Ketchikan- The unexpected stopover

I left off my last post being disembarked in Ketchikan because of the Alaska Marine Highway Strike. This strike was just another part of the adventure for us, although it is a crucial means of transportation for all of Southeast Alaska. We are lucky that we are teachers and have flexibility, others don’t have that same luxury. The first half of this post will cover what Sara and I did in Ketchikan, the second half will be some links to news reports and edited posts about the importance of the ferry. We support the works in what they are trying to do despite it throwing a wrench in our plans (I mean that is what strikes and protests are meant to do, right?)

Totem Bight SHP

We arrived in Ketchikan in the morning and got ready to disembark. We had a room on the ferry Kennicott because we thought that were going to spend several nights there and the luggage we needed for several nights we still needed for 1 so we had a lot of stuff but we packed up and were ready to load up the car and drive off and then we waited. And we waited. And we made friends with a French and a British lady. Then we waited some more. Apparently the other ferry at the dock was too close so we had to put out to the channel again, while the other ferry was moved and the crew was going to try and dock again. So we made lunch, read, sat around for a while. Then they started attempt two. And we waited with our luggage. And waited some more. And waited more. This time the wind was too high. They say third times the charm and we finally docked and loaded up our car and drove off.

Dockside in Ketchikan

The hunting harbor seal pair.

Needless to say after the stress of the morning and the waiting both Dr. N and I were ready to be off the boat. We went to the shipping companies (since calling them resulted in more confusion than help) and spoke with some wonderful workers who both reassured us and finally were able to explain everything. Then we took the car on a final drive before loading her up the next morning. We visited Totem Bight State Historical Park looking at some of the historical totem poles from the Tlingit and Haida which the CCC undertook to save in the 1930s. It is in a section of forest on the coast, which was really nice since it allowed us both to decompress from all the stress. After a failed attempt at finding a brewery (looks to be only production no tap room), we had dinner and settled in for the night.

The next morning we drove to the shipping docks, secured our luggage in the back, did our finally inspection and said “See you in a few days to our car.” We returned to downtown Ketchikan where we decided to just lean into the tourism life and walk around with 10,000 of our newest friends (i.e. cruise ship passengers). We visited Creek Street, Ray Troll’s art gallery and the dock area before lunch. Afterwards, Dr. N enjoyed a dry afternoon (by that I mean nap) in the room while I took a soaking historic walk through West Ketchikan and Newtown looking at the old canaries and working docks. Then we decided to do something totally different from our travels and watch a movie. It is not something you think to do while traveling, but you start to miss things like that when you have been on the road for 53 days. So we settled in for some popcorn and blissful movie watching (we saw Yesterday, which we both really liked). Then it was another early night in.

Outside Knudsen Bay

On the following day, I had a phone meeting so I took a stroll down to Creek Street where I saw two harbor seals hunting salmon, a good reminder that even though they look cute they could rip your face off if they wanted. Then Dr. N and I called a cab and headed to Knudsen Cove to rent a kayak for the day. We had a wonderful ride with Morgan from Louisiana, who treated us to coffee from Green Bean (either cause he is really nice, wanted a refill himself or both). Once we made it to the kayaking place we found someone to check us it and get us in our boat. They were really chill there- a stark departure from how other outfits in Alaska were- and we headed out onto the water by ourselves. We visited Clover and Betton islands were I geeked out over how many starfish were in the waters and a family of 4-6 seals said hello to us. After paddling around we docked and headed back to town where naps were in order. Then after dinner we took a casual 5 mile stroll down the shore to Saxman Totem park. We didn’t mean to do the whole 5 miles but we were enjoying each other’s company and the path was level, which made it easy to crush.

Saxmam Park

On our final day in Ketchikan, we had breakfast at Sweet Mermaid and then moseyed around the town before catching the ferry to the airport (cause there is no bridge off Ketchikan) and boarded our plane back to the lower 48, where Aunt Bliss was kind enough to pick us up from the airport.

We are in the final days of our trip now and can’t wait to share them with you in the next few posts. Now for some of the news connected with the strike.

First off, Dr. N gave a tip to Denver Channel about the strike and we got interviewed and had 5 minutes of Denver fame! Here is the link

Second here is an update about the strike.

From Dr. N:

I’m not sure that the reason we’re approaching the “stranded” part of this adventure is that it’s really just an adventure for us. Sure, it would’ve been nice to see Olivia kittyface, finally wear a different pair of pants or sleep in my own bed on schedule. But as the AMHS is the backbone of SE Alaska, we count ourselves lucky we’re not in one of these situations. I read that 12 people from Ketchikan had to be flown to Sitka to receive chemo this week. For others, our “adventure”is life threatening especially if the ferry is still so underfunded.

Did you know that if a pregnant woman has a complication and must go to a major hospital because the clinic in her community can’t treat her and she can’t fly, she goes by ferry?

Did you know if someone has a mental break down in a small community and can’t get on a plane, they are transported by ferry?

Did you know that if someone passes away and their body needs to be transported back to their village for burial, and the planes aren’t flying they are sent by ferry!?

Did you know if you have to use oxygen and the planes won’t allow you to fly you have to go by ferry?

Did you know, that when weather is bad and small planes can’t fly (for 2 days of weather hold) into smaller communities without Alaska Airlines, the mail comes in off the ferry? This means all mail, including Rx drugs that are filled in bigger towns, for example Juneau, that are needed for people in smaller communities, like Skagway.

Did you know that to have fresh food or even canned goods brought to a lot of communities it is done by ferry?

Did you know that to get from the lower 48 to Alaska if you don’t take the ferry you must drive through a foreign country, and in doing so, you are subjected to their laws?

Did you know that if you have a DUI in the US, no matter how young you were, and you go through Canada you have to pay a fine up to $2000.00?

Did you know that if you have a felony conviction you can’t go through Canada?

Did you know that any food even canned foods are subject to being confiscated by the Canadian government if they deem it possibly unsafe in their country, and this includes dog food?

Did you know that most military personnel no matter where in Alaska they go will move to and from their assignments on the ferry?

Did you know that the dishwasher on the ferry is a trained firefighter and that every crew member is required to meet that as a pre-qualification if being hired?

Did you know that every crew member is a United States Merchant Seamen and must meet those standards, swear an oath to this country, and is subjected to being called into active duty in time of war or national emergency?

Did you know that each ferry is like a floating like community each time it leaves the dock, and those who work there and you trust to protect and provide you with service are also the ones who will run into the danger if an emergency should happen in relation to anything on board that ship?

Did you know that if you have a boating distress or a plane goes missing over water and there is a ferry near by they become part of the search and rescue team?

These are just a few things most people don’t know about the AMHS ferries. The list goes on and on. Please feel free to add to this post and share it.

Support the people who are helping to keep Alaska alive with a much needed life line – IBU, ferry workers!

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Juneau, Don’t Ja know

Having braved the backcountry of Denali, we did some laundry, packed the car, said goodbye + thank you to Andrea and Julien, and hit the road! We crushed the miles through Fairbanks and the Yukon and returned to Skagway for a final day. It was great to get back into town a whole day before we needed to board the ferry south, it gave us time to settle ourselves, buy snacks and say goodbye to our ranger friends in town. We also were able to support the Little Dippers (aka Skagwegian children) at a wine tasting.

Mendenhall Glacier across Mendenhall Lake.

Then on Sunday we boarded the Tazlina and headed out into the Lynn Canal (the longest, deepest fjord in the US). It was an uneventful day full of curriculum planning, podcast listening and naps. We then disembarked in Juneau and headed to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center to do Junior Ranger and get a hiking map. Then we moseyed on over to Alaskan Brewing Company for some tasters before setting up camp at Mendenhall Campground. It was a perfect site across the lake from Mendenhall Glacier where we had natural air conditioning! It was one of the few campsites we could sit outside without getting eaten by mosquitoes, so we enjoy the long evening there watching gulls, mallard moms, and beavers plying to and fro over the pond across the road while completing our Junior Ranger booklets.

East Glacier Loop

The next day we hiked along the east glacier loop trail through the temperate rainforest enjoying the moss-filled silence (something we enjoyed several times on our trip). I am so grateful that President Teddy Roosevelt saved this area in Tongass National Forest since it allowed the trees to be so giant and allowed me to be so small.

Seward’s Folly

After our hike, we visited the Alaskan State Museum, which is a small museum but done really well. It takes you through the history of Alaska from the Tlingit and Aleut up through the Russians and on to Seward, the gold rush and statehood. The museum was enough to enjoy in a single afternoon, although it could have done with just a little less text on each wall. There was also an exhibit of Alaskan paleontology illustrated by Ray Troll (an artist who lives in Ketchikan). This part was my favorite in the museum! Ray has such an interesting, vibrant painting style and he was super creative in how to display the different animals. Afterward, we enjoy dinner at Devil’s Club Brewing Company and an early night in a hotel room this time.

Ray Troll’s art of Dinos, megafauna and his trip up the fossil coast.

The next day after a longer breakfast than we were hoping for we headed out with Alaska Galore for a whale watching tour in the inside passage! We saw 11 different Humpback whales during our trip including a Flame and Bunsen (a mom and calf), Sasha, Hunter and a group of 5 humpbacks that were hanging out together in a pod (which is unusual). We learned that the inside passage is so green and full of food for the whales not only because of the long days but also because of the minerals melting off the glaciers. It was a great trip with really a knowledgeable captain and naturalist. We spent the evening trying out the local gin distillery and another brewery before some dinner at Asiana and another early night in.

Living our best life on a whale watching trip.

Finally, we were ready to board the ferry Kennicott south to Bellingham, Washington (or so we thought). After we checked in, Dr. N was musing when the strike was going to happen- to which I replied “what strike?” Being in the backcountry I have not kept up on news as well as I should have. Turns out one of the unions have been trying to negotiate a cost-of-living raise, health insurance, and a reliable schedule for the last 3 years and the metaphorical camels back was broken. As we embarked a worker told us that the strike was happening and we would only be going as far as Ketchikan. Since Juneau doesn’t have any roads out we figured that by going further south we might have an easier time shipping the car (or maybe the strike would be over-ha!). We boarded, got our berth and then found a seat to enjoy the ride. We saw some more humpback whales (one who refused to leave their krill cloud and the ferry had to maneuver around them) and were able to enjoy just reading on the ferry.

Sunset from the ferry.

The next morning, after taking far too long to dock in Ketchikan, we disembarked the Kennicott and got to start our next adventure!

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Denali National Park

Hello readers!

Sorry for the long delay, we have been out in the woods for a while and then had other more pressing issues to deal with like a ferry strike, but we are back!

Dr. N with all her work in the NPS has met many different people who have in turn headed out to a plethora of National Park sites themselves. Because of that we have lots of different couches to surf. This week we headed to Healy Alaska and Denali National Park where one of Dr. N’s best friends, Ranger Andrea works!

After rolling through a large chunk of Alaska and seeing many hazy sites, we arrived at Denali National Park but luckily it was under rain clouds! We had a few days of rain for which we were very grateful since it tamped down on the haze. But don’t worry there was stuff for us to do in the rain. Besides staying up till midnight catching up with Andrea and Julien (also a ranger in Denali) in their cabin we did a lot of the front country activities in the park. We visited with the sled dog team, an important part of winter at Denali since so much is designated wilderness (i.e. no motors) and got to pet a lot of the good dogs and see a short demonstration of a team. That afternoon we hiked around Horseshoe Lake, which has a lot of active beaver lodges. This was one of the coolest hikes we have done because a older beaver came out of the woods and crossed the trail in front of us. We stood still while it crossed the path munching plants all along the way and it gave zero shits about us as long as we stood still. This was the first time I saw a beaver out of the water and this close and they are huge! During one morning we hiked up to the top of Mt. Healy Overlook and got some views of the valley and another morning we drove the first 15 miles into the park to Savage River (the farthest any private vehicle can go into the park). Dr. N chatted with the rangers at their check point while I headed back into the river valley for a short hike. We also got to cook some amazing meals and be cooked some amazing meals and go out to an Alaska-fancy restaurant!

Caribou strolling down the park highway

Grizzly sow and cub walking through and shutting down Toklat rest stop.

The second half of our time in Denali was organized by Ranger Andrea and she did an amazing job! We took the bus out on the park road to Wonder Lake Campground. We saw lots of Caribou, several grizzly bears and some Dall Sheep way up in the mountains. We even saw a grizzly sow and cub cross right in front of the bus at the Toklat river rest stop (which shut down the stop). The mom did not care at all about the different busses there but the cub was a little worried about walking near so many busses. All mom wanted to do was lay down in a stream to cool off. We finally made it to the campground where we dropped our packs in the food lockers (and these things are huge walk-in lockers to keep food away from bears) and then headed back on the bus to go to the Ranger Station. Since Andrea is a park ranger at Denali she has access to a set of canoes on Wonder Lake. We cast off and after a little confusion about which end was the bow we paddled around the north end of the lake. We saw a pair of loons fishing and Andrea found a boreal toad during a bathroom break, but soon after that we heard an awful roar that sounded like a train. Turns out, it was a rain storm coming in very quickly – so we booked it back to the dock and took shelter in the ranger station. After that we snagged the bus to the end of the road and Fannie’s cabin (one of the miners and pioneers in Kantshina and then afterwards back to camp for dinner and a partial -view of Denali Mountain herself!

The next morning we boarded the 8:00am bus back out and took it as far as Eielson Visitor Center (well just a little east of it). We saw a nursery herd of 150-180 caribou and their calves before disembarking and shouldering our packs. We were spending a night in the backcountry of Denali. We followed a gravel bed into the unit from which we saw a second caribou herd, herd tons of arctic ground squirrels, and saw lots of pretty white and purple flowers! We tromped across the tundra, up drainages, and into canyons and got to camp among fireweed and under a rust-colored waterfall.

The next morning we packed up and headed out to road and took a bus back out to the entrance station and a warm shower.

The trip was amazing, slowing down and walking places is the best cure for everything. Disconnecting and seeing the world up close shows how full our world is. We got to watch a hoary marmot scale a cliff and were amazing at our personal caribou herd cross the scree field in front of us. We stared at the kalidescope of decaying rocks, broken up by glaciers and many winters, crunch under our feet as we made tiny footprints in a vast wilderness. I spent time watching a snail crawl through the muddy shore and a 5-legged daddy long legs cross our tent screen. You learn that an empty landscape is not empty, it is full of life but it has just chosen not to share with you its gifts because maybe you entered it too quickly.

But don’t think you need to travel thousands of miles to slow down in a vast wilderness, it can be in your own backyard or neighborhood park. Just be purposeful when you go. Feel small though, for we are nothing but a collection of atoms on a cosmic ride and I hope we all enjoy it while we can.

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Mining, Ferries and Puffins!

We have traveled to the edge of the world and back (or so it seemed). After Dr. N concluded her field

season in Skagway, we were off to visit friends and future colleagues in Denali but our time to get there

was flexible and so were we, and that sounds like a recipe for adventure if I ever heard it. 

Robert Service’s Cabin, Dawson City Yukon

We took off north for Dawson City, the location of the gold fields that the stampeders were heading for

from Skagway. The highway is pretty well paved now but it was a smokey drive through the Yukon.

We stopped in Tombstone Territorial Park but the haze was obscuring many of the views. Then into

Dawson. It is a Parks Canada historic site, but unlike Klondike Gold Rush NHP in Skagway, Parks

Canada has not restored all the buildings to gold rush era looks. Some of them have been restored

like the Red Feather Saloon and the Post Office, but others are just stabilized like the 3rd Ave Buildings

which are all eschew from the melting permafrost. And all the buildings are used by Parks Canada

instead of leasing them out like what happens in Skagway. 

Dawson City Post Office restored

In town we took the “Then and Now” walking tour where we learned from Ranger Benny what it is like to

live in Dawson now, how things have changed and how a lot is still the same (it is easier to get mail now,

bars are still the center of social life, and when the internet is out, it is really out). Ranger Fred was also on

the tour as a living historian, William Ogilvie. While Ogilvie is an obscure character to some, he is one of

Dr. N’s favorites, and she reacted as you would expect – over the top. Ranger Fred was a bit taken aback at

first but eventually did well with his adoring fan of one. It was a really great way to see the town and

learn about the history there. 

William Ogilvie, actor

We next took the ferry across the Yukon to our campground for the night. It was weird to be in our car and

know what a car should feel like, but be on a boat and feel the boat movements while in the car.

Kind of trippy, Dr. N commented. 

On the Yukon Ferry

The next day we took off west to drive on the top of the world highway and the furthest north land border

crossing between Canada and the US. It is pretty remote and precariously perched on some ridges, but

it was a fantastic drive. We took it slow, both for safety around curves and to keep from popping our tires.

It was North enough that we started to get out of the haze. Also at the border, we encountered a herd of

~300 Caribou that we watched for a while moving across the ridges. It was a truly awe-inspiring encounter.

Caribou

We then took the rest of the road into Chicken, Alaska, which just serves as a curious stop on the route.

It used to be a mining camp, but now it is a gas stop. The story goes that miners wanted to name the

town Ptarmigan but didn’t have spell check, so they settled for Chicken. We finally emerged back onto

the Alcan highway near Tok. 

Ptarmigan, Alaska

It was in Tok that we decided to keep driving down to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and camp in the

park that night instead of staying in Tok. We made it down to Chitina and camped in this disused

campground next to some disco playing Germans (n.b.-we were there. First, they could have gone

anywhere else, but they chose the site 2 down from us). 

Campsite in Wrangell-St. Elias

The next morning we started on the McCarthy Road, a tooth-rattling 59-mile drive down a former railroad

bed with old spikes and ties popping up from the gravel every now and then. We were lucky to not have

any trouble with the road (again we took it slow and steady). At the end of the road, we walked

across the Kennicott river into McCarthy and then took the shuttle 5 miles up the road to Kennecott

National Historic Site (the miners misspelled Kennicott). Kennecott was a really productive copper mine

from 1911-1938 and now is a historic site. After walking around the site, doing some junior ranger and

enjoying some really fantastic museum exhibits we had a ranger talk about the post-mine life of the area

and then it was back to McCarthy for ice cream and then a walk back to our car and another tooth-rattling

drive out. 

Kennecott Mines

We decided since the forest fires had obscured so much in the park we decided to go and visit another

park, Kenai Fjords. So we headed to Seward, Alaska with a stop for breakfast in Palmer at the Noisy

Goose and for bug repellent at Anchorage’s REI. We made it into Seward and after picking up the

junior ranger and junior explorer, we bee-lined it for the Alaskan Sealife Center. If you are in Seward,

you need to go to this place. It is a center for research, and they have some small aquariums and a

few seals and sea lions, but the really cool thing is they have an aviary full of sea birds! You could be

standing mere inches from a Horned Puffin or a King Eider! Of course, don’t touch the birds, but if

you stay still in there long enough they will come close to you. It is the best part of the visit there. 

Puffins being weighed at Alaskan Sealife Center

After spending a long time with the birds we grabbed some beers at Seward Brewing Company, went back

into the center to see the bird feeding and then had drinks with Ranger Patrick (off duty of course). We

spent the night at Miller’s Landing which was kind of like an outdoor European hostel managed by college

kids, needless to say, we didn’t get deep sleep there. 

The next day after being unable to rent a kayak for a few hours, we went to Exit Glacier in the National

Park. There we checked out the science backpack, heard a talk about Varied Thrushes (these ethereal

sounding birds on the west coast) and then hiked into the glacier. We found a nice open spot with a

cool breeze coming off the glacier and did our activities. 

Exit Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park

Now for those who don’t frequent our public lands….get in the car/bus/train (or ask a friend to drive you)

and get out there! Then ask at the Visitor Center what they have for educational activities! Every National

Park Site has at least junior ranger booklet, but many have other things like not so junior ranger, junior

explorer, junior paleontologist, and or science and art backpacks. Even BLM, National Forest, and

state parks have different types of programs. Parks Canada has one too, although not as well developed.

And the best part is they are all free (except for Yellowstone, they charge $3 per booklet but I can

understand why since so many people go there) and you get a free badge when you complete them.

If your nearby public land doesn’t have something you should ask for it, they may not know they need to

make something like that. 

After earning our badges, we hit the road for a night in Anchorage at a hotel with running water

(although that was about where the excitement ended for this hotel). We did get a beer at Midnight Sun

Brewing with former ranger Shelley. The next day after getting stamps and groceries we

were off to Denali National Park! 

But that is for another post!

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Parades, Eggs and Beer Oh My!

Happy Fourth of July to any American Readers! Happy Canada Day to any Canadian Reader! Happy

Palio to the Sienese!

The view from Rhubarb Fest!

Our time in Skagway has come to a close. Dr. N has finished her interviews here and we have been to

every major summer party in town. That was part of Dr. N’s plan when deciding her field season. We

came into town for Summer Solstice party hosted by the local Elks and got to hear Bad Hombres

(the mayor’s bad). Next up was Rhubarb fest at Jewel Gardens, where rhubarb was cooked into

everything from the standard pie to relish for the hot dogs. We also got to see a glassblowing

demonstration. It was so cool how the 4 blowers worked together making a large vase (although it did

shatter at the end, which they say is a common occurrence).

Finally, we were here for the 4th of July! The town parade is so nice they do it twice, or so the locals say.

The local ski team threw snowballs instead of water balloons, so no clean up needed of the plastic

balloons! Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Site had 19th-century games on the Moore House lawn

(which were actually really fun). After lunch, we joined one of the largest egg tosses I have seen. Dr. N

and I made it to the width of the street before cracking our eggs. Interspersing the live music was the

arm wrestling contest and the slow bike race (a tandem bike won) and the spike driving contest.

NPS Float

It was a real wholesome event that reminded me of summers in Sebago Maine on Long Beach.

Everyone was hanging out and enjoying themselves. Kids were having a blast, parents were catching up,

the streets were blocked off so no one was being hit by cars! It can be hard to be proud of the US at times,

but the Skagway 4th of July celebration was a wonderful example of a community coming together.

Now onto the next part of our summer. We are off to Dawson City, Tok, Chicken, and Denali!

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Chilkoot Trail: Today’s suffering is tomorrow’s leisure

Even though Klondike Gold Rush is a National Historic Park, it manages a large tract of backcountry trails (16.5 of 33 miles), an oddity for historic parks which are typically small, urban and full of wayside panels (just how I like them). The Chilkoot Trail mostly follows the historic path that stampeders of the 1897-1898 gold rush took to enter the Yukon on their way to the goldfields near Dawson City (500+ miles to the north). The coastal mountain range of Southeast Alaska is pretty rugged if you are able to find a way over the mountains you frequently will find yourself in an ice field. However, the Tlingit who still live in the area used and controlled the few passes that lead into the interior. They had used these passes as trade routes to trade food (in the form of fish/mammal oil) for fur. When the stampeders heard about gold, they came in to use the passes to get over the mountains and take the river up to Dawson City. In the 1960s the state of Alaska built a trail along most of this route and then when Klondike Gold Rush became a park it took over management. Today over 10,000 people hike, backpack or run the trail. Dr. N and I decided to do it in 3 1/2 days.

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Start of the Chilkoot

We started in the ghost town of Dyea with overcast skies and cruised along the 13 miles to Sheep Camp (which was the last reliable place for wood and where thin horned sheep would be hunted from). This section of the trail is mostly in coastal rainforests and was appropriately buggy and wet. We did get to see some glaciers across the valley. We thankfully did not see any bears although we were ready for them. After thanksgiving-in-a-bowl we went to bed since day two was going to be just as big!

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Long Hill, cause it is long and a hill.

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The scales, where packers re-weighed the load and prices suddenly went up…and items were suddenly abandoned. 

Day 2 started at 4:45 when we broke camp and ate a quick breakfast before tackling the section called Long Hill, which Dr. N described as long and a hill in her dissertation (alas that did not make the final cut). It was very long and a hill but we saw more glaciers and my first ptarmigan (a chicken-like bird that clucks) and a family of mountain goats (which were just tiny moving dots on a patch of green). Then we got to the Golden Staircase, which was only a staircase in the winter ’98 when hordes of stampeder traffic cut “stairs” into it. It is currently (as of June 24) a mix of talus, boulders, and snow patches. We were making some rock climbing moves up the 3 false summits to the Chilkoot pass, where we paused in the warming shelter to fortify ourselves with lunch before descending into fog on the terrifyingly steep Canadian side.

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Chilkoot Pass Summit!

We slowly made it down and out of the clouds and were finally able to spit again once we cleared the avalanche danger zone- where we took a long break. Into the boreal forest next, where we finally we rolled into Happy Camp, where no one is really happy for another rest. We were spending the night at Deep Lake, so we plodded along for the next 2 miles through a canyon and boreal forest to the accompaniment of varied thrushes and golden-crowned sparrows. In the last 1/2 mile or so a thunderstorm started creeping over the mountain tops so with our new-found adrenaline we cruised into Deep Lake set up our tent, had the rest of thanksgiving-in-a-bowl and crawled into our sleeping bags after a brutal 10-mile day (no alarm was set). -If you didn’t figure it out today was our suffer day.

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Near the end of our long day.

However, it is hard to sleep in too much with sunrise at 3:45am (we did make it to 6:30 though). This was an easy 6-mile day to Bare Loon Lake through a boreal forest with a bear warning (no sightings though). We were the first into camp and got a choice platform by the water. We dried out and napped the afternoon away- leisure day. We also discovered that some gulls had decided to raise some chicks on the islands in the middle of the lake and – heaven forbid – they could read the sign that said it would for loons, not gulls. And they were loud all night!

Day 4 dawned and we broke camp and had breakfast with lots of the people with whom we had summited and then started on the trail. We wanted to take our time so we headed out early and strolled down to Lake Bennett passing tons of moose scat and a few tracks (but no sightings). At Lake Bennett, I tromped around all the archaeology there while Dr. N read her book. Lake Bennett was where all the stampeders set up camp and built their boats waiting for the ice on Lake Bennett and Yukon river to break up before cruising to Dawson City.

They let tons of stuff behind, piles of bottles and cans, bridge foundations, and St. Andrew’s Church. I got to shadow some Parks Canada staff around the site as we waited for our train back. Finally, the train came and we boarded to head back to town for a shower and a beer.

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St. Andrews

This was Dr. N’s 6th time over the trail and my first! It was an amazing time and we both want to do more backpacking but we also decided that maybe we will wait a little bit before hiking the Chilkoot again. It is an amazing trip, but it is hard on your body.

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The Golden Loop

For all her time up in Skagway, one thing that Dr. N has not done is drive over to Haines Alaska on the Golden Loop (it is hard when you typically fly up here without a car, I mean unless Alaskan Air has started allowed cars in the overhead bin). So we took a few days to explore the area before Dr. N started full bore into data collection. We drove north from Skagway to Whitehorse, west to Haines Junction and then South to Haines. From there we took our car on its first ferry ride back to Skagway.

This is a wonderful drive if you have the time to go. Whitehorse is the largest city for thousands of miles (and home to 3/4 of the population of the Yukon Territory). Here we visited the SS Klondike, a gold rush era steam ship, Common Good shops, and Yukon Beringia Museum and Fireweed books. After that we visited our last hot spring for this trip Takhini (which still could not beat Liard our top hot spring for the trip).

The next morning we strolled through the Yukon Wildlife Refuge. It is a place where animals are rehabilitated to return to the wild or are given a place to live out their life (like the 3 legged fox). We saw lots of familiar faces (deer, bison, elk) but we also go to see musk oxen and caribou! Since we were walking the refuge we also got to see the wild fox mom and her litter playing near the road. This quickly made Dr. N want to replicate the Soviet Fox experiment. We then hit the road to Kluane National Park and came upon a Grizzly mom and her two cubs eating lunch along the road side.

Turning south we hiked along a couple of short trails in Kluane (Kathleen Lake and Rock Glacier) and then camped for the night at a Million Dollar Falls Campground in Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park. The next morning we rolled into sleepy Haines (which gets 1 cruise ship at most in a day so is not as designed for tourists as Skagway is). We had to get some more coffee at the local natural food shop and then check out the Hammer Museum, the Southeast Alaskan State Fairground (which was the set for Disney’s White Fang), and the Chilkat hiking trail in town. Then it was time to board the boat and head back to Skagway.

I am glad we took the time to complete this loop, even though we might be back in Skagway again (Dr. N can’t seem to quit this place) I don’t know if we will drive the Alcan in the future so taking time to see things only accessible by car has been nice.

Next up is our Chilkoot adventure!

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