On Tuesday I spent a pleasant evening along the North Rim of the Black Canyon. It’s hard for me to believe, but it’s been nine years since I’ve been to the North Rim! Last time I was there, in October 2007, I backpacked down S.O.B. Draw and camped on a broad sandy beach along the river right below the Painted Wall, just past where you can see the river in the photo above. I had quite a scare in the middle of the night when a falling rock crashed down on the beach right next to me!
The first sound of rockfall woke me up instantly and in the darkness I immediately knew it was happening somewhere above me. To make matters worse I was camping in a bivy sack and I thrashed around frantically trying to get out of it so I could run closer to some bigger boulders that might help shelter me. Meanwhile I was still hearing the rock crashing closer and closer down towards me, so I gave up trying to shed the bivy bag and just potato-sack hopped towards the boulders. The rock impacted the beach with a dull but loud thud. I spent the rest of the night huddled against the biggest boulder around, too afraid to venture out in the open of the beach again! In the morning I found the rock where it impacted the sand about ten feet from where I’d been sleeping.
On this last trip I was actually planning to spend one night down there again, but as I studied the campsites from the rim and considered how they are positioned right in the gunbarrel of 2,000 feet sheer vertical cliffs, I thought, no, I’ve learned that lesson before!
We are finally back home in Crested Butte, Colorado after our big 3.5-month road trip! On our first day back here yesterday I celebrated our return with a hike through the aspens up near Kebler Pass. I’ve been looking forward to this moment for several weeks now and it was nothing short of awesome, with the aspens at peak goldenness.
The vast fields of aspens up near Kebler are like the redwoods of aspens forests — I know of no other place with such an abundance of pure, large, white aspen boles.
Walking amongst the golden aspens, I’m filled with an almost tangible feeling of the glory of our Earth, like walking through a cathedral of light. Honestly, I think this is the most beautiful thing to be experienced in nature — more beautiful than wildflowers, than waterfalls, than auroras even.
After tromping around in the snow smothered aspens near the top of Guardsman Pass yesterday, we drove down below the snow line towards Midway and found a fantastic trail to hike through vast groves of colorful aspens and brilliant neon red oaks. Pure eye candy!
The beauty of autumn (especially amongst aspens) is sometimes so overwhelming that it fills me with an intangible sense of longing — a desire to grasp the beauty, to hold and own the moment forever. But these moments and feelings slip by like sand through your fingers, and there’s nothing to do but let the beauty stream by and be grateful for the experience, however brief it may be.
Our big summer road trip is almost over and soon I will start posting many new photos and trip reports from our adventures up north! In the meantime, here are some photos from yesterday up near Guardsman Pass at the head of the Big Cottonwood Canyon in the Wasatch Range of Utah. With a fresh snowfall smothering the golden aspens, along with a mystical foggy atmosphere, the photography conditions were just about as dreamy as can be!
The trek to Berg Lake and Mount Robson is one of the most famous backpacking treks in the Canadian Rockies, and one that was high on our backpacking wish list. But when we drove through Jasper on our way north in July, we were disappointed to discover that the backcountry permits there were 100% reserved. Later in September after our trek in the Tombstone Range in the Yukon, we checked again online and were stoked to finally be able to reserve some available permits to backpack to Mount Robson. So after five days straight driving down from Dawson in the Yukon, we found ourselves back in the town of Jasper again, this time ready and able to go backpacking!
At 3954m / 12,972 ft., Mount Robson is the tallest peak in the Canadian Rockies. The mountain is massive, rising abruptly over 10,000 vertical feet from the trailhead, and over 7,500 vertical feet directly above Berg Lake. Robson and some its neighboring peaks are so huge, rugged, and glaciated that they wouldn’t be out of place in the Himalaya! We spent four nights out there below Robson — the first night at Emperor Falls campsite, then three nights at the Berg Lake campsite. From our “basecamp” at Berg Lake we did some awesome day hikes to Hargreaves Lake, Robson Glacier, and Snowbird Pass.
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!
After our one-night backpack trip near Denali in mid-August, we faced a weather forecast of nothing but rain and dreary weather in Alaska for the foreseeable future. Frankly by this point on our trip I was getting pretty tired of this game of driving long distances and dodging rainy weather. So we drove to Anchorage, rented an apartment on Airbnb, and just hung out in the city for about five days. Up until that point we’d been camping for over two months and had slept in hotel rooms for only 3 nights! So it was a kind of vacation from our vacation, a time to simply relax and not think about hiking or camping or photos. The highlight of our stay in Anchorage must have been the Glacier Brewhouse; all throughout the Pacific Northwest and Canada on this trip I’d been enjoying fine craft beers, and this place might have had the best!
5 days of restaurants and breweries (and showers) in Anchorage had us all rested and fattened up for further adventures, so we hit the road again. Alaska still had rainy forecasts, so we finally abandoned all our Alaskan backpacking plans we’d hoped to do this summer, and headed east back towards the Yukon where the weather would hopefully be better. We drove the fantastically mountainous Glennallen Highway through Alaska, then the airy Top of the World Highway to Dawson, and finally made it to the destination we had in mind: Tombstone Territorial Park in the northern Yukon almost near the Arctic Circle. The only problem? A forecast of rain there too! We really wanted to backpack in the Tombstones in decent weather, so we figured we’d just kill some time and hang around there for about a week just camping out, doing day hikes, and generally just relaxing some more.
The official Tombstone campground was full but we found a great spot to basecamp for the week at an empty highway-maintainence lot along the Dempster Highway right next to the North Klondike River. Like most random camping we did this summer, the random unofficial spots almost always turn out to be better than any campground! It was also a fitting place to sip on Yukon Gold beer while reading John McPhee’s Coming Into The Country, which is in large part about the region of Alaska we had just traveled through. It’s all about people living off the land in the wilds of Alaska, and the changing social and political dynamics of the 1970’s that spelled the demise of that way of life. I also enjoyed Jack London’s Burning Daylight, a novel about a miner who struck it rich in the Klondike and founded Dawson City.
During one of the first days there we bushwhacked directly from our camp spot up one of the random big mountains above the highway. I think it’s called Fold Mountain, and we made it to a high ridge with a nice view overlooking some creatively-named lakes called “Alpine Lakes”.
On another day we were hanging out at the famous Tombstone Mountain Viewpoint (where I took the top photo above) along the Dempster Highway when a lady came over and told us she spotted a bear across the valley. We watched the grizzly for a while as it wandered around on the tundra hoovering up berries.
Between rain squalls when it was windy enough, I had a blast flying my kite around. When it’s really windy I hook up a 100-foot streamer tail which makes it even more fun to fly — the tail tracks the path of the kite, tracing all its turns and loops through the sky. Our fellow parking lot campers there were from Switzerland and have been traveling the globe in that van for something like 2-3 years so far — all through Europe and Asia, now North America and eventually South America. I’m not sure if I’ve got the vagabond stamina to travel for that long; my limit is about 2-3 months, any longer than that and I usually start dreaming of getting back home to Colorado!
Though we kept ourselves relatively busy for the first half of the week, during the last few days of the week we spent much of the time sitting in the back of the truck watching it rain. And rain. And rain. I was a little jealous of the van with the pop top. These are the kind of days when there’s nothing to do but sleep in as long as you possibly can, then read for as long as you can, try not to start drinking beer too early, hope the rain stops long enough to eventually cook dinner, and just basically vegetate until it gets dark and you go to bed again.
But, finally, the weather forecast showed signs of improvement and we scored permits for a 7-day trek in the Tombstone Mountains! That trip report is coming up next…
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!