Headed North of North with Merrell Outside
We designated two weeks at the end of August to explore Alaska and Yukon, I only made one miscalculation, two weeks is not near enough time to explore both regions in the slightest! As we drove the 35 hours to the Tombstone region I knew we would only have time for one area so we decided to stay in the Tombstones. Here is a collection of stories and visuals of our rainy lovely trip out here supported by Merrell Outside.
I will be honest driving is not something I like to do a lot of, so I have no idea why I thought driving to the Yukon would be a great plan. I have heard great things about the Alaska highway however and it has always been something on my bucket list so I did very little research and got my friend Leanne to join along.
The Alaska highway starts in Dawson Creek at marker '0'. I have a good friend I met in Yoga training last year living in Dawson so Marsha let us stay at her house for the night and our first 10 hour day of driving was completed, not even started on the Alaska highway yet.
Day two was long and another great deal of driving, but lucky for us Liard Hot Springs was on our way. It is a beautiful hot spring nestled in BC near the Yukon border. After a day of siting a hot soak was a treat. We made it just shy of Whitehorse that night.
After much deliberation the next day we decided not to make our way to Kluane (another 5 hour drive) due to weather and also because we needed to get to the Tombstones for our camp bookings (another 5 hours in the opposite direction). Let's just say nothing is very close together when getting A to B in the Yukon. Driving was really starting to be too much for me as well. I was ready for some hiking.
As we made our way to Dawson City we could tell we were getting very North. The colors of the Trees were starting to be more yellow and the trees became smaller. When we arrived in Dawson City I was so surprised at the town. It was like stepping back to the Gold mining age of old buildings, dirt roads and I am very certain they had paid people to walk around in colonial dress (unless they were ghosts). Dawson City exists because of Klondike Gold rush. I recommend it to everyone for it is rich in history and literally like walking back in time.
The next day we headed for the Tombstone Park. Our booking wasn't until the next night but we decided to try our luck and get an additional night. Lucky for us everyone was scared off by the forecast of pure rain so we got all the spots we wanted. We had to rent a mandatory bear canister, which seemed redundant because each site has bear bins however if you were to break a leg and can't move you have to be able to store your food. Lots of grizzlies make their home here!
The hike to Grizzly Lake is a long one, 12km and about 900m elevation. We started pretty late as well, with the choice of the extra night it meant leaving around 3:00pm. Lucky for us the light stays until about 11:00pm this time of year so I knew we had lots of time. This was Leanne's longest backcountry trip so we had some packing issues to work out, needless to say she was a bit over packed and lopsided but good learning always takes place after your first multi-day pack trip.
We got to Grizzly Lake in around 5 hours. It was tough, mostly because we didn't really stop to rest much. We didn't eat lunch that day either so I was running on one banana and Leanne had a bit of oatmeal. We shoved some CLIF bars down us on the trail and it kept us going. We arrived around 7:30 to the campsite and picked out our tent pad. It quickly became apparent of how much Yukon values these parks because you could see by the special geo-webbing tent pads and roped off areas that the sensitive tundra was well looked after.
At this point we were starving so I quickly poured some boiling water in our dehydrated meals and set up camp as they cooked. Pro-tip: Put your dehydrated meal in your sleeping bag and it cooks faster, but seriously make sure it can't spill (or you may have bear friends or worse, rodents). We enjoyed our meals out by Grizzly lake which is a serious stunner.
Day two and we woke up to rain. And so it began, burying our faces under our sleeping bags for a few more hours and coming out of the shell a few hours later. Still raining. The mountains looked stunning as fog rolled in and out so we made a quick dash for breakfast and prepared for the 400m climb over 1km we had to endure that morning over the Glissade pass.
The climb wasn't too bad, pretty standard huffing and puffing and hating life for an hour or so until the top. It was still raining as we peered over the pass down at what looked like a much harder decent. It was actually peanuts, scree skiing most the way down it was nothing (coming up was a different story). I think what was essential on this trip was my Merrell skinny belay pants. They are water resistant so they never got super wet in the rain, kept me warm and dried out super quickly even when the sun wasn't out. I also had a wicked pair of gators to keep stones out of my shoes and mud off my pants. Totally essential out here, especially scree skiing down this pass.
We arrived at our next site pretty early in the day and set up camp. Still raining. At this point the mountains were completely fogged in. To be honest it got a bit boring until we met this totally awesome family from Calgary hiking with us. We sat in the food shelter and talked with them for hours and it really helped the time pass and we made some new friends.
No sunset as the rain continued. I again set my alarm for 6:30am in hopes of a clear morning but one again we woke up to the putter of rain on the fly. Back into the sleeping bag for a few more hours. When we woke again it was still raining but much lighter. We had an easy day ahead of us so we took our time getting up and getting breakfast on. We were off to Talus lake for the night and our friends were coming as a day hike. It is a 6km easy walk so it can be done in a day, but we wanted to stay overnight because that is where the ionic "Tombstone" mountain is found.
We packed up the wet tent yet again and I was really starting to resent the rain. It was stunning to take photos when the fog rolled in and out however so that was keeping me sane as I pulled my camera in and out of my pack.
When we got to Talus campground we were all alone. Not a soul. Our friends caught up with us and chatted for a few hours with us in the cooking shelter again. When they left I got this strange eerie alone feeling. I guess it's because we were really alone in a very remote place. I was also regretting not going back with them because you couldn't see a thing out at Talus, so much fog.
It was a good thing we stayed because we went down into the tent to warm up, stay dry and nap. When I opened my eyes from the nap the rain had stopped, I peered out of my sleeping bag and freaked out a little. The sun had come out! It was shining through our tent! I zipped open the tent immediately to see still all fog but sun coming through the valley. I knew this was going to get good so we jumped out.
We walked down the valley and sure enough the fog was breaking up and an extraordinary mountain range revealed itself. I was jumping for joy and squealing a lot, sunset was looking possible.
Sunset was quick but extraordinary and I found myself running around like a crazy person. Mountains behind me were lighting up and the valley in front was blowing up in color. I raced to the lake and raced to the valley working in as many shots as possible. Frantic is the best way to describe it all. Not my first frantic end to the day I must say, won't be my last. It was all very well worth it with some of my favourite shots.
The rest of the trip was pretty standard, we headed back to Grizzly Lake the next day. I was raining again. This place is a rainy place. The scree pass was a bit like hell itself, one step up and slide two steps back but we finally made it up and over. The rain had stopped and we enjoyed a lovely night at Grizzly Lake.
The last morning and it wasn't raining when my alarm went off at 6:30am. At that point I wish it was so I could just go back to sleep. Peering out the tent there were surprisingly not many clouds, dammit. I had to get up. Leanne joined me as we groggily rose and headed to the lake with our cameras. Some clouds to the East threatened sunrise but I was still hopeful. As the sun rose we managed to get small red tips on the surrounding mountains and it was so peaceful. Some ducks played on the still lake nearby. The red tips didn't last long as the clouds masked the light and we headed up for breakfast and to pack out.
Driving home was zombie like. I think I drove 20 hours the second day. We decided we wanted to make it to Jasper to take some sunrise photos on the Parkway. We made it at 3am and I was out like a light. Waking up at 6:30am sucked but it's what these photographers gotta do. We made some breakfast on the road and headed to the Columbia Ice field for one last little hike.
We wanted to climb Mount Wilcox up Wilcox pass but when we made it to the ridge we both decided we had pushed enough on this trip and deserved a break. The ridge was stunning anyway and we saw a family of Mountain goats and a bach of sheep Rams.
Coming down it was a great end to our Road trip and I was happy to drive the last stretch back to Lethbridge. Coming around the corner by Parker ridge the speed zone drops to 60km which my zombie like status missed and while following a black van we both got tagged for speeding coming around the corner. Nothing like a speeding ticket to wake you up for the drive home.
Overall it was an exciting amazing trip up North but if I would change anything it would be to stay longer and to stay into September a bit to get the fall colors more. I would also have liked to have made it to Alaska so I suppose I will give it another go next summer. Until then I hope you enjoyed these photos and stories!