The title of this blog doesn’t seem quite right since for these two weeks it was a solo road trip….just me, the Astro van and a whole lot of northern wilderness.
As mentioned in my last post, JR flew home to New Brunswick to celebrate Acadian Day with his family for the first time in many years, while I continued the road trip into the US after a little detour to BC for my new driver’s license.
Solo road trip
It was my first solo trip in five years, being that I met JR on my last solo trip…five years ago. I’m not going to lie, I was pretty nervous, though I’m not exactly sure why. A
fter all, I travelled on my own for nine months at 18, including a long road trip around New Zealand in an old beater which broke down every few days or so.
I had a little more confidence with our van, but still, somehow Alaska seemed a little scarier than NZ. It was probably the size of the place. And the fact I had a canoe on top of the van, which I physically couldn’t move on my own. And, you know, bears.
First stop of my trip: Skagway. There’s a little strip of Alaska that is practically Canada and Skagway sits right at the top of it. I started writing about my experience in Skagway and before I knew it, I had over 500 words, most of them not very nice.
It just wasn’t my kind of place. My ‘road trip’ posts usually average out at around 1000 words (good on you if you manage to finish them!) so I will be saving all of that for a separate post entirely.
On my second day in Skagway, also the day I left, it started raining. It didn’t stop for the next four days. By road, Skagway and Haines are over 550km apart, but by water, they are separated by a mere 22km.
Haines is a place I think I could have really liked. The photos I have seen of the town, with a multitude of mountains and glaciers framing it, are breathtaking. Unfortunately for me, it was a steady 15 degrees celsius every day, complimented by non-stop heavy rain and thick mist. I tried to outlast the rain, but it was impossible.
The weather forecast? Seven more days of the same. It is difficult to enjoy a place so famed for its scenery when you simply can’t see any of it. Locals told me that they were having the ‘worst summer in 27 years.’ Yukon too was having a bit of a damp summer, but this really was something else.
Haines does have some good points, however, even on rainy days. The two State Parks I stayed in were really nice, especially the Chilkoot Lake site, although I wasn’t lucky enough to watch grizzly bears catching salmon in the river nearby.
There’s an independent brewery in town with some great tasting beer, however, they don’t fill ‘foreign’ growlers (2 litre draft beer container). A bit nitpicky if you ask me.
Back into Yukon
The cloud followed as I headed back up north and over the border again, along the road which I had been told is one of the most scenic in the Yukon and Alaska.
I really couldn’t tell you since I could only see maybe 50 metres in front of the van. I stopped half way to Haines Junction in the hope that the weather would improve overnight.
Kluane National Park
My first morning back in Yukon territory, I saw the sky for the first time in what felt like months. Go Canada! I was no longer that bothered about missing the first part of the Haines highway since the latter part was awesome enough by itself. The road follows the border of Kluane National Park, home of Canada’s highest mountains.
The Park also has North America’s highest concentration of grizzly bears. There are some great trails in this area, but I wasn’t really feeling confident enough to do anything longer than a couple of kilometres by myself, what with it being berry season (a bear’s favourite time of year) and all.
At Kathleen Lake, one of the prettiest lakes in the area, I almost got pushed into the water by seemingly gale-force winds that had sprung up out of nowhere.
A 1800km round trip
From Haines Junction (a picturesque ‘service town’ without a single grocery store) I wasn’t sure what to do. If I wanted to continue into Alaska, it was a 300km drive just to get to the border. My experience of Alaska so far had not been too favourable, to say the least.
A kayak company, Pangaea Adventures, was interested in having me join a glacier tour in Valdez. A 1800km round trip. But what if I did if I went all the way there and just ended up experiencing rainy Haines 2.0?
Realising that I wasn’t sure what to do for the next six days if I didn’t go to Alaska, I went to Alaska. Probably not the best reason ever to go somewhere, but luckily, it worked out.
The Alaskan experience I was looking for
Simply put, I had an incredible six days. It completely exceeded my expectations. It was a heck of a lot of driving to do by myself, but I finally got the Alaskan experience I was looking for. Well, almost.
I may have seen glaciers, mountains, icebergs (!), volcanoes et al, but I hardly saw any wildlife. Alaska is a lot more populated than Yukon (735,000 vs. 34,000) so maybe that has something to do with it.
Alaska is home to a lot of big, impressive scenery, but I still think that the Yukon wins out for true wilderness. The Yukon section of the Alaska Highway from Haines Junction to the border at Beaver Creek was my favourite drive in all of the north. I go back just to do this section again.
I really liked Valdez. The town is another product of the Gold Rush and has experienced a fair amount of hardships in its short history, being destroyed in the 1964 earthquake and then suffering from the Exxon-Valdez oil spill in 1989.
All that aside, Valdez sits in the most beautiful location imaginable. It still rained for half the time I was there, but I stuck it out and I was royally rewarded. I went kayaking with icebergs on the best day ever.
Flying over Klaune National Park
I drove back to the Yukon on a bit of a high (which was good, since I ended up driving 900km in 24 hours), only for things to get even better. Back in Haines Junction, the town without grocery stores, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to take a flight above Kluane National Park.
I saw Mount Logan, which at almost 6,000m is Canada’s highest mountain. That same afternoon, I picked JR up at Whitehorse airport and promptly made him very jealous about not coming to Alaska with me. I just didn’t mention Haines and Skagway too much.
Weeks 17 and 18: Southeastern Yukon and Alaska (Haines, Skagway, Valdez)
3115 kilometres driven (on my own!)
2km paddled (Pine Lake, near Haines Junction)
10km hiked (Kluane National Park, Valdez, Haines)
From top left clockwise: Dyea State Park ($10), Chilkat State Park ($10), Chilkoot Lake State Park ($10 x 2), Million Dollar Falls ($12), Pine Lake ($12), Alaska Highway Rest Stop (free), Wrangell St. Elias National Park ‘Wayside’ (free), Squirrel Creek ($15), Valdez Glacier ($15 x 2), Valdez Marina (free), Valdez Road Rest Stop (free), Lake Creek ($12)….and again at Pine Lake but I forgot to take a photo ($12). The middle photo is the Alaska Highway between Haines Junction and the border
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One half of the Canadian/British couple behind Off Track Travel, Gemma is happiest when hiking on the trail or planning the next big travel adventure. JR and Gemma are currently based in the beautiful Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
Tuesday 14th of October 2014
I'm enjoying your blog, Gemma - you and JR travel much the same way that my wife and I do. Although our camper is much larger now (required to bring 2 dogs and a cat along - that's the story we're sticking to!), we toured New Zealand for a month in a van just a teeny bit larger than yours, so can identify with some of the challenges. Sorry that you came up during the worst excuse for summer that I remember in my 24 years in the Yukon, but I'm pleased to see that you understand most of what you're seeing rather than just smoking through with no particular thought about it all. Skagway on a sunny day is actually spectacular - and absolutely mad when there are 5 cruise ships docked there for the day.
Tuesday 14th of October 2014
Hi Murray! Thanks for your lovely comment as well as the Facebook message. I will have to check out your blog ASAP! Sometimes I think I would love to travel with animals too, but then everything seems a little big more complex (and bigger). The worst summer in 24 years....we were really so unlucky. It's frustrating maybe that just means we'll come back someday! I'll write more about it soon but I found Skagway really difficult for the main reason that I was suddenly really confused about where I was. Everyone seemed more interested in buying diamonds than looking around them....
Friday 10th of October 2014
Another amazing blog entry with splendid photographs ! Very jealous for the icebergs, that seemed like an extraordinary experience for you :) And congrats on all of the km that you drove !!
Monday 13th of October 2014
Thanks Jessica! Kayaking with icebergs is definitely one of my highlights of 2014...maybe even my whole six years of travelling!