We rode the ferry from Skagway to Juneau on Sunday August 26. The catamaran moves quickly and it’s easy to pass the time watching the glacier-topped mountains.
We arrived in Juneau a little late, so we grabbed some groceries, set up camp, and then conquered our fear of frying fish in the dark in bear-infested woods. It wasn’t until morning that we could appreciate the picturesque moss-covered rainforest around us.
It was rainy and cold for most of our time in Juneau. We caught a quick glimpse of the Mendenhall Glacier near our campsite on the Sunday evening, but then didn’t see it again until Tuesday evening, and it wasn’t until Wednesday morning that we saw the top of the adjacent mountain.
Taking advantage of the sunshine Wednesday morning, we walked the trail to Nugget Falls, visible just above the tree line in the above photo.
To fight off the cold, we ate plenty of hot seafood in Juneau – fish tacos, crab bisque, crab cakes, and fish & chips. The crab shacks here are well-prepared for the weather, providing tents and heat lamps.
We also stopped in at the Devil’s Club brewery and Alaskan Brewing Co, the latter with the unbeatable growler fill price of $9.
After an extremely foggy drive through the border, we descended to the Alaska coast and into Skagway. We were one of two tents in a local RV park near the port, and were referred to as the “tent-people”.
Skagway is a small town that seems to exist mainly for the purpose of entertaining cruise ship passengers. There are dozens of jewelry stores, shrink-wrapped boxes of overpriced smoked salmon, and a general abundance of souvenir shops.
Thankfully there is also plenty of crab legs and a few breweries willing to stay open until the ships leave at 8pm.
On Wednesday August 22 we made the long drive south from Dawson City to Whitehorse, then west to Haines Junction, which lies at the edge of Kluane National Park. Canada’s highest peak, Mt. Logan, resides far into the park and would not be accessible to us, but even the mountains near the highway were rather huge.
We stayed at the Wanderer’s Inn hostel, where we keenly observed that we were the least athletic people there. There were plenty of German and Swiss-German hikers who were happy to spend weeks hiking and paddling through the backcountry. We slept in an old canvas fire service tent, which had been used by crews fighting wildfires in BC and the Yukon. The night dropped to 2C in Haines Junction, so we were thankfully given an effective space heater.
On Thursday we set out for the most highly recommended hike, King’s Throne.
The guide rated the hike “difficult” and the return trip could be 8 hours, but we decided to give it a shot despite our lack of “hiking gear” and “experience”. We started strong and made it to the seat of the throne (the end of the maintained trail) in under two hours. We then started venturing up the steep left ridge before Wendy started feeling a bit light-headed, so we decided to break for lunch and then take our time descending the mountain. Regardless, we made it far enough to be rewarded with some fantastic views.
On Friday we drove down to Skagway, AK, taking our time to stop at Winterlong Brewing, Deep Dark Wood brewery, and viewpoints along the highway.
When we got into Dawson on Sunday August 19, it happened to be the final day of the Riverside Arts Festival. Live musicians played throughout the afternoon by the waterfront next to an artists’ market. The galleries were all open, including some pop-ups in abandoned dilapidated buildings.
That night The Sadies played at the Palace Grand Theatre, closing out the festival. While the theatre was set up with rows of seats at the beginning, they were quickly shoved aside in the first song to make space for the growing dance floor. The band was excellent and played three 5-song encores to wrap up their 3.5 hour set.
On Monday we attempted to hike up the Midnight Dome, the hill next to town named for the summer solstice gatherings. After a wrong turn, a backtrack, and then intimidation from the narrow and steep rocky path, we decided to drive to the summit instead.
That afternoon we dropped into the Dawson City museum, whose mannequins seem to be based on modern day townspeople, with hands cast from other modern day townspeople. This was never fully explained. Otherwise, it provided a good history of the gold rush and the mining strategies.
For a town of 1400 people, Dawson has an incredible number of drinking establishments. Monday night we walked into the Downtown Hotel, home of the Sour-toe Cocktail (a shot with a supposedly authentic human toe) but promptly walked out, turned off by the large crowd of grey-haired tourists waiting for their turn with the toe. Our tourist destination of choice for the night was Diamond Tooth Gerties, where we saw the impressive 10pm and midnights can-can shows. In between dances, we grabbed drinks at the Westminster Hotel (AKA “the pit”) and Bombay Peggy’s. After all this, we grabbed a slice of pizza. Even the tiny city of Dawson has pizza for drunks until 2am, 7 days a week.
Today we visited the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre and learned about the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in first nation. The term Klondike was introduced when some early white visitors misheard the name Tr’ondëk. The group occupied this area, where the Klondike and Yukon rivers meet, for thousands of years. Not long after gold was discovered here in 1896, Chief Isaac moved his people downstream to Moosehide to avoid the overflow of stampeders. The cultural centre is the only building in the city that is exempted from a bylaw requiring structures to resemble those of the gold rush era. Also, today there was free bannock!
We arrived in Whitehorse on Wednesday August 15. Despite its latitude, the city is well stocked with all your favourite conveniences. You can grab groceries at Real Canadian Superstore at typical Canadian prices, pick up an air mattress patch at Canadian Tire, and browse the vinyl and used CDs at the local record store (which will soon double as the local weed store).
In preparation for a multi-day outing we have planned for Haida Gwaii, we spent Thursday morning kayaking on the Yukon River. The blue waters flow north at a quick pace, which allowed us to paddle 24km without too much trouble.
That afternoon we dropped into the Yukon Brewing Company for a tour and a couple flights. Their classic lineup of beers (gold ale, red ale, brown ale, espresso stout, etc.) was complemented by some great seasonals (lemon lavender radler, juicy IPA, elderflower gose). Also, turns out they started distilling a few years ago and are making some damn good, but damn expensive whiskey.
We then wandered the Whitehorse Farmer’s market. Despite the short growing season, the market was well stocked with leafy greens, root veggies, and some hot(ish) peppers we tossed into our dinners.
On Friday we visited the Beringia Museum. Beringia refers to the landmass between Alaska and Russia that is now mostly covered by the Bering sea. The area was home to awesome ice age animals such as the giant beaver, Jefferson’s ground sloth, giant short-faced bear, and woolly mammoth. The first inhabitants of North America would have arrived via Beringia, though there are apparently debates within the archaeology community whether this was 14,000 years ago or about 25,000 years ago.
On our last night in Whitehorse we were treated to a small aurora borealis. We were lucky to spot it, as it has been overcast since moving further north. On Saturday we camped at Moose Creek and went for a walk through the nearby mossy forest.
We started our drive on the “World Famous Alaska Highway” on Saturday August 11.
Before starting the trip, we had the impression the highway would be barren, with few other drivers and few towns offering more than a crumbling welcome sign. One Canadian border guard we spoke to warned us we’d see “more bears than people”. Turns out there are plenty of travellers, towns with gas and a restaurant at least every 100km, and we’ve only seen five bears.
First stop on the highway was at Charlie Lake Provincial Park near Fort St. John. We were greeted by dozens of wasps both here and at our next stop in Fort Nelson. We are currently blaming aphids, which we learned are tiny insects that feed on the sugars from tree leaves (especially linden trees), leaving a sweet sticky residue, which seems to attract a ton of wasps.
On Monday we camped at Muncho Lake, a gorgeous glacial lake mid-way between Fort Nelson and Watson Lake. The skies were threatening a storm, so we went for a couple short walks and had a close encounter with a stone sheep.
Not far from Muncho, we stopped at the Liard Hot Springs. A mere $5 gets you full-day access to a very hot natural pool. It was picturesque, relaxing, and reeked of sulphur. Lucky for us, campfire is a stronger smell.
On the drive to Watson Lake on Tuesday, a sign warned us of “Bison on highway – Muncho Lake to Yukon”. We were skeptical, but were then greeted by two herds.
When we arrived in Watson Lake, we visited the Sign Post Forest, which has 10,000 signs from visitors from the past seven decades. It was started by an American soldier working on the construction of the Alaska Highway in 1942, who posted a sign pointing to his hometown of Danville, Illinois. We left what we could, which was a leftover Dandy keychain.
Today we arrived in Whitehorse, kilometer 1426 of the Alaska Highway. Looking forward to a few nights of sleeping indoors.