In mid-August after looking at rainy forecasts in Alaska for weeks, there was finally a one-day window of sun in the weather forecast. We high-tailed it towards Denali and went on a quick one-night backpack trip up Kesugi Ridge, in Denali State Park just across the valley from Denali National Park. With clear weather the view of Denali from Kesugi Ridge is supposedly amazing; the question was, would the weather forecast pan out and the clouds clear enough for us to see the big peak?
After hiking up King’s Throne near Kathleen Lake, we were starting to get excited about the possibility of doing a backpacking trip in Kluane National Park. (Pronounced: “clue on ee”). Plus, we still had a pretty good weather forecast in the Haines Junction and Kluane area of southwest Yukon, while all of Alaska still looked rainy. So we headed out for a three night trek along the west side of Slim’s River to the Kaskawush Glacier and back. With all the grizzly tracks, river crossings, the glacial valley, desolate mountains, and trailless miles, this trek definitely felt quite wild. And although a week prior we had never even heard of Kluane National Park, our memorable trek here ended up being one of the highlights of our summer!
When we drove through Haines Junction in the southern Yukon on our way to Haines, Alaska, we couldn’t help but notice the big mountain range rising above the highway. I didn’t think much about it on the way in, but when we left Haines I thought maybe we should check those mountains out since the weather forecast was looking better over that way. What I didn’t even realize at first is that those mountains are part of Kluane National Park! I’d never even heard of that park, but it turned out to be a highlight of our trip… and we almost just drove right by without realizing it.
We spent a night at the Kathleen Lake campground, then the next day hiked up to the summit of the King’s Throne mountain, which provided an awesome view over the turquoise waters of Kathleen Lake all the way back to the huge glaciated peaks near Mount Logan. The wind was howling like a freight train up there and got even stronger as we descended the peak. Combined with the slippery steep pebble-strewn trail, it was quite a struggle to get back down!
Four months or so after my week of heli-riding in Haines last winter, in early August I found myself back in Haines! I hadn’t planned to return here on this trip, but with a crappy weather forecast everywhere else in Alaska besides Haines, we figured it’d be a good place to hang out for a few days and wait out the rain. It was pretty cool to see these mountains again, though I must say I prefer them smothered in snow!
So, I have a funny story from our stay at Chilkoot Lake campground. On one morning we were sitting there at our campsite which was on a short but steep hill above Chilkoot Lake — pretty much the same place in the pic above. I hear lots of splashing down in the water and think: Uh, what’s that? I stand up and peek over the edge of the hill, and I see three big brown animals, one of which is heading up the hill right towards me. A bear, of course! I shout to Claudia and gather up my camera and the poundcake we were having for breakfast and stuff it in the back of our truck as quickly as possible. While I’m doing this, the grizzly (probably an adolescent, medium sized) has walked right past our abandoned camp chairs, about 20 or 30 feet from us, looking at me as if to say “What treats have YOU got for me?”. With the cake put away in the truck, I guess I looked like too much of a hassle for the bear, and it moseyed out of our campsite to check out more of the campground.
As the bear wandered further through the campground, a women started screaming at the top of her lungs: “BEAR! BEAR! BEAR! BEAR!”. Meanwhile, the bears are overturning the campground host’s kayaks until he managed to shoo them off. The woman’s still screaming “BEAR! BEAR! BEAR!” and the camp host guy told me later he was thinking, “Ok, lady, we got it. There’s a bear, we know.”
With the campground situated right on the lake between the Chilkoot River and a salmon spawning creek, these bear encounters are fairly common. Our little brush with that bear was a great reminder of just how important it is to keep a clean and tidy campsite! It doesn’t matter if you’re there to watch, if you have a big spread of food laid out, the bear’s just going to scare you off and help himself!
Anyhow, after about four days in Haines it started raining there too so we thought we’d drive over the border back into the Yukon and see if we could catch some decent weather there.
After bailing from Jasper and the Canadian Rockies, three days of driving west and north through British Columbia brought us to the southeast tip of Alaska and the town of Hyder. At this point in the trip we hadn’t really done any planning or research beforehand, so didn’t really know what to expect as we rolled into Stewart and Hyder, two towns straddling the border of BC and Alaska. If driving through the nearly-vertical, glacier-clad gorge to get here wasn’t spectacular enough, we got to see some grizzlies feeding on spawning salmon at Fish Creek right out of town!
Fish Creek was plump full of spawning chum salmon; you could hear their splashing before you could even see the river. There’s an elevated wooden observation path where you can walk above next to the river and watch as grizzlies occasionally come by to snack on salmon. I’m not really a wildlife photographer but it sure was fun watching the bear!
Interestingly, grizzlies usually just eat the skin and eggs of the salmon, leaving the rest of the fish to rot or be eaten by other animals. Sometimes the skinned salmon is still flopping around as the grizzly walks off with its skin!
After watching the bears for a while we continued driving up the road from Hyder. A long winding dirt mining road took us all the way along and above the giant Salmon Glacier, the fifth largest glacier in Canada.
We drove down from the Salmon Glacier and stopped again at Fish Creek for one last look at the grizzlies, then returned to the Canadian side of the border, camped at a nearby little lake, and hoped that the grizzlies wouldn’t feed on us that night!
Towards the end of July after our fantastic trek in the Height of the Rockies Provincial Park we ventured on to Banff, in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. The Canadian Rockies are undoubtedly some of the most impressive mountains on the planet, like a mix of the rugged spires of the Dolomites and the wilds of Alaska or Montana. As you drive down the highways it’s just hit after hit, one awesome mountain after another. We had hopes to do some backpacking treks in Banff and Jasper National Parks, but unfortunately this proved to be nearly impossible due to a stifling new 100% backcountry reservation policy now in effect in those parks (read my rant about that at the link below). So, with no option to do any of the treks we wanted to do, we spent our time doing some day hikes instead before moving on.
In July we drove over the border into British Columbia, Canada and headed east towards the Height of the Rockies Provincial Park in eastern BC. The trek I had in mind is a somewhat obscure one involving several hours of driving along dirt forestry roads to access a seldom traveled trail which eventually fades into a convoluted off-trail routefinding adventure, finally arriving at a spectacular series of high lakes in a rugged glaciated basin.
Just as an update, a week ago we went on a 5-day backpack trip in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Washington — a big loop to Spectacle and Spade Lakes. After that we had hopes for a sunny weather forecast and another trek in Washington, but alas the weather deteriorated and the forecast for the next week was rain, rain, rain. Also if we wanted to stick to our loose schedule for the summer, the mid-July date said it was time to move on. So although there’s SO much more I had wanted to do in Washington, we hit the road again and are now in the Canadian Rockies! We’re in Fernie at the moment and plan to work our way north through the range for the next 3 weeks or so, of course doing lots of backpacking and hiking along the way.
As we continue traveling and backpacking on our big summer road trip, I’ve realized that it’s unfeasible to keep this blog up to date with my photos and trip reports. So, unfortunately, just as we’re starting to get into the more exciting backpacking trips, the photos and reports will have to wait until autumn when we’re back… or perhaps until some long rainy down days… but hopefully that won’t happen too often!
Now that I’m back home from our summer road trip I’m finally able to process my photos properly on my big monitor, so in the coming days and weeks I’ll be posting photos and trip reports from all our adventures!
This one is from July, on Sauk Mountain, a small hike with a big view over the Sauk River valley in western Washington state. I hiked up here in the fog with little hope for light, but right at sunset the clouds parted enough to let some through! The next day we drove over the spectacular North Cascades highway then up into Canada. I felt bad leaving Washington since there’s so much more hiking and backpacking I want to do in the Cascades, but with a weather forecast of just more and more rain, we knew we needed to keep moving on. I guess I’ll just have to return someday!
In mid July after having done two backpack trips on the Olympic Peninsula, we were excited to do some more in the Cascades; however, most of the treks we had researched in the central and northern Cascades were still snowbound on the higher passes and lakes. We studied the maps looking for a trek we could do under 5,000 feet elevation and concluded that the Alpine Lakes Wilderness fit the bill. This area boasts many interesting lakes and rugged peaks, and is generally lower elevation than the more northerly ranges. Plus, I’d never visited here before and was eager to check it out!
I realized that we could probably connect two intriguing lakes with one long triangular loop circuit: Spectacle and Spade Lakes. We planned on five days: one day hiking up along the Cooper River to Spectacle Lake, a rest day there, a long day over Waptus Pass to Spade Lake, another rest day there, and a final long haul out the Waptus River back to where we started at the Salmon La Sac trailhead.
We started by dropping our packs off at the Cooper Lake trailhead, driving back to Salmon La Sac to park the truck, and hitchhiking back up to Cooper Lake to save a few miles. The hike to Spectacle turned out to be more challenging than we expected; after Pete’s Lake the trail seems to be in complete neglect, passing through a burned forest with seemingly hundreds of downed trees to negotiate. The trail was obviously well engineered at some point in history, but now appears to be non-maintained, perhaps on purpose? We wondered if the powers that be decided that Spectacle Lake had grown too popular, and that they’d let the trail be reclaimed by nature for only determined hikers to tackle. Or maybe it’s just too much of an uphill battle (no pun intended) to clear out all the fallen burnt trees. Anyhow, after much unexpected frustration crawling over logs and bashing through wet foliage we finally stumbled over the ridge into the Spectacle Lake basin late in the evening, grateful that we planned a whole day to relax and enjoy the scenery.
We lucked out and had beautiful sunny weather during our rest day at Spectacle, wandering around the lake shore and enjoying several dives into the frigid water.
Day 3 turned out to be a tedious 11-hour march: back down to Pete’s Lake, up and over Waptus Pass, down to Waptus Lake, and up to Spade Lake. We were both feeling pushed almost to our limits by the time we finally dropped our packs and set up our tent.
Spade Lake seems to be a fairly seldom visited lake, despite the close proximity to the hordes in Seattle — likely because it’s such a trudge to get there no matter which way you go. The lake is ringed with huge granite slabs, with snow-clad Mount Daniel rising beyond. Campsites here are few and far between; we managed to find one single spot flat enough to place the tent on, using sticks and rocks as anchors. But what a view!
Again we lucked out with a bluebird sunny day for our rest day at Spade Lake! In the evening we hiked up a nearby ridge to get a fantastic view of the ultra-rugged Bear’s Breast Mountain.
Finally on day 5 we endured the long haul all the way from Spade out along the Waptus River back to our truck at Salmon La Sac. Never before have I experienced a backpacking trip with such a dicotomy of grueling, boring hiking and beautiful relaxation. 3 days of tedium for 2 days of bliss. Was it worth it? Of course! Would I do it again? Ummm, maybe not!