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(>Pictures at the bottom!)
….in the wideness of Yukon and Alaska
To the minute, typically Swiss, we stood in the bar of the “Best Western Hotel” in the middle of Whitehorse, where we had arranged to meet Christine and Daniel Scholer. After more than a year the hello was accordingly big and cordial. What we agreed on more than a year ago without obligation worked out and we felt very honored about the visit from Switzerland. Together we want to travel the next weeks in the vastness of the north. For us it was a new experience; up to now it worked very well with togetherness and the plans were quickly forged. The four of us needed even better planning and communication, so that all wishes could somehow be fulfilled. For us it was also clear that “our visit” could set the pace, as we could make up for what we had missed later. The wishes and the routes were quickly determined over a beer and nothing stood in the way of the common adventure.
As soon as the two had their rental vehicle – a Ford F350 Super Duty with a camping cabin on the loading area, which made our jeep appear a little smaller – the supplies for the next days were increased in Whitehorse; we wanted to drive as fast as possible over the Arctic Circle to Tuktoyaktuk at the Arctic Sea.
The way led us over the historic Klondike Highway, where about 120 years ago thousands of people moved to Dawson to find their fast luck and money. The gold rush on the Klondike River at that time triggered one of the largest movements of people and quickly turned Dawson into a prosperous city where there was almost everything for dollars. In contrast to the gold seekers we could take the comfortable land route to the north; neither rapids in the Yukon River nor other nasty surprises got in our way. Already many kilometres before Dawson-City the atmosphere of the gold rush at that time announced itself scenically. At the end of the gold rush, whole river courses were ploughed over with huge machinery and afterwards deposited again as rock caterpillars.
Even today, gold is actively washed in the Bonanza and Hunker Creek, two side valleys to the Klondike River, and after the machinery, the search for gold must still be a worthwhile business today.
The gold’s bait calls could no longer keep us in Dawson. The desire to travel in the far north was much stronger for us! After further food purchases and last information about the condition of the Dempster-Highway the vehicles were filled up before we turned off to the Dempster-Highway. For the next 750 kilometres we will drive north through almost deserted areas of Yukon and the Northwest Territories to the Arctic Sea. Many stories and narratives about this gravel road were a little bit preburdening, and for help a mobile phone is not enough anymore. Secretly we hoped that the tires would keep their advertising promise, because we were warned about difficult road conditions by all sorts of people.
But first of all: On these 1’500 kilometres we had only one flat tire, which we could repair ourselves professionally. The difficulty of the road lay in the fact that stones were whirled up by oncoming vehicles. The everyday dust was simply a part of it and was an annoying travel souvenir that whirled around in the car for a long time. I don’t know how the gravel road will be passable in July and August, when the rain showers descend on it every day.
After the Tombstone Territorial Park, which is located in a mountain range from east to west and divides the water from the Bering Sea and the Arctic Sea, wide spurs followed, where the road ran directly on the ridge. Also the conifers gave way more and more to the tundra, and only in sheltered places there were big trees. When crossing the Arctic Circle the landscape changed even more drastically into wide plains and endless days.
The ferries over the Peel- and Mackenzie-River had only been in operation for a few days; from the melting of the ice to the ice-free time there is no getting through up here! For the few people here in the north, this is an annual matter that twice a year they can only leave or reach their home village by air.
With the reaching of the Northwest Territories, the end of the long way to the Arctic Ocean was also announced. Inuvik made a very “dressed up” impression on us, while Tuktoyaktuk at the Beaufort Sea awoke immediately from the snow-free time. Outside on the sea there were still huge blocks of ice swimming around, and even in the village it was uncomfortably cold. A reason for us to return to the warmer Inuvik; after all, the sun shines here for 24 hours a day!
Looking back, the 1,500 kilometres actually went by like in a film and at the end it was an uncanny shell of wonderful scenic impressions, which the crowd almost couldn’t enjoy anymore. It was a bit quieter on the side of the wildlife and the big herds of caribou unfortunately didn’t get in front of our lenses.
Without caribou and other wild animals we reached Dawson City again and for once fell for the evening “Ramba-Zamba”, which should bring the unique old time a little closer to the visitors. Games of chance and shows kept the many gold washers in high spirits and for a dollar we were allowed to stroke the dancer’s leg for a short time. Probably for a few dollars more you could retire to some room and enjoy a warm bed for a short time before it burned out and went back to the camp of the tent city. Life in Dawson must have been very fast-paced and the hard-earned money disappeared faster than it was earned!
The name “Top of the World Highway” was our next destination, and the road more than lived up to its name. From Dawson the road climbed up the hills until you felt like you could see the whole landscape from a bird’s eye view. New surprises were waiting behind every top of the hill. Up to the border of Alaska the road followed from one highlight to the next, even the entry to Alaska (USA) was surprisingly faster and less bureaucratic than we ever could have dreamed.
Until we reached Chicken we went on like on the Canadian side: One sight followed the next. The small village of Chicken with its three houses as Downtown was getting ready for the upcoming music festival. In the middle of this idyll there was a traffic chaos with camper vans and huge caravans, half the house rate was transported up here into the mountains for the long weekend. Crazy, these Americans! 😉
Via Tok, a village on the Alaska Highway, which offers some shopping possibilities for the tourists, we climbed into a remote valley to McCarthy, which is located in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and in the middle of a glacier world. Back here, in this secluded mountain world, there was for a long time the largest copper mining area of the USA and the only connection to the outside world was a railway line to the sea. The railway line was closed down after the mines were shut down and today, tourists looking for an experience drive into this wonderful mountain world on the former route. This weekend began the red salmon fishing season and all who have any branch in Alaska were standing at any river, or with large nets right in the water. Locals are allowed to catch up to 16 salmon per season.
Until Valdez it was a short hop over the Thompson Pass. Waiting for the ferry to Whittier brought us a short “driving break” and a separate hike, i.e. Daniel with Tom and Christine with Chantal. While the men were snaking through the undergrowth of Valdez Bay, the ladies enjoyed more leisurely excursions into the surrounding Valdez backcountry.
The crossing to Whittier is a small version of the maritime highway that is located off the coast and the many fjords in the waters off Alaska. Bays where ice fields and glaciers are within reach and marine animals of all kinds cavorting around the ship. Even the cold and stormy weather did not stop us from enjoying this several hour cruise mainly on deck.
Christine and Daniel wanted to see the highest North American and so we followed the Sewart Highway directly towards Anchorage. While Christine and Daniel took the direct route with their heavy vehicle, we also crossed the Hatcher Pass, which again took us off the main tourist routes. While hikers enjoyed the unique mountain landscape, the last skiers glided into the depths in channels and couloirs. And by the way, gold is still being actively mined in this area.
After Trapper-Creek, which is located at the height of Talkeeatna, the highest American revealed himself thanks to best weather conditions of his whole majesty. And he is truly majestic; this Denali, who for a long time was called Mount McKinley in honour of an American President. McKinley’s home state of Ohio long blocked the official return of the name to its original Denali, which in the local indigenous language is called “the High / the Majestic”.
We soon had enough of the tourist hustle and bustle along the park highway and turned off again to the gravel road of the Denali Highway, where we followed the southern slopes of the Alaska Range to the east. On the Richardson Highway, which was probably built for the Alaska Pipeline, we crossed the above mentioned mountain range to the north. Unfortunately the weather was not particularly clear for this mountain landscape with its untamed river courses and the omnipresent haze impaired the far view.
In Donnelly State Park, shortly before Delta Junction, our last night together had begun. For Christine and Daniel their stay in North America was coming to an end and they wanted to travel back to Whitehorse via Haines and Skagway. Again we decided to get a taste of the wide north air. Thus a common way to Whitehorse, to drive afterwards again to Fairbanks, would have been too large a detour for us.
After three weeks it was not easy to leave the exploring and experiencing together behind and to dive again into the “togetherness”. It was a wonderful time together which we don’t want to miss; a big thank you to Christine and Daniel: “It was really great!
During the first evening in Fairbanks we were a bit awkward and the conversation partners were missing for this and that.
But everything comes to an end someday, and we want to go beyond the Arctic Circle again, before the big rush of tourists. 😉
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