Tombstone Territorial Park is an unusual place. For one thing, it is host to the most incredible rugged mountains you could ever imagine. Secondly, you are actively encouraged to hike off the trails. There are only a few ‘official’ trails in Tombstone, as well as a limited number of established campsites, so you can also camp wherever you want as well. In this harsh northern environment, there are few trees here to impede your journey, making it is far easier to navigate and pick your own route. Indeed, one local ranger advocated us to simply choose a mountain and hike up it.
off the beaten path
All I knew of Tombstone Park before we went was the jagged peaks featured on the front of seemingly every Yukon Tourism publication. While driving through the park in June we had seen many impressive looking mountains, but none matched the photos I had seen. As it turns out, these mountains are most easily seen by hiking an established 11km trail to Grizzly Lake. My mind was set on doing this trail while JR wanted to follow the ranger’s advice and go off track. So, we did both. After all, we can’t ignore the name of this blog!
hiking over tundra
Hike no.1 was to summit Rake Mountain (1,600m), a peak located close to the Dempster Highway. We were recommended to try this one by the staff at Interpretive Centre as there is a rough ‘horse trail’ leading to the base, which makes the beginning a little faster. Before reaching the horse trail though, it is necessary to hike a kilometre across tundra (2nd photo). Despite later hiking directly up a mountain, crossing this tundra section was actually the worst part. Tundra is boggy and squishy and hard to walk on. I can only describe it as walking over a giant water bed filled with pineapples.
Since the horse trail led through the valley, it was very boggy too, so we started climbing much earlier than we intended. Hiking without a trail can be pretty rough, especially if you’re climbing a mountain. There are no steps or helpful switchbacks to make the elevation easier. We had to double back and re-route a number of times after finding ourselves in a difficult spot. Having said this….it was awesome. We were finding our own path, not just following a trail, and making our own way up a mountain. Pretty cool.
the top of rake mountain
Arriving at the peak of Rake Mountain was incredible. We had a 360 degree view of endless rolling mountains and tundra, with the Dempster Highway winding through it all. Trucks and other vehicles on the road were visible, along with our own van which we had left just three hours before. Yep, from start to finish, this hike took around three hours, with a number of climbing breaks. Of course, it was a hard climb, but my gosh was it worth it. This hike has the best effort to reward ratio I have ever experienced. I would never have guessed we could have achieved these views in such a short time.
nowhere to hide
Our original plan was to continue hiking along the ridge to the next mountain, but we were quite happy to camp here. We didn’t need to stay overnight, but we wanted to spend a night in a wilderness camp (i.e. not established). My only fear was of grizzly bears since this was prime bear territory. The rangers had advised us to take two bear sprays (!!) and a bear-proof food cannister to try and avoid any issues. Being in the alpine (as opposed to down in the valley) and in a lesser frequented area (few hikers = few food smells) worked to our advantage, and we didn’t see any. The only wildlife we saw was lots and lots of grouse! One of the many beauties of hiking in this area – no trees. There are far fewer places for animals to hide!
descending rake mountain in fog
Waking up the next morning, we couldn’t see a thing. At first, we could barely see our own outstretched hands. It cleared up a little but then the rain set in. We packed up quickly and made a dash for the van. Well, not so much a dash as a slow descent through the rain, fog and mud. If going up was difficult, going down was even trickier. JR navigated while I found it hard to balance on the slippy ground. The ‘boggy’ tundra we had hiked the day before was now flooded and harder than ever to cross. We reached the Interpretive Centre campground absolutely soaked. But it was so worth it.
Hiking Rake Mountain not only offered us incredible views of Tombstone, but also showed the potential for veering from official trails. We only travelled a short distance from the highway to see these vistas – imagine if we had continued on down the pass for another few days? Another trip!
Tombstone Territorial Park is a large protected wilderness area in northern Yukon, around an hour and a half away from Dawson City (pop. 1,300). The park is accessible from the Dempster Highway, the 737km dirt road to Inuvik (NWT) and the Arctic Circle. The road intersects Tombstone at around 50km in, with the Interpretive Centre located a bit later at 71km.
We had intended to go hiking in Tombstone on the way back from Inuvik, but there was still a fair amount of snow at the higher elevations despite it being late June. We vowed to come back after our 700km journey down the Yukon River. And I’m very glad we did.
Have you ever hiked in Tombstone? Do you have any stories of hiking away from official trails? Let us know!
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