I took 2 months off and went on a long road trip up north spending 1 month in the Yukon. The last time I visited the Yukon was 15 years ago so this trip was long overdue. Unlike my last trip, I stayed longer, drove most of the roads and hiked various trails to immerse myself in the land, observe nature and photograph the landscape.
I drove to Keno which is 50 km from Mayo but 35 km is gravel. The maximum speed is 80 kph which I can do on the straight stretches but the loose gravel forced me to go 50 kph on the gentle curves. Closer to Keno the roads skirts high above the valley with no barriers. When I arrived, I checked around for a gas station but all I saw were covered up pumps so I dropped in at the Snack Bar and asked the guy about it. He said I have to go to Mayo to gas up. The population of Keno is 24 so there is no gas or grocery store; only at Mayo. With about a ¼ tank left, I drove back to Mayo then headed back to Keno taking the Duncan Creek road which is a narrow rough road.
I stayed at the local campground and next day got up at 6 am and drove the rough road up the mountain to Keno Hill. This is where a lot of past and current mining takes place; piles of rubble here and there. There are quite a few trails around and they basically follow old mining roads which pass by the odd dilapidated house. I wandered off the road and headed up the hill and skirted the rocky ridge. Later on, clouds moved in and the temperature dropped as a hail storm struck. I wish I had brought my rock hammer; it's a good place to rock hound.
The temperature in mid-august was stifling hot so I headed north to the Dempster but the gas station at the junction of the North Klondike and Dempster closed down so I had to drive to Dawson City and back. I hate the roads in the northern part of the Yukon. All they do is throw on loose gravel as a means of repairing it. Everything is expensive in small towns; price of gas $1.62/litre at Dawson.
The Dempster was in great shape at this time of year; most of the gravel was pounded into the ground so the road was relatively smooth. Most people drive straight to Inuvik like I did last time but I only drove 120 km up the road and back this time; spent 7 days photographing but 5 days out of that the weather was cold, windy and showering on and off. Sometimes this can produce dramatic lighting. On August 21st the temperature dropped to around 3*C and there was snow on the mountains.
When I was driving, I saw a small lake still frozen over which was an odd sight since all the others were free of ice so I parked and headed into the bush making my way across the tundra. As I got closer and to my surprise I counted 14 caribou probably from the Porcupine herd. I only had a wide-angle lens so I was out of luck. They spotted me and slowly made their way west. I'm amazed how the bush seems to ‘swallow' them; they literally disappeared.
One time when I was photographing in the early morning at the side of the road, I turned around and behind me was a curious but cautious red fox about 6 feet away. Sudden movements scared it so I moved about slowly. I managed to video tape and photograph the fox as it hung around for 5 minutes before it headed down the embankment. It turned around and I waved goodbye then it disappeared into the bush. It was one of the greatest moments of my life. Most animals run at the sight of humans but this one caught me by surprise.
I hiked the Grizzly Ridge trail one overcast morning. The trail heads into the boreal forest of moss and horsetail and skirts along Cairnes creek before swinging away up the mountain. There are lots of mushrooms and the path is quite rooty. The bush at the lower elevation makes good cover for bears so I made lots of noise. The views open up to Mt. Monolith to my left and Fold Mountain on the right. The trail heads up along the spine of the ridge passing by nice rock formations splattered with colorful lichen.
The lighting was pretty flat for any great photos; the sun almost managed to break through the clouds but it thickened up as I made my way back down passing by a few groups of backpackers. I got back to my car as it started to sprinkle.
I hiked the short Goldensides trail twice on different days and under various weather conditions. I first hiked it on a cold windy day with fog rolling about. The trail starts from a short drive to the Microwave Tower and heads through bushy tundra down a hill then up steeply around the side of Goldensides. Where the path plateaus it forks right to a vertical rock column and left up a rise to an overlook of the valley and folded mountains. It's possible to hike to the top of Goldensides but the sides are steep talus and I wasn't in that great shape. The lighting was pretty flat with all the clouds so when I hiked it the second time in full sun it was too bright. On the second hike, I came across 2 ptarmigans which flew away as I tried to get close for a photograph.
There are quite a few hikes fairly close to Whitehorse and Grey (Canyon) Mountain is one of them. Thankfully, the roads around Whitehorse are nicely paved (not graveled) but this can't be said about the drive up to Grey Mtn; it is very rough and rocky but my all seasons tire did quite well. The trail starts from the communication tower and the summit is only 600 feet above. It was another cold, windy and cloudy day to start. Does the wind ever stop blowing around here? The clouds did break apart and the sun shone making photographing the white limestones difficult. One thing this mountain is noted for is its population of ptarmigans. I haven't seen so many everywhere. When I was wandering around on top I headed down to a nice patch of green moss and bumped into two ptarmigans which I didn't see initially. Unlike others, these two didn't fly away so I was able to make my way slowly towards them. They could have walked into the bush but instead walked along it to where there was a jumbled pile of rocks. I hung around for a while and it was only when I sat down for a rest that they walked away and headed into the bush. The plumage on their bottom was already turning white for the winter.
This is one of those hikes that I started late (9:30 am) in the morning under a full sun. The trail goes through an open field of golden grass with views of the mountains in the distance and then it enters the forest. The path is wide like an old mining road but very rooty and is minimal elevation gain. It's near the end of August and the fall colors are emerging. Most of the trail is enclosed in forest with sporadic sections of bush. There are lots of huge mushrooms and horsetails seem to be prevalent everywhere; it's something I like to photograph.
I didn't have to worry about lack of water as the trail passes by a noisy creek which means making lots of noise. This would be ideal bear country with the bush and forest cover. I stopped at a nice tarn and ate lunch. The sun had shifted towards the mountains and was not in a favorable position to photograph them. The sun was hot so the hike back in the forest was pleasant. I passed some people heading up the trail. I didn't know they were coming; no one made a sound and this is bear country. There are information signs at every trailhead in Kluane about bear safety.
King's Throne and Cottonwood Trails
I stayed at Kathleen Lake campground which is also the location of these trailheads. At every campsite bench and trail head is information about being safe in bear country; that is how serious they take bears.
I woke up early and drove down to the picnic area. It was a cold 2*C outside so I stayed in the shelter until the sun rose then went outside to photograph the mountain where King's Throne sits. It was a rare day of calm winds so the reflection was nice.
The trail head for both trails is not far from the picnic area. The path starts out as an old bumpy mining road then narrows down to a dirt path. About a ½ hour in, the trail splits; left to King's Throne and right to Cottonwood. I took a left and hiked out of the bush onto talus. The path switchbacks up steeply to the cirque. Hiking poles would be nice on this hike. I made it up into the bowl and out of the sun which was behind the mountain still. It was cold and relatively dark in the shade but the bright sun shone over Kathleen Lake below. There are ridges of gravel almost as if it was built up by a former glacier. Some people came up and hike the path leading up to the ridge. I headed down and hiked the Cottonwood trail the next day which I enjoyed more.
The Cottonwood Trail is a 3 day loop but I did part of it as a day hike. The trail heads along the western slope of the mountain above Kathleen Lake. I enjoyed the autumn colors, forest of moss and horsetails on this hike. In contrast to the previous day, there was a lot of clouds and wind. The trail is a narrow path which passes through some light forest but mostly bush which makes great cover for bears. Bear spray is practically useless on windy days so it's best to make lots of noise to warn them that I'm coming through. There are lots of minor talus slopes to cross and a few major ones. The scenery looks practically all the same along the way so I stopped at an open area of huge rockfall with nice boulders of various patterns of lichen on them. There was no one else on the trail so it was a quiet hike.
One of the best hikes I've done in the Yukon was White Mtn down the Atlin road not far from Jakes Corner. I did the hike twice on two separate days. The first time I hiked it the weather was foggy and windy for the most part and the second time the day was too sunny and bright.
The trail starts from a gravel pit near a generator; an open trailer which smells of diesel which connects to a cable running up to the Northwestel Radar tower just below the summit. You can't get lost as the pink insulated cable parallels the trail most of the way.
A posted sign mentions not to hike the mountain between May 15th and June 15th because goats may be having kids.
This trail is steep; it gains 2297 feet in 3 km as it goes straight up the mountain without any switchbacks. I didn't mind the drifting fog as it provided some nice photo opportunities but I hated the wind. When I reached the radar tower, I saw a lone mountain goat in the fog so I went to get out my video cam. When I looked up, it was gone so I thought of where it might have gone and followed a path to the edge of the cliff and looked up along the broken ridge. There it was in the fog. It stood there for a while before heading up and out of sight. I followed along a narrow goat path and stopped to photo the reds of autumn scattered in a bowl beneath rocky ridges. When the fog lifted a bit, I explored around some nice rock formations before hiking up a steep slope and intersecting the main trail. I caught a glimpse of the rugged terrain of limestone cliffs interspersed with delicate ground cover. After spending time at a certain location, I continued up the mountain and was amazed at the rugged open topography which makes for a nice ramble. There are several dried large depressions which once held water so this hike is dry in late summer.
On my second hike up in the alpine, I explored a bit further along the ridge in the back where the land drops away. I can see the Tagish road which connects to Jakes Corner.
I bumped in to two ptarmigans which quickly walked up the rocky slope. When I was resting I spotted something white in the far distance. Using my scope, I made out a couple of mountain goats; one was resting with its back against me and the other standing and looking in my direction. I'm sure it knew I was there. There senses are sure keen at detection.
Sam McGee Trail
The trail is located south of Carcross on the opposite side of the road and down the embankment; not particularly obvious. The small sign says Hero Mountain which is used as a mountain biking route. The trail features relics from past mining and nice autumn colors so I planned it to hike the trail in Sept.
The path enters a forest of paper birch and fall colors from fireweeds as it parallels a creek for a short distance. This gives way to a tangled forest of fallen debris and a rusty tramway bucket still hooked to cables. The cables head up through the forest to meet the tower of the wooden tramway. In one area along the trail, the cable crosses it and several flagging tape mark its location. You don't want to end up decapitated when cycling down fast. The views are very limited and switchbacks are few but the grade isn't too bad. I came across four grouse on the trail so I slowed down and gave them a chance to head into the bush.
There was this tall tree with bare branches sweeping down in the shape of a Christmas tree. The branches are closely knit but if you get low and crawl under there was this nice huge clear area just like being under a large umbrella; an ideal place to pitch a tent or take cover from the rain.
The wind never seems to stop blowing in the Yukon. This makes it hard to take photos without jacking up the ISO and shutter speed. At one of the few clearings, the cold wind was constant. Well, at least it kept the mosquitoes away if there are any at this time of year. Higher up the mountain and in the forest, I came upon several log cabins; just the frames of two or three logs built up from the foundation; the rest of the logs gone. There were some rusty tin cans lying about. I thought it wasn't an ideal location for cabins as there is no running water nearby.
At a junction, left goes to a viewpoint but I went right which is the route mountain bikers take to access the alpine and Hero Mtn. The fall colors in the alpine are nice and there are views over Tagish Lake. On the steep slopes of the mountain across the way, I spot something white so I got out my monocular and spot a mountain goat. We eyed each other across the distance before it started down the mountain. On my hike back, I saw some fresh bear droppings on the trail which I hadn't seen on the way up. Further down the trail, I came across a couple of guys hiking up. No one makes a sound and I wonder if anyone really is concerned about bumping into bears.
South Canol Road
I spent 4 leisurely days driving the South Canol Road which has lots of ups and downs, curves and dust. Eighteen kilometers up the road, I parked in a small gravel pit; the same one I camped before. There are open views across the tundra to several bare peaks. Nothing really spectacular but there is water just down from the road and the place is quiet. Only 6 vehicles went by on this less travelled road which stretches 226 km to Ross River. The road past Quiet Lake has a lot of potholes and the views aren't that great until you get closer to Ross River. The Lapie River Canyon is a nice place to spend some time. My last visit here, I camped in the same pullout near the bailey bridge. There is a road which I walked down and close to the river sits an old log cabin with the sign “Toad Hall Cabin.” I remembered this cabin from my last visit and 15 years later it is still in good condition. There is a trail on the other side of the road which runs along the canyon and it's possible to scramble down to an area of eroded boulders and volcanic faults.
The first week in September, I drove up to the gravel pit on the South Canol again and couldn't believe the autumn colors; such an amazing transformation from green to yellow.
Landscape photos from various areas in the Yukon.