Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Slim's River West, Kluane National Park

Happy: Jan. 
The last substantial hike of this Yukon trip took us to Kluane National Park, located a couple of hours from Whitehorse in the Southwest corner of the Territory. We opted for a relatively simple trail along Slim's River West/Ä’äy Chù West, which is entirely located inside the Park. The 22.5 km long trail features a wide variety of mountain features, alluvial fans, brush, sand dunes and creek crossing. The crossing of Bullion Creek made us stop and think. These glacial waters run fast, cold and quite high. Wading through such waters has not been part of our regular outings, so we were happy to have paid attention at the briefing with Parks staff.

Beautiful mountains, river and valley.
We also had been told that this trail has frequent bear activity. Around km 16 as expected we spotted a grizzly heading across the slope toward some tasty berry bushes. As we hiked hugging the river rather than the mountain slope, we decided to proceed and kept an eye on the bear until it disappeared into the bushes. A few minutes later, we saw him stand up on his hind legs, look at us and sniff - he had noticed us by the river as we were now perpendicular to him and he might have heard us finally as we moved up-wind - then turn and run off. Clearly this adult had better things to do than be near a couple of hikers.
See the grizzly? 

We continued on our way, happy and content that this would be a bear observation rather than an encounter. We made it to the camping area at Canada Creek in just under 8 hours. Like in Tombstone I was a little under-fueled in the last hour or so of the hike - which also happened to be the part of the trail with some steep ups and downs, even though they are not that sustained - and ended up hauling out the last piece of tastiest salami EVER from my bear canister. I needed that!
The many parts of Canada Creek heading into Slim's River.
We set up camp in the open area by one of the
Our tent fit the vast landscape well.
many arms of Canada Creek. Four other tents were there belonging to three separate groups. One group was hanging out at camp. Two other pairs were still out at Observation Mountain. We met up with each later in the evening to hear about their fairly epic 10-, 11-hour days of route finding, impressive creek crossings, awesome views and generally exhilarating hiking. One had gone fast and light, the other carried overnight gear just in case. All were elated.

Glaciers above the toe of Kaskawulsh glacier.
We decided that if we were to head up Observation Mountain, we would want to get an early start so we could avoid the very high water crossings both of them described. As it turned out, sleeping in was the order of the next day and we spent a few hours exploring the Canada Creek area below Observation Mountain toward the Kaskawulsh glacier.

In the afternoon we met up with three new arrivals at camp. They had had a whole different kind of encounter with two juvenile grizzlies over about four hours and were ready to relax and take it easy. We decided to hike out together the next day, as there is considerable safety in numbers. We enjoyed campfire chats with Colleen, Tom and Danielle. As it turned out Colleen and I had met before through my work in the performing arts! It was surreal and fun when we both realized that we were having a quintessential"small world" moment in the Yukon wilderness.

This is what wind looks like.
Foot of Observation Mountain.
The hike out the next day was uneventful, despite the occasional route finding challenge along sections of the high trail. Jan showed us all the perfect spot for crossing back over Bullion Creek and we said our good byes that evening at the trail head. We drove to Haines Junction where we camped at Pine Lake, after enjoying a well-earned meal at Frosty's. The next morning, we headed for breakfast and then to the Da Ku Cultural Centre. Then we returned to our Whitehorse "base camper" to see our dear friend Michele, her sons and the dogs for an awesome weekend of memorable meals, meeting lovely dinner guests, beautiful Okanagan wine and fruit, walking with the dogs, and all manner of stories and music.
I made fire ... which was easy to do with the tinder-dry wood
and constant wind.

This was our last weekend. I found leaving hard. Both the unique geography of this place and an indelible sense of an expanded family have been imprinted on my soul. I think it may be the closest to home I have ever felt.

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