I’m writing this post while parked at a rest area high on the Top of the World Highway, with a panoramic mountain view to the north. It’s Day 5 of this RV trip, and I’ve decided to make a major change in the itinerary I had planned. Rather than continue on into Alaska and return to Whitehorse via the Alaska Highway, I’m going to return to the Robert Campbell Highway – to Drury Creek Campground and Faro in particular – with some other exploring on the way.
This post, though, is about the middle part of Day 3 – Thursday, July 26th. We left Lapie Canyon Campground at about 11:00 am, with the thought that we would spend that night at one of the 3 campgrounds on the Frenchman Creek Road, northeast of Carmacks. That’s not how it played out, though.
The first photo shows the view westbound on the Robert Campbell Highway right at the Km 366 post, just 2 km from Lapie Canyon.
It’s only 50 km from Lapie Canyon to the access road to Faro, but the country changes quite a bit in that distance. Bare rock outcroppings crowd the road in more and more places, and lakes (in contrast to marshy ponds) are more common.
Seen in the distance is the junction with the Faro access road (Mitchell Road), and the start of pavement on the Robert Campbell at Km 414.3. A couple of the 14 bicyclists I’d been meeting were nearing the junction and heading to Faro as well.
Checking out every campground along my route is one of my projects for this trip. Johnson Lake Campground is off Mitchell Road, on a road that only has a sign noting it as the access road for the Faro airport.
Of the 15 campsites at Johnson Lake Campground, 6 are pull-throughs. I tried one on for size (#3, I think), and it was reasonably spacious.
This site had the picnic table below the RV parking, but other sites had it on the same level. All of the pull-throughs had the sort of obscured lake view seen in the next photo, but I didn’t see any sign of a trail to the lake.
I took Bella and Tucker for a long walk down to the lake via the boat launch road. The lake is pretty, but there’s no beach to play on. When we arrived at the campground, a fellow was just loading his kayak back onto his car – other than him, we had the campground to ourselves.
The next photo shows the top of the campground loop road.
The campsites on the upper level seem to rarely get used. This is probably the least-used government campground I’ve seen anywhere.
My next stop was at the airport, just to see what it looks like. I don’t think that any aircraft are based there anymore.
Adjacent to the airport is the Faro Cemetery. Once I saw how small it is (Faro was just founded in 1969), I decided to photograph each of the graves for my cemetery project and possibly to help at Findagrave.com.
Welcome to the town of Faro, “Yukon’s Best Kept Secret”. That seems to be very true.
Across the road from the welcome sign is this little mining truck. I used to think it was a big mining truck, but it’s only about 65 tons capacity, so quite small as mining trucks go.
My next stop after the welcome sign and mining truck was the visitor information centre (called the Campbell Region Interpretive Centre), where the helpful woman on duty answered my questions about the mine, the trails, and the general state of the community, which still has many empty buildings from the days when the mine was operating.
There’s a lot of information displayed on the many interpretive panels in the visitor centre. The leader of the bicycle group arrived just after I did, and registered his group for a 2-night stay at the campground across the road. I thought briefly about staying as well, but this was going to be my last night before meeting Cathy in Dawson, and the drive from Faro to Dawson is longer than I prefer to have.
The next photo shows the mine I wanted to see. The lead-silver-zinc mine began in 1969 as the Anvil Range Mine, and grew to become one of the largest open-pit mines in the world. It had a rather complex history, which I don’t have Internet access to research and tell you about now. Its final year of operation was 1998, though, and reclamation work is going on now.
I drove back to the huge parking area by the mining truck, unhooked the Tracker, and headed up into the hills toward the mine. It’s a 22-km drive on a very good gravel road. It was getting very warm – nearing 30°C – and Bella loved the wind coming into the back of the car 🙂
I had no idea how much of the mining operation could be seen from the road but I had high hopes. The tailings piles could be seen from miles away, then the road went along a huge tailings pond, now dried up. All side roads were signed “Restricted Area”. Across the road from this creek which had a lot of what appears to be monitoring equipment was a sign saying: “Do Not Contaminate. Drinking Water. Anvil Mining Corp. Ltd.”.
Work of some sort appeared to be in progress on the tailings pond.
The next 2 photos show the main mill buildings and adjacent tailings. Now that I’ve seen the mine, I have a lot of questions about the mine operation and its remediation for when I go back to Faro in a few days, and when I get home and can research online.
The public road ends at the administration building. A sign notes that this is the Faro Mine Complex, and that “Care and Maintenance” is provided by Parsons, with the project managed by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.
I sure wish there was an interpretive centre, or better yet tours, at the mine, given what this is costing the taxpayers.
A new dump truck roared by on the other side of the distant security fence. On the right is one of several massive dump boxes from the 120-ton trucks that replaced the little orange one at the entrance to Faro.
One more shot of the tailings beside the mill. Further down the road, I stopped to take a photo of some very old tanks down in the tailings pond – within seconds, a Parsons truck was beside me asking if everything was okay. As I was driving up to the mine, I met an RCMP truck coming down. Security seems to be a big deal, but how do you secure a property that’s many dozens of square miles in size? Or perhaps the question is, why do you secure it?
Driving back down to Faro from the mine.
We were back on the Robert Campbell Highway westbound just before 4:30. By then I had pretty much decided that we would spend the night at the next attractive place we came to. That turned out to be the Drury Creek Campground, about 64 km from Faro. I’ll tell you about that campground in the next post.
We stopped early on the second day of this RV trip – Wednesday, July 25th. By 3:00 we were settled in at campsite #5 in Lapie Canyon Campground, just west of the access road to Ross River from the Robert Campbell Highway. With no firm plans again for Thursday, I had lots of time to explore at my leisure.
The first place on my list of places to see was, of course, Lapie Canyon. Two trails led to it from a couple of hundred meters on either side of my campsite. I chose the trail leading towards the bridge first.
That trail led through the forest and then along an open slope to the top of the canyon, which was created when the Lapie River cut through a wall of limestone.
The water looked incredible from up there – a clear turquoise colour.
Looking over the edge with my 10mm lens.
Looking up the Lapie River to where the lower part of the campground is.
A side trail led down to the river. The light was perfect for photography, and the water was surprisingly warm.
The only calm pool, right the head of the canyon, was occupied by a guy who was having some success catching Arctic grayling, which he was releasing. The pool wasn’t big enough to go for a diop anyway 🙂
Just before 4:30, I decided that the light was perfect to photograph the newly-restored footbridge at Ross River. The next photo was shot along the access road to Ross River, which is 11 kilometers north of the Robert Campbell Highway.
The road ends at a ferry that crosses the Pelly River. As I was taking this photo, a couple of guys in a pickup stopped to ask if I was okay. Real Yukoners always keep an eye out for people who need assistance.
Welcome to Ross River, which was founded as a trading post on the north side of the river, then moved to the south side in the 1960s, to eliminate reliance on a ferry or ice crossing. The community is most well known for its part in the World War II Canol oil project which took oil by pipeline from Norman Wells on the Mackenzie River to a refinery at Whitehorse.
The Ross River suspension bridge was built in 1943 to carry the Canol pipeline across the Pelly River, but was converted to a footbridge after the war, and has recently been restored to its footbridge status.
I’m not normally okay with painting murals on a historic structure, but it’s a safe bet that te concrete tower anchors had been tagged by “grafitti artists”, so murals are a much better option.
The bridge is 316 meters long (1,036 feet), with a centre span of 192 meters(630 feet).
The Pelly Barge takes vehicles across the river, where the North Canol Road runs 232 km (144 mi) to Macmillan Pass at the Northwest Territories border. Beyond that, the road is a hiking trail at best, but even that isn’t maintained and is rarely used.
The bridge support towers are impressive, especially when you consider the conditions in which they were built.
A section of the 6-inch Canol pipeline, which was just laid on top of the ground. Before the suspension bridge was built, it ran across the Pelly River on the ice. An interpretive panel at the bridge says that the pipeline from 4 inches from Norman Wells to Johnsons Crossing, then 6 inches from there to Whitehorse, but this is clearly 6 inches.
The concrete tower anchor on the north side of the river was starting to get its murals. I couldn’t find an artist’s signature on the completed murals on the south side.
I switched to my 10mm lens to get some broader photos of the bridge, and the bridge with the ferry.
There were quite a few people cooling off in the muddy waters of the Pelly River.
In about 1995, I drove the regular passenger, freight, and mail bus service to Yukon communities including Faro and Ross River, which I visited twice a week. I went looking for the businesses I used to serve, and all are now abandoned and derelict. The Ross River Service Centre (“Groceries, gas, fishing, hardware”, the sign says) was in pretty rough shape even 23 years ago.
The Welcome Inn hotel closed about 15 years ago. I quite liked the bar there – it had lots of character and characters. I never drank there but it was a regular place to visit with freight deliveries 🙂
I had freight for the tire and mechanical shop pretty well every trip. With Greyhound now cancelling service to hundreds of communities in western Canada, this is a good reminder of how you keep passenger busses in business – with mail and freight contracts.
The grocery store now.
And the 24-hour cardlock fuel service beside the grocery store.
I’ve only driven the entire South Canol Road once, and I went for a look. It’s not suitable for the motorhome, and there are too many bears to tent, but maybe I could take the Jeep and sleep in it…
There appears to be minimal maintenance on the South Canol now – the Quiet Lake highways maintenance yard was closed a few years ago. The next photo shows the view from as far as I went. That misty valley is a magnet to me…
It was very warm that evening – the temperature in the motorhome hit 29.2°C. Bugs have been very bad during the day all along the Robert Campbell – not so much mosquitoes, but the huge deer flies or horse flies that take a chunk of meat out when they bite. They make poor Tucker frantic, so inside is better.
The next morning, I drove over to the Lapie Canyon Bridge to get some photos of that part of the canyon before the bridge repair crew got there.
These 3 photos of the canyon were all processed as HDR images to bring the details out with the deep shadows.
The 2 photos above were shot looking down the Lapie River from the bridge, and the one below was shot looking upstream.
The entrance to the Lapie Canyon Campground is right at the bridge.
Time for breakfast! Note, no generator is needed, everything is done with propane.
Just after 10:00 am, I drove down to the campground’s lower level, which had been very busy with the 14 bicyclists I met along the highway. They were gone now, and I had the place to myself. The next photo could have been taken at pretty much any Yukon government campground – those are the standard facilities.
By my standards, the best of the 18 campsites at the Lapie Canyon Campground is #15, but it’s only suitable for very small RVs or car/tent campers. The best river access trail in the campground goes right through the campsite, though – not well thought out. The next site, #16, is also very nice and can handle larger RVs, though not as large as mine. Like many of the older Yukon campgrounds, Lapie Canyon is not very big-rig friendly – with one exception, even the pull-throughs are tight.
Lapie Canyon has a wonderful vibe when there’s nobody else around, and I wanted to spend more time there.
The head of the canyon is a wonderful place to just sit and enjoy the hot sun and the sounds of the rushing water.
I brought my Lensball with me, and Lapie Canyon was the perfect place to work with its unique talents. I’ll let Lensball users try to figure out exactly how I got that shot (with no hand holding it) 🙂
One more photo and it was time to get packed up and hit the road.
We began the second day of this RV trip – Wednesday, July 25th – with only a vague idea that the Lapie Canyon Campground just past Ross River would make a good overnight stop. But I was open to pretty much anything.
We spent the night at a pullout at Km 92 of the Robert Campbell Highway, and by 08:00, we had been on the road for a few minutes and had reached the junction with the Nahanni Range Road.
The Nahanni Range Road was built in 1961 to access the Cantung tungsten mine, which from 1962 until 1985 was the largest tungsten producer in the western world (most tungsten mines are in China).
We spent quite a while at the rest area at the Nahanni Range Road junction as I tried to decide whether or not to take the Tracker up for a look. It’s about 192 km (120 miles) to a reported security gate before the town of Tungsten, the Canadian Tungsten company’s town for the Cantung mine. The mine last opened briefly in 2004. The road sign in the next photo was my minor annoyance of the morning – American spelling of traveller and improper use of a possessive – geez! 🙂
I eventually decided to continue west on the Campbell Highway, due to a shortage of time and excess of wildfire smoke. There are only 2 main roads in the Yukon I haven’t driven – the North Canol and the Nahanni Range Road. That’s a pretty short Yukon Bucket List 🙂 The next photo was shot right at Km 108 of the Robert Campbell.
At Km 113.8, almost 300 km of gravel road began. It was generally in good condition, and 80 km/h (50 mph) was a comfortable speed most of the time.
For the next photo, shot at Km 124.5, I tried HDR to compensate for the smoke, but I wasn’t very happy with the result so went back to normal shooting.
At Km 134.1, signs of an old mine, or mining exploration project, could be seen high on a peak to the west. Whatever it was, it doesn’t seem to have gone into production.
One of the main places along the Robert Campbell Highway that I was looking forward to seeing was the Frances Lake Campground, though I don’t really know why.
The campground is a couple of kilometers north of the highway.
It turned out that I had good reason to be looking forward to seeing it – it’s beautiful, with about 10 campsites right on the lake shore!
All of the lakeshore sites were occupied, and it looked like the sites that aren’t on the shore really get used. Most of the campers had boats of various types.
Large gravel beaches like the one on this part of Frances Lake aren’t at all common in the Yukon interior – most have vegetation (usually grasses or willows) growing right to the water.
The beach even sloped very gradually – perfect for Bella and Tucker to wade in.
If not for the fact that it wasn’t yet 10:00 am, I might have gone for a dip myself and then stopped here for the night, as 2 of the lakefront campsites were vacated while we were exploring.
A very well-equipped boat headed west across the lake. Frances Lake is a conservation water – only barbless hooks can be used, and the daily limits and possession limits are both 2 lake trout, 4 grayling, and 4 pike.
We spent about 3/4 of an hour at Frances Lake, then continued on our way. The bridge in the next photo crosses Money Creek, named for Anton Money, who mined for gold in this area in the 1930s and ’40s.
A glance up Money Creek as we crossed over the bridge caused me to pull over and walk back for a photo.
Walking back to the motorhome, I noticed something not right under the Tracker. The lower mounting bracket for a rear shock absorber had broken. I decided that the dangling shock absorber couldn’t cause any further damage – the tire being the main worry. I’d remove it or stabilize it that night.
Right at Km 190, I braked to a sudden stop…
…because of the left was the old access road to Yukon Zinc’s Wolverine Mine. It operated from 2011 until 2015, and reclamation work is currently being done.
There was virtually no traffic on the highway – about 1 vehicle per hour, and half of those were Department of Highways trucks. The next photo shows the view in my rear-view mirror much of the time – any traffic would certainly be spaced far apart!
At Km 230, the road to the right goes to a float plane base on Finlayson Lake, and the one to the left goes to the Kudz Ze Kayah mining exploration project.
A large rest area and viewpoint over Finlayson Lake at Km 233.1 was cause for a lengthy stop for a dog walk and lunch.
Just after leaving the rest area, I met an oncoming grader. As I was trying to figure out how that was going to work, he ducked into a tiny pullout.
The Finlayson Lake airstrip beside the highway at Km 246.2 was a good excuse for a short walk. A Turbo Otter was sitting at the far end, but I wasn’t feeling 2,100 feet worth of energetic 🙂
I was surprised by how much the highway varied. Here at Km 266 it was narrow and vegetation crowded the road, while other sections of the road were wide with wide cleared areas along it.
At Km 301.4 we only had an hour left to the campground – the sign shows 71 km to Ross River and 125 km to Faro.
Of all the things I didn’t expect to see on the Robert Campbell Highway, bicyclists would be near the top of the list. Choking dust for hundreds of kilometers – are we having fun yet? Oh well… There turned out to be 14 of them, spaced out over nearly 20 km of highway.
At Km 348, nearing the popular recreation lake Coffee Lake, the gravel was treated to eliminate dust. The road was treated in a few other places as well, but this was the first location where I could understand the reason for it.
Coffee Lake was overfull and very close to the highway in a couple of places, but judging by the dead trees, it has been for a long time.
At Km 358, another bicyclist was starting up a brutal hill. And it was hot – about 28°C.
At 2:20, Lapie Canyon Campground was just 2 km away. A nice relaxing afternoon would be great.
The bridge that carries the Robert Campbell Highway over Lapie Canyon was having some minor work done.
A few minutes later, we were set up in campsite #5. I’ll continue with a description of the Lapie Canyon Campground and my trip into Ross River in my next post.
Cathy’s RV focus for a while has been to get back to Dawson, so that is where the fur-kids and I are headed as I write this while camped at Ross River. We’re taking a very long route, though, via the Robert Campbell Highway. The Campbell Highway, Yukon Highway 4, runs 583 km (362 miles) from Watson to Carmacks, where we’d then turn north on the North Klondike Highway to Dawson. I’ve only ever driven the entire Campbell Highway once, and that was over 20 years ago.
It’s not like me to complain about sunshine, but this weather report had me thinking about cancelling the trip. Bella in particular suffers in the heat, and as I wasn’t going to be going to any commercial campgrounds with electricity, the only way to keep the motorhome cool is by running the generator to power the air conditioners. I don’t like the sound of the generator, and my campground neighbours wouldn’t be very pleased, either.
But we did depart on Tuesday morning just before 09:30. I had planned on leaving Monday evening, but I spent 3 hours working with a British film crew late that afternoon and was too tired to hit the road then.
The wildfire smoke was thick enough that photography possibilities were going to be pretty limited. The next photo shows the Yukon River Bridge on the Alaska Highway 10 minutes from home.
The smoke was thicker at Teslin, then thinned out as we continued east. I thought that the smoke was coming from the Poison Lake fire west of Watson Lake, but apparently not.
We took a long break (a.k.a. an afternoon nap) at the Continental Divide, then another stop for a load of fuel at Watson Lake. At 4:30, we reached Mile 0 of the Robert Campbell Highway, which is at the Signpost Forest in Watson Lake.
Westbound on the Robert Campbell at about Km 27. As you leave Watson Lake, a sign warns drives that the next fuel is 363 km away (in Ross River). The range in my motorhome is over double that, so no problem. To do it on my motorcycle, I’d need to carry gas cans.
The highway, which opened in 1968, was one of many built under a federal Roads to Resources program, intended to encourage the opening of mines in particular. It closely follows the fur trade route pioneered by Hudson’s Bay Company employee Robert Campbell, who arrived a half-century before the Klondike Gold Rush that made “the Yukon” a household word. The first part of the highway runs in the broad valley of the Frances River – the next photo was shot at about Km 56.
The Km 64 post can be seen in the lower right of the next photo. They are placed every 2 kilometers. This is very pleasant country, and the driving is easy. There was virtually no traffic on the road. I had been in no hurry, and the time was now 5:27 – my plan was to stop for the night at the Simpson Lake Campground just ahead at Km 81.
At Km 73, I came to a section of major reconstruction. Six kilometers of the highway are being completely rebuilt, at a cost of $5.7 million. How odd on a road with no traffic.
Crews were gone for the day, and that section of sand ahead in the next photo was so soft that I barely made it through. If it would have been any wider, I’d have had a major problem. In the Fall of 1992, I got my little Pontiac Acadian stuck in the middle of the Alaska Highway in a stretch of soft construction mud, and was there until crews came back to work the next morning. By that time there were many more stuck behind me – the American guy in a brand-new Ford mired behind me was going to sue everyone from the Queen on down 🙂
This is some make-work project! Most of it was quite soft, and I was glad to reach the end of the 6 kilometers. We were all looking forward to parking for the night.
When we drove into the Simpson Lake Campground, however, we gor a big surprise. The Liard First Nation had taken it over for an event, and there were already about 5 times as many people as the campground was meant to provide for. So, back on the highway until a pullout appeared.
Luckily, a suitable pullout was only 8 kilometers further along, right at the Km 92 post. It was pretty level, had some shade, and was beside Simpson Lake.
The temperature was 27°C, and a little road leading down to the lake was a nice place to walk Bella and Tucker so they could get their feet wet (neither was interested in getting any more wet than that).
There seemed to be a high layer of smoke that diffused the light and kept it a bit cooler than it would have been otherwise. The next photo was shot at 7:35.
Bella’s favourite spot in the RV is under the dinette – the place that gets the least air circulation. No amount o coaxing or treating will get her to a cooler spot for more than a couple of minutes. With no neighbours to annoy, I fired up the generator and turned on the rear air conditioner long enough to cool the bedroom down before turning in for the night.
I had no real plans for the next day – we’d just see what was interesting and stop when the mood struck.
After our excellent afternoon hike on Thursday, my friend asked if I’d like to join her and her daughter for a short hike on the way to Skagway on Friday. I’d already planned to take my motorcycle to Skagway, but said that I’d meet them in the White Pass. Once there just after noon, we decided to hike a little way up the International Falls trail.
Once down the very steep but rope-assisted drop off the highway, and then across the creek, the large flower-filled meadow can keep photographers happy for quite a while.
There were at least a dozen species of flowers in bloom in the meadow and among the adjacent granite outcrops.
We took a little-used side trail that took us to the bottom of the first waterfall. Few hikers come to this spot for some reason.
It’s amazing where some plants can grow.
I always really enjoy the first waterfall, and scrambled over boulders right to the base of it to do some shooting. First at slow shutter speeds – the next photo was shot at 1/30th of a second…
…and then some high speeds – the next photo of the lip of the waterfall was shot at 1/1,000th of a second.
A family joined us, and some of them went for a dip in the pool. While the water is much warmer than it was when I hiked the trail 10 days ago – the upper lakes were still frozen – it was still not conducive to long soaks 🙂
We decided to hike up one more level to an area with a large expanse of almost-level granite.
This was an excellent place to just enjoy the incredible day. The temperature was probably about 25°C/77&de;F.
This was our view looking back toward the highway. Ahhhh…. 🙂
At about 1:45 we started the short hike back to the car and bike. Total time on the trail was a bit under 2 hours.
I continued on to Skagway, picked up all the accessories for the new ensuite bathroom (towel bars, etc), then headed home. With 5 hours on the bike and 2 hours among the waterfalls, it was a great day.
Back at home, I started experimenting with my new Lensball. It’s not the the sort of thing I’ll use very often, but it is fun.
Last Thursday, July 19th, a friend and I decided to go for an afternoon hike at the Venus Mine with 2 of our dogs. Less than an hour from my house, it’s a wonderful place to clear your head and enjoy some incredible views.
The network of roads and trails is accessed at Km 82.2, a kilometer south of the large wooden Venus mill. The elevation there is 691 meters (2,268 feet). I was very surprised to see 2 vehicles there, but all of the people from them were coming down as we started up.
The trail starts on a good road that leads to the 1970s workings of the Venus silver mine (and some great raspberry patches in season!). Extensive work was done on that property in 2009-2010 to stabilize tailings piles that were held back with logs that were rotting – there was a serious threat that a large avalanche would result and it would have hit the highway. An old mine tunnel here has been closed with rocks and gravel – a bat monitoring station at the entrance is a new addition since the last time I was there. The elevation at this point was 830 meters (2,724 feet).
Artifacts from the early days of mining at the Venus can still be found. The one in the next photo, looking steeply down to the highway and lake, appears to be a piece from the 1906 aerial tramway.
There were a few sections where following the trail took some thought, and there was a bit of brush, but it was generally a good path.
My plan had been to go to the upper workings and aerial tramway terminus, but the trail I chose took us far above that location. At 994 meters (3,260 feet), we turned back to look for another route.
Looking straight down on the Venus mill.
At 5:00, on the right trail now, we stopped short of the original destination for a bit of a picnic. Then it was time to head back to the car.
How incredibly lucky are we to be able to take the dogs for an afternoon walk at a place like this?
By 7:00, I was back at home, 5 hours after leaving.
Yesterday was a great day for me. I put 240 km on my motorcycle, found a 1941 plane crash site, spent time with old friends and new, and photographed a few airplanes at YXY. I hadn’t been out on the bike since August 2016, so getting it out was a big deal to me. There’s a bit of a back story to that happening.
I very rarely enter photo contests. A few months ago, though, I happened to notice that Yamaha Canada had a “What a View” contest. Hey, I have lots of pics of my Yamaha V-Star in great locations so I sent one in. Last week I got notification that I had won the Grand Prize, $500 to spend on my choice of Yamaha gear or parts. Wow! 🙂
When I went down to Yukon Yamaha to buy something with my prize money, the only thing that got my attention was a very fine leather motorcycle jacket that fit me perfectly. It was on the clearance rack at 20% off, so instead of ringing in at $705, the final bill was $63. Now I needed to go riding!
My bike has been dead for a while. It seemed to be a fuse, but I couldn’t find it. Finally my Clymer manual led me to a 30-amp main fuse buried under the seats and a couple of layers of electronics and plastic. It was indeed burnt out. A spare fuse was in a slot beside it, and as soon as I changed it, I had power. A half-hour later after I put it all back together, the bike was running. That felt so good!
By the the time I shopped for a better deal on insurance, it took me almost 3 hours on Monday to get the bike insured (now $187 per year) and get a new sticker on the plate. With other things to do, I didn’t get out on Monday, but on Tuesday morning, I headed north, with the main objective being the site of a 1941 plane crash beside what is now the North Klondike Highway.
I hadn’t checked the road reports, but was hoping that there would be no construction on the North Klondike – I wasn’t in the mood to fight my way through gravel. As it turned out, the only work being done was preparations for a new bridge across Fox Creek.
It was a post on my Yukon History & Abandoned Places page that led me to the plane crash site. I had a couple of photos with me to help find it, but I didn’t need to pull them out. In the grassy area to the left at Km 233.5, I could see the tubular frame wreckage.
The following article about the crash is from The Chilliwack Progress of July 9, 1941 – the pilot who was killed, Vaughan Woods, was from the nearby community of Hope.
The crash on July 3rd destroyed White Pass Airways’ 1939 Travel Air 6-B, CF-BPV, seen at Fort Selkirk in the next photo. White Pass Airways was part of the the British Yukon Navigation Company (BYN).
The wreckage is in the red circle in this view from the highway. In 1941, there was no road here but there was an emergency airstrip. None of the online mapping sites show this area in a high enough resolution to see where the airstrip would have been, but it would have been just to the north of the crash site (to the right in the photo).
In his book “Yukon Wings”, R.B. “Bob” Cameron covers this crash thoroughly, with several photos including the one below that shows an RCMP officer inspecting the wreckage. An inquiry into the crash found that a cotter pin had not been installed on a crucial nut during a recent engine overhaul – when the nut loosened and then fell off, a catastrophic power failure was the result. Three air engineers’ licences were suspended for 6 months and one was cancelled permanently.
The next photo shows me inspecting the wreckage. The mountains in the background show that the viewing angle is the same as the one in photo from “Yukon Wings”.
Although there may be more wreckage buried in the mud after 77 years, it’s a fairly safe bet that the site was well cleaned up either by BYN or later scavengers.
Fox Lake was my planned portrait location, and it worked out great. I got into a long chat there with a Swiss fellow who’s touring in a van he bought. My bike, a 2009 V-Star 1100 Classic that I bought new in 2010, now has just over 29,000 km on it. I’m excited to be back on the road with it, and hope to put a few thousand more on it this year.
It was time for lunch, so I continued north to Braeburn Lodge, where I had an excellent lunch as well as a good visit with 2 of the people who have been feeding me and hundreds (maybe thousands) of my bus passengers there since 1990.
As I made the turn off the Alaska Highway to go into Whitehorse for fuel, what I thought was a T-33 Shooting Star, a jet trainer that dates back to 1948, was on final approach to the airport. After fueling, the airport was my obvious next stop. The jet turned out to be the Canadian variant – a Canadair CT-133 Silver Star 3. Now registered in the United States as N133HH and named “Ace Maker II”, it’s privately owned, used by Greg Colyer to perform at air shows (there are some incredible photos online). Now there’s a cool “job”! 🙂
Just after I arrived, so did Simon Blakesley, who is becoming very well known for the quality of his aircraft images. We had a great chat while we were shooting the various aircraft, and waiting for the vintage jet to take off.
I always enjoy being able to add new aircraft to the database at Airport-Data.com, and C-GEMB, a 2016 Embraer EMB 505 Phenom 300 based at Fort Langley, BC, is now there.
The next interesting arrival was N7836W, which I thought was a particularly fine Piper Super Cub. It’s actually a homebuilt, from a kit built by Backcountry Super Cubs of Wyoming. It was built and is now owned by Ted Waltman of Lakewood, Colorado. I was able to add the first photo of it with a new belly cargo pod to its listing at at Airport-Data.com.
I don’t have many photos of Air North’s new ATR-42s, so was pleased to see C-FVGF on approach. As I was writing this post, I was also pleased to be able to update the database at Airport-Data.com again, as it still showed this plane as C-FTJB, owned by First Air. Bought by Air North in September 2016, C-FVGF is a 1988 ATR 42-300.
Simon and I were both trying to figure out where we might be able to shoot the CT-133 Silver Star taking off, but neither of us guessed correctly. I got it taxiing and roaring down the runway, but it was hidden by buildings when it left the ground.
It’s 9°C (48°F) with a light rain falling as I’m about to post this. I guess it will be a day for inside projects, of which I have many. Summer is forecast to return tomorrow, and I’ll be back outside – I have several possible hikes in mind for the few days.
After our epic hike into an unnamed valley in the White Pass on July 5th, Greg and I opted for an easier hike the next day. We had planned on climbing Summit Creek Hill, but scaled back to what is now called the International Falls Trail. This is the third time I’ve posted about this trail – the first time was in August 2013 when I discovered that there’s a view over the Chilkoot Trail if you hike far enough, and then in July 2015 I did a short hike on it. This is by far my longest post about it, though – there are 35 photos, a video and a map in this one. This trail gets my vote as the best-bang-for-the-buck trail in the region, and is infinitely scaleable – it doesn’t matter whether you want a half-hour hike or a 10-hour one, it’s superb.
The map below is the feed from my Garmin inReach – click on it to go to an interactive map and trip report at Ramblr.
My day began early when I woke up and saw a very colourful dawn beginning. The first photo was shot at Outhouse Hill, a couple of miles from the motorhome, at 04:45. That was right at official sunrise.
While I was out and about anyway, I decided to go down the hill on the Alaska side a bit and have a look at the new bridge being built at William Moore Creek. Getting there long before the work crews should allow me to get some photos.
One of the side benefits of the new bridge is the removal of a couple of curves on the road, using the rock blasted away for the approach to the new bridge.
This is a broad view of the new bridge site.
This is what I wanted to see. I parked and walked onto the existing bridge, and created this vertical panorama by stacking 3 photos shot at 18mm. So it’s a steel culvert about 60 feet across and 60 feet above the creek, being filled with concrete above that. I have no idea how that is supposed to be earthquake-proof, but…
Back up the hill at 05:10, the morning colours were still wonderful.
Greg and I got off to a pretty late start, and friends from Whitehorse flagged me down as we left the motorhome, to confirm directions I’d given them to the Inspiration Point Mine. I led them down the highway to a spot where I could show them the access, and by 10:45, Greg and I were back up at the parking area for the International Falls Trail. In the next photo, shot from the parking area, the trail runs up the right (north) side of the unnamed creek.
A tour company in Skagway is running guided hikes on the trail, and I assume that’s who has installed ropes for the extremely steep drop from the parking area to the valley bottom. They’re a welcome addition!
At the bottom, a creek crossing is required – it was only up to mid-calf depth. Greg has joined me in wearing Keen sport sandals for hikes now, but many hikers carry crocs or flipflops for this crossing.
The next photo shows the first waterfall, just 5 minutes from the creek crossing. A side trail goes to the bottom of the falls, and it’s so beautiful that many people don’t seem to go any further than that spot.
The Arctic lupine (Lupinus arcticus) was at its colourful peak in many spots along the trail. These plants have woolly coats that help trap heat and buffer the wind.
The creek along the lower part of the trail is an endless run of rapids and waterfalls. The trail moves away from the creek in several areas but there are side trails to any notable spots on the creek.
Although the trail starts in Canada, you soon cross an unmarked border into Alaska. The upper waterfall in the next photo is probably the highest one along the trail.
Looking back towards the highway from the waterfall seen in the photo above. At this point, we were exactly an hour from the car.
I just never get tired of waterfalls. The beauty, the power, the infinite variety, all attract me, both as a nature-lover and as a photographer.
Just before noon we reached a large area where the creek flows across smooth, gently-sloping granite. I always spend a few minutes there. It’s seen in the middle section of the following video that I shot in 3 places along the trail.
The next photo pretty well summarizes the trail for me – flowers, a waterfall on a crystal-clear creek, and bare peaks looming above.
Now up in the alpine at 12:10, the walking was easy and the views uninterrupted.
Once into the alpine, the trail gets fainter and fainter, and often disappears as the route is snow-covered well into June.
The average slope is much gentler in the high country, but some ledges still produce waterfalls and short but fairly steep climbs.
Flowers of many species were still abundant in the alpine, and there were so many perfect specimens that I took many photos. Some day maybe I’ll figure out what they all are. I had highs hopes for the PlantSnap app, but it says that this is a begonia. I don’t know yet what it is, but I know what it’s not 🙂
You can’t get much closer than that to the source of your drinking water to be sure it’s safe to drink.
By 1:00 pm we were encountering more and more snow, though we were able to navigate around all of it. The trail had completely disappeared – few hikers who start the International Falls Trail come this high.
At 1:30 we reached one of the large lakes in the alpine, at 4,060 feet elevation (1,237 meters).
Above that lake, we had to walk across some patches of snow.
My hoped-for destination for this hike was the saddle that looks down on the Chilkoot Trail. A snow-free route to it had melted out, clearly just in the past few days.
It’s amazing how fast some plants can recover once the snow melts off them. One of my readers has informed me that this is a Snow buttercup (Ranunculus nivalis) – thanks very much, Mary.
A panorama looking back down on the upper lakes and back towards the highway.
At 1:55, 3 hours and 10 minutes from the car, we reached the saddle. This 160-degree view of granite and glaciers, with the Chilkoot Trail far below, appears suddenly when you top the saddle. The last part of the drop from this point to the Chilkoot is extremely steep and probably not reasonable.
I hope that you all have a place that makes you as deeply content as this location does me. But was it ever cold! The wind chill was near freezing, and we didn’t stay long.
It’s possible to climb higher, and I have hiked to that summit, but we were happy with what we’d seen and started back down at 2:15.
Sometimes you have to get down on your belly to see tiny alpine flowers like this Arrow-leaved coltsfoot (Petasites sagittatus).
In the high alpine there were some wonderful areas of sedimentary rock, with some of the layers cardboard-thin.
As usual on my hikes, I took few photos on the way down, but this spot at 3:05 was irresistible.
At 3:55 we were nearing the creek crossing near the trailhead, and 10 minutes later we were at the car. The total hiking time was 5 hours and 20 minutes.
Heavy cloud had moved in as we neared the car, and by the time we reached the motorhome a few minutes later, a nasty storm was coming.
When we got up the next morning, visibility in fog and light rain was near zero. We packed up and headed home – to Whitehorse for me, much further to Haines for Greg.
As I finish this post off, it’s cold and wet outside – it feels like Fall. But I have plent of work that needs to be done, and when the sun does come back I have many more ideas for places to explore.
Pretty much ever since I started driving the South Klondike Highway between Whitehorse and Skagway in 1990, a particular valley to the east of Summit Lake near the White Pass summit has intrigued me. Clearly carved out by a massive glacier, spectacular peaks loom behind a series of waterfalls. The valley has no name, and even the mountains don’t have names. It’s a fairly popular place to go in the winter, usually by snowmobile, but nobody seems to visit the valley in the summer. Last week, though, a friend and I reached it on our second attempt by canoe and off-trail hiking, and the valley was even more wonderful than I’d imagined.
The map below is the feed from my Garmin inReach – click on it to go to an interactive map and trip report at Ramblr. Note that the routes on Day 1 and Day 2 are marked.
After leaving the World War II Canol pipeline pump station described in my last post at about noon, Greg and I canoed back down Summit Lake, landing in a cove at what appeared to be the shortest route to the valley. The first photo was shot right at 1:00 pm, looking back up Summit Lake from the ridge above the cove where we stashed the canoe.
The large lake in the next photo has no name, and isn’t connected to Summit Lake. Finding a route around the countless lakes is part of the challenge, but navigating the granite ridges and cliffs is the biggest challenge.
It took us 50 minutes to hike from the canoe to the White Pass & Yukon Route railway.
The bare granite provides wonderful hiking in places, and is incredibly varied. The little patches of sand may have been left thousands of years ago by the post-glacial lake that filled the valley. This is an HDR image to bring out the detail.
A rather surprising number of flower species thrive among the granite in this land of extreme weather.
I found this very odd moss (?) in one very small area. It looks like rusted steel wool.
The temperature had climbed to about 24°C (75°F), and Greg and I both took advantage of a couple of the smaller lakes/ponds we came to.
High above and far from the railway where such things are expected, I found a telegraph line. At this point I’m not sure what to make of that – was it laid by a company during the Klondike gold rush?
By about 2:30 we had reached a vast area of thick brush that stopped us. Some people don’t mind bushwhacking to reach their destination – Greg and I do mind. After much contemplation, I decided on another route to try the next day, and we started back.
An oddity that we saw several of during the hike are balancing rocks left by the glaciers. Many of them had a single small rock supporting them as this one did – the main rock is almost 5 feet square.
Finding the canoe turned out to be a bit of a challenge – there are many little coves along Summit Lake, and none are very easy to get to. My inReach GPS would have made it easy if either one of us had brought our reading glasses so we could see the screen well. I had actually thought about bringing them that morning. Note to self… 🙂
We went on quite a tour in our search for the canoe-cove, but once I spotted the unique pair of rocks seen in the first photo above, I knew where it was. We went for another dip and felt much better.
By 5:30 we had stashed the canoe in a tiny cove at the mouth of Summit Creek and were walking back to the car for the 2-minute drive back to the motorhome. The beach at Summit Creek is the base for a canoe excursion aimed at cruise ship passengers, but the canoes didn’t move during the 3 full and 2 part days we were there.
The sunrise on Thursday morning was spectacular, promising another amazing day to try for the unnamed valley. The next photo was shot at 04:50 from “Outhouse Hill”.
By 08:40 we were back at the mouth of Summit Creek (seen in the next photo), and a few minutes later were paddling down Summit Lake to a large bay on the east side.
At the mouth of the bay, this 10-foot-high granite boulder made me wonder what sort of forces could split it wide open.
A few minutes after stashing the canoe, we were at MP 23.8 of the rail line, where a boxcar used as a shelter, and a fuel tank for the bulldozers used to clear the line of snow each spring, are notable.
To the left of the fuel tank can be seen the wreckage of snow fences that used to give a small amount of protection to a couple of miles of the railway in this area. The gully to the left, at a spot called Gateway, is now filled but used to be crossed by a bridge.
Above the railway is this structure that appeared to me to have been used in surveying in some way. Posting the photo on my Yukon History and Abandoned Places group soon got the answer that it was an aerial survey marker for making maps.
Our initial bearing from the rail line was almost due south, aiming for a high, bare ridge that wraps around the southern side of the mouth of the valley we wanted to reach. To say that there’s no direct line is an understatement. Up and down, up and down, around and around and around…
To the left of Greg is an extremely old cairn, I expect marking a Klondike-era trail. I didn’t find any others.
By 10:15 we were reasonably confident that the ridge we were aiming for was the route that would get us to the valley, to the upper left in the next photo.
The higher we got on the ridge, the better it looked, but navigating around cliffs, ponds, and brush was a constant challenge.
As remote as our location was, and as long as it had taken us to get there, the South Klondike Highway wasn’t all that far away as the raven flies.
High on the ridge, we came to what I thought was a moose kill site. This is definitely not normal moose habitat.
Judging by the amount of soil deposition around the ribcage, the skeleton has been there for a very long time – since the gold rush or perhaps even longer.
This is a broad view of the site. I posted these photos to the Yukon Wildlife Viewing site and to my Yukon History and Abandoned Places group, and it’s been suggested that they may be horse bones, but also that moose do occasionally venture into places like that. Horses would tie into our discoveries of both the telegraph line and the cairn.
As we got higher on the ridge and closer to the valley, there are some very large gullies full of brush that were hidden from lower elevations. Hiking up and around near their heads was always the best option.
The power of this country is incredible. You might expect that this sort of hiking is frustrating because of the complicated navigation, but I find it exciting. Greg said a few times “I’ll just follow wherever you lead” 🙂
This gorgeous slope of white heather was near the head of a small valley. At the creek beside it, now confident that we would reach our goal, we took a long lunch break. At this point, we had been running into game trails quite often, created by sheep and caribou.
At an elevation of about 1,100 meters (3,600 feet), we began to run into large patches of snow. The one in the next photo was over 8 feet deep.
At the highest point of the ridge we were climbing, I came over a bluff and was stunned by what I saw. I yelled back to Greg “I don’t know when it happened, but we seem to have died and gone to heaven.” The photo doesn’t do it justice at all. From this point, reaching the valley was easy.
I’d been wanting to reach the unnamed creek that flows out of our destination valley, and that was finally reasonable. We dropped down a bit and spent a long time at this spectacular spot.
This was a wonderful spot to play in the water! 🙂
I had set a time of 2:00 as the deadline for starting the hike back to the canoe. Fifteen minutes after leaving our play spot on the creek, we reached this beautiful waterfall. It was now 1:35.
At 1:50, we reached the outer lip of the valley. We’d made it, and now we would just explore what we could. The valley steps up several times behind a series of glacial moraines.
High above us, the moraine of a glacier that has almost vanished was very impressive.
The valley will require an overnight hike to explore properly – it’s both large and complex. What I’ve confirmed so far is that neither the lake nor the glacier shown on the government topos exist anymore. At 2:15 pm, we started back down.
We could soon see our objective – the fuel tank on the railway can be seen in the next photo. The hike back was much quicker than the hike up because we made few stops, and none of them were lengthy, although we did go for a couple more dips in small lakes along the way. I was very pleased that in this vast country, I was able to stay very close to or right on the route we had taken going up, often stepping on footprints made a few hours before – in the dry lichen we often crossed, they show up well.
At 6:05 pm, the canoe was once again stashed in the cove at the mouth of Summit Creek and we were walking back to the car. It had been 9 hours and 25 minutes since we started out from this point. Not bad for 2 guys in their 60s (Greg is 66, a little over a year younger than me).
We were already re-thinking our planned hike for the next day. Summit Creek Hill, a steep and challenging route right across the highway from the motorhome, had been the plan, but an easier option was being discussed.
In the afternoon of July 3, my friend Greg from Haines arrived at my home, and we took the motorhome to the White Pass for a 4-night stay so we could go canoeing and hiking. On our first outing on July 4th, we canoed to the head of Summit Lake and made a short hike to the ruins of a Canol pipeline pump station along the White Pass & Yukon Route rail line.
I set up camp at my usual spot just south of the Summit Creek bridge on the South Klondike Highway. Although it’s right beside the highway, this part of the highway between the Canadian and American border posts is closed from midnight until 08:00. Even during the day, traffic is fairly light.
There’s a lengthy section of newly-resurfaced highway north of Fraser. It still has a lot of gravel on it, and a semi tossed a large one into my passenger-side windshield. It’s much too large to fix, and each side of the 2-piece windshield costs a few dollars short of $2,500 to replace. It’s the cost of having fun, but ouch.
Right across the highway from the RV, behind a rock bluff, is a lovely series of ponds that make a wonderful spot to have a morning coffee.
At about 09:30, I unhooked the Tracker from the motorhome, and we drove a mile north to launch the canoe at a spot where the highway goes close to the lake (there’s no boat launch on Summit Lake). I paddled up the lake, and Greg drove back to Summit Creek and walked down to meet me at the beach at the mouth of Summit Creek. By 10:30 we were well on our way up the lake. The plan was to beach the canoe near the head of the lake, about 4 km from Summit Creek.
We found a good spot to beach the canoe near the site of the Canadian Shed (more about that later), and we climbed up above the railway. There are still artifacts and wreckage dating right back to the Klondike gold rush all over this area, and trying to guess what it was is part of the fun for me. In the next photo, the railway is on the left and the head of Summit Lake can be seen in the distance.
One train arrived at the summit shortly after we did, and when another arrived, the first one backed up to our location to let the other one do the necessary switching. Most people off the cruise ships just take the shortest train ride, to the summit and back to Skagway. At the summit, the locomotives are moved to the opposite end so they’re back at the front of the train for the trip down.
What a surprise when the WP&YR crew member (conductor?) turned out to be someone that Greg knows from Haines! Mike came over and we chatted for a couple of minutes while the switching was being done. The passenger car behind Mike is one of 2 luxury Club Cars on the line now. I got to ride in one in 2014 on a special trip to honour my long-time friend Boerries Burkhardt, a dedicated WP&YR railfan from Germany.
The next photo looks north at the site of the Canadian shed, a 1,064-foot-long snowshed that was demolished in the 1980s.
We walked along the granite above the rail line, and there was wood everywhere, I expect much of it from the snowshed. The next view looks south at the Canadian shed cut.
Most of the pipeline between Whitehorse and Skagway was removed in the late 1990s, but small sections can still be found in many locations. A brief history of this pipeline follows.
In 1942, the US army constructed a 4½-inch OD above-grade pipeline (Canol No. 2) from Whitehorse to Skagway. This pipeline, a tank farm in Whitehorse, and pump stations at Carcross and Summit Lake, comprised part of the larger Canol pipeline project, constructed to transport, refine, and distribute liquid hydrocarbons from Norman Wells for use in the Yukon and Alaska during World War II. The US army owned and initially operated the facilities. The White Pass and Yukon Corp. began operating Canol No. 2 in 1947, reversing the flow to supply Whitehorse and the Yukon with gasoline, diesel, and fuel oil shipped by sea to Skagway from Vancouver. In 1949, the US army resumed operating the pipeline, transporting White Pass fuels as well as their own. White Pass purchased Canol No. 2 from the US and Canadian governments in transactions from 1958 to 1961 and became the sole shipper via the pipeline. White Pass operated the Canol No. 2 pipeline from 1962 until 1994 with only minor modifications, and it was then shut down.
Pipeline technology was in its infancy when the Canol was built. Pipe was simply laid on the ground and welded. Spills were common and often very large. The photo below (National Archives of Canada, Finnie collection) shows a section of the 6-inch main pipeline from the Norman Wells oilfield to the Whitehorse refinery.
At the pump station site just north of the Canadian shed cut, this wooden tower is the only thing visible from the rail line now. Carl Mulvihill says in his “White Pass & Yukon Route Handbook” that this structure was access to a pipeline pump valve – it’s high because of the deep snows there.
The sight of a few blocks of concrete lured us further from the rail line.
This is the foundation of the main pump station building. I have not yet found any information about this pump station other than the fact that it was part of the initial Canol construction. So much to research, so little time… 🙂
A closer look at the primary foundation.
This great little freight wagon is still sitting there, saved by its very remote location.
This garbage dump is right beside the pumping station foundation.
This is a sampling of the bottles that are laying around – the middle one is a very distinctive ketchup bottle. We didn’t remove anything from the site.
A broader view of the site. I should have had the drone to get a good look at it all.
Several other buildings were scattered over quite a wide area around the pumping station.
Walking back towards the canoe just before noon, two trains arrived from the north, fairly close together.
Having a train in the Canadian shed cut makes it easy to see that building a roof over it to keep the snow out would have been a fairly simple job.
Very pleased with what I’d found, we paddled back down Summit Lake in search of a route to an unnamed valley to the east. That search would take us 2 days.