Roaming Wild in Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park
Frank and I recently returned from a four day backpacking trip in Tatshenshini-Alsek provincial park located in ‘The Triangle’ of BC. It was much needed after a long hiatus from the tent, as is this trip report after a even longer break from writing. It’s not that I haven’t been writing, but more that each idea grows out of control and then needs further contemplation. When I began with public writing I found trip reports the easiest thing to complete, and used them for practice so to speak. In a effort to overcome ‘writers block’ I will share with you a story of our recent adventure, and details of our preparations for Franks longest backpacking trip to date. Then perhaps I can get on with the topics that truly matter to me.
August is generally a great time to spend in the mountains; creeks are lower, ground is drier, bugs have dissipated, days are still relatively long, and nights not too cool. It had been more than a year since our last trip, so we started with a easy overnight to a quiet little lake in Yukon’s Kluane region. I loaded my pack with way more weight than needed for a singe night including a delicious van-made burrito, and my heavy wool knit sweater. This was Frank first time overnighting with his new Granite Gear pack (we had done some test hikes previously) so I spent some extra time to made sure it was fitting properly and loaded well.
After a super successful trial run Frank and I were full of energy and confidence to make a longer trip. Both being the wild types who prefer to wander without the regulations, leashes and infrastructure of developed parks we headed south into the isolated NW corner of British Columbia refereed to as ‘The Triangle’. Growing up in BC I was always curious about this mysterious place that didn’t seem to have anything there. It was a place I had never heard of anyone visiting. Aside from a couple cabins, one ranch, the Pleasant Camp customs station and the road that runs through it linking Haines, Alaska and Haine’s Junction, Yukon there doesn’t seem to be anything other than pure wilderness. Perfect.
Before we could begin I made one last stop at Million Dollar Falls, just north of the BC border, to take advantage of a day use picnic table for staging our adventure. Not only did I have to pack for our trip but I also had to prepare my van to be left sitting in the sun, and that meant feasting on perishable items (mostly vegetables), turning the last of my hazcap berries into jam, and making sure my van was clean and tidy in case we came back in a emergency situation. The park has no infrastructure aside from one outhouse at the start of a old mining road which is used to access Samuel Glacier, the most popular attraction. There is no phone service, fees (rafting is an exception), hiking trails, rangers, and is so isolated you can’t even pick up a single am radio station. This park combined with it’s neighbouring parks Kluane National Park in the Yukon Territory and Glacier Bay & Wrangell-St.Elias Parks and Prerserves in Alaska comprise the world largest protected landmass. Designated as a UNESCO world haritage site the park itself covers 9580 square kilometer, and is jointly managed by BC Parks and the Champagne-Aishihik First Nations who’s traditional territory the park is located on. Together they keep the outhouse stocked, and monitor wildlife ect, but seem to completely leave visitors alone. I like this. I like being able to visit places that are protected and pristine without the heartache and hassle of what a place turns into when it becomes populated. Seeing beautiful, wild places become developed and gentrified for the masses to consume and profit of parks all under the guise of conservation is something that really sets me off, but that’s a topic for another post. I hope that never happens to this place, so please if you visit think and act accordingly.
When it comes to spending time outside and in the backcountry I do things a little different than is generally advised, partly due to the fact that I basically live outside already (usually away from society), and because I like the personal responsibility of my own way. Before you become alarmed remember I am NOT advising you to do things my way, only sharing a different perspective. I have a strong mentality of “you get yourself into it, you get yourself out” and that means I live as if help cant be called, search & rescue doesn’t exist, and no one will notice for a long time if I am gone longer than planned which are all pretty much true in this case. Those closest to me knew I was going to be hiking and camping in the ‘Haines Junction area’ which covers an area more than 300km North to South, but I do not leave a safety plan, I had no plan when I set out. I prefer the freedom of travel over the pseudo-security of people far away. I didn’t research other people trips, and I never carry a GPS. Instead I studied maps, in this case a 1:250,000 topo with 500ft contour intervals (not detailed….) which I put to memory and left behind. I intended to create my own scenic route and for that I would be relying on my route finding skills, patience, endurance, positive attitude, and mental fortitude to take it as it comes or back out. I wanted to explore, to have a real adventure, to take responsibility for my own life, and that of my canine companion. Most of all I wanted to be fully and completely immersed in my environment, to allow it to show me the way.
Having recently quit coffee I decided against taking a camp stove for the first time ever which would save weight, space, and reduce bear attracting odours. Instead I packed ample food for Frank for 4 days/3 nights, and light rations for myself opting to rely on foraging for the rest. If needed Franks food could be stretched another day or two without being unhealthy, and I had packed a natural hunger suppressant. Most of the time I spend in the backcountry is done without other humans, so I have created a custom survival kit based on my experiences with the most important item being my wilderness first responder training. Aside from food and a survival kit I brought just the basics: a single person tent, sleeping bag, air mat, water filter, warm camp clothes, rain coat, journal, camera (with 3 lenses), and a well weighted and sturdy tripod. Frank carried his own food, bowl, team peanut butter, and my Lifestraw for easy access. I hike in the same boots I have enjoyed for 8 years, and always carry a SOG knife with fire starting supplies in the sheath on a long cord (even when sleeping).
Our trip began by hiking out to Samuel glacier, the first 6km or so are along an old mining road, after which you can see the glacier several more kms away and make your own way to a camping location of your choice crossing creeks on the way. Having been the year before this part of the trip was not new to me, and I able to choose smarter terrain making the approach feel much easier and drier this time. Somehow I ended up at the exact same spot as last year and decided it must therefore have the best overall panoramic view in the vicinity, exactly what I was going for. Water can be found springing forth from the hillside in trickles which I could easily located at a distance based on the nearby vegetation changes. Arriving early in the afternoon gave me most of the day to relax in the sun, stretch, study the terrain for the day ahead, and ponder the bigger questions in life. One of my favourite amenities of my new traditional camp spot is a stone for resting your back against, perfectly angled to enjoy the sunset. I got the feeling I wasn’t the only who had sat against that stone watching the world turn. A special place indeed; Frank and I were the only ones around for kilometers.
Over the night clouds rolled in neither threatening rain nor reducing ground visibility, instead bringing a welcome coolness with them. After a leisurely morning and at the sight of incoming weekenders we packed up and started on our way. I was particularity drawn to the enchanted vibe of Klehini Mountain to the South and headed towards it, but first some backtracking in order to safely cross a swift creek and avoid navigating the loose canyon walls the separated our first camp with the way ahead. Without a set destination, and not planning to travel more than a few kilometres that day I enjoyed a nice slow pace nibbling on berries and flowers. Once again early afternoon came as I found a wonderful perch with nearby water to spend the rest of the day soaking in space and time. I marvelled at the effects gravity and water had on the landscape and pondered what was down the valley and beyond. Without a stove food was simple, taking virtually no time, allowing me to write and draw. This time I couldn’t help but think just maybe I was the only person to ever spend a night at this very location. The sound of the river flowing into the distance was a calming change from the previous nights roar from glacier off-flow. As the colours of sunset faded a small fox came to investigate me while Frank was off ‘securing the perimeter’. In the night it came for another visit, this time Frank nearly went through the tent wall before I grabbed his scruff and opened the door. I heard them rip circles around the area before the fox outwitted and outmanoeuvred Frank, as they always do. As a Australian cattle dog rescue it is in his blood to ‘protect’ from wild animals, and to stop him from doing so is not worth the struggle, especially when I know he cannot catch the fox. I wish I could teach him fox are friends even if they are coming to steal food, but I will have to wait for times without Frank around to observe them more closely.
Being at a higher elevation than the first night meant we woke up in the clouds, but by late morning I was back to enjoying blueberries with a view. From here I decided to head up and over the flank of mineral mountain rather than continue south along the west side. Having had no previous sight of what lay ahead I was surprised at how broad and undulating the terrain was. The topo map I studies had left plenty to mystery and I found navigation be a rewarding choose your own adventure with treasures to be found around each corner. Among my favourite were colourful foregrounds for glaciated mountains, patches of coltsfoot, deposits of gypsum displaying radiating fibrous crystallization and surprise tarns. As I descended the east side towards Mineral lakes I stopped to enjoy a snack with good vantage point and ended up making camp. There was a cool, crisp stream running from the snow pack and I enjoyed the view of being high. It no longer made sense to camp at Mineral Lakes as I had imagined I might do. Being alone without a schedule made this easy to do, a freedom I rather enjoy. There are many perks to being alone in the wild including the solitude to process one own thoughts, face lingering fears, and most importantly live moment to moment on instinct and intuition. The freedom to be animal is rarely found in the company of others, and the ability to be animal is what will save your life push come to shove. As I watched shadows creep across the mountains to the east I noted the locations that have the last of the evening sun shining on them. This information will come in handy for future trips when I want to enjoy nice views with sunsets from high up locations.
While my choice of camp spots the third night was pleasing to the eyes it was also horrible windy. The sound of the tent fly violently flapping kept me awake for hours, until one moment the wind died and instantly I was asleep. If I am camping in a place where encounters with people are rare it’s nice to keep the fly off, but moisture the second night and wind the third had me putting it on before bed. I noticed that both Frank and myself are comforted by the false sense of security it provided despite limiting our ability to sense danger. If he sleeps better, I sleep better, even if it means danger can creep a little closer. Regardless I was not concerned for bears, even with my food at the tent.
Once again we spent the morning watching clouds lift from the mountain peaks before taking off. It is not that we were unable to travel, but had the time it was not necessary. The trip had not been physically demanding so I choose to take the long way back to the van by descending to the lakes in the opposite direction, passing between them with a easy creek crossing, heading up and over the hill beyond them, and then winding through the flats past smaller lakes while enjoying blueberries. Sitting on a moraine overlooking a tarn I could see a RV parked on the the side of the road in the distance. “Those poor fools…”, I thought to myself, “…they spend their whole lives working so that they can retire and spend it driving around gazing into distant lands their bodies can no longer take them to”. At least they had stopped to take it in, most people just cruised through on their way from one destination to the next, then again maybe there were just watching satellite TV. Whatever the case I’m choosing to live each moment as they arise with the faith it will all work out.
I don’t know how far I walked or how long it took me because I don’t wear a watch, use a GPS or any other type of tracking device. That isn’t important to me; I didn’t go into the wild with a set of objectives or athletic goals. I went to BE, not to do. The area I hoped to explore took less time than I imagined it would and felt like less time than it was; the perfect amount of time to do anything in my opinion. In the end I spent more time sitting and taking it all in more than anything else, as I am prone to doing. Nature provides a lot to take in, most of it beyond what the eyes can see. Each bend and fold in the land, every waterway, rock, and plant on every scale imaginable can teach you something about the past, present, and future; about the passage of time and flow of life. There is only one thing guaranteed in life; you are going to die. I know this to be true. Everything beyond that is something unknown you get to create or create a response to. I know there will always be change, and something new to discover so I’m going to spend as much time as possible in the wild world learning it’s secrets and observing it change.