And We’re Off

It’s been a cold but wonderful week and delightful to be living again simply and near to the wilds.

It’s only been a week on the road but what a week. Our first night found us at the Liard River hot springs beneath a near full moon. Late night winter visits are my favourite time to soak here, to peer up into the trees and up at the stars without any more light for guidance but what the moon has to offer.

We scrambled up an unnamed canyon in Muncho Lake Provincial Park. Each time we are driving the Alaska Highway we choose one or two canyons to explore. without a topo map we scrambled up towards the alpine without knowing what we’ll find or how long we’ll be. we just go with loaded packs and hearts filled with adventure.

We sauntered into the alpine and into the mountains alongside caribou and stone sheep Stone Mountain Provincial Park as well, a place I never tire of hiking in.

Along the way south, to stretch our legs, to refuel we were woofed at by a grizzly bear and discovered the most delicious cinnamon buns in Fort Nelson.

This is how we prefer to spend our time, outside.

Next up, further south.

Those Magical Places

When John and I need to sit in the woods alone, to flee from the crowds, to contemplate our life, to make a big decision, this is where we come.

The small lake is a joy to paddle early in the morning and evening, when the beavers are busy working on their lodge, repairing a dam, chopping down trees.

The mountains in the distance are a long hike but are home to caribou and grizzly.

Our campsite is tucked beneath pine trees with a family of grey jays and kingfishers to keep us company.

This place has such a feeling of calm and peace. Even when it’s storming or snowing this place makes us happy.

The Grizzly On The Big Salmon River

The experts say never to run from a bear, running provokes a chase instinct in bears.

This is true, which we discovered along the Big Salmon River, a small winding tributary of the Yukon River. It is a fun, swift and narrow river with a few sweepers but little else to really worry about.

This hard fast rule for bear encounters, don’t run, is fine when on foot but what are paddlers to do on a swift river? We paddled around a corner to meet a young grizzly just hauling himself out of the river. The river pushed us past him, nearly under his now and instantly the bear took off along the bank, running after us.

We feel confident in traveling bear country. We’ve read the literature on bear safety. In twenty years we have met many grizzlies. In some summers we have met more than a dozen girzzlies in the backcountry. Usually they run from us, some watch us, others ignore us. A few have bluffed charged. This was the first to chase us. And it was at this moment we discovered we didn’t know what the protocol was to stop a charge. Is it the same as a bluff charge, hold your ground? John and I were both hesitant to stop paddling, a grizzly at our heels.

So we kept on paddling.

And the grizzly kept on following.

Three times the grizzly entered the water, began swimming towards us. We yelled at him, slapped paddles on the water. Each time the grizzly returned to shore and continued his pursuit on land. We paddled on until losing sight of the grizzly.

And we kept on paddling.

At the time of our meeting, we had been scanning the shore for a place to camp. Now we had no intention of camping any time soon. When we finally did camp, three hours later, we were hesitant, jumpy. A three-hour paddle for us is no distance for a grizzly to travel.

We did not sleep well that evening.

Aside from this one exciting moment, the Big Salmon River was a beautiful and peaceful trip, with quiet lakes, sandy beaches and forests filled with cloudberries.

Into The Mountains

I need wild places to wander into, wilderness where I can meet a porcupine, snow buntings, moose, coyote. I live a simple life so I can have these moments in the wild.

Spring has sprung early in southern Yukon. We scrambled up and across a ridge today which normally is still snow covered at Easter, three weeks later. And not only did we have few snowy patches to contend with, we found prairie crocuses just about ready to bloom. We definitely enjoyed the unseasonably warm +10C weather with an all day mountain adventure.

Our hike began and ended bushwhacking through spruce and poplar forest. I love wandering through a naked poplar forest, though I’m not entirely sure why. Their arms stretching up to the blue sky is just pretty. We spooked a snowshoe hare from its nest tucked beneath brush and found a porcupine den. There is no trail where we were hiking which usually means we will see plenty of wildlife and/or signs of them. This hike was no different.

The scramble into the alpine was tough, steep but worth the effort. We saw a few spruce grouse, half a dozen willow ptarmigan and lots of Dall sheep poop. And, near the summit we detoured to a ridge following lynx tracks. Near the end of our day we also spotted a moose and a coyote. It was a great ending to a sublime day in the mountains.

“Of all the things I wondered about on this land, I wondered the hardest about the seduction of certain geographies that feel like home – not by story or blood but merely by their forms and colours. How our perceptions are our only internal map of the world, how there are places that claim you and the places that warn you away. How you can fall in love with the light.” Ellen Meloy

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Back In The Cold Embrace Of The Yukon Winter

It is a difficult transition, to reach the end of an adventure and return to work. After eight months of sauntering and wandering, it is time to work and save our pennies for the next adventure, just four months away.

It is cold and dark this time of year. The nights seem to stretch on, unending. A typical 9 to 5 job means arriving to work in the dark, missing the stunning 10:30am sunrises over the surrounding hills. The sun sets long before the workday ends. The sun holds little warmth. But the woods are charming to stroll in. The chickadees sing, the red squirrels sit in the sun atop their midden. While we fight to keep our hands warm on late night walks the northern lights dance – flickers of green and crimson and violet above us. A coyote might pass by while the rest of the forest remains silent.

We sport frosted eyelashes, rosy cheeks and runny noses. -35C nips at exposed skin. The dry snow crunches and squeaks under each footfall. The forests are silent, no fresh tracks but our own in the snow. Ursus major, the Big Dipper, the North Star, they all shimmer on clear night. The northern lights dance.

We may no longer be in the warm embrace of the Utah or California desert but we have frosty forests and northern lights to embrace.

 

Good-Bye Red

I don’t think red squirrels get enough love in the world. We are leaving our cozy little 300-square foot cabin in the woods to go traveling indefinitely. This means saying goodbye to the red squirrel who has been living in the abandoned shed beside our outhouse. We have become friends with the squirrel whose territory our cabin sits on and have been watching his antics. He has entertained us with his chittering, mushroom drying, cone collecting and his territorial disputes with neighbouring squirrels. The only time we find fault with him is in the fall when he develops a desire for our cabin insulation. Instead of killing him like so many people would do we scrounge up scrap pieces of insulation and leave it on our deck. His excitement when he stumbles upon it is obvious. It’s a win-win situation for both of us. He still gets a cozy home for winter and our cabin keeps its warmth. He has been a good friend and we’re going to miss him.

Winter Plans Thwarted – Then Renewed

When our winter’s travel plans began to fall apart before the trip had even begun our response to the disappointment was to disappear into the mountains and lick our wounds. But what a time it was. We tasted the freshly fallen snow, nodded a greeting to the Dall sheep. Indulged in naps. We scrambled up mountain peaks, sunglasses shielding eyes from the glint of sun on glacier. We found the inspiration we were searching for and crafted a new list of adventures to embark upon this winter. It is amazing how a hike and a nap in the alpine can combat stress and will settle a mind turned anxious caused by the uncertainties that often come up in a wanderer’s life.

Lupus may have forced us to cancel a winter of backpacking in Patagonia but a winter to convalesce and hike in the deserts of southwest US will undoubtedly help restore my health. In the end it doesn’t really matter where we end up, as long as we are able to wander and live outside.

Forget The Beta

Instead, tap into curiosity and get reacquainted with the sense of adventure.

From our home on the outskirts of Whitehorse we paddled a mere three hours down the Yukon River and Lake Laberge and backpacked another three hours to a gem of a lake nestled beneath mountains. We spent a few nights camped here, spending free days hiking the peaks casting shadows on our tent.

This mountain is slowly becoming known. For those who scan their surroundings and topographic maps looking for a new place to explore, this mountain stands out.

Our campsite beside the lake, at the base of the mountain, was beautiful though it showed signs of use. A nearby bear rub tree cloaked in fur was a bit disconcerting but as always we were diligent in keeping our food and kitchen far from our tent.

There were so many unknowns on this trip. We didn’t know if there would be a trail to follow in the summer. Or how boggy the marshes marked on the topo map would be. We didn’t know what we would find for camping. Or how easy the mountain peak would be to summit. People often post on Facebook hiking pages asking occasionally for beta on hikes, this one included. Doing so would have answered all the unknowns we had but it would have taken away the sense of adventure. It would have been less stressful, less time consuming if we had GPS tracks and waypoints to follow, a predetermined route but where’s the fun in that? It is a fallacy we must venture far from home to feel adventurous. Any place new to us is ripe for adventure.

We went, we wandered, went the wrong way, found our way, scaled the mountain and had some good ol’ fashioned backcountry fun.

No beta but lots of adventure.

The Donjek Route – Kluane National Park and Reserve

It’s a Kluane backpacking classic. Approximately 130 kilometres long, the route took us seven days. We travelled each day but still had time in the afternoons and evenings to explore around camp. The route follows abandoned and overgrown mining roads, creek beds, wolf and grizzly paths and more wildlife trails and more creek beds.

The Donjek Glacier, spilling out of the Icefield Ranges is a sight made all the more magnificent given the wilderness one must traverse in order to reach its toe. And once there it is difficult to walk away from such a place, a wall of blue ice sparkling in the sunshine – if you’re lucky enough to get a sunny day.

Kluane’s backcountry is usually cold, often wet. We, however, got lucky and found ourselves hiking the Donjek during a heat wave – what would be considered a heat wave in the Yukon at least. Every day was 27C with clear blue skies. Creek crossings, usually dreaded because they are often glacier fed and numbingly cold, were enjoyable. We lingered in the creeks, trying to cool down. Heat like this in the Yukon mountains is rare and we relished every moment of it.

There were plenty of very fresh signs of grizzlies but other than one head popping out of the willows for a brief moment, we saw none. A wolf,  however and many sheep, mountain goats and moose were spotted. Voles and arctic ground squirrels were quite abundant.

Few backpackers hike the Donjek Route. Its length, difficulty and lack of a trail keeps most Kluane visitors away but this only means that those with the experience, time and tenacity will most likely not see any other humans during their time here. And that solitude is something we yearn for. It is one of the things that keeps us coming back.

 

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