Yukon & Alaska

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Golden Circle: Wrapping up and winding down

After our flightseeing over the icefields, we visited Silver City, a ghost town from the early1900's near Kluane Lake.  It was quite spooky, especially with no one else around - a stark reminder of mortality after that ride to heaven among the icefields.

Our last day in Kluane National Park, we did an easy hike along the river bank just to capture some of the smaller things in nature to transition us back to life without the mountains.  The younger part of our group went on to do the King's Throne hike, a strenuous half day affair for the energetic.

This has been one of the most spectacular trips of our lives - one that we will be savouring for years to come.  

Bald eagle in flight near Kluane Lake

Kluane Lake

Silver City ghost town 

Surprised to see an actual old car with engine beside a house

Hike along the banks of the Dezadeash River - wherever you look in Kluane, you'll see the mountains

Some of the small things we noticed on the hike...because we were looking down instead of up at the mountains! 

This butterfly is called "Cloudless sulphur"...

Tiger Swallowtail!

Peaceful Kathleen Lake in Kluane National Park - the King's Throne, sitting above the lake, is appropriately name

This was a trip of a lifetime!

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Golden Circle: The Climax - Kluane Icefields

The most epic event of our 10 day trip was our flight over the Kluane icefields in a ski plane (withIcefield Discovery) and landing on the largest non-polar icefield in the world.  It was an experience beyond words, seeing range after range of these spectacular mountains from the plane and watching the huge glaciers merge and move through them.  It was not an experience that we could have achieved without the flight - the landing on the pristine ice field, face to face with Mt. Logan with not a soul around was awe-inspiring.  I had a lump in my throat throughout the 90 minute flight - take a look for yourself...

The merging of the two glaciers - made me feel small...

Closeup view of the mountains from the plane


Seeing these mountains and glaciers from the sky reminded me of the paintings of Lawren Harris... 


The glacier flowed around the mountains

Mt. Vancouver

Blue ice caves and crevasses

Landing on the icefield facing Mt. Logan


Landscape of nothing but snow and ice...and mountains 

Closeup of the glacial ponds and creavasses

This gives a sense of proportion - size of crevasses beside the mountains

The glacier pushing towards the lake 


Where the glacier flows into the river

  Next: The wrap-up - a day in Kluane National Park

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Golden Circle: the fabulous Haines Highway

After an amazing 3 days in Haines, we continued on the third and final leg of the Golden Circle up the Haines Highway back to the Yukon.  The magnificent mountains continued to dominate both sides of the road - it was another spectacular drive.  We made our first stop just shortly out of Haines at the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve.  There were a few eagles in flight but nothing close up as one would expect in the fall when apparently thousands of eagles congregate here - probably a spectacle worth a trip in itself.  Haines has tour operators offering wildlife viewing raft trips up the Chilkat river to see bears and eagles by the river bank, likely worth the price during the salmon run.

It didn't take us long to cross back into Canada and one of the first sights in the Yukon to stop for was the jade green Million Dollar Falls, just a short walk from the parking lot.  It was spring and the rush of water down the cliff into a narrow canyon was quite impressive.  As we entered Kluane National Park territory, we stopped at the rock glacier which could be reached by a short hike through the forest although the climb up was quite steep.  Other than seeing the unique rock glacier, we also got a panoramic view of nearby Dazadeash Lake.  

Finally, our last stop - Haines Junction.  It is nothing like Haines - hardly little more than a tourist service area at the junction of the Haines Road and the Alaskan Highway with a mishmash of eateries, motels, gas stations, outdoor adventure operators and a prominent liquor store.  We stopped at the one and only bakery every day we were in town.  But it is an important gateway to a vast and dramatic wilderness area which we saw only a small part of in our ten days in the area.  

Haines Road

From one of several viewing platforms at the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve

A raft of tourists looking for wildlife by the river

Magnificent mountains on both sides of the road
Red clover in bloom
Million Dollar Falls

The Rock Glacier

Growing out of the rocks

Dezadeash Lake on the edge of Kluane National Park

Watch out for the next post:  The awesome Kluane Icefields!

Monday, 18 July 2016

Golden Circle: Down the fjord

While Haines is on the Golden Circle route, Juneau isn't.  Taking the fast ferry to Juneau was a side trip recommended as a quick way to see Juneau, a key cruise ship stop famous for its Mendenhall Glacier and at the same time, a spectacular trip down the Lynn Canal, North America's deepest fjord at 2,000 feet and one of the deepest and longest in the world.  The packaged day trip on the fast ferry takes 40 passengers collected from Skagway and Haines down the inside passage to Juneau and back in 11 hours, including a bus trip to the glacier.

The catamaran ride turned out to be the most interesting part of the trip as the mountains on both sides of the fjord provided a continuous splendorous backdrop along the route, coupled with sightings of wildlife and the perpetual hope of seeing a whale.  We did see a few, at least one breach, but I was not close enough (or fast enough!) for pictures.  Then of course there was a permanent colony of sea lions that would assure at least a few decent closeups of a very photogenic species.

Juneau the town was anti-climactic, in spite of the fact that it is the Alaska state capital - the same cruise port shops and pubs greeted us.  It was too hot to trudge into the town centre to see the government buildings.  The highlight of the Juneau visit was the lunch of Alaskan King Crab - fresh, sweet and delicious!  And then of course there is the Mendenhall Glacier, an impressive tongue of ice which still sadly reminded us of climate change with its retreat. It was a pleasant return to peaceful Haines harbour at the end of the day.

Spectacular scenery all along the Lynn Canal

Colony of sea lions along the way

Family harmony?

Eagle Glacier along the Lynn Canal

Whale spouting

Fresh, delicious Alaskan king crab lunch was the highlight of the Juneau visit

Mendenhall Glacier

Nugget Falls, before the retreat of the Mendenhall glacier, used to fall directly onto the glacier.  Now it falls into Mendenhall Lake at the foot of the glacier.

The historic Eldred Rock Lighthouse, the last of the ten lighthouses built in Alaska between 1902 and 1906

Haines Harbour at dusk (yes, it was still bright at dusk as it was four days before the summer solstice, the longest day of the year)

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Golden Circle: Haines, continued

After the strenuous hike up to the Mt. Riley summit, we took a break the following day and did a short hike to Battery Point Park for a relaxing picnic by the beach front.  The trail head was a short drive from town and the beach, easily accessible after a 20 minute hike through the rain forest, gave yet more panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.  

Haines is situated in between two inlets, Chilkat and Chilkoot.  Chilkat is renowned for its Bald Eagle Reserve where American bald eagles congregate in the fall.  We visited on our way up the Haines Highway but did not see any eagles close enough to photograph.  The Chilkoot River is renowned for its salmon run and the bears and eagles feeding on the salmon.  But we were too early for that too. So I resigned myself to photographing a few eagles that happened to be chilling around the Chilkoot river.  The beauty of the landscape continues to astound, wherever we look.  Haines is truly amazing.

The view from Battery Point Park

Battery Point panorama

The magical rain forest

Spring flowers at Battery Point

Haines streetscape

The Chilkoot River - lots of salmon at the right time

View along the Chilkoot

Bald eagle watching out for dinner high up on a tree

This old eagle is called the "Harbourmaster" - it has a permanent perch atop the tallest tree overlooking the harbour.

Haines Harbour
Next post:  Fast ferry to Juneau

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Golden Circle: Haines, Alaska

The second leg of the Golden Circle route started in Haines, Alaska.  We took the car ferry from Skagway down the fjord to Haines, enjoying the scenic trip with mountains on both sides.  As you can see below, Haines was stunningly situated, on a slight incline at the foot of the glacial mountains.  It has no cute buildings but I prefer it to Skagway.  We stayed 4 nights in a unique old house (at Fort Seward Condos) with a very welcoming hostess who offered us cocktails on our arrival.  Haines turned out to be one of the most memorable part of this trip - mainly because of the spectacular views at the end of our gruelling hike up Mt. Riley.

The Mt. Riley trail, listed as a 2-4 hour hike, was supposed to be a moderate trail - and it was, for the young and energetic.  As expected, it took us 4 hours just to get to the top and this was with many photo breaks and snack breaks in between.  The tree roots along the greater part of the trail made it somewhat treacherous for older limbs.  But when we got to the top, it was a triumph and a dream fulfilled, for me, at least.  I had always wanted to do a hike that will take me to a place at the top surrounded by mountains.  This was it - when we got to the top of Mt. Riley, a mere 2,000 ft, we got the most breathtaking view in our lives - a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains.   We were all dumbfounded, even the young people who had experienced many climbs in the Rockies and the British Columbia mountains.  There were no words to express ourselves, and I don't think I need any here.  Take a look for yourself...

Car ferry down the fjord to Haines
The approach to Haines
Haines at the foot of the mountains.  Our house was right in front of that patch of green in the middle - the former Fort Seward barracks.
Beautiful spring flowers along the trail


Lush rain forest



After the initial stroll through the magical rain forest, a long series of fairly steep switchbacks took us up to some marshland near the top.  Finally we saw a sign that told us we were just a half mile to summit - what an energy booster!   A boardwalk took us over the marsh to the forest on the other side that led us to the summit.

I was so excited when I saw this mountain top - it gave us the first inkling of what we were going to see

And we're there - surrounded by miles of white peaks!


This is a panorama taken at the top of Mt. Riley going from the Chilkat river on the west side of Haines all the way to the east side with the Chilkoot inlet and its surrounding mountains.  I thought I had died and gone to heaven...

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Golden Circle: White Pass Summit Excursion

We had booked tickets for the White Pass Summit Railroad because it was highly recommended online and by people we talked to.  Having done both the drive down the highway and taken the train back up to the White Pass Summit again the following day, I would say the scenery is nothing compared to what we saw the day before.  But then the train ride is an experience in itself because it is a historic narrow-gauge railroad constructed in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush.  Built amidst challenging climate and geography, it was considered an engineering marvel at the time.  The train climbs 3000 ft in 20 miles with numerous bridges and trestles on the way.  You can see some of these in the photos below.

I was glad I chatted with the station staff who took us to board the train.  She gave us a tip to get on the first car, it will become the last car on the way down.  It seems that only the first two cars were allotted to passengers getting on at the Skagway town stop.  The rest of the cars were all allotted to cruise ship passengers! 

White Pass Summit Railroad

The historic engine, now parked in the yard

Skagway river

Magical morning mists

Train going over trestle bridge

...and into the tunnel

This is near the end of the ride.

This is where the engine at the front was uncoupled from the rest of the train.  There was another engine at the other end and the train headed back to Skagway with that engine.   Starting off in the first car behind the engine, we headed back in the last car, which gave us a great view of the train on the downward trip.

The train bypassed the old wooden bridge that is no long safe to use.

View of the other train going up to Lake Bennet

Back to Skagway after a 3.5 hour ride

Monday, 4 July 2016

Golden Circle: Skagway, Alaska

Skagway is a bit of a come down (literally!) after that magnificent drive down the South Klondike Highway.  But it is one of the first main stops in Alaska for a lot of cruise ship passengers, hence the abundance of tanzanite, Alaskan diamond and gemstone stores.  The town has a wide main drag lined with shops and eateries on both sides - very much a frontier town.  The architecture is quite "cute" as you can see from some of the images below.  

It used to be the gateway to the gold mines via the 45 mile White Pass Trail, also known as the "Dead Horse Trail" for obvious reasons.  Now it is a gateway to the mountains, the new gold - what the tourists came for.  The town, with a population of around 1,000, schedule its life around the White Pass Railroad timetable, almost the raison d'etre for the town itself.  Everything stops when the train is unloading its tourists and letting them loose on the town to spend their dollars.  And the train runs a perfect schedule for the local businesses - bringing back the tourists just in time for lunch and do some shopping before getting on the cruise ship again, just as the afternoon crowd was finishing their lunch and ready to hop on the train. 

I talked to the station master for the train, an empathetic local - she said the town pretty much shuts down after September when the cruise ships stop coming.  We kind of wondered what the locals do during the long winter months.  We had booked tickets for the White Pass Summit Excursion the following day all the while wondering if we should because we would be taking the train up the way we came down and it wasn't cheap - more in the next post.

Picturesque - almost like a town in a model train set!

The main drag

A tame version of frontier town swagger

Cute buildings- mostly curio shops



This historical building, with a facade of 9,000 pieces of driftwood, used to be the home of the Camp Skagway No. 1, a brotherhood of speculators and miners established in 1899.

Sculpture of the gold miners in the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

The haunted Golden North Hotel, one of the oldest hotels in Alaska, built in 1898

A must-stop for people with a sweet tooth - Klondike Doughboy selling made to order Alaskan fry bread - delicious!

Happy customer!

Another must-stop - the Skagway Brewing Company - to sample a range of handcrafted Alaskan beers 

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Golden Circle - the Ultimate Yukon-Alaska road trip

We had one of the most breathtakingly scenic vacations in our lives when we did the ultimate road trip - the Golden Circle Route covering the Yukon and Alaska in 10 days in June.  We were doubly lucky in having clear skies for the duration of the trip (it drizzled the day we left Whitehorse!) and the longest days of the year just before the summer solstice (no worries about it getting dark when hiking or driving!).  It meant also that we won't get a chance to see magnificent sunsets, never mind the northern lights - but one can't have everything.

We picked up our car in Whitehorse and spent most of the day driving the 180 km to Skagway - a distance that could easily have been covered in a couple of hours because of the excellent road conditions.  But no first time visitor could do that - the scenery just wouldn't allow for it.  Other than the designated stops at Emerald Lake and Carcross, we must have stopped more than a dozen times to gasp and gawk at the stunning viewpoints along the way - unfettered magnificence!  It wasn't until late afternoon that we arrived at Skagway where we spent the night - an anticlimax after such an exciting drive.

This post is mainly about the spectacle along that 180 km stretch of highway, the first segment of the Golden Circle.  I'll let the images speak for themselves.

The first stop was just 30 minutes out of Whitehorse - the appropriately named Emerald Lake - stunning!

Another 10 km and we arrived at the Carcross dunes -  the impressive wind-sculpted dunes are actually the remains of an old lake bottom - a fun place to spend a few hours, hiking the dunes, or riding on dune buggies.  Carcross is a very small town, the end of the White Pass Summit Railway.  It consists of a few shops, a cafe selling sandwiches and amazingly, a public library!  We had our picnic lunch on the shores of the beautiful Lake Bennet (below).

This curious little prairie dog made its home just outside the public library.

Nares Lake along the South Klondike HIghway

The South Klondike Highway

This could have been Middle Earth!

A waterfall that came all the way down from the icefields

Finally, Skagway, on the coast, but still surrounded by mountains.  What a day!

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