Northbound: Leaving Haines and Into the Far Yukon

Getting on the road by 10:00 am or so following town chores and paying bills, I am happily cruising up the Haines highway and northbound for the Yukon and beyond. I approach the Eagle Preserve at 20 mile and the engine alternator idiot light comes on… funny, never saw that before on this truck. I pull off the road and pop the hood for an inspection. Using a volt meter, I check voltages of the battery with both with the engine running and not running. A nominal voltage of 12.4 with the engine running indicates that the alternator is not doing it’s job. In fact, it has shit the bed… Reluctantly, I turn around and baby the 30 year old Toyota back to town to re-group. Pulling into the parts store, I am amazed that they have one in stock. 142 bucks and two hours later, I have the alternator installed and the last bolt tightened and I am on the pavement rolling north once again.

At the Canadian the border, there is a length of vehicles waiting I have never seen here before. After an hour wait, I am flagged in and questioned. I am asked to exit the vehicle and wait inside while my car is searched, which the Canadian border cops do with abandon. Again, I have never experienced this before. Another hour and I am free to go after they come to terms with the fact that I have nothing to hide.  Two hours to get into Canada. I am beyond happy to have the Chilkat Valley behind me. Driving over the Haines Summit and into the high country sees me smiling and as the Yukon border comes ’round. I am washed over by an array of mixed feelings; most of me is extremely happy to be on the road and rolling away from Haines, but part of me dreads the inevitable slash of loneliness that will undoubtedly come in short order. In fact, as I near the Tahkini River, the dreaded sensation enters me, invades my space and riddles my ravaged heart with bullet holes. I shuffle this back to a place of inner strength that is there for survival reserves and continue.  I get to the Tahkini and make a fine camp there; it was a familiar camp as I had spent time there on past trips. The evening colors around 1 am filter the sky orange and pink and patches and fills my heart and soul with much needed color and softens the dramatic episodes within me. I sleep.

I awake to the warmth of sunshine and something splashing in the river. I pack up and pull out onto the Alaska Highway again heading towards Whitehorse. These feelings I cannot seem to shake and I hope that once past Carmacks or Dawson, they will fade. In Whitehorse waiting for the Fireweed Bookstore to open, I am accosted by a pair of drunks jabbering nonsense at me. Soon, my maps and food are purchased and I am driving the wide open spaces of the North Klondike Highway bound for Carmacks. A torrential rain storm ensues. The roadway becoming a slab of dangerous water; I slow down but other traffic does not. I won’t be bullied by these vehicles and I pull off when I can, but it is up to them to pass if they wish to drive at unsafe speeds. Camping that night in the Taiga forests among Aspen and Willow, tiny yellow birds flutter my camp and a Red Squirrel chirps in the forest nearby. These trips, when I am by myself, which is 95 percent of the time, tend to promote moving along, bound for a destination and goal. It is sometimes difficult to just set back, especially these past weeks, as the creeping dreaded sensations that have filled me lately prevail when I have come to a stop. So I simply keep moving. Regret is futile, and yearning for an undeniably uncertain future is equally so. I have no past, and working toward the future like some kind of mystic jewel seems pointless; I simply am. My heart and desire are too big for this world and most cannot deal with my intensity and passion… the heart is the only guiding force. Chalk it all up to a lifetime of amazing experiences. I am the wind…

The morning sees me drifting closer to Dawson City; nearing the Klondike river at the entrance to the mind bogglingly beautiful Dempster Highway, I spot a pair of bright blond Grizzlies grazing the grass on the side of the highway. So beautiful these magnificent creatures; I often wonder what attracts them to the highway like this… is there something that grows only near the road that they find edible and tasty? I pass the Dempster and head to Dawson for fuel and a snoop around and maybe a nice espresso drink. It had been 4 years since I had been to Dawson, and not much had changed. That is a good thing. Dawson is a gem in the far north to me; it is a place of historical significance, color and interest. I get an Americano at the lovely Alchemy Cafe and soon I am back down the highway the 25 miles to the start of the Dempster. My plan is to hike into Grizzly Lake in the Tombstone Mountains and spend the night there, taking photographs and shooting video. But when I get to the trailhead, there is a notice that the trail is closed. This is the second time that this happened… I was here in 2013 to not only hike to Grizzly Lake, but to also ride the Ogre all the way to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories. Neither happened on that trip. After pedaling for three days, the road was washed out north of the Ogilvie River, and I was forced by the road crews to turn back. The Grizzly Lake Trail was closed due to high Bear activity in the area at that time; this time it was closed due to heavy snow still on the ground. So in 2013, I stashed my backpack under a rotting Spruce log and continued my bike trip up to Deadhorse and beyond. But today I was in my truck, bound for who knew where. I walk into the forest and immediately locate the pack I had stashed 4 years prior, and skedattled up the gravel Dempster to my favorite section. It is a place where the second of three continental divide crossing occur on the Dempster. A place north of the Blackstone River in the Taiga Range; birth home to Engineer Creek, Mountain Goats, Grizzly Bears, and Caribou. I am looking for a peak to climb in the area, and a ridge leaving the pass right from the road directly on the continental divide leads to an un-named summit of perhaps 6,000-7,000 feet. I decide on it, but first I wish to continue north and do it on the way back. A couple miles down the road is a beautiful alpine canyon situated directly at tree line with the headwaters of Engineer Creek flowing through it’s guts. I find a wonderful camp and set down upon it happily. Glassing the slopes nearby, I spot a heard of a dozen strong Mountain Goats, including several babies who seem to be happy to be jumping around and playing wildly amidst the high and treacherous slopes they are perched. This area north of the Blackstone in the continental divide country is by far my favorite part of the Dempster experience. Late that night, perhaps around 1 am, I awake with a yearning to leave the tent and go on a “night” stomp. I exit the tent and walk across the road and disappear into the muskeg and Taiga. Tussock tundra appears and I run as fast as I can towards a barren hillside, where Willow Ptarmigan scatter. Being spontaneous is what sometimes drives me, for better or worse. It is simply fun, and nothing beats the sensation of just making a snap decision and going for it. I look out over the alpine valley I am in and it occurs to me that every Human on this planet is going through some form of struggle largely unknown to the rest of us. I am not alone…

With my cup of Green Tea in the morning, I make a toast to the South, East, West, and of course, the North in thanks and offering of gratitude. I drive north again, this time paralleling the Ogilvie River at at point further that I got on my bicycle in 2013. A Grizzly slowly walk across the road in front of me a couple hundred meters off and disappears into the Taiga, and more Ptarmigan flutter about at road’s edge.

Many miles after leaving the high country, the road drops into river valley’s and enters First Nation native hunting lands. The Dempster at this point climbs to a high point on Ogilvie Ridge, where unobstructed views of the Ogilvie and far, far off, the Peel River, heading to the great und vast McKenzie River flowing to the Arctic Ocean. The road continues along this high Taiga bench for many, many miles. It is dry up here. And exposed. And monotonous… till finally Eagle Plains comes around where I gas up the Toyota and continue on. Soon the Arctic Circle appears and beyond are the rounded tundra summits of the Richardson Mountains, which, in essence are an extension of the British Mountains in the Yukon which are an extension of the Brooks Range in Alaska. The Richardson’s are unique in three ways; They are the final continental divide crossing on the Dempster, dumping all water from them on the northeastern side into the Arctic Ocean, they form the border of the Yukon and Northwest Territories, and they are the last formidable geologic uplift barrier between the interior and the arctic plains of the Canadian “north slope”.  Beyond which lie the extremely remote communities of Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk. The road travels directly north along the western escarpment of the Richardson’s for many miles, traversing some of the most incredible Arctic scenery I have ever seen; in fact it equals the Brooks Range in beauty and remoteness.  Although it is not nearly as big as the Brooks, it is even more remote really. Soon the road turn east and climbs over Wright pass at the final continental divide and crosses into the Northwest Territories. This place is absolute magic. It is quite chilly here, this far north at the continental divide. The last time I was in a similar place was in 2013 on the summit of Atigun Pass in the Brooks Range on The solstice at midnight. It was cold then too… The road continues through the Richardson Mountains, revealing tundra, high peaks, wild flowers, and wild rivers. After descending the last great decline out of these magnificent mountains, the Canadian Arctic slope appears in the distance, extending for hundreds of miles to the McKenzie Delta. I pull off the road, some 30 kilometers into the Northwest Territories and notice the immense trail of numerous Grizzly prints decorating each side of the road. At night these massive creatures must use this road as a path. There are more Grizzly prints here than I have ever seen anywhere in my life.

Finally, after saying farewell to the NWT’s and wishing to continue on to the Arctic slope, but becoming increasingly paranoid about the 30 year old Toyota Truck’s engine with a quarter million miles on it, I turn back and drive back to from which I came. Passing once again the Arctic Circle and gassing up in Eagle Plains again, a few hours later I am back in my favorite and stunning alpine valley north of the Blackstone River. I am exhausted and plan on a peak climb in the morning. In the tent, I sleep like a dead man.

After crossing a short bit of tundra in the morning, I begin climbing up the class 1-2 talus of the ridge line to where it nearly flattens out but continues in a westerly stretch for about a half mile before the final summit pyramid rises abruptly and ends. After 4 hours from the truck, I stand on the unknown summit and marvel at the other peaks around me and the strange and unknown alpine valley’s that separate them. I decide to descend a different route in order to walk out one of these valleys following a creek where I hope to see signs of animals. The decent was treacherous; some of the loosest scree and talus I have ever encountered kept my attention level extremely high and after considerable time and effort, I find myself at the head of this glorious alpine valley, flowing within it the beautiful little creek mentioned. On the way down valley, I see no animal prints of any kind, but spot a pair of caribou antlers lying in the tussock. The are from a small and possibly younger animal, with part of the skull still attached; taken down by wolves I imagine. After a bit I am back at the truck and I blast off again, this time bound south for Dawson, where contrary to my intentions to keep this an alcohol free trip, I decide to duck into a tavern and have a beer. I order my beer and when I go to pay for the beverage in U.S. dollars, the First Nation’s woman in the chair next to me starts ridiculing me for being an American. She proceeds to stick her finger in her mouth indicating forced vomiting, therefore expressing her displeasure. I tell her, “I’m not American, I’m Alaskan”; she was not pleased and continued the harassment. After a bit, I told her she didn’t know me and that she was a no good judgmental SOB (as it were). I left my lone beer sitting there on the bar and left. All I wish for is friendship, love, and understanding – hard resources to find on this here planet. Later, at a makeshift camp, the cops show up to kick me out, but tell me where I might go for a low profile and free bivy.

That night, I toss and turn and sleep eludes me nearly completely. Tomorrow I will ferry across the Yukon River and drive the Top of the World road (AKA the Ridge Road) and into the deep interior of Alaska. I had ridden this road on my bicycle a few years ago and found it to be one of the toughest rides in the north. I’m happy that the old ‘Yota and me will be traversing this together this time.

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Tahkini River… Yukon Territory
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Klondike Woods Camp

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Tombstone Mountains, Yukon

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Blackstone River Ice Pack

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The Blackstone uplands and the start of the Taiga Ranges

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The Dempster Highway

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The View From Ogilvie Ridge
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Eagle Plains

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The Beginning of Canada’s Arctic North Slope
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Grizzly Tracks, Richardson Mountains, Northwest Territories

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The Un-named Peak North Of The Blackstone Uplands

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Caribou Antlers

 

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From The Past… To The Future

I am the Salmon… Forever swimming upstream towards the source. Swimming great and swift currents to achieve the impossible; battling great and unforeseen obstacles that bar the way to my own destiny.

am  the Bear, on top, and managing a foothold in said place, but struggling none the less. I am a protector of my family and my territory, forever destined to do so.

am the Fox, cunning and sly to achieve what is mine for the taking. I only wish for harmony.

I am the Wolf, taken into a sense of community that entrusts a commitment of not only survival, but one of love and companionship.

I am the Willow, blowing in the glacial winds that give to me a sense of animation; my roots digging deep within the soil to accomplish what so many of us desire.

am  the writer, constantly in a state of desire to express myself, for better or worse. Words are what live inside of me and I must share them, regardless.

But most of all, I am a Man, one who wishes only for love, compassion, and connection… for those around me and for the wilderness that encompasses my landscape. I am full of desire and hope, my shortcomings entangled in self doubt, but knowing that I have passion and offerings that all of us have. I wish for sincerity amongst us all, so that we all may flourish. For what is a Man that does not possess these?

As it has always been and always will be, my mind is in a constant state of desire for wilderness and exploration, both externally and from within. These forays and trips into wild places has always been what has driven me.

Included here are photographs from past adventures, not to behold them for their keepsake, but to remind me, and us all, that the flame still burns and cannot be extinguished. So many ideas, so many thoughts… the Brooks Range, the Alaska Range, the deep interiors of the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, the home front of the mighty Chilkat and the ephemeral outer “lost” coast of Alaska’s vast and wild Pacific. I persevere to such notions and they dominate my thoughts and desires…

 

End Of The Haul Road
The end of the Haul Road Alaska 2013
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Dennis Belillo on the North Coulior of North Peak, Yosemite 2012
DSCN0860
Freeride Explorations near Moab 2008
Promised Land '00-7
The Promised Land, Half Dome Yosemite 1998
Ropeless at Wall Strret
Ropeless in Moab 1992
South Seas:P.O. '98 -1
South Seas, El Capitan 1997
Spectreman 11c, Vedawoouo
Vedauwooo Wyoimg 2000
Mt Athabasca '8601
North Face of Mt Athabasca, Alberta 1986
Anissa Chilkat
Anissa Berry Chilkat Canoe trip, Alaska 2017
Native Son '01-1
Iron Hawk with Ralph Ferrara, El Capitan 1999
Angela on the Root Glacier
Angela Carter on the Root Glacier, McCarthy Alaska 2013
Angela Wheelie
Angela Carter Riding Out a Wheelie
Dalton 2013
Dempster Highway Yukon 2013
AOTE @ Keystone-6
Angela going big in Keystone Colorado 2008
Heading Into a Wilderness of Snow Machine Tracks
Anissa Berry in the Nadahini Creek area, British Columbia 2017
Wet Denim '99-3
Wet Denim Daydream with Allan King 1999
Indian Creek '90
Indian Creek Utah 1995
Iron Hawk '99-11
Iron Hawk, El Cap 1999

 

Lyzz@Vedawouoo
Lyzz Byrnes tapin up for another Vedawouoo grind fest, 1999

An Exerpt

A paragraph from the book I just can’t seem to actually finish… maybe that is the point; maybe it is not supposed  to be finished…

“Just south of the lodge known as Bell II, I look through a clearing in the forest and see for the first time Canada’s great and glaciated Coast Range. Craggy peaks engulfed in ice and nary a road any where near them, I feel a washing aesthetic come over me, similar to seeing for the first time in many years the Canadian Rockies weeks earlier. I am coming home to a place I have never been, and a heartache for all things wild and free develops within, and a budding sense of realism penetrates all that this pedal north is becoming. Thoughts of my past life in Moab are becoming a distant memory, with visions of the North encompassing all of me and all I will become. This place, the Cassiar, her mighty rivers and expansive forest, begin to feel oddly familiar. There is a vague yet noticeable tinge of something ancient in these forests; something unexplainable that has catapult me into a womb of wilderness and animals. I see a Black Bear, then another, then another. The concepts of the modern world drifting from my heart; the destruction I feel I have left behind, the crying of a world gone mad, and the never ending forest are all I see now. In retrospect, I am quite certain that it was at this point my life changed forever. Never again could I be satisfied or feel safe in a world full of madness and decay. Here, my heart lost in a sea of timber and mountains, I see nothing but balance and I could never again return to what I had left behind. I was still a long way from Alaska, and if what I was experiencing here was only a precursor, I felt I might simply explode when I arrived in what the Athabascan’s call, “The Great Land”.”

Home Sweet Home

After 43 long months of not seeing my family in California, it was time to head south out of the Great Alaskan Empire, and into the realm of family and old friends not forgotten. It was a strenuous voyage of ferrys and plane rides, airports and freeways, but eventually I was home to catch up with my Mom, Sister, Nephew, Pop, brother-in-law Dutch and old time friends not seen in quite some time. Catching up with John Boyer of Edible Pedal in Sacramento, and Debra Banks of Rivet Cycle Works was a joy. My old friend and climbing partner Dennis even drove up from the Bay Area so the two of up could discuss our plans for an Alaska Range climbing trip this coming August. Ten days later finding myself looking back with fondness of my visit upon an Alaska  Marine Vessel  heading north from Juneau, I am once again in awe of the magnitude of the Upper Lynn Canal and it’s mountains, waterways, and glaciers. Two days in Juneau prior to being aboard this vessel, I had the pleasure of catching up with another old friend not seen in many years. Amelia was in Juneau visiting her boyfriend James and the three of us celebrated with beers and lunch along Juneau’s waterfront.

Now in the waters of southeast Alaska once again, I am getting the fond sensation of being home. The Alaskan air is crisp and cold, but I spend a great deal of the boat ride home outside perched on the vessels decks gazing at the scene unfolding. It is breathtaking to see it again. Back in my crib later, I sift through mile after mile of unseen footage and unfortunately few photos. For some reason I had been so preoccupied with shooting video to make a living with I had neglected much in the way of photos or even snapshots of my family. This makes me feel deeply sad, and I vow to not let that happen next time.

The next couple days are spent not only in front of the computer editing and working, but getting out a bit exploring, shooting video with friends Gene and Michele, shooting photos  and stomping around the hills.

It has been two or three years since we have had a “real” winter here in Haines, and this winter is a real treat and a joy for me to call it such: Winter! The temps have been, more or less, consistently cold, and there has been snow on the ground for many weeks. The resulting ice at Picture Point along thee Lynn Canal and the Chilkat Estuary beaches has been extraordinary.

Going back to work next week after three solid weeks off will be another challenge upcoming. I keep reminding myself of the upcoming adventures to be had that need paying for to drive me back. The Lost Coast in May, and the Alaska Range trip with Dennis in August I look forward to immensely.

In the meantime, I have ice…

 

 

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OK In The AK

2016 has been a good year. There has been much activity on my end regarding photography and video production and the hope and dream of one day not having to build houses for a living are just a teensy bit closer. There have been many small adventures in the form of day hikes, or stomps, as I like to call them, generally along the forested Bear trails along the Chilkat and Tsirku Rivers.  Often is the case when I simply head out into the Alaskan forests and thickets and stomp, off trail, to glorious and unheralded spots for my own simple pleasure.

There was even one big adventure this year when I embarked on a pedaling trip aboard the omnipotent Surly Ogre and rode from my house in Haines to Skagway via Whitehorse. A mere eight day voyage that was over far too soon. Next year there are tentative plans for a ten day trip down a portion of Alaska’s magical and seldom visited outer coast, AKA the Lost Coast. A trip that will involve both legs, packraft, and bush plane. Also planned is a mountaineering trip somewhere locally with a friend from down south coming for an adventure in August.

Unfortunately, writing has been on the back burner, but capturing the Alaska world on video has been my focus. This latest video “OK In The AK” is all footage from the venerable Autumn here in Haines, and compiled as both a show piece for selling stock video as well as an artistic expression of the wilderness prevailing.

I hope you enjoy!

Some Thoughts

112 days. That’s not to long, is it? Only 112 days left till the open road is mine once again. 112 days till I  get in my truck (ugh) and drive to Bellingham to catch the ferry to Skagway. These days, lately, have been filled with wrenching at Edible Pedal, editing video, working on TV commercials and feature productions, doing construction projects, and just about any other thing I can muster up in order to make the funds necessary for my up coming yearly adventure by bicycle. This years’ adventure, as well as last years’, will be a northern one.  When I’m not engaged in the above evil activities as a worker bee, I am sewing gear, repairing holes, altering tents, studying maps, reading web blogs, pouring over “The Milepost”, dreaming of Bears and Wolves, flying with Eagles, preparing my bike, and living a life of adventure in the city.  I long for the forest and the mountains and the lakes, and the animals, and the valleys, and the glaciers, and the open coastlines of the North. I miss it’s smell of spruce and of berry patches and of the salty coastal air. I miss bearing witness to 30 mile long glaciers and Bears half the size of my truck.  I miss the quiet and the solitude that these places offer my mind and my soul. A place to rest; not body, but mind. I miss the daily bicycle or foot travel that affords one a chiseled and lean structure in which to live. I miss sleeping in a sleeping bag and cooking my meals in a simple and enjoyable fashion. And yes, I miss emptying my bowels into the open forest, as all animals do…  Only 112 days.