Holiday 1999 in Alaska and Yukon

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The theme for this holiday was 'an outdoor experience among wildlife'. My brother and I decided to explore the northwest part of the States and Canada. So we rented a fourwheel drive and camping gear and went off into the wilderness. Of course we planned some things before we left because you can expect some difficulties in this area. First of all the roads are not all that great (that's why we used a 4x4). There are a lot of gravel and dirt roads out there. And most of them take you to the nice quiet places. Second thing to keep in mind is the fact that some services (like food and gas) are rare in some areas. Planning is essential.

Outdoor cooking

It is a good idea to check your gear before you head off. We didn't check our rented gas cooker properly and found out that the pressure valve was damaged when we were in the middle of nowhere. And then it was time for some experimental cooking, since it took us 10 days before we found a store that could sell us a new part. All campsites have a fire ring and wood available to make a fire. It is not a good idea to put your rented pots and pans on the fire, because it will give a nice dark color on the shining metal. So you go to the supermarket and buy these nice aluminum foil cups (used for picnics) and a roll of aluminum foil. With this you can cook your rice, pasta and vegetables without a problem. Cover the cups with foil to prevent ash and soil mixing with your diner. The foil is also a good indicator when water is boiling. Another great recipe is 'eggs in a can'. Empty a can of Coke or something similar. With a sharp knife or a good can opener cut away the top for 90 percent, so it can act as a lid. Take two eggs and put them in the can together with some salt and pepper. Stir it and put it in the ashes or very near to the fire. Check every now and then if the egg is bubbling. Once it is firm wait for another minute and you'll have a nice dish. The last recipe is 'barbeque pizza'. Take a pizza and wrap each slice in foil. Throw it in the fire and wait for 5 to 7 minutes. Take it out and open the foil. Cut away the charcoaled bits and enjoy.

The bear facts

There is a chance that you may be lucky enough to see a bear. But even if you don't, you will never be far away from one, because Alaska is bear country. Bears are curious, intelligent and potentially dangerous animals, but undue fear of bears can endanger both bears and people. Most bears tend to avoid people. In most cases, if you give a bear the opportunity to do the right thing, it will.
Bears don't like surprises! If you are hiking through bear country, make your presence known - especially where the terrain or vegetation makes it hard to see. Make noise, sing, talk loudly or tie a bell to your pack. If possible travel with a group. Groups are noisier and easier for bears to detect. Avoid thick brush. if you can't, try to walk with the wind at your back so your scent will warn bears of your presence. Always let bears know you are there.
Don't crowd bears! Give bears plenty of room. Some bears are more tolerant than others, but every bear has a "personal space" - the distance within which a bear feels threatened. If you stray within that zone, a bear may react aggresively.
Bears are always looking for something to eat! Bears have only about six months to build up fat reserves for their long winter hibernation. Don't let them learn human food or garbage is an easy meal. It is both foolish and illegal to feed bears, either on purpose or by leaving food or garbage that attract bears.
Cook away from your tent. Store all food away from your campsite. If possible use bear-proof containers to store food. Keep a clean camp. Wash your dishes. Avoid smelly food like bacon and smoked fish. Keep food smells off your clothing. Bears are also attracted by the smell of toothpaste and such, so don't keep these items in your tent.

Close encounters: what to do

If you see a bear, avoid it if you can. Give the bear every opportunity to avoid you. If you do encounter a bear at close distance, remain calm. Attacks are rare.
Identify yourself. Let the bear know you are human. Talk to the bear in a normal voice. Wave your arms. If a bear cannot tell what you are, it may come closer or stand on its hind legs to get a better look or smell. A standing bear is usually curious, not threatening. You may try to back away slowly diagonally, but if the bear follows, stop and hold your ground.
Don't run. You can't outrun a bear. They have been clocked at speeds up to 35 mph, and like dogs, the will chase fleeing animals. If the bear gets too close, raise your voice and be more aggressive. Bang pots and pans. Never imitate bear sounds or make a high-pitched squeal.
If attacked. If a bear actually makes contact, surrender! Fall to the ground and play dead. Lie flat on your stomach, or curl up in a ball with your hands behind your neck. Remain motionless for as long as possible. If you move, and the bear sees or hears you, it may return and renew its attack. If the bear continues biting you long after you assume a defensiveposture, it likely is a predatory attack. Fight back vigorously.

Is the water safe

One hidden hazard you should know about is a disease that may be contracted from drinking untreated "natural" water. The disease is an intestinal disorder called GIARDIASIS. In Alaska it is also known as "Beaver Fever". It can cause you severe discomfort.
The disease is causedby a microscopic organism, Giardia lamblia. The cystic form of giardia may be found in mountain streams and lakes. These natural waters may be clear, cold and free-running. They can look, smell, and taste good. You may see wildlife drinking without hesitation from these sources. All of these indicators sometimes lead people to mistakenly assume that natural waters are safe to drink. Giardia may or may not be present, but you should be aware of possible danger.
It is not usually life threatening. Disease symptoms usually include diarrhea, increased gas, loss of appetite, abdominal cramps, and bloating.
There are several ways for you to treat raw water to make it safe to drink. The most certain treatment to destroy giardia is to boil water for at least 1 minute. Boiling also will destroy other organisms causing waterborne disease. At high altitudes, you should maintain the boil for 3 to 5 minutes for an added margin of safety.
Chemical disinfectants such as iodine and chlorine tablets or drops are not yet considered as reliable as heat in killing giardia.

The weather

Southeastern: coastline downto British Columbia.Wet and mild are the two best terms for describing its climate. Certain communities in the region receive more than 200 inches (5 meters) of rain annually. On rare, sunny days in summer, high temperatures might reach the mid 70 ºF (21 ºC) range. High 40s (4 ºC) to mid 60s (15 ºC) are in summer norms, under cloudy skies. Winter temperatures rarely fall much below freezing.
Southcentral: Anchorage and most of the gulf coast comprise this part of Alaska. Coastal cummunities are frequently as wet as southeastern cities, but the amount of rainfall lessens considerably just a short distince inland. Anchorage rarely has highs in the 80s (26 ºC); 60s (15 ºC) and 70s (21 ºC) are normal.
Interior: The inland if Alaska and Yukon gets perhaps 20 inches (50 cm) of moisture annually. Summer temperatures have reached 100 ºF (37 ºC) on occasions; 80 ºF (26 ºC) temperatures are common, occasionally falling as low as -75 ºF (-59 ºC) in winter.
Arctic coast: High winds are common, and average temperatures are too cool to permit trees to grow. Near Nome, summer temperatures can climb into the 60s (15 ºC) and sometimes the low 70s (21 ºC), but that's about as warm as it ever gets. Winter temperatures, though extreme, have never been recorded as low as some interior temperatures. This is also an extremely dry area.
Southwestern and The Aleutians: The Aleutian Islands are justly famed for the most miserable weather on earth. High winds (up to 100 mph - 165 kmh) and heavy fog are common, as are rain and cool temperatures.

Where did we go to

Amsterdam - Anchorage
We started out trip in Anchorage. Our car and camping equipment was also rented here. We could arrange everything from the Netherlands. Always take a full damage waver and lower your own risk amount, because damage is expensive in Alaska. Since a lot of roads are gravel the chance of damaging your car is big.

Anchorage - Tonsina
You take the Glen Highway (Highway 1) to Glennallen and then Highway 10. The first place we visited was near Tonsina. It is close to Wrangell - St. Elias, the largest National Park in Alaska (6 times as large as Yellowstone) and contains 4 mountains above 4000 m. There are two roads in the park and we took the one in the west. There is also a road in the north side.

Tonsina - McCarthy
McCarthy Road Remember that the road going to McCarthy is called 'the worst road in Alaska'. Beginning at the Copper River and ending at the Kennicott River, the McCarthy Road spans approximately 58 miles. For the most part, it follows the roadbed of the Copper River and Northwestern Railroad which was constructed between 1908 and 1911. For 27 years the 196 mile railway carried copper from the historic Kennicott mining area to the coast at Cordova. The last train pulled into Cordova on November 11, 1938. What is now called the McCarthy Road is a portion of that momentous construction project! Basically the road is just some gravel put on top of the old railroad path. This means that on some points you can still see the wood of the track and sometimes nails are sticking out out the ground. This will rip your tires apart if you are unlucky.
In the park you can visit Kennicott, an old mining town that was abandoned in 1938. Because the Kennicott Copper Corporation couldn't compete with the falling prices of copper, they closed the mine down.

McCarthy - Tetlin Junction
Hare Moose in the water Then we drove back to Chitina and then to Tok. This is not an exciting place, but there you can get a lot of supplies. Unfortunately you can not get a pressure valve for a Coleman gas stove. In Tok you can go several directions, because Highway 1 and 2 are crossing at this point. We went to Beaver Creek (border of USA and Canada), following the Alaska Highway. At Tetlin Junction we stayed on a campground where we had our first experience with nasty mosquitoes.

Tetlin Junction - Haines Junction
Ground squirrel Me in bear country Then we went southwards to Haines Junction. It was impossible to walk in the woods without protection against mosquitoes so here we bought a spray with DEET. This really helps a lot. The bugs still circle around you but they keep a distance. Remember that the spray does not help to protect you from bears. So watch out when you are hiking in woodland area's.

Haines Junction - Haines
Wolf Haines Haines is a community rich in Tlingit Native culture and is best known for its majestic mountain scenery, king and sockeye salmon-fishing, native art and dance and the newly created Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. At Haines the road stops and you'll have to take the ferry to Skagway.

Haines - Skagway - Carcross
Keep in mind that Skagway is populated by people who are not Alaskans,but live in the lower 48. This place is only nice for tourists who like non-authentic shops and want to buy beads and stuff like that. Am I being a bit cynical here?
Near Carcross we stayed the night at the Spirit Lake Wilderness Resort (Mile 72.3 on the Klondike Highway). This place is owned by a friendly Dutch family.

Carcross - Whitehorse - Johnsons Crossing
Airplane We went further to Whitehorse, the largest city in Yukon. Two-third of the population of Yukon live here (18.000 people). It is situated along the Yokun River. Here we found our pressure valve. During the Klondike Gold Rush (1897-1898) Whitehorse was an important supply centre for fortune seekers and golddiggers who were on their way to Dawson City. After visiting Whitehorse we took Highway 1 to Johnsons Crossing.

Johnsons Crossing - Ross River
Black bear At this point we took the South Canol Road (Highway 6) towards Ross River. Because there are no services for 226 km please buy supplies (food for at least 3 days) and a full tank of gas before you start. The trip takes one day, but if you get stuck, you can better be prepared. Also check your spare tire.
The Canol Road is 495 km long. This gravel road was build during the Second World War for the maintenance of an oil pipeline from Norman Wells in the Northwest Territories to the city of Whitehorse. Nowadays the pipeline is no longer in use. Both the North and the South part of the road are open in summer. The Canol Road goes through beautiful mountainous wilderness and lots of lakes are rivers.

Ross River - Carmacks
In Ross River you can buy gas again. This is also the place where you can repair your tires. Here we had our first flat tire. There is no campsite in Ross River (only an RV park), but it is allowed to camp close to the river (near the ferry) next to the baseball park.
The Robert Campbell Highway (Highway 4) lies in a virgin wilderness in the south-east part of Yukon. You will pass the mining city Faro (the youngest city in the Yukon Territory - 1700 inhabitants). It was build in 1969 for the miners working in the Cyprus Anvil mine. This is the largest leadmine in Canada.

Carmacks - Dawson
Fireweed in forest Dawson City was the place to be during the Klondike Goldrush. You will find a lot of historical sites and buildings here. Dawson was a boom town where the fabulously rich and the dirt poor walked the same wooden planks over the marshy streets. Despair was everywhere except in the dance halls, saloons and shops.

Dawson - Tetlin Junction
This road (Taylor Highway or Highway 9) is only opened in summer. The terrain is rugged and the road gets worse when you cross the border near a place called Boundary. The nature here is very nice. Lots of small animals and birds.

Tetlin Junction - Upper Chatanika River
Alaska pipeline You follow the Alaska Highway (Highway 2) in northern direction towards Fairbanks. You cross the Alaska pipeline here. At some points you can see it very well. Near Big Delta there is a bridge made for the pipeline. Further north lies North Pole, home of Santa Claus.
North of Fairbanks lies the White Mountains. We took Highway 6 (Stesse Highway) to wander off in this quiet recreation park. Here we spotted bald eagle and beaver.

Upper Chatanika River - Circle Hot Springs - Upper Chatanika River
Beaver We were very disappointed when we arrived at Circle Hot Springs. There is only a small hotel that is build around the hot springs. Not the kind of hot spring that I have seen elsewhere. Bummer! But the road to this place is very nice.

Upper Chatanika River - Denali
It was raining the whole day when we drove this part. But even when it rains it is a fantastic scenery when you encounter Denali National Park. You haven't been to Alaska when you didn't see Denali. It is best to make reservations when you want to enter the park. To protect wildlife viewing opportunities, limits are set on park road traffic, including buses. Expect delays getting out into the park during the peak season. Denali is a true wilderness. Before venturing into park, read the safety articles in Denali Alpenglow, the park newspaper. Grizzly bears and moose are dangerous. Crossing glacial rivers is trecherous.

Caribou Falcon Fox Grizzly bear
Denali, the "High One", is the name Athabascan native people gave the massive peak that crowns the 600-mile-long Alaska Range. Denali is also the name of an immense national park and preserve created from the former Mount McKinley National Park. The changes in names and boundaries that have occured over the years can be confusing, as they indicate the way various parts of the park and preserve may be used today. In 1917 Mount McKinley National Park was established as a game refuge. The park and the massif including North America's highest peak were named for former senator - later President - William McKinley. In 1980, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) enlarged the boundary by 4 million acres and redesignated it as Denali National Park and Preserve. At 6 million acres, the park is larger than Massachuchetts. It exemplifies interior Alaska's character as one of the world's last great frontiers for wilderness adventure. It remains largely wild and unspoiled, as the Athebascans knew it. Denali National Perk and Preserve is managed as three distinct units. Denali Wilderness, most of the former Mount McKinley National Park, is managed to maintain the undeveloped wilderness parkland character. Backcountry use is regulated and most traditional national park regulations apply here. Denali Wilderness is closed to sport and subsistence hunting and trapping activities. Denali National Park additions, established by ANILCA in 1980 (excluding Denali WIlderness), allow customary and traditional subsistence uses by local rural residents. This recognizes the longstanding dependance on wildlife,fish and plant materials for subsistence in rural Alaska. Denali National Reserve allows subsistence uses and also allows sport hunting, trapping and fishing under Alaska Fish and Game regulations. There are two such preserve areas.

Denali - Talkeetna
After an impressive tour in Denali we went southwards along the George Parks Highway (Highway 3) to Talkeetna. At this place we would be picked up by a pilot to bring us into the Alaska Bush. Due to bad weather we were unable to fly on the arranged day.

Talkeetna - Caribou Lodge
Alaska Range The next day was better, so Elbert (the pilot) took us to Caribou Lodge. This was my first experience with a Chessna float plane.
It was still cloudy and a bit windy, but Elbert is an experienced pilot, not a risky pilot. He will only fly when it is safe.

Caribou Lodge
Mike, Pam and Aaron Nichols Caribou Lodge is located on a remote lake above timberline in the Talkeetna Mountains just southeast of Denali National Park and east of Talkeetna. Nature and tranquility are your only neighbors. The lodge offers fantastic views of Mount McKinley and the Alaska Range to the west and to the east overlooking the lake, stands the beautiful Talkeetna Mountains.
You can view wildlife, observe the flora and fauna, ply your lens in unlimited photography opportunities, or take a leisurely boat ride around the lake and try your hand at catch and release fishing.
Mike and Pam with their son Aaron call Caribou Lodge their home and live there year around. All supplies are flown-in by bush plane equipped with floats in summer and skis in for landing on the frozen lake in winter. For the two-to-three months of the year during winter "freeze-up" and "spring break-up", they are isolated in the wild Alaskan Bush. Aaron is home-schooled which occupies many of the short days and long nights of winter.
There experiences of living the dream that most of us have had at one time or another, varies from having grizzly bears out the front door, to long winter nights by a warm fire with a good book while the aurora borealis dance overhead, to surprise visits from traveling wolves.

Caribou Lodge - Talkeetna - Lake Nelchina
Mount McKinley After spending three days at Caribou Lodge at was time to go. The weather was exceptional good and Mount McKinley and the rest of the Alaska Range was out there without a patch of clouds. Elbert called and asked if we were interested in a scenic flight around McKinley. Without hesitating I said YES, I didn't even ask what the price was - who cares. I knew that this kind of weather was rare. McKinley without clouds happens only in 5 percent of all days. This was a once in a lifetime experience.

Lake Nelchina - Valdez - Little Tosina
Bald eagle Most part of this route was known by us, because we drove it 20 days ago (from Palmer to Tonsina). We had the plan to take a boat from Valdez to Whittier (Marine Highway) and then the train to Portage, but since we didn't make any reservations we found out at Valdez that there was no place for us on the boat for the next few days. Bummer again! So we missed a trip through the Prince William Sound and had to drive back to go to the Kenai Fjords.

Little Tosina - Portage Valley
Hey, this part we have seen already twice. But the scenic view of the Chugach Mountains and Matanuska Peak are nice time after time. At Palmer you take the Old Glenn Highway (Highway 1) to Anchorage. Follow the Minnesota Drive and take the Seward Highway (Highway 1). On your right side you'll see the Cook Inlet, Chickaloon Bay and Turnagain Arm. It can be quite windy here. If you follow the road to Portage Glacier you'll see several campsites.

Portage Valley - Seward - Cooper Landing
Humpback whale Orca Stellar sealions Seward, founded in 1903, was for years the leading port city of Alaska. It was eventually eclipsed in that role by Anchorage, and the 1964 earthquake devastated the economy. Twenty years later, it began to regain its financial legs and is once again a thriving port.
At Seward we made a boat trip of 6 hours along the Kenai Fjords. Here you can see Bald Eagles, Orca's, Humpback Whales, Stellar Sea Lions, Harbor Seals, Puffins, Black Oyster Catchers, Cormorants, Kittiwakes, Murres and lots of other wildlife.
The boat took us al the way to Aialik Glacier, a tidewater glacier. The thunderous boom of calving ice can sometimes be heard 20 miles away.

Cooper Landing - Homer - Kenai
Today we explore the rest of the peninsula. The drive to Homer was a bit dull because it was rainy and we could barely see the land at the other side of the Cook Inlet. That's really sad, because you'll have a splendid view of Aleutian Range with mountains of 11,000 feet high. Homer was not my idea of a nice place. Maybe because I don't like fishing together with a few thousand other people. In fact, I don't like fishing at all.
We headed north along the Cook Inlet and ended up at the Captain Cook Recreational Site. This is a remote area with lots of wildlife. Moose and Bear country. We had our second flat tire here.

Kenai - Tenderfoot Creek
Today we took out flat tire to a garage. It was difficult to find the problem. After about an hour we were back on the road again. Doing our last shopping in Kenai and drive to Exit Glacier. The glacier connects to the Harding Icefield, a nearly flat 50-mile by 30-mile expanse of snow and ice which covers all but the peaks of the Kenai Mountains.
We stopped in the early afternoon at a campsite. Nice and quiet place. A squirrel was very keen on our food supply. He licked our plates clean after we had dinner and jumped on my shoulder and head. What a character.

Tenderfoot Creek - Anchorage
Tent in wilderness Driving back to Anchorage to the car rental. We had to bring the car back at 3 o'clock in the afternoon. They drove us to the airport where we had to wait until 1 a.m. for our flight back home. And there is nothing you can do at the Anchorage Airport.

Anchorage - Amsterdam

The cheapest flight is not the easiest route. So we went to Seattle, Atlanta and then to Amsterdam. We are back home after 30 days.

This document was last updated on 15/08/00