The Golden Circle
Heading west out of Whitehorse on a route known as The Golden Circle I was unsure what to expect. I wasn't sure if the landscape would be forested or barren, flat or mountainous. All I knew was the route went from Whitehorse, to Haines Junction, to Haines, to Skagway then back to Whitehorse. I also heard that the route was one of the most beautiful in the region. Of course, I had been through some spectacular country in the previous weeks, so it was hard to imagine views significantly better than I had already seen.
The first 100 miles was on the Alaskan Highway to the small village of Haines Junction. By my standards the road was beautiful, but for Canada it was just the typical vast green forested wilderness with mountains and rivers running through it. I had gotten so used to this scenery it hardly stands out anymore.
At Haines Junction, I stopped for gas and then at a local coffee shop for a hot brew and a pastry. As I was about to enter the coffee shop, a young woman approached asking if I had lost a part of my motorcycle. I hadn’t but a good conversation ensued. I discovered that she was an adventure rider like myself and was planning an extensive ride through Northern Europe in the coming months. We talked for 15 minutes or so about similar experiences we had on the road and places we plan to visit.
After Haines Junction, I went south to the Kluane National Park. Kluane is unique in that it and the adjoining national parks in Canada and Alaska have been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. By itself, Kluane is a very large park, but when you include the other adjoining national parks it must be one of the largest wilderness park systems in the world. Two thirds of Kluane is permanently covered in ice fields and glaciers.
During my day at Kluane, I mostly hiked around Lake Kathleen. On one section of the trail I came across fresh scat. To me it looked like bear scat, but because it was a bright green I was not sure. Later that evening a park ranger confirmed it was bear and because of its size she thought it was most likely a grizzly. This time of year bears eat the tender shoots off a plant, thus the green scat.
Another interesting thing about Kluane is an unusual inhabitant of Lake Kathleen. A unique variety of salmon live there that transformed themselves from the sea going chinook to a fresh water variety know as kokanee. The transformation occurred when a glacier grew and eventually blocked the return spawning route of a chinook population back to the ocean. Who would have known such a transformation was possible? Now they only live in Lake Kathleen and spawn up a stream that feeds the lake.
The ride from Kluane to Haines, Alaska was another beautiful section. Unfortunately, there was a lot of fog that day and it rained most of the way into Haines. As a result, I couldn’t see the mountains west of the road. According to the agent at the US border crossing, the mountains I missed seeing are the tallest in Canada with Mount Logan over 19,000 feet. I will have to trust what he said as all I was able to see was the part below the low hanging clouds.
My campsite in Haines could not have been more picturesque. It was in a flat, grassy area overlooking the bay.
After setting up my tent, I headed into town for some food and to see the sights. The first stop was the Lighthouse Restaurant where I enjoyed fish and chips. It was made with freshly caught fish from the local area, and was the absolute best fish and chips I ever had. The local beer was also excellent.
Since it rained most of the time, and a hike in the mud didn’t sound like much fun, I decided to ride my motorcycle up the coast past the ferry terminal to Chilkoot Lake.
The park ranger at the campgrounds had told me that the salmon were just starting to run. When it is in full swing bears and bald eagles will flock to the area to take advantage of the fish bounty that comes about this time every year. When I arrived at the bridge crossing the stream leading to the lake, I found a few fishermen wanting to get in on the harvest. They reported seeing bears in the past thirty minutes on both sides of the bridge. Shortly after I turned on the road to the lake I spotted a bear that appeared to be fishing. It had absolutely no interest in me as it was totally focused on the water and the possibility of salmon for dinner. Not wanting to press my luck, I took a quick photograph and proceeded up the road.
I saw several bald eagles in the trees along the river leading to the lake. Unfortunately, my iPhone camera couldn’t capture these proud birds perched off in the distance high in the trees. I did include a picture of an eagle I took on a post in the harbor. I was able to get much closer to it.
For me the ferry ride to Skagway was easy and uneventfully, but for several people with large motor homes and fifth wheel rigs, it was a different story. They had to back their rigs down a steep and narrow gangway and immediately negotiate a sharp turn while still backing up. Needless to say, the drivers of these rigs took a long time to get on board. For five rigs it took 45 minutes to negotiate the procedure. Once loaded, the ferry ride to Skagway took a little less than an hour.
Before we reached the dock in Skagway, I could tell this was not the place for me. In Haines, there were only a few tourists and no cruise ships. In Skagway, by contrast, there was a medium sized cruise ship in the bay and two larger cruise ships docked. As you might have guessed, the sidewalks were crowded with tourists from the ships. After a quick dinner, I made a hasty exit and headed to an alternative camp spot across the Canadian Border.
Fifty miles north of Skagway I found the Conrad Historic Campgrounds located on the Tagish Lake where a black bear greeted me as I approached the turnoff. The ride to Conrad and on to Whitehorse the next morning was excellent with magnificent views in all directions.