White Pass: 2 days canoeing and hiking to an unnamed valley

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.

Map of hikes in the White Pass
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.

Summit Lake, BC
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.

An unnamed lake in the White Pass
It took us 50 minutes to hike from the canoe to the White Pass & Yukon Route railway.

The White Pass & Yukon Route railway in the White Pass
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.

Bare granite in the White Pass.
A rather surprising number of flower species thrive among the granite in this land of extreme weather.

Flowers in the White Pass
I found this very odd moss (?) in one very small area. It looks like rusted steel wool.

This moss 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.

Swimming in a small lake in the White Pass
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?

Telegraph line in the White Pass

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… πŸ™‚

Summit Lake in the White Pass
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.

Ponds in the White Pass
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.

Canoe excursion on Summit Lake
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”.

Sunrise in the White Pass
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.

The mouth of Summit Creek in the White Pass
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.

MP 23.8 of the WP&YR rail line
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.

MP 23.8 of the WP&YR rail line
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.

An extremely old cairn in the White Pass
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.

Off-trail hiking in the White Pass
The higher we got on the ridge, the better it looked, but navigating around cliffs, ponds, and brush was a constant challenge.

Off-trail hiking in the White Pass
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.

The South Klondike Highway from a distant ridge
High on the ridge, we came to what I thought was a moose kill site. This is definitely not normal moose habitat.

A century-old moose or horse skeleton site in the White Pass
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.

A century-old moose or horse skeleton site in the White Pass
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.

A century-old moose or horse skeleton site in the White Pass
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.

Off-trail hiking in the White Pass
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” πŸ™‚

Off-trail hiking in the White Pass
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.

A slope of white heather in the White Pass
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.

July snow in the White Pass
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.

An unnamed creek high above the White Pass

An unnamed creek high above the White Pass
This was a wonderful spot to play in the water! πŸ™‚

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.

A waterfall high above the White Pass
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.

A glacial valley high above the White Pass
High above us, the moraine of a glacier that has almost vanished was very impressive.

A glacial moraine high above the White Pass

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.


White Pass: 2 days canoeing and hiking to an unnamed valley — 8 Comments

  1. That was indeed a memorable venture, some great pics of some very impressive water features, distant aretes and of course the historical aspect with the RR, the Klondike and your find of a telegraph line…

    Too bad you didn’t have the size canoe to take the dogs, they sure would have enjoyed the walk and the exploring. If you had some younger back to hump the gear, a few days and nights in a light camp would be a wonderful way to see the change in light on the water, the mountains and maybe some wildlife too.

    This certainly merits some additional exploration as you have time. It sounds and looks like it was worth the wait and the efforts you made.

    • Thanks. I do need to find a way to get up there for a two-nighter – it’s not impossible, merely difficult.

      There’s plenty of room in the canoe for the dogs, but Tucker doesn’t like it and Bella hates it. It was much too warm for Bella to hike in any case.

  2. You are enjoying an adventure that Radisson and Groseilliers would have experienced. Can you imagine if they had a camera with them? Having your skills with the camera would also be a treat. Now the first question would be who are these explorers? MΓ©dard Chouart des Groseilliers (1618–1696) was a French explorer and fur trader in Canada. He is often paired with his brother-in-law Pierre-Esprit Radisson, who was about 20 years younger. Keep this up. It is a treat to read and the images are special.

    • Thank you, Allan. I remember Radisson and Groseilliers very well from school – I think I may have travelled with them in a previous life πŸ™‚

  3. Fantastic photos! Did you find any signs of others having hiked there? Would love to spend a few days there, but don’t have a canoe…

    • There was no hint of anybody having been there except some old garage from snowmobilers (beer and cooler cans, a broken windshield). Without a boat of some sort, there’s no way to get there, though. Well, a helicopter charter would be awesome πŸ™‚

    • Greg, I’m enjoying your time in the wilderness vicariously. Wow, this is neat. I’m proud of you two for the successes you’ve made.