on the Tracker during the day. Click on the map to open an interactive version in a new window.

Map - Meziadin Lake to Stewart and the Salmon Glacier
I was up early, and by 06:00 when I shot this photo from our campsite, the day was looking like it was going to be perfect for touring. It would have been a wonderful morning to have a canoe. While I hadn’t had many days during the trip when I’d wished that I’d brought mine, there were a few.

Early morning at Meziadin Lake Provincial Park
Looking over the campground from the day-use picnic shelter on a bench above the lake, at 08:35.

Meziadin Lake Provincial Park campground

The Glacier Highway

We started the 65 km drive into Stewart just after 10:00. BC Highway 37a is called “the Glacier Highway” because you pass by about 20 glaciers and icefields (most unnamed – see map). There are also apparently 72 avalanche paths, some of which cause the highway to be closed even now and then during the winter. Below all the ice, snow, and bare granite, the vegetation is lush, a vibrant green that almost glows. I love this country! I believe this is Entrance Peak (because it’s the entrance to Bear Pass, I expect).

Mountain scenery along BC's Glacier Highway
There appears to be some superb glacier-access hiking until you get close and look at the vegetation – there are no trails, and this is very tough country to bushwhack through.

Unnamed glacier along BC's Glacier Highway
This tongue of the Bear Glacier (Bear River Glacier on the topographical maps) is the heart of Bear Glacier Provincial Park, which was just created in 2000. It flows from the massive Cambria Icefield east of Stewart. I’ve posted 5 photos that I shot between 1975 and 2015 to show the dramatic retreat of the Bear Glacier.

The Bear Glacier (Bear River Glacier)
The tongue of the glacier. I really want to get over there, but haven’t seen an easy way across Strohn Lake or the Bear River yet. The names in this area add to the confusion caused by the topography – Strohn Creek doesn’t flow from Strohn Lake, the Bear River does.

The tongue of the Bear Glacier, BC


We didn’t spend much time stopping along the highway, and crossed the final Bear River bridge into Stewart at 11:00.


Our first stop in Stewart was the visitor information centre, to pick up a copy of the excellent Glacier Highway and Salmon Glacier Self Guided Auto Tour booklet (which can be downloaded at that link).

I was pleased to see across the street that Stewart once again has a newspaper, the Stewart Times, which was started a few weeks ago by Mary Mandelin.

The Stewart Times newspaper office
The constant “must” for me whenever I visit Stewart is the estuary boardwalk. It’s apparently 805 meters long (2,641 feet), and a recent extension connects it to the road to Hyder and beyond. There are many interpretive signs along its length, adding to the spectacular views over the estuary to the Portland Canal, the docks, and up to the peaks and glaciers.

The estuary boardwalk at Stewart, BC
The poor old fire hall, afflicted with wet rot, looks worse each time I see it. It used to house the museum, but that’s now been moved to city hall, though the putside artifacts are still at the fire hall.

Historic fire hall in Stewart, BC

We stopped in at the “King Eddie” (the King Edward HoteL) for lunch, and just after 1:00 passed through Hyder on our way to the Salmon Glacier.

The Salmon Glacier Road

Stop #8 on the auto tour is the site of the Riverside Mine, where silver and copper were discovered in 1915. Development began 7 years later, and some 4,000 feet of tunnels were blasted out. In some years, it was the most productive mine in Alaska for silver and copper. It operated intermittently until 1961, but fires and floods had destroyed most of the mine structures by 1987. I recall there being a fair bit at the site when I lived in Stewart in 1975.

The historic Riverside Mine near Hyder, Alaska
Looking down the Salmon River from the Riverside Mine site.

Looking down the Salmon River from the Riverside Mine site
I pulled over to let a pilot car go by, and the large load of mining equipment that followed proved to be a good excuse to drive very slowly up the road.

Mining equipment going up the Salmon Glacier road
This view (Stop #12 – the Premier Mines Viewpoint) is the one that’s most changed since I travelled the road to work every day 41 years ago. On that hillside was the massive Premier Mine, with buildings dating back to about 1918 (see a 1975 photo). The truck full of equipment I was following went up the road behind the building to the left of centre in this photo, but I haven’t yet discovered where it went.

Premier Mines Viewpoint
Looking down on the Salmon River. A very enticing view, but all but impossible to reach except by helicopter.

The Salmon River and a clear glacial pool
The toe of the incredible Salmon Glacier. As with the Bear Glacier, I’ve posted a series of photos showing the dramatic retreat of the Salmon Glacier. I was disappointed to discover at about this point that the road terrified Cathy – if you have a fear of heights, this is not a road you want to be on.

Toe of the Salmon Glacier
I was surprised to see a Sikorsky S-64F SkyCrane slinging loads to what appeared to be a new communications tower above the glacier viewpoint. A 1993 model, the helicopter is operated by Erickson Air-Crane from Oregon.

Sikorsky S-64F SkyCrane slinging loads over the Salmon Glacier
At Km 37.0 on the Salmon Glacier road, which is the main viewpoint, the road has now been closed by the mining company now working the former Tide Lake property of the Granduc Mine where I worked. Last October, I was able to drive a few miles further, but the last time I was able to get right to the Granduc site was 2002.

Km 37.0 on the Salmon Glacier road - closed beyond this point
I was hoping to be able to hike the old Granduc road seen in this photo (it gets much closer to the glacier), but the access to it is now beyond the security gate.

The old Granduc road
I hiked above the viewpoint to get this shot. There’s a vague trail to start but also lots of snow and bare granite to reach this point. I was tempted to keep going, but…

The Salmon Glacier
Starting back down at 2:50, after a much shorter day than I’d planned on.

A waterfall along the Salmon Glacier road
Back in Stewart, the Global Hero was loading a cargo of raw logs. Thanks to the Stewart Times, I know that the 179-meter-long ship is registered in Panama, has a crew of 20 under Captain Pangan Gelera, and that she loaded 31,000 tons of logs for China.

Freighter Global Hero loading raw logs at Stewart, BC

We were back to the campground by about 4:30, and had a quiet evening – there were enough periods with the right conditions to have a campfire for a while (mostly, that meant enough wind to keep the mosquitoes away but not enough to blow us away 🙂 ). For Tuesday, I decided to see if I could get to the toe of the Bear Glacier.