Kluane National Park
Yukon, Canada
Atlin, British Columbia  (1996 and 1997)

Summer 1996...I was back from my first year of college and my first year away from Juneau.  Larry invited me to join him on a trip to Canada where he was hoping to spend a few days hiking in Kluane National Park and the rest of his vacation looking around Whitehorse and Dawson.  We left in early August, (I think), and spent a night in Whitehorse before driving on to Kluane.  The countryside was gorgeous, as it always is.  After being in Juneau, the sheer distance to the horizon and the dry, open woodlands are exceedingly welcome, as is the sunshine.  When we arrived in Kluane, we checked in with the rangers and they provided us with a map, directions, and bear canisters.  Kluane is known for its population of brown bears and a woman was killed the week before we arrived somewhere in the area of where we were going, so we were sure to be careful.

We wound up spending three days on the trail, camping on a dry area that seemed to be the windiest place around.  I wasn't in particularly good shape and the trail left both of us exhausted in the end, (I remember that we seemed to climb up and down a lot for such a flat valley).  We chose to hike the West Slims River Trail which follows the shore of the shallow, silty river to a glacier and its neighboring mountain.  We hiked to within sight of the mountain but decided in the end not to climb it, though I'm sure it would have provided an unrivaled view of the valley.  All in all the scenary was extraordinary everywhere.  Because my memory fails me regarding details of the trip, I've included excerpts from my journal which give a flavor for the trail:

"Leaving shortly after two, we hiked 5.8 km to Bullion Creek, forded it and got our boots wet on top of Larry's flannel blue shirt swimming away with our only film... we stopped to have a bag of gorp and accosted a couple on their way down who took $10 for a bottle of wine in exchange for a role of 36 prints and 36 slides....Then we made our way to the Slims River (west side) and walked past the dunes and through the wetlands and along the shore as the hours passed and the scenery became more spectacular.  The river, much like the Taku in appearance, harbored less shore space and more drastic, rocky, and colorful mountains than the ones I am familiar with.  The wind blowing down reminded me of the beginning of the world--cool, silty, windy, barren, wild, clean--stark.  We passed 9.3 [km] and 12.9 and, finding a 15.8 post where we thought there must be a 17 km marking, pressed on as long as we could until we settled for an area of small sand dunes and scrub growth and put our packs down in exhaustion some 10 or 11 miles up the valley.  We set up tent and ate curry lentil potatoes at 8:45, lit a fire just to warm up a bit and spent a wakeful night w/o decent pillow substitutes with our heads pointed down and aching.

"Nevertheless, we awoke and attempted the last 12 km to Observation Mt., a task we gladly failed to accomplish.  We made it across the rocky debris and up and down those long, gruesome cliffs and hills to the primitive camp from which we [continued on and] spent an eternity walking and stumbling over the rocky fan to Canada Creek until we breaked short of the bridge and sat and ate [near the foot of the mountain]....I gladly relinquished the (lighter) pack on the way back and we barely returned to camp around 5:00 to spend the evening with delicious Mexican tostadas and raspberry crumble [simple carbohydrates for fast energy, the package said, as if that was something special!], a fire, and slightly warmer conditions.  We slept better with nicer piles of clothes for pillows and our heads upright, but this time the wind did not die down but howled all night mercilessly, blowing gusts of sand into our tent that covered our faces and flapped the sides incessantly.

"[Omitting some complaining about feet and sore legs].  The valley was magnificent in its almost pristine, prehistoric quality...the dry groundcover, pine and spruce forests, (almost columnar in shape), harbored flocks of yellow-rumped warblers which we watched on the second day; the banks of the fan released a black billed magpie--a beautiful and striking bird, to us...I saw a Wilson's [warbler] and several other songbirds, plus a duck, a least sandpiper, (I think), and hawks which I cannot identify."  8/14/96 

Three days of hiking were plenty for us at the time and we were grateful for the shower and food in Whitehorse.  This trip inspired us to plan a trek in the Himalayas which took place two years later.  I talked Larry into going for a half-day horseback ride outside of Whitehorse, which turned out to be an adventure in itself.  We left around ten in the morning, expecting to be back within four hours.  Our guide was relatively new, but seemed pleasant and competent.   We rode in the company of a German party who split off from us after we worked our way up into the high plateauish country.  We reveled in the sweep of the land and the view of the distant mountains and wandered over toward the edge of the plateau that overlooked a lovely blue lake.  Following a trail, we descended most of the way down the steep mountainside, intending to loop our way back home.  As we leveled off and headed toward camp, the aspens and other bushes started to get thicker and thicker around us until they were scraping and brushing annoyingly as we rode. Eventually our guide

admitted that the trail he thought we were following had disappeared.  In the hopes of picking it up again we kept riding and riding and riding until the terrain got so steep that we had to dismount and lead the horses.   Crisscrossing back and forth across the mountain, the afternoon wore on until it was well past two and our half day ride long completed.  We finally had to rest the tired and sweating horses and let them feed a little.  Our only solution was to try to find our original trail which we'd left somewhere behind us; we led our horses down the mountain, (getting our toes trod on), and eventually worked our way through the thick brush and onto the path.  Larry and our guide were relieved, but I was a little disappointed, having thoroughly enjoyed the adventure.  We arrived at camp at about six, having turned our four hour ride into an eight hour ride.  Much to our surprise, no one was worried about us, having assumed that we were enjoying ourselves so much that we simply extended our tour.  To our astonishment, the owner grudgingly charged us for only the half day tour as though she were doing us a favor!  We wondered about the fate of our guide.

By this time, we decided that a drive to Dawson would take too long to spend any quality time there, so we decided to drive to Atlin instead.  A tiny little town, Atlin was an offshoot destination of the great Klondike Gold Rush and sits on the shores of beautiful Atlin Lake, part of inland Tlingit territory.  It is also one of the headwaters of the Taku River and my dad used to fly my family there from the lodge, so I have fond memories of eating strawberry rhubarb pie at a local cafe.  Larry and I spent a few lovely, relaxing days there, sleeping in a little cabin by the beach and wandering around the town enjoying the quiet atmosphere, the mountains, and exploring the nearby arts camp.  The scenery around Atlin is spectacular, with dramatic light shows over the wide valleys, mountain ranges, and lake.  Wild roses were blooming and the quaking aspens quivered their strange, shimmering dance along the roadsides. 

We were so charmed with Atlin that we returned in late July the following summer.  On that trip, we rented another little cabin, walked around, painted, and hiked Monarch Mountain.  Two of the wild roses that I dug up on that trip survive in my garden in Juneau.

On Monarch Mountain, overlooking Atlin Lake

Old buildings around Atlin

On Monarch Mountain

Dancing trees

Chilkoot Trail
Bhutan (Himalayas) Trek