Thursday, June 2, 2016

Alaska Road Trip: Haines to Tok

Arriving at the Kluane National Park and Reserve Visitors I went into the Center to inquire about the Sheep Creek Trail hike that was recommended to us by somebody we talked to in Haines Junction. The ranger gave me a map and walked me through the hike, right before I left she said “Make sure you bring your bear spray and make a lot of noise, the grizzlies have been up there preying on the Dall Sheep lambs that are being born”. Returning to the truck Barb asked “What did they say?” I handed Barb the sheet for the hike and replied “They said you are supposed to wear white and making baaaing noises as you go up the trail.  It took her a second but then she said “I don’t think so!”

99% of the bears don’t bother humans and really try to avoid any human interaction. It is the other 1% that gives them a bad reputation. And when it comes to bears, the kind of bear makes a big difference. The black bear is like the puppy dogs of the bear community. Then comes the larger and more unpredictable brown bear and grizzly. Here in the heart of bear country no matter where you go it seems like everyone is carrying bear spray and “Be Bear Aware” signs are posted everywhere. Meaning; don’t be stupid, don’t put yourselves into dangerous situations, make noise when on a trail (not baaaing noises)  and try not to travel alone as people alone tend to not make a lot of noise.

That about sums it up!
Despite her fear of bears, Barb has been a real trooper on the trail. We have yet to see a bear on the trail, we have seen their tracks, their scat and areas where they dug of the ground looking for grubs. Only one time has Barb looked at me with panic in her eyes saying maybe we should turn back. We have all the typical deterrents; bear spray, a bell and Barb seems overly talkative when we are on the trail. Barb carries the bear spray and Daisy wears the bell. We call it the dinner bell. Barb says that if we do run into a problem bear and she needs to use the bear spray she is more likely to spray herself then the bear. In reality I think she is going to spray me in the eyes so I am disabled, grab Daisy and run like hell screaming down the trail. Now there’s a visual; I can’t see a thing but I hear screaming and a bell jingling down the mountain!
Daisy wearing her "Dinner Bell"


Evidence that the bears have been digging for grubs
All kidding aside everywhere we have been they take their bear precautions very seriously. Most of the state or provincial parks have bear-proof trash cans, provide bear boxes for your food, if you leave your grill or a cooler outside unattended you could get a fine and several parks we have been to do not allow tent campers at all (they are kinda like bear tacos).

Food storage bins


Leaving Haines Alaska we headed north on the Haines Highway stopping at the 33 Mile Roadhouse along the way. If you are in this area, you absolutely must stop by here. We had the best burgers we have had in a long time!

 
This highway has some awesome scenery along the way. It seems like everywhere you look there is a photo opportunity!

 



See that tiny speck in the corner of the lake?
It's a moose!

We made two stops along the way. The first was a Million Dollar Falls. Besides the falls it has a great campground (rigs up to 30’) and free firewood. We would have stayed but it was too early in the day.   



The second was at the ruins of Silver City which operated as a trading post between Whitehorse and the goldfields in the Kluane Lake area from 1904 to 1924.  
 

Just think of the history these buildings have seen!

 
We spent the night at Kathleen Lake Provincial Park just outside of Haines Junction. For those of you who have never been to a Yukon provincial park campground they are very well run; clean, well maintained and free firewood all for $12 a night! The Kathleen Lake Park is a little more expensive (a whopping $15.70) it is a beautiful campground with several sites overlooking the lake. Most of the sites will fit a 30’ trailer without a problem and only a few would fit rigs bigger than that.


The following day we toured around Haines Junction, went on a hike and spent time at the Visitors Center. Cell and Wi-Fi service has been almost nonexistent since we left Whitehorse. We got service in Skagway while in town but nothing at Dyea Campground. In Haines we got cell service while in town but our jetpack did not work. Luckily the library had free Wi-Fi. We had neither cell nor Wi-Fi between Haines and Tok but the Visitors Center in Haines Junction had free Wi-Fi.

Our most unusual encounter on this leg of our journey happened on our second night in the Haines Junction area. We had found a quiet boondocking spot next to a creek and we settled in for the night, or so we thought. We were in the camper reading when a truck pulls off the highway and pulls right up to our camper. The occupants were staring at our rig and moved their truck around all sides of it. I thought “Oh great, we pissed someone off and are going to get booted out of here” They were obviously not going away so I got out of the camper and this grizzly looking guy jumps out of the pickup and says “Hi, I’m Al and you got a porcupine under your truck. I was going to shoot him but I figured that was not very neighborly”. Sure enough, I look under the truck and a porcupine had crawled up under the truck.
Our porcupine friend
 Ends up he is a local prospector who had a trailer about ¼ mile down the logging road back in the woods. He had with him another guy and his 8 year old girl. He was about as crazy as crazy gets in a funny sort of way and invited us down to his campfire that night.
An hour or so later I went out to check on “porky” and it was gone. We then wandered down to Crazy Al’s. He regaled us with stories of prospecting, offered us everything from marshmallows, beer and weed (we declined on all) and even showed us some of the gold he had found in the area. But the crazy does not stop there! We are standing around the fire and a small blue car comes down this logging road and I asked Al if he knew them. He says “No, but they sure the hell ain’t camping here” A single young girl pops out of the car and says “Hey, can I set up a tent here?” And Al says “You sure can young lady, would you like a beer?” She proceeds to set up her tent come over to the fire and sits down. Ends up she is traveling alone and thought it was a good place to spend the night and did not expect anyone else to be down there. Totally bizarre. Before we left Al had given us a few fishing and boondocking spots on other claims he has up near Dawson City.  

Our next stop after Kathleen Lake was Congdon Creek Campground on Kluane Lake. This is a great campground which has plenty of sites and room for any size rig ($12/night). While there we met a couple, George and Nancy Finlayson, who had messaged us in RVillage saying that they were going to be in that area as well. They have been fulltiming about the same amount of time we have and it was uncanny the number of things we had in common. From where we have been in the past few years, what equipment we have on our rigs even down to where we got our solar installed! We were so busy talking that I totally forgot to take a picture but I am sure we will see them again in the next week or so. In fact they are booked at the same campground as us when we are in Denali in late July.

Kluane Lake


It rained on and off our first day there so Barb and I just hung around the campground and practiced taking close up pictures with our cameras. Later that afternoon we had happy hour with George and Nancy.





 


 
Now back to the hike…..The Sheep Creek Trail hike is a 10 km hike that climbs 1,400 feet from the parking area to an area that overlooks the Slims River Valley. We arrived at the parking area and found this sign at the trailhead.

It was at that point that I looked at Barb and noticed what she was wearing…..she dressed like a sheep! She quickly removed that top and went with just the t-shirt she had underneath.
Baaaaa!
Although the hike description stated that it was a 1,400 foot elevation change, it did not tell you the entire 5 km hike was uphill! Within the first 30 minutes we were already feeling it and had to stop every 50 to 100 yards to catch our breath. If either one of us would have mentioned turning around I am sure we would have without hesitation. However, we plugged along step by step and in about 3 hours we made it to the end of the trail.





We made it!!!!!
We saw couple of sheep from the top, had a snack and headed back down. The plus side of the entire hike on the way there being uphill is that it is downhill on the way back and we made it back to the truck in 90 minutes. It was a great hike but we were totally exhausted.
A couple of sheep on the hill side

Headed back down the trail
The road from the Visitors Center to Tok is by far the roughest road we have been on. Frost heaves, potholes and patched blacktop went on for the entire 250 miles. I think our average speed was between 40 and 50 mph with lows being 20 mph and when we were lucky 50 mph. There were long stretches of gravel as well but those stretches were actually smoother than the blacktop and we were able to make good time.
The worlds biggest gold pan!
We took our time getting to Tok spending two nights along the way. The first night we just pulled off onto an old logging road next to a river while the next night we spent at Deadman Lake Campground in the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge. They have an awesome campground there with 15 sites, several of which will accommodate big rigs, and you can stay up to 14 days totally free (donations accepted).
We spent the day cleaning the camper and getting things organized for the next leg of our trip which includes a day in Tok to do laundry and restock the rig, then on to Glenallen to see our friends Lee and Trace!

22 comments:

  1. Looks like you're having a wonderful time, great flower photos. Last time we were in bear country Dave said I talked way too much. He thinks I'm going to hit him in the knees with my walking stick so I can get away, we'll see.

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    1. I am sure that is Barbs plan too; injure, disable, whatever it takes to get away.

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  2. This part of Yellowstone is known for it's bear sightings. On the road out of our campground yesterday morning we saw a big black bear. So we are a little hesitant to walk to far. I told Lisa to just poop her pants because bears don't eat shit. So I see you are meeting lots of new people. How many do you need to meet this year again?

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    1. If we meet too many more people I am going to have to start whittle away at my "friends list", you are in jeopardy my friend!

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  3. Seeing all the bear signs around when hiking is a little unnerving. Carrying the bear spray does make one feel a little more confident. But making loud call outs to the bear I believe does the best. We hiked with two rangers in Glacier and they never stopped calling out. There were even a few trails in Alberta that you could only do if you had four or more people all with bear spray. So glad you didn't see any bear on your hike:) You certainly are seeing spectacular scenery!!

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    1. The key to hiking with 4 people in bear country is to eye up your competition and make sure you are not the slowest one!

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  4. When we hiked in Valdez, ( which I think you should do) I brought along a little bell from a Christmas decor. It drove Steve crazy that I have to put it away hoped the bear will never show up.

    Agree, our drive to Tok from Destruction Bay was our slowest, 7 hours chugging along at 20 -25 mph.
    If you are in need of ideas, or suggestions of must do while there, be sure to check our Alaska postings.
    https://lowestravels.com/category/usa/alaska/

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  5. I love the Crazy Al story, Jim! Great stuff. :)

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    1. We did not stick around the next morning to say goodbye, we thought it better to just head down the road.

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  6. Hooray you are so close and yes that stretch of road is the worst by far!! Loved the story of the porcupine lol. Can't wait to see my Daisy girl...tell her this is a bear free zone 😄

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    1. The road getting to Glenallen is no cakewalk either!

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  7. Wow y'all are having a good time!

    We will be in the Kluane Lake area on the way back staying at Cottonwood RV CG.

    Guess we will have to start checkling for porcupines under the coach and truck!

    We are not looking forward to the drive down thru Destruction Bay area to WH before we hit Cassiars.

    Will be in Tok Sunday!

    See y'all in Alaska!

    Les and Sue Young

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  8. Greats photos as always, I love the Crazy Al story and the bear storys

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  9. How do I subscribe to your blog?

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    1. You should be able to click the "Follow by Email" link or click "Google Friends Connect". Thanks for reading!

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  10. Trying to tap into your blog. We love it and will be headed your way in July. Our second journey to ak

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    1. That's how we got a lot of our information...reading other blogs. Make sure you bring your fishing poles and fish in Haines!

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  11. Jim...you're hilarious! Love the bear story. Good on you guys for making it all the way on the Sheep trail. We were ready to turn around until we met some people on their way down. They told us another 10 minutes the trail opens up to spectacular views so that' s as far as we went. Great blog.
    Safe travels!

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