The Alcan

May 18th, 2008

Alcan by Kluane Lake

After Banff it was time to bear down and do some real driving. Alaska was days away still. So we did just that: drive. The first day (starting late after the climbing, around 5PM) we drove up past Edmonton to Grand Prairie, where we camped for a few hours before waking up early to make the next leg a long one. It was interesting to see how quickly the days were lengthening as we headed North, the sun not setting until after 10, and we intended to make good use of this daylight. A somewhat brutal haul from 6AM to 11PM took us to Whitehorse, where we found a free camp in a junk-strewn High School party area. Gross, but convenient. Along the Alcan we decided a few stops looked worthwhile, namely Liard River Hot Springs.

Liard River hot springs main poolHot springs are a natural part of life in the Rockies, young and geologically active as they are. The West is peppered with them and most of the ones near civilization have been developed into resorts to various degrees. The only swimming pool near where I grew up was a hot spring, and around Bozeman we have Chico Hot Springs, Norris Hot Springs and Bozeman Hot Springs. I particularly recommend the chill vibe at Norris, with it’s wooden outdoor pool, cheap bar and regular live music. But my interest in Hot Springs wasn’t really piqued until this past summer, which I spent in Boise. The Sawtooth mountains have a particularly high concentration of springs, and very few of them are developed. There really is nothing like relaxing in the beauty, peace and comfort of an undeveloped hot spring. It’s all of the things we all enjoy about the mountains - fresh air, starry skies, wildlife, peace and quite, etc - without the discomfort often associated with it. Drew in the deeper second Liard poolUnbelievable. I’d been to undeveloped hot springs before, like Boiling River just outside of Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone. The Boiling River however, while nice, is often full of people and rushing river and too-hot spring make it hard to find a good spot to relax. The Sawtooth hot springs are a different matter altogether. Many of them have perfect pools of water just the right temperature, and you’ll be the only person there. I quickly became an addict and hit up as many springs as I could last summer. I intend to do the same this summer, starting with Liard. :) Liard River is a developed fee area and not as primitive as I like, but it was early season so the place was pretty empty and there are two large pools so it was still really nice. The second pool is funny because it’s something like 30ft deep, so you have to tread water making it less of a relaxing hot spring and more just a really hot pool.

Cool barns in AlbertaIncredible clouds over AlbertaA fire on the AlcanThe kitschtacular Signpost ForestKulane LakeYukon buffaloCaribou on the AlcanMoose on the AlcanCaribou on the ice in YukonRock sheep

Getting water from the baby Yukon RiverAfter Whitehorse we made the final push into Alaska and on to Anchorage. It was really interesting to see the landscape change to the black spruce Taiga forests. The “toothpick forest” is quite a sight. Short skinny little back and green trees as far as the eye can see. What was more impressive was the Wrangell mountains shining white off in the distance, and later as we drove along the Glenn Highway to Chugach towering above us. The Wrangell mountains are much larger, home to some of the tallest peaks in North America. These 16,000 foot monsters were hidden in the clouds though, so it was the Chugach that made the larger impression. The Glenn highway runs along the Northern edge of them so they rise up right above you. It was impressive to see our first huge Alaskan glaciers too, like the Tazlina, Nelchina and Matanuska glaciers. The Matanuska comes right down to the road which is basically built on the moraine. The winding Glenn highway is, all in all, a religious experience. A great introduction to Alaska.

The black spruce "taiga" forestStorm clouds over AlaskaOur first big Alaskan glacier!Had to pose with the distant glacierThe Chugach by Sheep Mountain on the GlennMore Chugach mountain pornAlaskan peaks and Matanuska GlacierSick Chugach lines off of Glenn highway

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One Response to “The Alcan”

  1. [...] exactly a year after my first trip up the Alaskan Highway I was once again on the Alaskan Highway. Masochism? Self-hate? What were my [...]

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