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.

In Between The Rains We Played In Atlin

Heat waves and periods of intense rain sums up the month of July. Having the summer off means we can decide when and where to go, depending on where the nicest weather lies. We had plans to spend a couple of weeks exploring Mount Edziza but wildfires in Northern BC forced us to look elsewhere.

At the beginning of the month we returned to Atlin Lake, spending a week paddling and hiking a provincial park does not get enough attention considering how beautiful it is and how fun the paddling is – if you remember to choose your weather. Wolves, grizzlies and mountain goats can be spotted, islands with baby gulls and arctic terns and protective adults occupy all the rocky islands. And of course there are mountains like Cathedral and Llewellyn Glacier to admire. Even though we spent nearly two weeks last summer paddling here we were just as enthralled and enchanted with this place this time around. We explored new bays, new inlets, met a black wolf, camped beside a bee’s nest.

When The Lakes Are Free Of Ice – Agay Mene Territorial Park

As soon as the ice melts from the local lakes, off we go paddling. Snafu Lake offers coves and bays to explore and lakes beyond beckon the curious determined enough to portage the beaver dams and shallow creeks. It is also a wonderful place for birding. Common loons, all kinds of ducks – mallard, goldeneyes, buffleheads, wigeons and more – all nest here. Osprey nest and fish here. Bald eagles as well. As do mew gulls. More than once we have spotted lynx. Last year a lynx watched us paddle beneath the hill it regally sat on. This year a lynx, its back turned away from us on the water and therefore unaware of us, hunted the edge of a marsh. A black or grizzly bear may be seen ambling a grassy hillside or a porcupine might be found napping among soapberry bushes.

Summer Recap

14 weeks of playing outside. There was way too much rain but we played as much as we could. We canceled a pretty big canoe trip as a result of many things getting in the way. Life is rarely predictable. Instead, we wandered the southern bit of the Yukon and a corner of northern BC, hiking, paddling. Somehow, even when we agreed to have an easy day of hiking we ended up far off trail and scrambling on mountain goat paths above canyons. The mountains are addictive. Once you start wandering, it’s hard to stop. We napped in alpine meadows. Read a lot of books on gloomy rainy days. Met a couple of grizzlies, a few black bears. It was a summer of aimless wandering, something we have perfected in twenty years of foregoing the pursuit of careers and material possessions.

Autumn is upon us and winter will soon follow so we return to work.

Below is a compilation of some of our summer highlights. Social media, however is great at making people’s lives look “epic” when the truth is we all have our bullshit struggles. Sure I’ve been fortunate to spend the summer playing in beautiful places but there are days when it is hard to see beauty in anything, difficult to find optimism in the blackness in my head. There are days when it is challenging to crawl out from the crushing weight of depression to hike, even though I know that once I’m up in the alpine, where the heather blooms and grizzlies roam and glaciers shimmer, I will be in my happy place. But hiking up a mountain to reach the alpine is easier than hiking out of a depression. This summer I had a few of those difficult days but, as always, the mountains never disappointed to recharge the soul.

The mountains surrounding our home were our focus in the spring. Only a ten minute drive from home we had three different mountain ranges to wander. And for the summer we wandered between Kluane National Park and Reserve, Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park and Atlin Provincial Park and the mountain ranges in between.

Atlin Lake Provincial Park

I won’t say much about Atlin Lake other than it’s worth the effort to get there and go paddling. There is infinite beauty and peace to be discovered, plus there’s a warm spring to slip into after a week or so of paddling, to soothe tired muscles.

We spent eight days paddling the provincial park and were fortunate to enjoy eight days of sunshine and calm waters. We met mountain goats, moose, a family of river otters, nesting gulls, curious mell gulls, scoters, ospreys, devil’s club, waterfalls. A shrinking glacier. The list goes on.

Llewellyn Glacier

Paddling Muscles, How Quickly They Wither

We set off each morning with the intention of paddling long days but in truth we end up spending a lot of time floating on the water, watching birds: a mallard hiding in the weeds with her brood of eleven, yellowlegs “pweer”ing at us. A pair of red-tailed hawks made the ring-necked ducks nervous. An American kestrel harassed a family of gray jays. There was so much commotion, how could we just paddle by. Numerous beaver dams along the river slowed our progress and tested our resolve and minuscule wood frogs beneath our feet made traveling between ponds a challenge.

Agay Mene Territorial Park, just one hundred kilometres south of Whitehorse will soon become the Yukon’s newest territorial park, preserving subalpine forests, wetlands, mountain ranges, several pristine lakes, all of which is critical habitat for wolves, caribou, bear and moose. Scanning a topo map of this new park reveals a labyrinth chain of lakes and towering mountains, an intriguing outdoor playground to explore, Tarfu and Snafu lakes being the two most popular.

But the park isn’t just about paddling. Mount White is an impressive limestone mountain towering over the boreal forest and Little Atlin Lake. Once in the alpine, the summit rolls on and on, beckoning hikers further along the ambling ridgeline.

Happily Unemployed – Week One of About 16

With four months of unemployment upon us now, off we went hiking and camping along the snow-free sections of the South Klondike Highway. For a week we enjoyed blinding blue skies and an alpine a-bloom with violet crocuses, mountain forget-me-nots and arnica and nesting ptarmigan. We spied two nanny goats with very young kids resting and feeding on the only grassy knoll along the steep cliffs. The first of the swallowtail butterflies mud-puddled and fluttered beneath our feet. Being unemployed means we get to play during the week while everyone else toils at work. We have the silence of the mountains, lakes, rivers and campsites to ourselves.

And while we are out in the mountains without responsibilities of any kind I can imbibe in some Nova Scotia caramel hooch with breakfast while sitting on the shore of Tutshi Lake. A mouse scuttles in the soapberry bushes behind me and a belted kingfisher fishes from a branch above the eddy across from me while red-breasted mergansers fly upstream, ignoring both the kingfisher and me. It’s quite a lovely way to spend a morning as John cooks up breakfast and boils tea. I have very few complaints.

The rest of our week was quintessential Yukon wilderness travel: getting snorted at by caribou, watching Dall sheep travel across scree slopes, black bears graze the first of the green grasses and fresh grizzly bear and wolf tracks in the mud let us know that large beasts roam the hillsides not far ahead. There was so much wildlife to help remind us of our insignificance.

Life in the mountains is so much quieter, calmer, saner. What a shame that we build our cities to scream and rush and yell.

From Yellowknife To The Barrens

We paddled from Yellowknife, NWT across Great Slave Lake, up Pike’s Portage, Artillery Lake, Lockhart River and Ptarmigan Lake, then down the Hanbury and Thelon Rivers.

It was just the two of us for 59 days, not another human soul seen but plenty of bears, muskoxen, wolverine, fish and birds.

A story about our trip can be found here.


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