Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Kluane National Park and Reserve

We really did not want to leave Dawson; however, the time had come to move on. We had originally planned to go north on the Dempster Highway up to Tombstone. However, it had been cool and wet, and the forecast for the following week was more cold, wet weather, so we decided to go south and west to Kluane National Park. This meant driving back down the Klondike Loop to Whitehorse, and going west on the Alaska Highway.
So we headed south.

It started out sunny- of course because we were leaving! We drove right to Twin Lakes, stopping only at Five Fingers Rapids. 

These are amazing. The tall fingers of basalt stone rise up out of the rapids, making this a dangerous section of the river to navigate for those on their way to the gold fields. The safest passage is the near, or south side, of the rocks. A chain was anchored to the shore above and below the rapids allowing the sternwheelers to be winched against the swift current. We discovered that there is a trail to the river, but we did not have the hour to walk it.

Trail to the rapids
We were able to get the same site at Twin Lakes! John ended up diagonally across the site, but at 5:30pm, there were only 3 of us in the whole park, so we were not too concerned.

We were there early enough to read by the lake

11:01 pm from the campfire

However, by 9, it was a different story. The park was full, and one car had driven around twice. On his 3rd pass, he stopped and asked if we were staying longer than one night. Having been assured that we weren’t, he put his kayak trailer in the other side to reserve it for the next day. We ended up having a long chat with them that evening, 

12 midnight - view to the south
and the next morning.

The next morning, another sunny day, we drove to Whitehorse. Since it had been dry, the sections under construction were really dusty!

The truck bed, truck and trailer were a mess after this drive.

We had been trying the cinnamon buns at several places as they had been recommended. So Braeburn Lodge was a necessary stop. It was rather disappointing- not as much cinnamon and quite doughy. But it was huge- easily the size of 3 others. 

We stopped at the site of the 1998 Fox Lake Burn

Fox Lake 

and walked the interpretive trail through the burn to the lake. The devastation from these huge forest fires is heartbreaking. 

Some underbrush, but no trees
Back to stay at Hi Country RV Park in Whitehorse.
Another lovely pull-through site 
Cristina and Paul were having a tire fixed, so we unhitched and went to see them for a short visit before they began their trek to the NWT.

Second time in Whitehorse, but a shorter visit, meant laundry was top priority. We stopped in at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre first. It is a beautiful modern building on the shore of the Yukon River.

We had a delightful guide who explained history and traditions, and showed us some examples of the local culture and arts, 

This illustrates the 2 Divisions of First Nations peoples, the Crow and The Wolf 

and some of the rooms, 

Our guide, in the Reception Room, a huge Hall

The Crow

A Quilt Wall Hanging

including the Long House, which was set up for a wedding, and a large hall with a beautiful dugout canoe in it. The Kwanlin Dun originally lived where the city is now, but were gradually moved up and then away from the river as the city grew. This stunning Conference and Cultural Centre celebrates their way of life and is a gathering place for people of all cultures.

The next day we took a drive through Miles Canyon. Here the river forms a deep narrow channel,

Miles Canyon steep walls
The explanation for the walls of the Canyon

Miles Canyon

followed by the Whitehorse rapids, making it an imposing challenge for miners on their way down the river to the gold fields.  When the news of the big Klondike gold strike reached the outside world in 1896, the rush was on! Thousands poured through Skagway in Alaska en route to the goldfields around Dawson City. Most crossed passes, mainly the Chilkoot Pass, and built rafts at Lake Bennett. From there they could float to Dawson City. 7,000 were on the lake within 48 hours.. Except they had to get past Miles Canyon and the rapids.  Within a few days of the arrival of thousands of boats, over 150 were lost and 10 people drowned. Sam Steele of the NWMP directed that a boat could only use the river with an experienced pilot. Many people decided to portage. Norman Macaulay and John Hepburn saw an opportunity and each built a tramway, on either side of the river, horse drawn carts on wooden rails to move boats, rafts and supplies around the canyon and rapids

The Tramways

When the Close brothers from England, thought they could make a fortune with a railway from Skagway to Dawson, they bought out the tramways in 1899, set up a townsite in Whitehorse and celebrated the completion of their railway in July 1900. 

We got out to walk along the paths by the gorge,

The trails along the gorge

we heard cheering and clapping. The annual Trail Marathon was being run, and this was the beginning of the last leg for the 40 relay teams, and a check point for the full marathoners.

The hill down to the Checkpoint

Coming in...

Cheering the runners as they take off up the hill towards the Finish

We watched for a while – the check-ins and exchanges. Then we hiked for a bit, before driving to the Fish Ladder. 

On the way, we saw one house on the way where the occupants were having fun with bicycle wheels. Amazing eh!

 All bicycle wheels...They are beginning to build a smaller one too

This is an interesting fish ladder.

The view from the top of the walkway to the ladder

The dam and falls

The fish were a community project

They were so successful, the school children were asked to decorate more fish

For thousands of years, salmon have travelled up the Yukon River to spawn in its many tributaries, including in the headwaters near Whitehorse.

A First Nations Fish Trap

The remnants of a First Nations fish basket  

By the mid 1950’s, the Alaska Highway and the Klondike were complete, linking many communities, the sternwheelers which operated from Dawson City to Whitehorse had become obsolete, and the capital had been moved from Dawson to Whitehorse. Thus Whitehorse had grown rapidly. The Whitehorse Rapids Hydroelectric Facility was built to meet the growing electricity demand.  The Whitehorse Rapids Fishway was built to help the ancient migration by allowing passage of the salmon around the dam.

The Fishway, with the Hydro-electric plant in the background

Incidently, the building of the dam also tamed the Whitehorse rapids, created Schwatka Lake, and raised the level of the water in Miles Canyon.
At the end of the parking lot, we discovered another check-point for the marathon, as they came out of the mountain towards the city and the finish.

She is almost finished, 1 km to go!

We then decided to drive up to the top of Grey Mountain.

View across the Yukon River of Grey Mountain

We couldn’t get a good look at Whitehorse because the trees had grown up at every viewpoint. But it was quite a drive.

Coming back down Grey Mountain

We decide to drive back into Whitehorse and get a burrito at the Rotary Peace Park at the north end of downtown by the river.

On to Kluane National Park and Reserve, via Alaska Highway,

west to Haines Junction. At Mile 962 [km1548] at Canyon Creek, during the construction of the Alaska Highway, an old bridge was dismantled and a new one, described as the most ambitious built by the US Army 18th Engineers, was hand-built in 18 days. 

View of the bridge on the highway

It is not fit for cars or trucks, but safe to walk on

Kluane, a spectacular natural area, features Canada’s highest peak, Mount Logan, and the largest icefields outside of the polar cap. Kluane National Park and Reserve, covering 21,980 square km, [roughly the size of New Jersey] is the Yukon’s component of the largest internationally protected area in the world and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These parklands are the traditional territories of the Southern Tuchone people, the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations and the Kluane First Nation. We drove from domes,

The Alaska Highway West
treed mountains 

Higher mountains on both sides

to rugged peaks, and finally to rugged peaks on both sides.

High rugged mountains in the distance
Haines Junction is a village on the edge of Kluane National Park and Reserve. We stopped at the Visitor Centre which is in a beautiful building shared with the Da Ku Cultural Centre, celebrating the culture and traditions of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations people.

This village is at the junction of the highway south to Haines Alaska, and the Alaska Highway west to Tok, Alaska.

We decided to go to the national park campground on Kathleen Lake,

On the drive down, we had just seen a lynx run across the road.

on the road to Haines Alaska, for the first couple of days.

John had to make sure our bear spray worked!

The campground is very pretty, carved out of the forest, but $15.70 per night (cash only)! Who comes up with these numbers!!  We drove down to Kathleen Lake, with mountains 7-8000 ft high, right down to the water.

King's Throne Mountain

It was a perfect day – warm, sunny and no haze. We walked along the right side of the lake along the boardwalk

Boardwalk along the lake's edge

The fireweed are just beginning to go to seed here

and pebbly shore, and discovered two Red Chairs.

It has become a game to look for the red chairs!

The lake was calm and the view incredible.

Amazing clear view.

We could see the Weisshorn – a Matterhorn-type Mountain peak, 12,000 ft high- of Kluane 100 km away.

Weisshorn 100km away

We talked to a man who was kayaking and lived in the area, who suggested we walk along the other shore. So, we went back and walked along the left side of the lake

The pebble beach 

A view of Mount Kennedy and Mount Hubbard

and were able to see even higher magnificent, snow covered mountains, Mount Kennedy and Mount Hubbard. It was a stunning sight!

On the road again, back through Haines Junction to Kluane Lake, the largest lake in the Yukon. We saw some evidence of the destruction of the spruce beetle.

Many of the trees are brown from the spruce beetle

There was still lots of Fireweed with seed pods quite red,

Fireweed seed pods

before they explode much like dandelions.  Magnificent mountains rose from the valley as we neared Kluane Lake.

The mountains were magnificent as we drove toward the lake

The mountains  ring the lake and sweep right into the deep blue water.

The moods of Kluane

The stunning untamed wilderness takes your breath away. When we reached the campground, it was a debate as to whether we would park in the open with the water behind us, or park in a more private section. Privacy won, as we chose a large pull through in the forest.

... and of course, our nightly fire with free wood!

It turns out that the site of this park was a poor choice- it is in prime grizzly habitat- a huge soapberry patch, near a former local dump and with a large patch of locoweed [ the flowers are a favourite of the bears in the spring] right where the playground was located. In May the Park had to be evacuated because the grizzlies were mating! However, of course, we didn’t see any grizzlies.

The next day was grey and cloudy, so we drove to Destruction Bay and Burwash Landing. It is really an area of mountain wilderness.

rain and more rain...

There are no homes of any kind between “towns”.  It is a desolate, but beautiful drive.  Destruction Bay was named when the construction camp was destroyed by a severe windstorm while the Alaska Highway was being built in 1942. It was one of the rest stops and with access to the superb fishing in Kluane Lake, still a busy rest stop.

Burwash Landing was established as a Jaquot trading post in 1904 as a result of a gold strike on the Fourth of July Creek. It was the summer gathering place of the Southern Tutchone people. When the highway was built, it was made the administrative centre for the Kluane area.

Burwash Landing Resort, unfortunately closed now

Our Lady of Holy Rosary Mission built in 1944, still in use today.

This is also the site of the first school in the Yukon administered by a First Nations group, and the site of the Kluane Museum of Natural History

The Museum

Reminder of the Burwash Landing fire started by a resident burning trash on a very windy day

with a beautiful wildlife exhibit and displays of First Nations clothing and weapons. The gift shop has many locally made crafts, and outside is the World’s Largest Gold Pan with a mural by Roman Catholic missionary Fred 
Largest Gold Pan

On the way back we drove to the ghost town of Silver City.

The next day dawned clear, so we decided to spend our last day in Kluane climbing Sheep Mountain [Tachal Dhal]. We took the Sheep Creek Trail which leaves from just behind the Visitor Centre. 

An Artist put this display in an old cabin just beside the Visitor Centre

An old cabin at the beginning of the drive to the trail

Kluane's Gold Rush

From the Parking lot is a short level trail, then it is a steady uphill climb for 5km on a wide dirt trail,

A steady uphill climb

along the side of Sheep Mountain and above Sheep Creek. It was a beautiful climb through trees with views of Sims River Valley
View of the valley from Sheep Mountain
and the Kashawulsh Glacier.

We had a great view of the glacier

It was time to leave Kluane as our days in the Yukon were dwindling. We had one more area to see- so back to Whitehorse, and down to Carcross and Atlin before taking the Cassiar Highway south.

No comments:

Post a Comment