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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
We also passed by numerous lakes and streams, including the
broad Donjek and White River bridges
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
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 nearly 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
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.
We had to drive 20-30 MPH in some areas. In others, we could go
40-50 MPH. It was
intense the whole way, however, because we had to be alert for upcoming wavy
sections and potholes.
You notice those more in an RV than in a passenger
vehicle. Fortunately, the gravel breaks were marked with orange flagging or signs.
This dirt detour was smoother than some
paved sections 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 one section of gravel and
worried about windshield
damage to our truck. Fortunately, the truck was going about as slow as
[Addendum after our trip was over: We never did
have any windshield or other damage from flying rocks.]
We saw only two crews working on the gravel breaks 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
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
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 entry: over the border and finally in Alaska; now
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the ultra Lab
© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil