2012  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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   JOURNEY THROUGH THE YUKON:
KLUANE LAKE TO THE ALASKAN BORDER

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 13

 
"According to Public Works Yukon, much of the soil along the north Alaska Highway is of
glacial origin and unsuitable for road embankments. Anything that causes the permafrost to melt   
will cause the ice-rich soil to liquify, and liquid soil has little strength and will settle or subside.
If this soil refreezes during lower air temperatures it will expand or heave. This process
wreaks havoc on the drivability of the road surface by creating undulations and cracking."
 
~ The Milepost Alaska Travel Planner, 2011, p. 209 describing the challenging road
conditions between Destruction Bay and the Alaskan border
 
 
This is the last of several entries about our memorable journey through the southwestern part of the Yukon Territory on the Alaska Highway.

WEDNESDAY MORNING:  KLUANE LAKE TO THE ALASKA BORDER

It was foggy when we left the Congdon Creek Provincial Park campground this morning. The temperature was quite chilly, in the low 40s F.

Clouds and sporadic light rain hung over the Kluane, St. Elias, Ruby, Nisling, and Nutzotin Mountain ranges as we continued traveling through the broad river valleys between these mountain ranges. We could see fresh snow up to the cloud level and on some of the peaks. As cold as it's been the last couple of days it has probably been snowing on the mountains when we've had rain down below.

It was difficult to get any good photos of the Kluane and St. Elias Ranges from my side of the truck; they were on Jim's side this morning and he was busy driving.


Foggy view toward the mountains as we drive out of the park

Jim indulged me by stopping about an hour up the highway at the Kluane River Overlook Rest Area at Km 1726 so I could read the interpretive panels and take better photos of the mountains:

 

This is reportedly a good place to observe grizzly bears and bald eagles when the chum salmon swim up the river to spawn in this area in August and September. Bears and eagles love to eat salmon.

We'll have to remember to stop at this wayside again on our way back to the Lower 48 and maybe we can see some action.

This is one of several broad river valleys in the Yukon. They are all rich in biological resources that have sustained both Native Peoples and wildlife for thousands of years.

I especially liked reading one of the interpretive panels at this location that was written by the Kluane Nation, welcoming visitors to their traditional lands and wishing them safe passage:

For countless generations the land and water in this valley have provided their gifts of fish, birds, and big game to the people of the Kluane First Nation. It was a time of harmonious co-existence.

During the short summer season, the vast northern forest came alive to the sound of songbirds and the piercing call of gulls, hawks, and eagles. The woods provided shelter for the silent passage of moose, caribou, bear, and other animals.

In sheltered mountain valleys, small community settlements were built along important waterways near abundant sources of wild game, fish, and waterfowl staging areas. These settlements of log structures were a winter refuge for our nomadic ancestors.

The Kluane First Nation has since adopted modern technology but continues to use the land and water around you for the necessities of life:  food, water, medicine, tools, shelter, and clothing. We work together to preserve our culture and heritage and to ensure that our resources and environment remain in the pristine state our ancestors entrusted us with.

BEAR ALERT!

Less than 20 miles north of the Kluane River Valley overlook we came to the large Donjek River Valley on the south, with partial views to the Icefield Ranges of the St. Elias Mountains: 

 

It was still too cloudy to get a good view of the mountains but look what Jim spotted on his side of the road -- two grizzlies grazing right next to the shoulder!

He could see that no one was coming behind us (still very little traffic today until we got into Alaska) so he pulled over and stopped on the right side of the road to take more pictures of the bears.

The grizzlies completely ignored us -- and Cody's growling; he knew they were there.

 

 

That was very cool.

As we continued north we flashed a trio of approaching motorcyclists to warn them about the bears. That could be a risky way to travel through the Yukon, but not as risky as the few bicycles we've seen.

We also passed by numerous lakes and streams, including the broad Donjek and White River bridges


Donjek River

and Pickhandle, Reflection, and Moose Lakes:

We could see large white trumpeter swans sitting on their nests on little grassy islands on some of the lakes and ponds.

THE ROAD FROM HELL?

We've read in Milepost, the Church's book (Alaskan Camping), and numerous RVers' blogs that the very worst part of the Alaskan Highway is from Destruction Bay to the YT/AK border, a distance of about 136 miles. Some expand the problem area to the last 200 miles in the Yukon Territory.

Not only are the road conditions reputed to be more primitive here, it's also where many RVers get windshield and other damage to their vehicles from rocks thrown up by faster vehicles -- especially big trucks barreling down the highway.

Since Destruction Bay was just a few miles north of our campground we were on high alert this morning for frost heaves, wavy pavement, potholes, gravel breaks in the pavement . . . and big, fast trucks!

I can report that the road was pretty poor in some places but our experience wasn't as bad as I expected.


One-lane dirt detour around a washout at Sanpete Creek (Km 1832);
note the large culverts (L) on either side of the big bulldozer.

This section of the Alaska Hwy. has basically been "under construction" since it was first built hastily in 1942. The problem is permafrost, which causes continual challenges for road crews in the Yukon and Alaska.

Milepost has a good description of the concerted efforts by U.S. and Canadian engineers to outwit Mother Nature. Current techniques include vents under the highway to prevent the frozen ground from thawing during the summer. It's the thawing that causes the bed under the road to heave and/or crumble. The better they can keep it frozen, the fewer problems will result.

Since this part of the highway is used more by Alaskans than Canadians, the U.S. has agreed to cover some portion of the maintenance costs in this section. That's reasonable.

We had to drive 20-30 MPH in some areas. In others, we could go 40-50 MPH without wreaking havoc inside the camper. It was intense the whole way, however, because we had to be very alert for upcoming wavy sections and potholes. The gravel breaks were marked with orange flagging or signs but not all the other rough spots were. You notice those more in an RV than in a passenger vehicle.


This dirt detour was smoother than much of the paved road today!

Thank goodness there was minimal traffic on this section this morning. Really minimal. This is a pretty  desolate place. We met an oncoming semi on the worst section of gravel-and-corduroy; that had the potential for windshield damage to us. Fortunately the truck was going about as slow as Jim (10-15 MPH) to minimize the bone-rattling shaking.

That's where I joked to Jim about our eggs being scrambled by the time we got to the Alaska border! I mean, after a while you just have to laugh about it.

We saw only two crews working on the gravel breaks and other problems between Destruction Bay and the border today. The highway department is still in damage-control mode with last week's washouts and mudslides all other the province. The detour in the photos above allows traffic to go around one of last week's washouts so the crew can fix the highway without any traffic on it. Hopefully the two huge culverts waiting to be installed there will prevent this kind of damage during the next flood event.

We hoped that the highway would be better through the first 90 miles in Alaska. (It goes farther, but we're heading south on the Glenn Hwy. from Tok.) See the next entry for conditions on the way to Tok.

ALMOST IN ALASKA!

The last little town in the Yukon going northbound on the Alaska Hwy. is Beaver Creek, where we got a few liters of diesel to ensure we didn't run out before reaching Tok. We're also carrying an extra five gallons of emergency fuel in remote areas.

The Canadian border station is just west of Beaver Creek, approximately 18 miles inside Canada. That surprised us because the Canadian and U.S. border stations in Montana were adjacent to each other and right on the border.

Since there aren't any other roads in this area for someone to use to sneak into the country I guess it really doesn't matter.

Southbound traffic to Canada must go through customs on the left below:


Canadian border station for southbound traffic

Northbound traffic to Alaska simply goes around to the right. We waved bye-bye and continued north.

We'll most likely be re-entering Canada at this point in the fall unless we get a wild hair and go north from Tok to Chicken, AK (don't you just love that name?) and come down the Top of the World and Klondike Highways to Whitehorse. If the weather is nice I'd rather return past Kluane Lake so we can see what these mountains look like when they aren't obscured by clouds.

Pretty soon we saw a big sign welcoming us to Alaska! That was a special moment for us.

We were much more nonchalant about the border crossing into Alaska today than we were a couple weeks ago entering Canada. What will be, will be.

Next entryover the border and finally in Alaska; now what?

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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