The Tombstone Range is a small but spiky mountain range located in the northern Yukon in Canada, almost up by the Arctic Circle. I have been dreaming of visiting and photographing these remote mountains since I first saw some photos of them almost 20 years ago. Because I’ve wanted to see these peaks for so long, and because this was the furthest point north we’d be traveling on our road trip, this trek would be both figuratively and literally the climax of our summer’s travels!
As I wrote about previously, rainy weather forced us to hang out for almost a week along the Klondike before we had decent enough weather for backpacking. But the wait was totally worth it; we enjoyed seven days of great weather, amazing sunsets, and lots of aurora activity during our trek!
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!
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.
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.
Mount Olympus is the king of the Olympus Peninsula in Washington; laden with thick glaciers, the 7,980 foot peak soars above the surrounding rainforest valleys. Some of the finest views to be had of this remote mountain are from the High Divide trail which follows a high ridge opposite the Hoh River valley — that is, when the notorious Olympic Peninsula rain stops long enough to see it. In early July right after our Olympic coast trek we spent 4 days backpacking a loop route from the Sol Duc valley via the High Divide in Olympus National Park, hoping to catch a view of Olympus.
At the end of June we did a 4-day backpacking trek up the wild coast of the Olympic Peninsula from Rialto Beach to Sand Point, in Olympic National Park. This was a fairly demanding hike with many rugged and rocky headlands that could only be passed at low tide, along with the ever present coastal fog and rain. The tough hiking and weather was rewarded with secluded wilderness beaches, picturesque sea stacks, tidepools, and the company of seals and bald eagles.
Lately I’ve been itching for a camping adventure but have been too busy to do anything too ambitious or far away. Since we live across the street from Mt. Crested Butte, yesterday I figured what the hell, I might as well just skin up the ski slopes and camp up there for a night! It wasn’t exactly a wilderness experience (I could actually see our condo down below), but it was still nice to spend a quiet evening under the moonlight gazing at the mountains.
At the end of October after our time around the Green River and Capitol Reef, we headed down past the north end of Lake Powell and over to Dark Canyon, where we spent two nights backpacking and hiking up and down the canyon. It’s been over 16 years since I’ve visited this canyon and it’s as spectacular as I remember, kind of like a mini Grand Canyon. Here’s a few of my favorite photos from the trip.
Forming a natural border between Montenegro and Albania is a jagged spine of mountains called the Prokletije in Montenegran and the Bjeshkët e Namuna in Albanian. Both names translate to “cursed mountains”, likely due to their foreboding vertical spires, deep winter snows, and inhospitable ruggedness. These are the biggest and burliest mountains in the Balkans, but despite their grandeur remain relatively unknown and surprisingly undeveloped. In late July we spent 5 days trekking a loop route through the heart of the range, mostly camping and sometimes staying in Albanian villages along the route.
After jumping through a series of bureaucratic hoops at the police station in the nearby town of Plav in order to document our proposed border crossing into Albania, we started hiking from the village of Vusanje, near the town of Gusinje in a far southern corner of Montenegro.
The “cursed mountains” lived up to their name in one respect, which was the oftentimes oppressive heat during the day. This big cave entrance provided a brief respite, with a chilly breeze blowing out from its depths. During the hike up here we met a Serbian caver who has explored this cave numerous times in the past and was back again with a group of friends to explore and chart even further.
For our first night we camped up on Qafa e Prosllopit, a high pass right at the border between Montenegro and Albania. After an evening spent huddling in the tent with lightning and thunder booming around, my inner masochist convinced us to wake up in the middle of the night to hike up Zla Kolata before sunrise.
At 2534 m, Zla Kolata (aka Kollata e Keqe) is technically the tallest mountain in Montenegro; 12 meters taller than Bobotov Kuk, which is generally considered to be Montenegro’s tallest peak. Why does Bobotov get all the love, when it’s not even the highest? First of all, Bobotov Kuk is indeed the tallest Montenegrin peak that is completely within Montenegro territory; Zla Kolata is right on the border so shares its summit with Albania. But once we hiked up Zla Kolata, I realized perhaps the real unspoken reason why Zla Kolata gets no fame: while Bobotov Kuk is a beautiful, striking peak and the crown jewel of the beloved Durmitor National Park, Zla Kolata is actually just a fairly nondescript summit overshadowed by a plethora taller and more spectacular neighboring mountains just over the border in Albania. So it just wouldn’t be fitting for Montenegrins to pride themselves on such an unremarkable “bump” surrounded by taller giants!
Despite the obscurity of Zla Kolata itself, it’s part of a high plateau that offers incredible views of the surrounding mountains as well as a jaw-dropping overlook into the 1600+ meter (5,000+ feet) deep Valbona valley, where we would be hiking down to later this day. Continue reading “The Cursed Mountains”→