2012  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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   THE JOURNEY SOUTH, DAY 4:
WATSON LAKE, YT TO FORT NELSON, BC

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 9

 
"Words are inadequate to describe the spectacular scenery of northern British Columbia.  
It is here that jagged ranges of snow-clad peaks, timbered foothills, fertile valleys,  
great lakes and rivers combine to form a photographer's paradise."
 
~ from the 2012 Travel Guide/Experience the North edition, p. 96
 
 

This has been by far the best of the first four days on our journey south from Alaska.

Although it was overcast all day the clouds were high enough that we could see a lot of the  beautiful scenery described in the quote above.


There are river views much of the way in this hilly section of the Alaska Hwy.  This is the Liard River.

In addition to the scenic mountainous terrain we traversed today in southern Yukon and northern British Columbia, the condition of the Alaska Highway continues to improve as we drive southeast and today we saw more wildlife than probably any other single day since we've been in Canada and Alaska -- even on our Denali bus tours!

In fact, there are so many pictures and so much journaling I want to share today that I'll divide them into several pages.

I'll start with general road trip information . . .

TODAY'S ROUTE:   Three hundred twenty-six miles east and south on the Alaska Highway, also called YT 1 in the Yukon and BC 97 in British Columbia. Now that the road surface is improving we can drive more miles, more easily.

These are the relevant map sections from The Milepost website with today's route highlighted:

 

East of Watson Lake the highway crosses the Yukon/British Columbia border several times, although you can't see that on the map sections above. Most of the time today we were in British Columbia.

We left Watson Lake about 9 AM and arrived in Fort Nelson at 4:30 PM, all Pacific Time. We stopped several times for photos of scenery and wildlife, a walk at Liard River Hot Springs, lunch, and other short breaks. I'll talk more about the stops we made in a little bit.

ROAD CONDITIONS:  better and better as we travel east toward more populated areas. Jim was able to go 60 MPH most of the time. There were a few rougher sections but nothing like in the Yukon. The worst was just east of Liard River Hot Springs as we got into more mountainous terrain. I think summer road repairs made the surface better than it was in June.

It's ironic that we saw warning signs like this as we entered British Columbia -- but none in the Yukon, where road conditions are noticeably worse:

There was minimal road construction and no one working today (a Sunday) along our route. Some of the smoothest pavement was through the Rockies where the new chip-seal pavement was recently laid but hasnít been painted yet. 

We were able to spot the place around Muncho Lake where we went through water on the road in early June. Crews were busy at that time with bulldozers, trying to divert the water pouring over the road from the north:

Above and below:  flooding at Muncho Lake on June 7; no problems today

This area was flooded even worse the next couple days while we were in Watson Lake. I believe I read that the pavement was washed out here, too. We were lucky in June that we were farther along where we had a good campsite for the duration of the road closures.

This is what the low, damaged area looked like today, coming from the other direction:

They did a good job repairing the site. It probably wasn't the first time the road has been flooded or otherwise damaged here; it's low and in a drainage area.

All around the northeast (non-lake) side of Muncho Lake there are loose rocks and some cliffs. It looks like mudslides and rockslides would be a continual hazard along the lake, too.

TRAFFIC CONDITIONS:  still fairly light. We saw more RVs today, going in both directions. We played tortoise and hare with several campers who stopped various places like we did.


Lots of mountainous terrain today

This section through the Rockies is the hilliest part of the Alaska Highway and in my opinion is the most scenic with all the mountains, river valleys, and glacial lakes like Muncho and Summit.

Our elevations ranged from 1,400 feet over one of the many rivers we crossed to a high point of 4,250 feet at Summit Pass.


View of Summit Lake from Summit Pass

The next highest pass was Steamboat Mountain Pass at 3,500 feet. The longest (6.7 miles) and steepest (8%) grade on this section of the Alaska Hwy. was at the end of today's trip from Steamboat Mountain Pass down to Fort Nelson at 1,383 feet elevation.

Except for the two passes we were mostly at lower elevations today than the first three days in Canada. The tree leaves, shrubs, and other plants were more green today because weíre gradually going south and at lower elevations. We didn't see quite as many gold, orange, and red leaf colors in this segment.

Above and below:  some early autumn leaf color above the Liard River, which we followed for quite a while

WEATHER:  overcast all day.

The clouds were generally higher today and the mountains werenít obscured like they have been on some of this journey south.

Above and below:  some fog this morning along the Liard River east of Watson Lake but it wasn't a problem

We got into a little bit of fog once but nothing like yesterday.

We had really good views down to the Muskwa River valley near Steamboat Mountain Pass:


Approaching Steamboat Pass from the west


Broad Muskwa riverbed below us as we climb to the pass


Still climbing the mostly-gentle grade up to 3,500 feet; no snow up here --or fog, like on June 7.

We missed those and other views in the rain and fog in early June: 


We couldn't see a doggone thing on the pass in the fog on June 7
and almost ran into a large truck pulling out of the overlook at the top.

Although it would have made for better pictures to have blue sky, at least we didnít have to drive into the sun this morning.

We didnít see any snow on any of the mountains this time Ė terminal dust or snow remaining from the winter. I know there was still snow on the mountains around Muncho Lake in June.


Muncho Lake;  Peterson Mountain is in the distance.

It was in the low 50s F. in Watson Lake this morning and definitely cooler than that at 4,250 feet at Summit Pass.

It warmed up as we descended from 3,500 feet at Steamboat Mountain Pass to Fort Nelson -- 68 F. and partly sunny in town. Nice! It was warmer outside than inside the camper so we kept the doors and windows open for a while after we got set up at our campground.

SCENIC STOPS:

1) ALLEN'S LOOKOUT is an overlook at KM 1345 with a great view of the Liard River and Goat Mountain. The huge parking area would be good for staying overnight in an RV. I didn't see any signs prohibiting it.

 

According to a sign at the overlook pirates took advantage of the good views of the river from the overlook to watch for, then rob, passing riverboats.

2) LIARD RIVER HOT SPRINGS PROVINCIAL PARK is a popular tourist destination located at KM 1463 on the Alaska Highway. We planned to stop at the park on the way up to Alaska in June but bypassed it after our unexpected five-day delay in Watson Lake due to the highway washouts.

We stopped for about 45 minutes today so we could check out the campground and trail to the hot springs. I'll write more about the park in a separate entry.

The Alaska Highway passed through or next to three other scenic provincial parks today -- Stone Mountain (includes Summit Lake and Summit Pass), Muncho Lake, and Northern Rocky Mountain. We stopped at the two lakes briefly to stretch our legs and enjoy the views:

3) MUNCHO LAKE is a beautiful 7Ĺ -mile-long glacial lake in a provincial park named after it. "Muncho" means "Big Lake" in the Kaska language. It is one of the largest natural lakes in the Canadian Rockies.

We stopped at the west end of the lake at approximately KM 1516 to eat lunch and enjoy the views to the water and the "folded" mountains (Terminal Range) on the other side of the lake.

I continued taking pictures as Jim drove along the lake shore, with the water close to my side and cliffs sometimes near us on the driver's side. We stopped a couple other places along the lake for other views and more photos.

What a beautiful section of the highway, even on a cloudy day!

 

The lake's deep greenish-blue color comes from the silt that leaches into it. Today the water next to the shore looked its iconic deep turquoise color but farther out it wasnít very colorful, apparently because of all the clouds.

We saw measuring sticks like these in at least two places. This one has a red ribbon tied on it. I'm guessing it's a high-water mark:

It was near the place where the road was flooded in June and at about the right height.

Continued on the next page:  scenes from Summit Lake and Pass, Toad River area, Fort Nelson, and a heritage museum

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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