2012  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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JOURNEY THROUGH THE YUKON:  
WHITEHORSE TO KLUANE LAKE

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 13

 
"View northbound of the rugged snow-capped peaks of the Kluane Icefield Ranges
and the outer portion of the St. Elian Mountains to the west. The Kluane
National Park Icefield Ranges are the world's largest nonpolar,
alpine ice field, forming the interior wilderness of the park."
 
~ description at Km 1548 on the Alaska Hwy. in The Milepost Alaska Travel Planner, p. 200
 
 
This is a continuation of our journey through the southwestern part of the Yukon Territory yesterday and today.

TUESDAY AFTERNOON:  WHITEHORSE TO KLUANE LAKE

We left Whitehorse at 1 PM and began one of the most scenic sections of the Alaska Highway. Too bad we couldn't see all of it!

By then the sky was more cloudy, partially obscuring views to the top of the mighty Kluane Icefield Range and the St. Elias Range, home to Canada's highest peaks -- Mt. Logan (19,545 feet), Mt. St. Elias (18,008 feet), Mt. Lucania (17,147 feet), King Peak (16,971 feet), Mt. Steele (16,664 feet), and other peaks above 15,000 feet.


Not the Big Boys, but majestic nonetheless: peaks in the Kluane Range visible from Congdon Creek CG


Blue on blue: another view of the mountains from Kluane Lake

Most of those peaks aren't visible from the Alaska Hwy. even on a sunny day. The rugged snow-capped mountains we could see in this section are in the 8,000-foot range and they were beautiful despite the clouds yesterday.

Hopefully we'll have sunnier weather when we come back this way in the fall.

CANYON CREEK #2

At Km 1547 we came to another Canyon Creek and stopped at the rest area on the east side of it to read about the historic bridge that was built in 1904 during a nearby gold strike.

One of the great things about The Milepost book is the heads-up it gives for things to see along the Alaska Hwy. We were ready for a break when we got to this area near Kluane (kloo-WAH-nee) Lake and the book's description of a large turnout lured us in.

Above and below:  not safe for heavy vehicles but fun to walk over

The original bridge has been rebuilt several times since it was replaced by a sturdier bridge a few hundred feet downstream during construction of the Alaska Hwy. Although it doesn't look much like the original it does look old and it offers scenic views of the creek.

I liked this sign nearby:

One thing I've noticed about rural Canada is how clean most of it is -- except in urban areas.

A few miles past this creek we came to Haines Junction, a town of about 900 people. We continued north and west on the Alaska Highway (YT 1) toward Kluane Lake. The Haines Hwy. (YT 3) goes south to Haines, Alaska, which we might visit on the way back in the fall. Haines is across a bay from Skagway, AK, which is also reached by road through the Yukon and British Columbia.

Haines Jct. is on the northeastern boundary of Kluane National Park. Because of the chilly, damp weather we didn't stop at the park visitor center in town. We'll save a visit to the park for our return trip.


View toward Kluane National Park form Haines Junction


Kluane Range on the way to Kluane Lake

About fifteen miles west of Haines Jct. we hit the literal high spot on the section of the Alaska Highway between Whitehorse, YT and Fairbanks, AK -- Bear Creek Summit (elev. 3,294 feet).

It still fascinates me that we are at such low elevations yet feel like we are high up in the Colorado Rockies.

BEAUTIFUL KLUANE LAKE

We've been looking forward to seeing Kluane Lake, the largest lake in the Yukon -- and it has a bunch of lakes! This one is very special.


First glimpse of Kluane Lake from the south

It covers about 154 square miles and is fed by streams coming down from the older Ruby Range to the north and younger Kluane Range to the south.

Because there are glaciers in those mountains the water in the lake has a glacial blue tint. On an overcast day, however, it didn't look nearly as deep turquoise-blue as British Columbia's Muncho Lake did on a sunny day last week.

At the south end of the lake we stopped at a viewpoint to read several interpretive panels about the cultural and natural history of the area.

First Nations people have hunted, trapped, fished, and gathered plants and berries in this area for thousands of years.

Their lives changed dramatically after two more recent events -- the gold rush in the early 1900s and the construction of the Alaska Hwy. in 1942. Despite the changes, traditional activities continue to play an important role in local Tutchone culture.

We also enjoyed reading about the role glaciers have played in the formation of and changes to the lake though time.


One of numerous feeder streams into Kluane Lake

One of the most interesting phenomena is the complete reversal of the flow of water from the lake approximately 300-400 years ago.

Water used to flow from the south end of the lake to the Gulf of Alaska and the Pacific Ocean. After one of the glaciers advanced across the outlet and closed it, raising water levels by about 30 feet, the lake began draining from the north end in a newly-carved channel. Since then it has drained into the Yukon River System, which flows north into the Bering Sea.

The lake has now receded by about 40 feet but the water continues to flow out the north end. Looking across the lake you can still see where the beaches used to be when the lake was higher.

Despite all the recent rain and snowmelt the south end of the lake looks like it's at "low tide:"

 

The road winds around the south end of the lake and hugs the northwestern shore between the Kluane Mountains and the lake.

A little farther north the lake looks more inviting

HIGHWAY REPAIRS AT KLUANE LAKE

A couple miles after the wayside with that viewing point we came to the second-biggest problem that occurred last week on the Alaska Highway -- mudslides and another washout at the south end of Kluane Lake near Km 1639.

This is the Kelly Wroot photo I showed in a previous entry from the CBC article dated June 8:

Yesterday afternoon as we approached this damaged section of the highway next to the lake, crews were still working on the road. No one was coming the other way so we were waved on through.

The culvert and debris were on Jim's side of the road and I didn't get very good pictures of the mess that remained:

 

We could see bent parts of that metal culvert still lying in other debris off to the side of the road (not shown). A new, larger culvert (above) appears ready to be installed when permanent repairs are made.

The temporary repair to this section between Haines Jct. and Destruction Bay was reopened after just a couple of days. Only two people were handling traffic when we passed through. I assume more will be sent as soon as crews are available for a more permanent fix.

Several miles later, after swinging around the south side of the lake, we turned into the Tachal Dhal Visitor Centre at Km 1649.

I had read the information about the interpretive exhibits in Milepost but failed to note that it closes at 4 PM. We arrived 15 minutes too late and found the door locked:

Oh, well. We searched the rocky slopes on Tachal Dhal (formerly Sheep Mountain, shown in the photo above) in the hopes of seeing some of the female Dall sheep that live there in late spring with their lambs but we didn't see any.

The view of Kluane peaks to the south is scenic, especially with a foreground of bright dandelions, sweet vetch, and other wildflowers:

We looked for large turnouts along the lake where we might be able to spend the night. We did see some that might have been suitable but decided to spend the night at the government campground at Congdon Creek (Km 1666).

It was an excellent choice for us.

Continued in the next entry: the Congdon Creek Provincial Park campground and photos from a hike along the lake shore

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the ultra Lab

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2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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