How can a picture convey the thrill of witnessing a mama grizzly rearing up? The awe of watching the magnificent, treacherous, Fraser River surge below an abandoned bridge in wild upwellings and whirlpools? The warm kiss of the sun, or the sweet aroma of drying fir needles?

“Take lots of pictures,” numerous people exclaimed when they heard of our plans to drive 2,000 miles up the Alaska-Canada Highway to White Horse, Yukon Territory, Canada, raft four days in Kluane National Park, and afterwards return down the disconcertingly remote Cassiar Highway in early August. British Columbia and the Yukon are too vast, too wild, too inaccessible, to capture in a picture frame.

No picture could capture the mind-boggling miles of recently burned ranchland along British Columbia’s drought-stricken Highway 97, which had just been reopened after a two-week closure.

Hundreds of miles farther, at Charlie Lake, trees falling, not wildfires, were on our minds as rain and wind roared raucously through the campground’s thick stand of aspens and poplars crowding our tent.

Deeper into the wild, at Bijoux Falls Provincial Park rest stop, we proved that “if one of us has a lick of common sense, the other one talks him out of it.” Kyle did not demure when I suggested that we slip past the warning signs and scramble up alongside the waterfall. Likewise, when we crossed railroad tracks at the top of the falls, I fell into line when he suggested we hike a mile or so down the tracks to where they cross the highway then loop back to our car. It was a delightful hike until we realized what all the odd yellowish, lumpy, fungus-looking things scattered along the track were. Too late, I remembered that some trains still dump their toilet waste along remote sections of track. I was traumatized.

At Summit Pass, elevation 4,250 feet, the highest point on the Alaska Highway, we took a break from our cramped Subaru. As we labored up a steep trail, we were disappointed by the absence of wild sheep. Back on the highway, we discovered why we didn’t see any stone sheep on the mountain; they were all down by the road licking up minerals.

Being trapped in a tin can together for two weeks, a few annoyances surfaced, such as my careful packing versus Kyle throwing in everything a Boy Scout might need, plus a few more things. My husband dryly noted, “I suspect the other member of this expedition does not rate me as highly as I do.”

We drove late that evening so we could take a break at the exquisite, family-friendly Liard Hot Springs. Because we ended up camping in a rainy, overflow parking lot, in the morning we “ate out” … in a dry day-use picnic shelter. Our fellow refugees from the rain made delightful breakfast companions while they plied us with advice about camping in Iceland.

The rain brought animals out in force along the highway. We saw a vast herd of enormous buffalo, black bears slurping up roadside berries and caribou grazing. Despite frequent signs promising moose for thousands of miles — no moose. What a letdown.

Robert Service Campground in Whitehorse, our northernmost destination, was a wild experience all in itself. Located along the Yukon River, it is a funky place with mostly walk-in campsites, attracting locals and world travelers alike. Our second night, 65 college-age bicyclists poured in for a break from their 4,000-mile ride from Austin, Texas, to Anchorage, Alaska. Riding in three separate groups, they were thrilled to meet up with their friends for the first time in months. You can imagine the party that ensued.

After departing for a rafting trip on the Alsek River (a wild story for another day), we returned to Robert Service Campground.

The Canadian government subsidizes Filipino immigration into the Yukon territory and we came across a group celebrating a birthday, chatting with them as they patiently turned a roasting pig. The party was a great success … in between thunder showers. Ironically, we had just been assured that there was no need to worry about thunderstorms in the Yukon. Huh, our soggy, hardworking tent rainfly was not convinced.

We began our five-day return trip on Stewart-Cassiar Highway 37, a narrow roller coaster with wooden bridges and often no center lines. Other than that, the road was pretty good. The highway runs down the west side of British Columbia offering stunning views of the Cassiar and Coast Mountains but few roadside services.

Boya Lake, the popular (and only) provincial park at the north end of the highway, is the gem of the Cassiar. This impossibly convoluted lake is colored like the Caribbean with a rare white sand bottom and ultra-clear water shading from pale jade to turquoise to cobalt blue.

For us early risers, the still morning was entrancing: Elk bugled in the dawn, and a visit to the outhouse was enlivened by a puzzling thunk, thunk, thunk — then the outraged chitter of a hardworking squirrel cutting his winter spruce cone supply. Out in our rented canoe, duck wings whispered overhead, loon calls echoed, and our dipping canoe paddles plipped, plopped and splashed.

The Cassiar has no cell service for hundreds of miles. When we wanted information on road closures, a local advised us to call a relative on a pay phone and have them check the internet for us. When cars or semi-trucks break down or wreck, there is little help available. Although, we did spy a unique wreck salvage crew, a wolf had assigned itself clean-up duty.

To make the most of the extreme distances, trucks carry amazing loads. Log trucks groan under mammoth burdens. One tanker truck had so many tires it looked like a centipede. Furthermore, it is apparently legal for a pickup truck to pull a travel trailer and a boat.

Fortunately for us, after the Cassiar merged with Yellowhead Highway 16, Burns Lake visitors center had a Wi-Fi hot spot. Our fears were confirmed, Highway 97, our route home, had re-closed due to fires. We had to drive the long way around on surprisingly stunning Highway 5. At least it was stunning until we drove far enough south to be enveloped in a haze of smoke.

Although we were hoping for a shower, we ended up camping just north of Burns Lake at an obscure dry campground developed as a local mountain biking mecca. We found a pretty, private, walk-in campsite next to a lake with lily pads — never a good sign in mosquito and black fly country.

Despite the suspicious-looking lake water featuring abundant wisps of vegetation and a peculiar orange color, we opted for a refreshing swim. Fortunately, the dock had a ladder so we didn’t have to step into the murky depths. The swim ended when I tried to swat mosquitoes attacking my face and a one-woman water fight ensued.

To truly experience the untamed Yukon, you must roam the thousands of miles of vast wilderness yourself. However, we do have more than a thousand pictures.

React to this story:


(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.