(24th September – 7th October, 2015)
We, more me, were once again nervous with the upcoming border crossing into Canada, although this time not really without cause since my current visitor visa was set to expire in exactly one week. Of course we had looked into the possibilities of extending the visa but no one could guarantee us that I would be allowed back into the country with the extended visa anyway. Besides the processing time for an extension was around about 3 months, and you need to do all kinds of paperwork, provide biometric photos and then also pay 100 CAD. We hadn’t planned on being in Canada for another 3 months anyway so all the trouble of filling out the forms were really a waste of time. We figured we would just “see what happens” at the border crossing. The officer at the Beaver Creek border crossing was very friendly, though he did put on quite a strict face as we explained to him the situation. “Come into my office and we will see what we can do for you guys”, he decided suddenly. Naturally all manner of thoughts started flashing through my head as to what would happen if he said that I had to leave Canada at the end of the week….Gary, of course, was much more relaxed and convinced that that wouldn’t happen. After answering a number of questions about our trip, itinerary, finances and insurance he gave me another 4 month Visa. The officer wished us a continued safe and adventurous journey and we drove somewhat relieved for the second time into the Yukon.
Kluane National Park
The town of Beaver Creek was a bitingly cold, viewless (low hanging clouds blocked pretty much every view we could have had) 20 km drive from the border crossing. Mount Logan, the tallest mountain in Canada, was somewhere hidden behind the massive gray cloud banks together with the wonderful, we assumed, landscape along this portion of the Alaska Highway. Later that afternoon it started to flurry and it seemed the higher we drove the whiter our surroundings became. We spotted a few horses on open range along the highway searching for what they could find under the cover of snow, and began to think that winter was no longer coming, it wa here. We set up our camp at Kluane Lake at one of the wonderful Yukon campgrounds and felt almost like we had come home. Though it was far from comfortable. An icy wind was blowing across the lake and at that moment we were feeling pretty jealous of the two Campers that were parked not far from us. Of course we could also turn on our heater and escape the cold, but we still needed to cook outside…Oh well, that’s taken care of quick like and we fled the cold under our king sized duvet.
We awoke the next morning to sunshine and blue skies and finally discovered where we actually were. The lake, now blue instead of gray, sparkled with sunshine and is surrounded by rolling mountains, which painted quite a different picture than the day before. With the thermometer showing -6C it was pretty darn chilly, though the brightly shining sun warmed us as we strolled along the shoreline enjoying the views. We did another small hike in the Kluane National Park before reaching the little village of Haines Junction where we stopped for a picnic before heading south back into the Park to Kathleen Lake.
Storm watching – Kathleen Lake
Although the campground at Kathleen Lake was closed there was a nice little public hut on the shore of the lake with a wood stove, tables and benches. Normally you aren’t allowed to park overnight at the hut but at the end of the season and this far north it’s all a bit more relaxed! We were informed by a local, who had his tent pitched next to the hut, that we could ignore the posted no camping signs this time of year. So we decided to take advantage of what the hut had to offer, as it was rather windy when we arrived at the lake. At first we thought that it was a classic mountain wind that would abate once the sun set, but as dusk arrived it got even windier. The huts windows were rattling in their frames and the Landy, which was parked directly on the shore of the lake, was rocking and swaying with each gust. It was slowly becoming clear to us that this was no mere mountain wind but a real storm and our emotions went from excitement to worry. This wasn’t going to be a restful night, we thought, and even considered for a moment of just sleeping in the hut. The only problem was that we would first have had to climb up on the roof of the Landy to get our mats and sleeping bags and neither of us wanted to brave the winds. We decided that it might be a better idea to spend the night away from the shore. A couple of hundred meters was a trailhead parking that was a bit more sheltered. We parked the Landy so that it was practically impossible for one of the surrounding trees to land on us should it decide to fall over during the night. The trees did look robust enough to withstand the wind but better safe than sorry… The next morning we cooked up a super breakfast with all the fixings and started a fire in the stove. With the fire crackling away and the winds abated we were finally able to enjoy the peace and quiet of the lake. We decided to stay a couple of days and spent the time on small hikes, board games and writing our blog.
One evening we got some surprise visitors: A Moose family! We were told to be careful when going for walks, as there was a big bull moose in the area courting a female with two yearlings; getting between the bull and the cow could be very dangerous… And there they were suddenly taking a walk across the parking lot; we were very impressed! Neither of us had seen such a large bull moose before, what a huge rack he had! We watched him interact with the cow a while and it was pretty clear that he only had one thing on his mind this time of year….
On the way to Whitehorse we had an unexpected encounter: we got to finally see a Grizzly bear! We were pretty disappointed that what hadn’t seen a single grizzly the entire time we were up north, even though we were warned everywhere that we are in Bear Country and just about everyone we met had a grizzly bear story to tell. We watched the bear for some time from the roadside as he dug around in the stiff grasses searching for morsels before slowly making his way. We were really happy to finally have our own bear encounter and also that we could have it from a safe distance instead tripping over one on a hike or while camping as we headed into the bush to take care of certain businesses…
“The Vaccine Affair”
In the capital city of the Yukon we had something we needed to take care of: Our hepatitis vaccine. We both still needed our last shot since we left the whole travel vaccines thing to the last minute before leaving Germany we didn’t get to complete the base immunization. We still needed the last immunization, which was due 6 months after the last shot. Since hepatitis immunization is rather common we figured we would get it all done quite quickly. We talked to the folks in the Tourist information, who you would think would know something like this, but they seemed completely inept and rather uninterested in us, though they did send us to “Yukon Health and Human Services.” Apparently that’s who takes care of things like immunizations. The lady at the reception said “well for you,” looking at Gary, “it’s no problem. But for you” she said looking at me “it’s going to cost you over 600 CAD, since you are not a Canadian citizen.” We weren’t really sure if she had understood what we were really asking and so explained the situation to her again; that it was really only for the last vaccine, no travel consultation, or other medical needs. To help clarify we took out our vaccine passports to show her what we meant. She looked rather unimpressed at the vaccine passport and figured she would clarify her point. “The 600 CAD needs to be paid simply to shake a doctor’s hand regardless of what is needed, that’s exclusive of the vaccine and administering costs of course.” We stood there a moment with open mouths struck dumb, and then I noticed how I started to get super angry. It’s only a matter of a simple injection, the vaccine itself we would have to have paid for anyway! How can it possibly cost 600 CAD for a simple bloody injection?? The lady was a bit taken aback by my diatribe, and of course I immediately felt bad about my little outburst its not like it was her fault or anything. She suggested we go to one of the private clinics in the area although she wasn’t sure that it would cost any different there.
We stood around a while in the parking lot somewhat discombobulated. Over 600 CAD for a simple injection! There has to be another way! Although we have travel insurance it only covers emergency situations, travel medication is simply not covered. In Germany it’s also something you have to pay out of pocket, although much cheaper… We decided to go to the pharmacy and ask there, in some provinces in Canada the Pharmacist is authorized to give certain types of injections, though as we found out not in the Yukon. Every province has its own rules and its not allowed here. I thought about doing it myself, after all it’s simply an intra-muscular injection nothing complicated really. However, I seem to have some kind of problem with the thought of giving Humans injections. The thought of giving my husband and then myself an injection somehow just didn’t seem possible when not in a life or death situation; I would rather just leave it to someone else. The kind pharmacist gave us a tip to try the walk in clinic though we somehow got the address wrong and ended up at some other clinic, which turned out to be rather lucky. We were at first told that it would probably also cost a small fortune to get the injection regardless of where we go but where we were was definitely not the right clinic. We must have looked really dejected as one of the Doctors, who overheard our talk with the receptionist, said suddenly from around the corner “I’ll do it. I don’t have any time today as I am already way behind in my appointments, I’m not here tomorrow but if you come the day after right when the clinic opens I will fit you in.” We were once again struck dumb and were almost afraid to ask what it would cost. But she just waved it off and said, “I hate all the bureaucracy anyway, it’s on me. Just bring the vaccine with you when you come.” We just couldn’t believe it! The doctor disappeared to take care of her patients and the receptionist turned to us and said, “You really are lucky that she was here today! Right place, right time it seems.” Oh yeah! We were really lucky, and touched that we had the luck to meet such a person; it doesn’t happen all that often and we were extra thankful.
Since we were to spend a couple of days in Whitehorse we needed a place to stay and not just any place somewhere nice! We hadn’t really had anything luxurious for our first wedding anniversary so we decided that we would treat ourselves and stay in a B&B. Our Chinese host at the Midnight Sun B&B wasn’t only very nice but also a very good businessman: He managed to talk us into getting the somewhat more expensive room with the en-suite Jacuzzi bath instead of the cheaper room with shared bath, though since the room was really quite a lot nicer it didn’t take all that much convincing on his part really. The Midnight Sun B&B ended up also being a good choice not only because of the comfortable room but because we also met Gillian– a very sweet 69 year old, well travelled, lady from Toronto. She had wanted to do a trip to the Yukon using the greyhound bus but since that didn’t seem to work out she did “planes, trains, and automobiles” in a quite adventurous round about way through Edmonton, Yellowknife and then Whitehorse where she ended up being stranded. At this time of year it’s really an adventure it itself to use the public transportation system so far in the north. She wanted to take the train to Skagway, Alaska but then found out that it stopped running a week before she arrived. She had already bought the ticket for the ship for the inside passage to Prince Rupert and the train ticket from Prince Rupert to Banff where she was to meet with her family to celebrate her 70th. When we met her she was quite frantically trying to find any means possible to get to Skagway in time to catch the boat, she had signs up all over town looking for a ride, she even called into the local radio station to plead for a ride but to no avail…and the ship was scheduled to leave in 3 days. We clicked immediately with Gillian and helped her try to find a solution to her dilemma. We even decided that should she not find someone to take her we would somehow drive her to Skagway ourselves, but we were pretty sure that someone with Gillian’s personality and aura wouldn’t have a problem, and we were right. She ended up with three different offers from people and was even able to pick the one that matched the best! We spent the quite a bit of the remaining time with her in interesting conversations and lots of laughter. Our host made us green tea from his personal imported stock from China; breakfast was prepared at the same time for everyone at a single table and it felt almost like sitting down to a family meal. We strolled through the town and discovered “Baked” café where we indulged in their scones, the best so far on the trip – with the exception of Gary’s of course. We also met some German expats that we had previously met in Haines Junction and spent almost the whole afternoon chatting with them.
Whitehorse might not be the prettiest town, but it has a certain charm. We were often greeted with smiles as we strolled through town and we felt very welcomed there. We met so many nice people and had such a great time that when we left I had tears in my eyes.
Carcross – A Desert Night
We get a lot of tips of awesome must see places, or things we absolutely have to do on our trip. A lot of them are not exactly what we are interested in or just don’t mesh with our style of travel, but sometimes you get a tip that just hits the nail on the head. Like the tip we got to take a detour to Carcross. We didn’t quite make it all the way to Carcross after leaving Whitehorse, as we were somewhat distracted by the “Carcross Desert”. It isn’t actually a real desert in the geological sense, though it does really look like one with all the big sand dunes. Not exactly what you would expect to see so far in the north. With the golden light of the setting sun shining over the white sands we decided to find a spot somewhere in the desert to camp. It’s probably impossible to camp out there during the summer, but as we’ve said before there are some benefits to travelling out of season :-) Though it was pretty obvious that we weren’t the first people to camp out there as was evident by all the fire pits we saw in the nearby copse of pine trees at the edge of the desert. It was a cold clear night without a cloud in the sky; we were even treated to a small polar light show as we wandered, dressed for the cold, on a little nighttime hike through the dunes. You really don’t find a camping spot like this too often.
The next morning we went to visit the little town of Carcross and immediately fell in love with it. It started to flurry lightly as we wandered through the nearby dunes; a little gentle reminder from old man winter that we should be moving south soon… We warmed up in the only open Café in town; which by the way was in a wonderful little Native painted tourist-shopping village.
We got another really good travel tip just before we left Whitehorse from another German expat who owns a Cheese shop there. He said that we absolutely have to go to Atlin, and that we wouldn’t regret the detour. We had to search around a bit on the map to even find out where it was, but as we found it we were surprised to find out that it’s not in the Yukon but in northern BC, although you have to drive through the Yukon to get there. The weather was supposed to be good for the next few days so we decided to take the 100km detour. As we arrived we realized pretty quickly why the cheese man told us to visit. Atlin is picturesque little town nestled between high mountains on the shore of a large lake of the same name and dotted with many small islands. With the warm afternoon sunshine it felt like a little piece of paradise as we walked along the shore.
Just outside of town we found a lovely quaint little campground run by the locals. You could really tell that it was a community project by how lovingly they set up the campground. You paid via the honor system (a big pickle jar) in any of the local businesses around town; we gladly paid our $10 for such a cute little place. We were the only guests so we could pick any spot we liked, and since firewood was included we decided to finally enjoy a campfire once again and even roasted a few marshmallows.
The next day we climbed the nearby Monarch Mountain, which gave us an absolutely stunning panorama of Atlin Lake and the surrounding mountains. We also stopped at another local “attraction” the “Warm Springs”, which ended up being a little puddle of water in the middle of a field; it actually had warm water. Because of the geothermal spring there was an oasis of plant life that by this time of year would no longer be there. We also discovered an array of tiny little snails that called the warm puddle home.
That afternoon, along Warm Springs Road, we found an awesome free camping spot directly on the shores of the lake where we decided to spend the night. We sat on the shore in the sun with coffee and cookies and just enjoyed the last rays feeling as though winter was still far away. We baked bread in our cast iron bread form once again after a long pause, and Gary even cooked a Potji over the fire. After sunset, however, it got really cold, even with the campfire we had to put our parkas on and long underwear to enjoy the stars of the clear night sky. The next morning when we got up the windows of the Landy were covered by a layer of ice, on the inside… something that we would have to get used to from then on…
It’s the beginning of October now and it you can feel how everything is preparing for winter. The birds have disappeared, the trees have lost their leaves and the seasonal workers, as well as most of the tourists, have headed south; a hush seemed to have settled over the land. It’s already wonderfully quiet in the North, but now we were experiencing something that we call absolute quiet. It is so quiet that you can only hear your own breath or heartbeat. We’ve only ever experienced absolute quiet before in Norway, which we treasured – and now we get to have it every day. We camped at Squanga Lake and although the campground is directly next to the Alaska Highway it was also absolutely quiet; not even a hint of a breeze could be felt and the starry night was perfectly mirrored by the lake. A hint of northern lights could be seen playing behind the mountain range to the north, as we stood transfixed on the shore experiencing the moment to the fullest.
In the morning the thermometer showed -10C – our cold record to date. Our water was partly frozen and everything that we needed to prepare breakfast with froze stuck to the table! Thank god we had enough firewood that we could also make a fire in the morning. We moved as close to the fire as possible with our hot tea and porridge – the best breakfast cereal when its cold, we find. We strolled down to the lake again only to find that it had frozen a good meter from the shore over night; we took the view in once more before starting the motor on the Landy and heading onwards.
We spent our last night in the Yukon in Watson lake, our second time here now, although not as we had planned. Starting on the 1st of October all the government campgrounds in the Yukon are officially free – that is when they are not blocked by a gate. Unfortunately the campground at Watson Lake has a gate, and it was locked. We didn’t notice it when we stayed here the last time and so there we were just before dark a locked gate and our ideas of a nice comfortable last night in Yukon up in smoke along with the idea of a nice cozy campfire. Not letting that little setback get us down we decided to head over to Kathy’s Kitchen, a cute little restaurant, before looking for a place to camp on outskirts of town. It wasn’t the nicest wild camping spot but we were once again surprised by what nature had in store for us. At some point in the night I had to get up to pee and as I looked up there they were again – the Aurora Borealis! Just like we had in Alaska, the whole night sky was full of dancing lights as far as the eye could see. As it turned out our camping spot ended up being the perfect place to view the northern lights, just outside of the influence of the town’s’ lights. What a great parting gift for our last night in the Yukon. We’ve really fallen in love with the Yukon and will definitely visit again; it has won a special place in our hearts.
More Photos on Flickr: Yukon