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Journey to Northern BC, Yukon and Alaska. part 1

Sat. Aug. 5, 2006

We left Vancouver in the morning and drove non-stop until Cache Creek, where we had a nice sandwich lunch at Horstings Farm (Laurie had been there before). They had very nice peach and apple pies there. Then we proceeded to camp at Lac La Hache Provincial Park. The campground was on the other side of the highway so we walked across the road to spend the evening at the lake, where we swam and read for a bit. That day we drove for 475km.

Sun. Aug. 6, 2006

Leaving the campground we drove to Prince George (300km) via Quesnel. From Prince George we took a detour on Hwy 16 via West Lake Provincial Park to Fort George Canyon Provincial Park, where we found a trail that traversed the forest to a rocky beach on the Fraser River. It was about 5km each way. The trail was easy and going through the forest we found an abundance of vegetation, much of which we hadn't seen elsewhere in B.C. We counted about a dozen kinds of berries on that trail, most of which are edible. There were: blueberries, thimbleberries, wild raspberries, cranberries, cowberries, bunchberries, and a few others whose names I don't remember. There were lots of mosquitoes enjoying our blood while we were enjoying berry picking. There were lots of bear claw marks on the trees. We didn't see any bears but at the very end of the hike we thought we heard a bear so we sped up to leave the area.

We then drove another 100km and found a great camping spot overlooking Bear Lake in Crooked River Provincial Park. They charge $14 per campsite. There are washrooms, water, and other basic amenities. The campsite had a fire pit and we used it to cook our dinner. Afterwards we spend several hours talking, mesmerized by the fire. One can buy a bundle of wood for $4-5, but we had already picked up some wood while driving through the forest.

That day we drove 420km with a 50km detour for a hike.

Mon. Aug. 7, 2006

Early in the morning, probably around 5am, we were awoken by screaming birds (not sure what kind of bird) then went back to sleep. Around 9am after a heavy breakfast we left Bear Lake and continued our drive east through Mackenzie, Chetwynd, and into Dawson Creek. First, Laurie noticed a moose on the side of the road which wasn't huge but was about the size of a horse. We stopped to take photos but it quickly crossed the highway and disappeared into the woods.

The landscape was quite different from the previous two days. We were very far east (almost on the border with Alberta) and were crossing the edge of the Rocky Mountains. It was about 20 degrees which was quite a bit cooler than the first two days. Nights were getting quite cold too so one had to bundle oneself in the sleeping bag leaving only a little hole to breathe through in order to stay warm. From the second day onwards it was a much easier drive since the roads were mostly empty - no stress driving.

North of Prince George the Caribou district ended and we entered Peace Country, named after the Peace River. As soon as we crossed the mountain range we were back into the valley where we enjoyed views of the tractors cutting hay and neatly arranged hay bales along the road.

At lunch we arrived in Dawson Creek, also known as mile ``0'' where the Alaska Highway starts. There were a few interesting buildings there, painted in the old style: a saloon, a general store, a bar - that's about it. We ate lunch at ``Mr. Mike's'' since that Monday was a provincial holiday and everybody else was closed. We then drove thorough Fort St. John, which wasn't interesting at all, and continued in the direction of Fort Nelson, the next ``big'' city. We stopped at the ``Pink Mountain'' settlement where we fuelled our car with some quite expensive gas. The roads were quite good most of the time, with 100km/h max, so we were moving along quite quickly.

We decided to camp at Andy Bailey Provincial Park, which is about 50km away from Fort Nelson and 12 km off the highway on a dirt road. The lake was stunningly beautiful. We camped right next to the water, not in the official campsites which were further away from the water. I think there was just one other family in the whole campground; by the lake we were pretty much alone. When the sun set, we saw several beavers swimming back and forth. We also swam in the lake just before sunset - it wasn't too cold.

There was one big problem though - the mosquitoes. There were many of them and they were very aggressive. Even the smoke from the campfire wasn't very helpful. While washing dishes I was attacked by probably 50 mosquitoes at once; they even bit me through my clothes. Luckily Laurie bought us bug shirts, which were saviors. Other then being made of material bugs can't bite through, the shirts have a hood and net covering the entire head and face. However, the bugs still tried to bite through the net where it touched the skin. Luckily they couldn't get into our tent but we could hear them buzzing all night long. They were hovering around the tent, trying to get in.

This night we were quite a bit further north and it got dark much later than usual (in Vancouver). Even when it did get dark, the sky to the west stayed light for a long time.

From mile ``0' in Dawson Creek to where we camped was about 470km making that day a total of 820km - the furthest yet.

Tue. Aug. 8, 2006

Last night we almost ran out of gas before we could reach a gas station so we decided to buy an emergency 20L ``jerry'' can at a hardware store in Fort Nelson for $11. The convenience store across the street had it for $27 (rip-off!). Fort Nelson was boring, packed with MacDonalds, A&W, and the usual lineup of junk food stores. We then drove through Northern Rocky Mountain Provincial Park which had stunning scenery: a multitude of rivers and streams sprinkled between high peaks and lush forests.

At Summit Pass Lake we had lunch and then started looking for a hike. The posted map was wrong and we couldn't find the trail but we saw a big moose strolling awkwardly along the road. We found another trail, but saw a sign saying that the trail was closed due to a bad-tempered bear living in the area. We went back to the lake and found another trail but just before heading off we found a wild strawberry patch which was packed with ripe berries - what a treat (for those who have never tasted wild strawberries, they are tiny but much more flavourful than cultivated ones). The trail was to the ``Spring Flowers Lake.''

The first half was through a nice forest with a great narrow trail. However, the trail wasn't well marked and there were constant forks. After a few times of losing the trail, we found it again. The trail was packed with ripe cowberries, some other red berries, and something similar to blueberries although they didn't taste good at all. There were also some other berries we'd never seen before as well as quite a few mushrooms. The second part of the trail was through open meadows with low shrubs and many wildflowers. We saw a family of deer up there. We were also rewarded with a treat - a full-spectrum rainbow.

The whole trail was about 12km return. On our return, we headed off to Liard Hotsprings to camp. On our way there we saw: a big moose which galloped along the road, several families of Dall sheep, and some seagulls at Muncho Lake (quite an unusual sighting so far away from the ocean). That evening it started raining so our drive was quite spectacular as the setting sun threw long shadows over glistening, wet mountains. That day we drove for about 350km. The roads were in much worse condition with a lot of sharp curves and speed limits of 60-80km/h.

Liard River hotsprings were fantastic. We went there to soak our bones from our camp site along a 700m long boardwalk over a very wet bog covered with lush shrubs and trees. There were two pools: Alpha, with a variable temperature of 42-52 degrees (hotter higher up the stream) and Beta, fixed at 46 degrees. The Alpha pool was more like a stream and had uneven water distribution - scalding hot top layer and gradually colder towards the bottom (it wasn't very deep). There was also a little waterfall. We spent about 20 min there after darkness fell and on the way back were rewarded with a stunning view of a rising, enormous, almost full moon. We had an amazingly great sleep that night.

Wed. Aug. 9, 2006

In the morning we picked some wild raspberries which were sprinkled around the campsite and headed to the hotsprings again. This time we went to the Beta pool, which was 3m deep and 46 degrees. It was more effective than the Alpha stream since the heat was homogeneously spread through all water layers. We then headed for Watson Lake 215km away. It had been raining lightly since the night before so the roads were wet.

The mosquitoes at Liard River campsite were abundant but they were much less aggressive and you couldn't even hear them. It was easier to exterminate them. I suppose back at Andy Bailey Provincial Park we were the only food source for local mosquitoes whereas at the Liard River campsite there were hundreds of people so the evolution is less survival like here.

Some 200km+ later we arrived in Watson Lake city which has not much to show other than a sign post forest. The sign post forest was interesting as it was started in 1942 and since then hundreds of visitors have brought posts from cities all around the world. It seemed like German posts were the most prevalent. The tourist info. centre was quite helpful and we stocked up on brochures. We then watched a northern lights show at the local planetarium. It was quite boring and I almost fell asleep.

We then drove towards Whitehorse and stopped to camp at Marsh Lake. There are way too many lakes and rivers in this area. Mosquitoes weren't much of a problem around here. It got dark really late; at around 11pm it was still quite light. The sight of the huge, full moon over the lake was quite spectacular. We were already in the Yukon Territory; we crossed the border with B.C. several times between Marsh Lake and Watson Lake.

Here in the Yukon campgrounds are self-administered i.e. you pay by placing $12 into an envelope and depositing it into a lockbox. The nice thing is that for the $12 they supply unlimited wood. However, there are no showers and often no running water.

That day we drove about 660km.

Thu. Aug. 10, 2006

We finally arrived in Whitehorse after a short drive on our 6th day of the journey. We spent some time in their very nice tourist centre and set off to look for some decent accommodation since we hadn't had a shower in 5 days (other than swimming in lakes and hot springs which doesn't really count without soap).

Accommodation in Whitehorse proved to be quite pricey. After all, there aren't many visitors in Whitehorse most of the year - just in summer. There weren't many vacancies either. We did manage to find a nice B&B in a heritage house for $95 a night (breakfast included but not cooked for us). The house had a nice garden with flowers.

After showering and having lunch we spent the afternoon exploring downtown which wasn't very big (5 min. across and 15 min. down on foot). Whitehorse, the capital city of the Yukon Territory, has a whopping 23, 000 residents out of 30 000 total in the whole territory.

We first visited a farmer's market that happened to be on Thursdays. The produce was super expensive ($7 for 3 tomatoes) but there were lots of interesting locally made jams, syrups, and honey such as: fireweed, chokecherry, bearberry, wild raspberry, rhubarb, birch syrup and strawberries. We bought saskatoon berries which were really nice. They look like blueberries but taste more like blackcurrants. We then walked around the main street and took lots of photos of old buildings.

We also visited the Robert McBride Museum which contained lots of artifacts from the Gold Rush period. We then attended a reception of a local ceramics artist at Zola's Cafe. There we saw several of her works on display including: ravens, bears, and dear heads.

The owner of the B&B we stayed at, Bernie, was also there. We learned that in the evenings he performs at the local vaudeville revue called ``Frantic Follies.'' He kindly offered us complimentary tickets. The show was oriented toward the 60+ crowd and probably 99% of the audience was 60+. Still, the show was quite good with a few good, local, multi-talented artists who danced, played piano and other instruments, acted, and generally hammed it up in a cabaret style show. Bernie was actually amazingly good on stage. When the show ended at 10pm, it was light as day outside. We didn't drive much that day.

Fri. Aug. 11, 2006

After breakfast we checked out of the B&B, bought some nice bread and muffins from the local, organic bakery, and headed to the Yukon Conservation Society office which provides free, guided hikes. That day Laurie and I were the only hikers, so we had Paula, the guide, to ourselves. We did the ``Fish Lake'' hike. First, we drove to the lake (about 10km out of town) then started climbing. We quickly passed the tree line and were out in the open meadows then up onto a peak. There the wind was so strong that it was hard to maintain one's balance at times.

We saw a few gophers (aka ground squirrels - like a beaver but only about 1/2 the size) and there was an abundance of ripe berries: crowberries, cowberries, cranberries, and even some blueberries. Crowberries were a new discovery and one could literally scoop them up by the handful; they were quite sweet and juicy too. We also saw soap berries, which aren't tasty at all.

We hiked for almost 5 hours and had great views of the surrounding lakes. It was a nice hike.

Back at the Yukon Conservation Society office we found more ripe berries out in their garden (black currant and gooseberries). We then set off to drive to Haines Junction on the edge of Kluane National Park. There, we camped at Pine Lake campground.

We drove about 160km that day.

Sat. Aug. 12, 2006

We left our tent and drove to Haines Junction where we found a very nice bakery and visitor centre that equipped us well with maps of hikes in Kluane Park. We decided to do the Auriol trail, which is 15km long. It's a circular route, first going through the forest, then getting higher above the tree line. From up above we had spectacular views of the surrounding snow-capped mountains. We met lots of German hikers along the way. There were also gazillions of crowberries; we picked a whole container in just a few minutes. Later that night I cooked them to make a nice drink. It was a great hike. Back at our tent at the lake we found lots of berries around the campsite (wild strawberries, wild raspberries etc.).

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