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Journey to Northern BC, Yukon and Alaska. part 2




Sun. Aug. 13

It started raining that night so in the morning we quickly packed up and headed south to Haines, Alaska. Before reaching Haines we drove along the Chilkat River's Eagle Preserve. It was still early in the season but we could already see eagles sprinkled around the river. The majority were bald eagles, but we saw several golden eagles as well. We had hoped to spot a bear fishing for salmon but didn't see any. In Haines we took a ferry to Juneau, Alaska as foot passengers; we left our car at the ferry terminal as there was no more place for it on the boat.

It was a fast ferry to Juneau (2 hours). We had hoped to see some glaciers along the way but it was raining and the clouds were very, very low so we could hardly see over the mountains. We had a problem to resolve - the ferry terminal in Juneau is 16 miles (26km) from downtown and there is no bus connecting the two. Knowing how to speak French came in handy as we befriended a couple of tourists from Lyon, France who kindly drove us downtown (they even went out of their way to drive us right to the hostel). We fell in love with that hostel right away: it is very cozy, well-equipped, quiet at night, and its residents were very friendly. The hostel is very cheap ($10US/night) but one has to do a little chore every night (vacuum, throw garbage away etc.) and there is a lock-out period from 9am-5pm every day. This lock-out period was a bit of a problem for us on our first day since we arrived at 2pm. We went hiking but we had to carry all of our luggage with us. Luckily, there wasn't too much of it. That afternoon we hiked the ``Perseverance'' trail which starts right next to the hostel. It is an easy 10km hike along the gushing waters of a mountain river. It was raining while we were hiking but it was still nice as we saw lots of waterfalls along the way. The vegetation here was similar to that of Vancouver, B.C.

Originally we had planned to return to Haines the next morning but, disappointed that we hadn't seen any glaciers, decided to stay 2 more days. We did 256km of driving that day.

Mon. Aug. 14, 2006

We wanted to join the ``Adventure Bound'' tour to the ``Tracy Arm'' glaciers but apparently that tour is very popular and we couldn't take it that day. Instead, we took a bus to the Mendelhall Glacier trailhead. We took the longer of the two trails, called the West Glacier Trail, since this one allowed us access to the glacier. It is 12 miles (20km) whereas the East Glacier Trail is only 6 miles (10km) and has no glacier access. It is an easy trail most of the way but just before the glacier it was very hard to navigate the huge boulders which were very slippery after the rain. The trail ascends into the forest and goes along a very big glacier-fed lake which had little icebergs floating in it. The forest was very wet and there were lots of mushrooms along the trail.

We reached the glacier after a few hours. It was very beautiful, but the best parts were hidden underneath it. A stream flows into the glacier and the icy tunnel it creates has stunning views in different shades of blue as well as interesting ice formations. It was very cold next to the glacier. I picked some mushrooms in the forest which we then enjoyed for dinner.

On the way to the hostel we hitched a ride. The local person went out of his way and brought us to our hostel. That wasn't the end. That guy happened to work on the same ferry shift as another guy who had offered us a ride to the ferry. It was quite amazing.

Tue. Aug. 15, 2006

This time we managed to get 2 places in the ``Adventure Bound'' tour to the ``Tracy Arm'' glaciers. We were on the boat for 10 hours. We got a $10 discount each because we stayed at the hostel so we paid $110 each for the tour. On the way we saw lots of icebergs and the boat had to carefully navigate them. We also saw a bear eating something on the shore. The bear didn't seem to care that our boat went really close to it.

We spent about 2 hours floating around 1 big and 1 smaller glacier. Every so often a big chunk of ice would crack off and fall into the water making a lot of noise; it was quite spectacular. There were lots of harp seals lying on the icebergs. On the way back we stopped close to several big waterfalls. It was money well-spent.

Wed. Aug. 16, 2006

We had to take the 7am ferry back to Haines. Since there is no bus, we again had the problem of how to get to the ferry terminal. We were told that a cab would be very expensive so we tried to hitch a ride. It wasn't easy since the road that leads to the terminal doesn't lead anywhere else. Eventually a woman stopped for us and was kind enough to drive us all the way there, even though it wasn't her destination. Before she picked us up we walked by a river that was packed with salmon. One could have caught them in one's bare hands. We saw birds fishing there. The ferry back took 4.5 hours. En route we saw a few humpback whales and harbour porpoises (like dolphins). Once in Haines we visited Chilkoot Lake where salmon spawn. Since May, more than 60 000 salmon had entered the lake and many more were to come. We walked a bit around Haines, which is yet another tourist trap city as cruise ships stop there. We did, however, find a very nice bakery there. We then headed towards Dawson City (about 950km from Haines). We camped at Lake River Campground after having driven 480km. It was still raining.

Thu. Aug. 17, 2006

That day we set out to reach Dawson City. The road was very bad with lots of bumps and loose gravel. Furthermore, about 150km before Dawson City the pavement ends so we drove on the dirt road. We were then much further north and the vegetation was quite different; trees were very short and sparse. We waited for almost 2 hours at the Canadian border-crossing even though there were only 6 cars waiting to cross?

The rest of the ``Top of the World'' highway was very spectacular. We stopped quite a few times to take photos of the scenery. Just before reaching Dawson City we had to take a ferry across the Yukon River. It was quick and free. When we arrived in Dawson it was raining heavily. We didn't want to camp that night so we found a B&B. Strangely, it had no host, just a letter inviting guests to occupy a room and to meet the host in the morning. We drove for about 460km that day.

Fri. Aug. 18, 2006

Finally in Dawson! It's a beautiful city with lots of houses from around 1900. Some of the buildings have been refurbished and made into hotels or shops, others have been left untouched. We walked on almost every street and took lots of photos. We arrived during the ``Discovery Days'' festival and lots of events were lined up for that day. At 3pm we saw a modern dance performance by a local, native woman. We then hiked for 2 hours up a mountain to get a bird's-eye view of the city and its spectacular surroundings. A couple of tourists offered us a ride back down to the city (only crazy folks like us hike the steep hills; the rest drive up them). We then watched a free 2.5 hour long fiddle show. It was pretty good and included both professional as well as student fiddlers. There was even some step dancing, which is similar to Irish dancing. To finish the day we watched 16mm films in a tent by the riverbank. First, there were a few short films, then we watched ``Some Like it Hot.'' We left around 1am even though they had 1 more movie lined up. We camped that night at Klondike River Campground. We really liked Dawson City.

Sat. Aug. 19, 2006

In the morning, after I woke up quite late, we went for a short walk close to the campsite and then set off for Whitehorse. It was a bit more than 550km of driving on a pretty good road and we made it to Whitehorse in the evening. The story-telling festival was happening and we went to see the evening program. It included: 2 native Americans from Dakota who sang and told stories, a few Canadian story tellers, a dub poet from Jamaica, a performance by Indian musicians from Toronto (sitar, tabla, and a dancer), and an Irish stand-up comedian. It was a great evening. That night we camped at Robert Service campground which is walking distance from downtown.

Sun. Aug. 20, 2006

I spent the afternoon at the story-telling festival while Laurie went for a hike along the Yukon River. In the evening we went to the closing event of the story-telling festival which included a banquet and a closing performance by 6 artists. The show was good and the food was great too. There was mainly meat and fish on the menu: arctic char, salmon, wild sheep, caribou, rice, pasta salad, and a nice dessert. The only annoying part was the endless ``thank-you'' speeches which probably took an hour off the show. We also met Laurie's friend there who had just completed the Chilkoot Trail and reported the details to us.

Mon. Aug. 21, 2006

We left Whitehorse and headed south. We stopped at Snafu Lake where we spent a leisurely day. We scrambled a bit through the woods (as there was no trail), picked mushrooms (which were everywhere), had a splash in the cold lake, cooked a nice dinner with the mushrooms and fried potatoes, then talked into the wee hours watching the magic fire. 96km.

Tue. Aug. 22, 2006

In the morning we hiked ``White Mountain'' which had an amazingly steep trail without any switchbacks - just straight up. It wasn't that bad going up, but going down was really hard on the knees. We hiked for about 4 hours and climbed about 400m. The views from the top of the mountain were spectacular: Atlin Lakes as well as many smaller lakes were set between the mountains. The highlight of this hike was the Saskatoon berries, which I picked for the first time. They are delicious berries. After the hike we continued driving south. After Teslin Lake we saw a black bear that was picking berries by the side of the highway. The bear didn't mind us stopping a few metres away to take some photos.

That night we camped at Boya Lake Campground. Just before we arrived there we saw a beautiful sunset over the mountains including a rainbow. We drove for about 500km that day.

Wed. Aug. 23, 2006

We continued our journey home south with very nice scenery along the way. We again saw a black bear crossing the road, and later a lynx doing the same. In the evening we reached Meziadin Junction. Instead of continuing south, we decided to take a detour to Stewart, 60km away. It was a great decision. On the way to Stewart we saw the ``Bear Glacier,'' which is big and blue, as well as about 15 other smaller glaciers on top of the mountains. In Stewart we learned that the local attraction is watching grizzly and black bears feeding on the salmon in Fish Creek. Fish Creek is just over the US border from Stewart in Hyder, Alaska. There were Canadian customs there but no US customs. Once one is in Hyder, one can't go anywhere else in the US without returning to Canada first since there are no roads leading out of it.

At Fish Creek we could hardly find a place to park. There were at least 100 people there watching grizzly bears catching salmon. We saw a sow and her 3 cubs. We could observe the bears from about 10-15m away from a specially built boardwalk. We also saw a black bear catching its dinner in another creek nearby. Apparently, black bears are quite scared of grizzlies (they can kill them) so they fish away from the grizzlies. We also saw lots of eagles and a few grey herons. We drove for about 500km that day and camped in an RV park in Stewart.

Thu. Aug. 24, 2006

In the morning we returned to Fish Creek to see more bears. We arrived after 9am so there weren't as many bears present as there had been the night before. We saw just 1 grizzly and 1 black bear. We were actually watching the salmon jump a fish ladder in the creek when just a few meters away from us a black bear jumped out and caught a fish. He looked at us with a very unhappy look but he didn't bother us. We then proceeded to explore Hyder, Alaska - an official ghost town. It thrived last century through the gold and copper rushes, but now is only a town for tourists to pass through on their way to Fish Creek. A few shops operate there May through Sept. After exploring Hyder we returned to Fish Creek with the hope of seeing some action. On the way, a very old grizzly bear walked out onto the road and up to within a few metres of our car. The bear didn't seem to mind us and even posed for some nice close-ups.

It felt like we couldn't leave that area. On the way out of town we stopped to take a walk and have lunch. Then we stopped at Bear Glacier again to admire the view, this time under a blue sky with warm rays of light reflecting off of it. We saw a few more bears crossing the road that day. We had hoped to cover a lot of miles that day but it was in vain; it was too gorgeous a day and we stopped at too many places. Some of the trees already had their fall colours so there were different shades of yellow, red, and green everywhere. We stopped at a few native settlements too with lots of old totem poles, little old churches, and neat houses.

We made a little detour to Hazelton, which is set between the mighty Skeena River and stunning mountain faces. There was an old part of town, a new part of town, and an old native village called Ksan. We really liked it there so decided to stay at the Ksan campground for the night. That day we drove for 350km.

Fri. Aug. 25, 2006

This was a day of driving. 570km. We camped at 10 Mile Lake just before Quesnel.

Sat. Aug. 26, 2006

Past Quesnel we did trail horse riding at the ``Old Buckshot Ranch,'' which is owned by a Swiss couple. We rode for about 3 hours through a pretty dry area. Apparently it hadn't rained there for more than 3 weeks. The horses weren't in the best condition but it was cheap ($45/person) so we couldn't expect much. It was nice anyway. After riding I swam at McLease Lake. We camped at Green Lake (near 100 Mile House). We wanted to canoe but the only place in the area that rents them is 15 min. away from the lake. The canoes were too heavy for us to carry that distance so we went for a short walk instead. Laurie saw a fox on our walk near the lake. We drove for 350km that day.

Sun. Aug. 27, 2006

This was the last day of the trip. On the way, we stopped at Pavilion Lake (just before Lillooet) for a nice swim and lunch.

We decided to take Hwy 99 to Vancouver which was very scenic but very slow. The road was windy (through the mountains) and we got stuck behind slow drivers who drove well below the posted speed limit and who wouldn't pull over to let us pass.

We drove 420km that day.

Summary

The journey was great, but there was a bit too much of driving -- in 23 days we have covered more than 7400km (4635 miles). Driving in Yukon was a pleasure though -- mostly great roads and hardly any vehicles at all. We camped most of the nights, other than 2 nights in B&B to recharge batteries and do laundry and 3 nights in a great hostel in Juneau, Alaska (we had no car there).

We drove from Vancouver to Whitehorse, then to Haines and Juneau (by ferry) in Alaska, then to Dawson city and back to Vancouver using a different route. (see the map on the first page of the images)

The main highlights were salmon, bears and glaciers. oh and lots of ripe berries (we have encountered probably at least 15 different types of berries and ate almost all of them). Lots of ghost cities on the road. The winner is Hyder, Alaska, which doesn't even have US customs at the border. Why? Because you can't go anywhere from Hyder...

Another highlight was the length of the days in Yukon, at the beginning of August it gets dark around midnight... though we haven't seen northern lights...

Natives are pretty much completely westernized, though suffering from too much drinking... most artifacts are left only for tourists.

Whitehorse and Dawson city have very alive communities that support each other. Lots of artists in Whitehorse.

Most tourists were either elder folks (60+) in RVs or Germans, or German elders :)

Also check out the photos from our trip: Alaska, Yukon















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