Monday, July 30, 2012

Going Down

I'm midway through my long journey south through British Columbia. I bailed out of Seward on Friday, driving eight hours and camping overnight at a nice, free campground near the border. On Saturday I made it back to Whitehorse and booked back into the same hostel I was in before. A bit different of a crowd this time, I came back around 1am after drinking with Terry to find a guy passed out snoring on the kitchen floor. 

After Whitehorse I pulled a right turn at the Cassiar Highway, taking me into the heart of the British Columbia Interior. I really liked the drive, it's a paved but unmarked highway that has minimal traffic on it, and great scenery. It makes for a fun ride too, weaving through the winding corners up and down the steep hills that cut through the dense forest. I saw a shit ton of black bears, too. I camped in another free campground (BC Recreation Sites are awesome) for the night and headed out early this morning, pulling a good ten hour shift behind the wheel to get to Prince George. And here I am, tomorrow I'll head to Scotch Creek, on the Shuswap Lakes, to spend some time with my aunt and uncle at their trailer lot. 

It's a good feeling to be back in Canada, where the temperature measurement system makes sense, everything is back to kilometers, the people are far less ignorant and religious, and global warming is an acknowledged issue. The only thing I'm going to miss is the cheap beer and gasoline...

Friday, July 27, 2012

Happy Birthday To Me!

Yesterday was an awesome birthday! First off, the weather here has been incredible! On the 25th I hiked to the Harding Icefields, wayyyyy up behind the Exit Glacier, in the alpine. It was a very nice landscape, and I saw a couple black bears in the meadows, but there were a lot of people, making the trail quite crowded.

So yesterday I had booked an ocean tour to go see the Kenai Fords National Park and it's massive glaciers. Normally I am not a fan of tours, I like to go seek and find my own adventure and learn something in the process, but tours are the only way to see these glaciers, so I spoiled myself for my birthday and booked it. It was a beautiful morning in town, with a little fog hanging around in the harbour. I lined up with the plethora of senior citizens and boarded the boat. We departed the harbour and soon were mired in a thick fog and low cloud that would plague us for a couple more hours. Luckily it didn't interfere with our wildlife viewing. We were soon at the side of a cliff face watching various sea birds, including Puffins. We also caught a quick glimpse of a Humpback Whale. The boat captain was very generous when it came to spotting wildlife, he would stop the boat on a dime and call out over the speakers what he was seeing.

Shortly after we were out in the middle of the bay, cruising around a pod of Orcas. This was exactly what I wanted to see in Alaska, and seeing them completed my trip. They truly are magnificent animals. After that we took a long cruise toward the glaciers, stopping briefly to look at colonies of Stellar Sea Lions. As soon as we arrived in the fjord, the fog broke and we had amazing clear skies. This made the view of the Aialik glacier incredible. We sat near the toe of it for a good half an hour, watching a couple large pieces break off and crash into the seas below with a loud thunder-like sound. On the way back we were so lucky: we spotted around nine Humpback Whales! These were just as amazing as the Orcas, and much more amazing as the first. I managed to catch a few complete breaches, when the whales crash up out of the water, becoming completely airborne. All in all, the tour was incredible! I think it would be pretty hard to top that kind of a birthday.

And now I start the long journey back towards home, but first a stop in Salmon Arm to visit family...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Last Stop In Alaska

This is it, the last stop in Alaska before I start making the journey back to home and responsible life. I spent my last couple days in Anchorage getting my vehicle repaired, which went by without a hitch. I figured I would have to spend around $400, and that's what I ended up spending. It turns out only a plate inside the struts needed to be replaced, luckily not the whole strut themselves, which would have cost around $700. Due to the neanderthal like Swiss guy I was sharing the dorm room with, who kept snoring and farting in his sleep all night (seriously, it was fucking rank), I tried to pull a late one and went to the late showing of the Dark Knight Rises, which was heinously awesome. Whoever is responsible for the casting of that movie should be given a gold star.

I arrived into Seward today around 1:30, and couldn't check into the hostel right away, so I jumped around downtown a little and checked out some boat tours of the nearby glaciers, and I think I decided on a six hour tour. It's a little pricey, but it's my birthday on Thursday (when I'll do the tour), so I have to spoil myself a little. I went and checked out the Sea Life Centre, which is basically a small aquariam sort of thing. It was decent. Tomorrow I'll go hike up to the Exit Glacier, then boat tour and drinking!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Epic Days In Denali

I just arrived in Anchorage after five awesome days in Denali. After getting my tire fixed, oil changed, and last minute supplies gathered in Fairbanks, I hit the road for Denali and arrived around 5pm. I basically arrived with no plan whatsoever, just flying by the seat of my pants, not knowing what to expect. My only semblance of a plan was to stay a night in the main campground at the gate, since it was too late in the day to head out into the park. Instantly upon arrival I had an obstacle to overcome: campground full. I went to check with the registration attendant anyways, and luck was with me, she had just had a cancellation minutes before my arrival, and I was able to snag the last spot in the campground. Step one, complete.

Next I went to the Backcountry Centre to seek the opinion of a ranger on where I should go in the park. I had thought of setting up a base camp in one of the campgrounds past the gate and doing day hikes from there, but the words "back country passes are free" changed my mind without question. I had all my hiking gear in my truck, anyways. I did the hour long course on back country safety and whatnot, and had my back country pass and bear-proof food canister minutes before the rangers went off duty. The plan was now to spend one night in the Igloo Creek Campground, and then two more in Section 9 of the back country, in the Polychrome Mountains. I went back to my campsite, cooked a much needed dinner, and packed my backpack for the next day.

The next morning I took the last shower I would have for four days, packed my cooler with as much ice as I could to preserve my food during my absence, and headed for the visitor centre to catch my bus. In my haste I nearly left my camera in my truck, which would have been disastrous, but luckily I remembered just before the bus arrived, and I was able to retrieve it.

Denali National Park is very well run. There's one road that leads into the park, and it's closed to public vehicles shortly beyond the park gate. Instead people must take the park campground or tour buses that run along the road and are driven by park staff. It's a great system; you buy one ticket and basically once you're inside the park you can get picked up and dropped off at will in any direction you want to go. I believe Parks Canada should be implementing programs like this in the tourist-bloated Banff and Jasper National Parks. On that bus ride we also happened to spot a Grizzly sow with two cubs!

I arrived in Igloo Campground around 2pm, immediately set up my tent and started hoofing it up Igloo Peak. Parts of it were really steep scrambles along scree slopes, which is always a little nerve racking, looking down a forty five degree slope of loose rock that you could cause to slide if you were sloppy. As I was hiking along the knife ridge, nearing the higher ridge that would lead to the summit, I happened to glance up and see the horned head of a sheep looking at me. Cool, I thought, I'll see a ram up there. I summit the ridge and not only see a ram, but a whole herd of Dall Sheep twenty feet away from me! What a great experience that was, to be that close to them, and not on the side of some highway. They were not habituated to people at all either; they stared at me for a good half an hour out of sheer curiosity, while I snapped pictures of them liberally. I then became engaged in Mexican Standoff with one that was blocking the trail leading to the summit. I wouldn't budge, neither would he. Eventually he recognized and backed off, and I summitted Igloo Peak!

The next day I caught the bus to I Scream Gulch, where I would get off to start my back country trek. On the bus I discovered another positive aspect of the Denali shuttle system: it keeps all the clueless tourists concentrated in one place. Denali is full of tourists from the lower forty-eight states, and a lot of them have never been in or have any clue about the wilderness. A bunch of them were utterly fascinated about my upcoming back country trek, and all the logistics behind it.

I stepped off the bus at I Scream Gulch at noon, and started my descent down a gravel drainage to the Toklat River Valley below. The day was warm and sunny, and I started making good time on the easy footing of the wide, gravel strewn valley. As I got further up the valley, the wind seemed to get more powerful. This was a prelude to my whole stay there; the wind never let up, and was always very strong. About halfway into my walk, I was hiking through some sparse willow groves when I rounded one and was thirty feet away from a male Caribou. Another repeat experience, this one equally as awesome. He watched me for a little while, I snapped photos, he trotted off. I arrived at a large meadow out of sight of the road (one of the rules about where you can camp) and pitched my tent. It was quickly apparent that clean drinking water was going to be a problem: the Toklat river is heavily silted. I didn't have a filter, so I resorted to filtering through a hand cloth, which took a long time.  I had a quick nap and break from the howling wind, then hiked up a ridge directly above my camp. From there I saw the solution to my water problem: a small runoff stream coming from a small waterfall on the cliff face, about a kilometer from my camp. As I was looking at this, I happened to look to the right at a bluff above and noticed something grey. I brought up my camera and it's 200mm lens to have a look, sighting on the grey object. It was a wolf! I scrambled to click my camera on and focus on the animal, but it had turned and disappeared over the crest of the hill before I could snap a photo. Shit! I ran up the hill as fast as I could to get a view of it. I reached a high point over where it had been, gasping for breath, but could see nothing. I searched all over the ridge, moving to every vantage point I could find, but still to no avail. I figure it must have had a den up there, and disappeared into it when it saw me. Unfortunate that I couldn't get a photo, but still awesome to catch a view of those rare animals!

That evening I learned of my first mistake of my trip: both packaged dehydrated meals I brought with me were loaded with beans. Santa Fe Style Rice and Beans, and Mesquite Back Country Chilli. Those nights were the only time I was thankful for the wind to air out my tent. It was a good thing I was alone in there.

The next day I woke up and started trekking further up the valley. I passed the campsite of some other trekkers and waved a brief hello. The valley I was in is very wide, about a kilometer, flanked on both sides by high mountains of beige, red, grey and black rock, many of them crumbling into the valley below. About ten kilometers up the valley the river forks and snakes up to it's feeding glaciers. The clouds were hanging around raining on the glaciers themselves, so I didn't try to hike to them. That wasn't really what I was there for anyways, I've seen many glaciers and have many close to home, I was in Denali for the wildlife. I hiked up to a ridge and had some amazing views of the valleys and the glaciers, and happened to see a Hoary Marmot. By that time the incessant wind was starting to get to my, so I retired to my tent and chilled out there for the evening, killing off a book.

Today I awoke early and collected all my gear up for the trek out. I departed camp and the beautiful valley at 9am. The trip back was a little more complicated; the rain at the glaciers had obviously increased the melt a little, and the rivers were higher, forcing me detour on the high bluffs above, across scree slopes and through thick willow groves. Despite these setbacks, I still arrived back at the road in exactly three hours. I waited about half an hour to catch the bus. During this wait, the driver in a bus heading the opposite way was nice enough to throw me a sucker! The bus ride back was uneventful, except for sighting a Falcon in the distance. I arrived at the parking lot, stowed my gear in my truck, grabbed a quick shower, dropped off my bear proof canister, and hit the road for Anchorage. And here I am, back in the same hostel I stayed at when  I was here last. I'm going to see about getting my shocks fixed on my truck, and go from there. My birthday is in four days, and I hope to spend it on the coast in Seward.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Conquest of the Dalton Highway

There it is, the last ocean on Earth, stepped in by me! I decided to pony up and spend the money to get up to Deadhorse, which was a good call considering gas wasn't as expensive as I thought it would be. It was $5.19/gallon in Coldfoot (halfway up the highway), and $5.21/gallon in Deadhorse. Considering this, had I found out that gas was this cheap (considering), I would have been pissed off if I had skipped the Arctic Ocean. Check one more conquest Kyle has beat upon the world!

The Dalton Highway was awesome! Not as rough as I thought it would be, but still rough enough to damage one of my tires, which I'll have to have fixed tomorrow. It was a really good thing I bought that full spare; I was twenty miles out of Coldfoot when I found it nearly deflated, and a doughnut would not cut it on that highway. The scenery was amazing, espeically coming out of the Brooks Range, where the mountains gave way green tundra. I only saw two notable species of wildlife there: an Arctic Owl and misquitos. LOTS of misquitos. LEGIONS of misquitos. The jungles of Asia and Papua New Guinea did not even come close to the amount of misquitos. They were the worst I've ever seen:

Tomorrow I'm going to try to get that tire fixed, and if possible, drive to Denali National Park to spend some time exploring the wildneress there, so don't expect another post for close to a week!

Dalton Highway, Day 1

Here's the video recap of the first day on the Dalton Highway:

Friday, July 13, 2012

Arctic Cirlce, Here I Come!

Today I've been running around, gathering supplies and whatnot for my trip up the Dalton Highway tomorrow. For those of you that don't know about this highway, it runs north from Fairbanks to within a few miles of the Arctic Ocean, at Deadhorse. The highway is basically a gravel road the entire four hundred and fourteen miles, and is mostly used by semi-trucks delivering supplies to the oilfield operations in Deadhorse. It skirts the giant Trans-Alaska Pipeline that delivers oil from Deadhorse to the oil terminal in Valdez.

The definite plan is to drive up to the Brooks Range, which is about fifty miles north of the Arctic Circle. I'm not really sure yet if I'm going to do the entire drive to Deadhorse; gas is expensive (possibly $7 a gallon) at the two stations on the highway, and I'd have to take a tour from Deadhorse to the Arctic Ocean, which is another $45. The goal would be to jump in the Arctic Ocean, thus being able to brag about swimming in every ocean in the world. Whatever I end up doing, it's going to be one hell of an adventure. In front of me I have a four hundred and fourteen mile gravel road running through the arctic tundra, supplied by two gas stations and patrolled by an army of misquitos. Let the games begin...

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Odd First Night

Ok, so weird first night at this hostel. There is a guy and his boy, who has to be eleven or so, that were staying in the dorm across from mine. Last night around 3am I here the kid crying, and then knocks on my door. I open the door and he's sobbing, asking me to use my phone to call his dad, because he left at 8:30 and hasn't returned yet. I ask: does he drink? Yes. To calm him down I let him use my Skype account to try and call his loser father. Of course there's no response. I tell him to go to bed, his dad will be back soon. Sure enough, being it was last call, he returned about an hour later. So after reading this I'm sure, like me, you're asking: WHAT KIND OF A DEADBEAT FUCKUP LOSER OF A FATHER WOULD LEAVE HIS BOY AT A HOSTEL WITH A BUNCH OF STRANGERS WHILE HE GOES OUT DRINKING ALL NIGHT!!!???

Now that I'm done ranting about deadbeats, I can tell you about my first afternoon in Fairbanks. I caught up on some much needed sleep, and headed out into the sunny day for Pioneer Park. It's basically an established heritage exhibit that has a few small amusement rides for kids, an old (I think original) pioneer town, and a couple museums from the Frontier times of Alaska and the Yukon. After that I washed the inch of mud off my truck and was almost surprised to find paint underneath. Ten dollars and it still isn't totally clean, but I figure it's not worth totally detailing it since I'll be heading on the Dalton Highway soon, which is guaranteed to mud it up to the same level again. Then I bought a big salmon fillet for five dollars. Mmmmmmm...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

In the City, the City of Dawson

I'll be brief with Dawson City, because that's what it was. Drove there from Whitehorse with a girl from Quebec that needed a ride. Split a cabin in a hostel with her for a couple nights. Got drunk in Dawson the first night, weather was great. Hostel was rustic but had a wicked wood heated bath house. Weather was absolute shit the next day, cold and rainy. Went to the Jack London Museum, they had his original cabin there, pretty cool. Stayed in that night due to my stomach rebelling after four days of alcohol abuse.

Exit Dawson City. Weather was shit again this morning so I made the call and bailed for Fairbanks. I didn't see much from the "Top of the World" Highway due it being shrouded in fog. I got a wicked stamp in my passport from the border crossing there. I made a quick stop and grabbed some lunch in Chicken, Alaska. I was a little disappointed in it. I had expected a cool little town, but really it was more of a novelty than anything, there were a couple RV parks, a cafe and a tiny tavern. Beyond Chicken was great weather; sunny skies and warmth all the way to Fairbanks. I stopped at a couple places and snapped a few photos like the one above. I rolled into Dawson City and was immediately frustrated by the road construction downtown that ran me through a bunch of crazy detours. Luckily I found the visitor centre and subsequently a hostel. I'm bagged from that drive, the first couple hours were a nerve grind on a shitty, rainy gravel road, so I'm hitting the hay and will figure stuff out tomorrow.

Monday, July 9, 2012

I Heart Music Festivals

Atlin was a total shitshow, but in the best possible way. I had a great time there! Unfortunately most of that ironically does not include music, as the friends I was hanging with didn't want to spend much time in the grounds, but it was still great. I did a lot of partying and met a lot of cool people. Atlin is a beautiful town; the scenery there ranks as one of the most beautiful settings in the world. It's set on the shore of Atlin Lake, which is flanked by beautiful, snow capped peaks that are spread apart by wide valleys. Really a kick ass place to camp, let alone have a music festival. It's a shame it's so remote, though. There's only one highway that leads in from the north, about two hours from Whitehorse.

Before I indulge in the festival too much, I should write a blurb about my ferry ride to Skagway and subsequent drive. I caught the ferry from Haines and 1:45, and was in Skagway an hour later. I had a nice wait at the ferry terminal, watching two Grizzly Bears poking around the shore below. The ride was pretty scenic, but cloudy. Skagway didn't appeal to me. I had heard lots of bad things from a lot of people about how touristy it is, due to the cruise ships, and they appeared to be right. It's literally jewelry shop after jewelry shop after jewelry shop. I was like "no thanks", and booked it right out of town. The Klondike highway was beautiful, but as I was in a hurry to get to Atlin, I didn't take any pictures. Another awesome point of the day was when the border guard let me through without having to pay duty on the beer I bought! I rolled into Atlin around 6pm, and found Terry and Molly right away. They were already drunk, I proceeded to catch up.

The festival was really well set up. It's not huge, I would guess around one thousand people attend, maybe a little more. There's only one stage so you can't miss a band while seeing another one, and the beer garden has a great view of the stage. The camping is set between the lake and the festival grounds, one for RV's and across the street is the tent city. I opted for the simply route and slept in my truck. It was actually pretty comfortable, but I'm sure being drunk helped that a little. I didn't have a program so I can't remember the names of the bands I saw, but most were pretty good. A couple of the bluegrass bands were a little slow paced and boring, but the late night bands were epic! One ripped James Brown until midnight, a great crowd pleaser. After the beer gardens shut down at 1am a party would start in the RV camp ground around a big bonfire, and some of the musicians came out and jammed, which was pretty cool. I ended up hanging out with the guitarist of the band that ripped James Brown, he was a pretty solid guy. The last night I was a machine and ended up partying until 6am and full daylight. I'm now a little under the weather.

So tomorrow I'm off to Dawson City to start another road to Alaska!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Daaaaa Bears!

Ok so apparently brown bears are the new black for this week. I've been seeing them everywhere, including my own campsite! Well, I can't go that far, as I didn't actually see it, but being woke up in the middle of the night by one poking around my stove, then smelling that ultra wet dog garbage dump smell through my tent is enough to confirm it was there. I wouldn't doubt it was the brown bear I saw that evening at Chilkoot Lake near the boat launch, where I saw the most ignorant person in the world (from the Southern States, go figure) try to approach it, and then tear a strip off the guy that told him not to. Then last night I saw two brown bears walking along the highway, and got to watch them for twenty minutes while they grazed through the grass.

Basically I've been wandering around taking pictures until today, Independence Day! I headed into town this morning and watched the parade. It's a small town, around two thousand people, so one couldn't expect anything fancy, but it was still fun, and I got some candy out of it! After that I pigged out at the bbq, watched a spike driving competition, a fire hose competition (two teams opposite each other spray a buoy on a wire to push it past the other team), then headed over to the beer gardens at the music festival. The bands were decent to start, but slowed down as time went on. The thing that drove me out was the MC that did the intermission between then bands. He was fucking terrible! Here's some of his jokes to shed some light on this: Joseph Stalin, end of joke! Here's a joke, Catherine: You on a roof with that guy you like! I can't make this shit up. Seriously, there were maybe five or six out of a hundred people laughing at any given time. I've never seen anyone bomb so bad, it was embarrassing. I was so tempted to shout out, when he said he was from Seattle, you should have followed Cobain!

So tomorrow I'll spend the day here and hopefully get to photograph some more bears and/or eagles, then on Friday I take the ferry to Skagway, then on to Atlin for more music and hopefully no shitty MC's!

Monday, July 2, 2012

That's Right Alaska, I'm Back!

I told you all a few weeks ago, via video, that I would return to Alaska. And I delivered! I blessed the USA with my presence this afternoon through the checkpoint on the Haines Highway, which has also become the most beautiful highway that I've ever driven. You turn off from Highway 1 and head straight south, quickly climbing up into the alpine, which is still full of snow due to the record snowfall this year. The views are incredible! It was cloudy and grey for my drive, so I am envious of anyone who gets to hit that pavement on a clear day.

The past few days I've been hanging in Whitehorse with my friends I traveled with in Laos (Terry and Jessica), meeting new people and drinking lots of beer. Some of the highlights have been staying out at my friends' girlfriend's (Molly) house, out in the country, which is a kick ass place and also has a really cool resident dog, and the other day when we went out to hike to the ridge above the Bonnyville Lakes, which was awesome, but when we went to get back in the car to leave the trailhead, closing the car doors funnelled in about fifty (not exaggerating here) misquitos. It was a slaughter for both sides.

Our Canada Day was really low key; we ended up visiting with Terry and Jessica's family for a few hours, then heading down to Shipyard Park to watch a couple local bands that were playing for the festival. We then headed back to Molly's place and drank copious amounts of beer with some more friends. Whitehorse seems like the typical small town idea, everyone knows each other, gossips a lot, and

So, Haines. I rolled in here today and am impressed. It looks like a quaint, relaxed fishing town. The scenery is incredible! It's located at the end of a long inlet (the longest in Alaska, I think), with towering mountains on either side of the water, and two large rivers close nearby. I'm hoping it's early enough to see the bears doing some salmon fishing. Right now I'm staying at a nice campground outside of town that's run by a nice lady, and is virtually empty. I'm going to stay here until Thursday, and hopefully jump on the ferry to Skagway, stay a night there and then head to Atlin in the morning to meet Terry and Molly at the Atlin Music Festival!