One Man's Paradise

After the storm

“Thank goodness for the first snow, it was a reminder–no matter how old you became and how much you’d seen, things could still be new if you were willing to believe they still mattered.”

Candace Bushnell


Beautiful skies are back in all it’s splendor after the second snow this season.

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Summit Lake, British Columbia

 

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Sometimes I prefer traveling over arriving. This year’s road trip went from Salt Lake to Alaska. It’s the third time that I made the long trek up north. For the first time in July, which made for amazing weather and beautiful wild flowers along the way.

See for yourself.

On the Road

Road trip

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One Man's Paradise

Close to the heart

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May Weather in the Boundaries Range, British Columbia


“As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing.
I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche.
I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens,
and get as near the heart of the world as I can.”

John Muir


 

Those are the words of a great man.

Looking across the valleys and mountains of the Boundaries Range I imagine this is what John Muir had in mind, when he traveled to Alaska 130 years ago: Snow and ice covered landscapes. Even today, patches of that pristine wilderness still exist. Often times hiding in the clouds.

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A long winter with a short skiing season…

That’s how winter 2015/16 in SE Alaska goes down in my books. First, a lot of rain in October and November, not the desirable white fluffy stuff. Then unsettled weather in December and January, short days, not enough to venture too far off the road. February and March were good to us. Not the usual weather pattern, though. And then came spring, one month early.

I have learned something about back country skiing in the Coastal Mountains: So many runs, not enough time.

Can’t wait to explore more next winter, which is going to be epic!

Into the Wild

A season in review

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One Man's Paradise

The Guardsmen

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One of the “Three Guardsmen” peaking through the coastal clouds.

“Guard the mind and protect the soul.”

  Ikechukwu Izuakor


That’s the Alaska Winter blues. Actually, this day we absorbed more color (and sun light) than during the average gray day in January. All the more reason to go out and play.

The Three Guardsmen are located in a tiny Western enclave of British Columbia, just opposite to the isolated Tatshenshini-Alsek Park. In 2011 BC dropped its famous “Best Place on Earth” motto. Why?

Now it is “Canada Starts Here” or “Super Natural British Columbia”. Oh well.

So much for today.

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One Man's Paradise

Chilkoot Trail: still Day 5

An installment in 6 episodes. This is the last installment, yippeeh.


“If I saw a hitchhiker wearing a tie-dyed shirt, I’d assume he’s been waiting for a ride since the 1960s. I think that kind of patience is groovy.”

Jarod Kintz


No kidding. I have been standing here for one hour and not a single car came by. In the summer the Klondike highway is a bustling road, boatloads of cruise ship passengers experiencing the second gold rush. Not today. At least it is a nice day. I can hear some crows gawking in the distance…

“Hélas”, the first car! Big pickup, Yukon license plates. Slows down for the train rails, not for me… Oh well. I was sure the first car would pick me up. Who let’s a stranger stand on the road in this god-forbidden wilderness…

Another 15 minutes go by, uneventful. Car #2. No luck.

The a big rig. Has to stop at the tracks. Passes me at 5 mph… What the heck.

A couple cars go by heading to Whitehorse, wrong direction, honking, Do they think this is funny? I am wondering. Don’t they know once you hit the road the hike is over. Nobody walks on the road for fun.

Ah, here comes my rescue. A WP&YR company van pulls into the parking lot. Just a driver in a crew cab van. He’ll pick up some crew and come back, he’ll let me squeeze in. I just need a little patience. 20 minutes go by. The van comes back, empty. Just the driver. Comes to a dead stop right in front of me! Pulls out of the parking lot. The driver is shrugging his shoulders.

WTF?

Company policy? I don’t get it. Do I need to get frost bite first before they pick up a hiker? My faith in mankind dwindles.

What’s that? 3 cars in one hour? At that rate I might not make it to Skagway today…

Three more big rigs rumble past me. Same company, so they won’t stop. I got that. Thank you very much.

Then two ladies with Alaska license plate drive by in a nice suburban, shrugging shoulders? What’s that, the new sign for “%$@ *&%”?

Two hours and 8 cars I begin to consider my options here. Weather, check. Food, well a couple bars and a can of fish, plenty of water. No tent! Just a sleeping bag. 4 km to Fraser, the Canadian border. Maybe nobody picks me up because of that frigging border. Maybe they don’t want to cross the border with a stranger? That’s possible. Alright, so how how about walking past  the border, maybe I get a lift after that.

I shoulder my backpack, which feels as heavy as on day one. Road hiking sucks. Shortly before the border a helicopter shows up and circles overhead. What’s that? Are the looking for me, or the two ladies? Don’t get your hopes up. They don’t rescue hikers from the road. No, they install some equipment in the mountains. Onward.

Crossing the border is mightily uneventful. No control, no guard, nada. I guess you can always leave a country…

Alright, now I am out of sight of the border station. Traffic is even less than before. I guess some folks just drove to border for work.

A couple more cars drive by. Nothing. Either no eye contact or the shrugging shoulder. I take a break and take note of the amazing landscape I am passing through instead of reveling in my misery. Summit Lake is almost mirror-like. I see reflections of islands and lone spruce trees. My mood lightens. I’ll try to find that hunting cabin near the pass today if I don’t get picked up. From there it’s a good 14 miles to Skagway. No sweat.

Then car #13 arrives, passes me slowly, comes to a halt. Is that possible? California license plate. White pick-up. Out steps a giant of a man in camouflage. Good lord.

 It’s Bob on a road trip from California. We find some space for my backpack and myself in the truck and off we go. Life is good. We get through US customs.I have been a regular here during the summer. Three times a day did I cross that border. They know me and are curious about my hiking adventure.

Not only gives Bob me a ride to Skagway, he even drops me at my car in Dyea. We have a couple of beers and a burger in town. My treat.

What goes around, comes around. Life is good. My faith in humanity is restored.

Thank you for reading. It wasn’t all that dramatic. Just a little fun thing to write.

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One Man's Paradise

Chilkoot Trail: Day 5

Dispatch From The Couch:

Google Trekker Lets You ‘Hike’ the Chilkoot Trail


I made it to Lake Bennett in 4 days, the end of the Chilkoot trail. In the summer you can have a float plane pick you up and fly to Whitehorse for a good soak in Takhini hot springs or you take the White Pass & Yukon Rail train back to Skagway. Not exactly an option for me. The train stopped running for the season and I did not order the plane. So I have to hike out following the railroad tracks back to the Klondike highway. Not the most exciting finale.

Nevertheless, I get started prodding along the rails, secretly hoping that the maintenance crew comes by and picks me up. Good luck with that.
Every mile I pass an orange sign indicating how many miles to Skagway. I am walking in my inner boots, because these stiff plastic winter boots and railroads tracks just don’t play well together. My backpack feels like an anvil. 40 miles
The views are great. I start to recognize the mountains. They seem distant. 39 miles.

What’s that humming? I have been walking with my head down, counting my steps, looking at rusty nails, when I hear a rumbling ans squealing. Is that the maintenance crew? You bet. I tiny orange engine whizzes along the track. I jump of the track as fast as I can with my expedition backpack. Two railroad workers inside the crew cab seem to wear 4 or 5 layers of coats and hoods not even glancing once at me. That’s ok. They are going in the wrong direction anyway. But once they are done, maybe they’ll slow down and have a good heart. 38 miles.

The railroad track is surprisingly winding. I never see more than 300 feet ahead of me. The bears apparently use the track as well. So I keep my eyes peeled. What is that? Something is standing on the track. It’s brown. Is it moving? No, just standing there. Hmmm. I keep getting closer making noise with my walking poles. No movement. That’s not a bear. It’s a human being. Looking at the track… Oh well. Am I in trouble? You are not supposed to walk on the track, how else are you going to get out of here? Turns out there is a whole crew of railroad workers around the corner redoing the tracks. They are all friendly, some taking a break from their hard labor. With picks and hammers they put in a whole new track. I wonder how many folks in the world still know how to do this kind of work. Now I am sure I’ll get a ride home at some point. They don’t spend the night up here, heading home to Skagway at some point. 37 miles

Plodding along. 36 miles

I can smell the road. 35 miles

Oh well. I just keep going. Getting a second wind. Once I am on the highway, I’ll get a lift, no problem. 34 miles

I start to hate these mile markers. Did they forget to put one in at mile 33? It just feels like eternity. No, there it is. 33 miles

I think I need a break. I am doing good time. Who needs the maintenance crew? Can’t be much further. Newly energized I tackle the next orange mile marker. There it is! 32 miles

WhitePassOh, I have been here before. That’s the Log Cabin area. I made it. Klondike highway. I know exactly where I am. 4 km to Fraser, the Canadian border. 16 kilometers to White Pass Summit. 15 miles to Skagway.

Hopeful, I toss my backpack to the ground, plant my hiking sticks in the ground, ready to hold out my thumb. It’s 11:45 AM AKT, that makes it 12:45 BC mountain time.

To be continued…


“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”

Terry Pratchett

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One Man's Paradise

Chilkoot Trail: Day 4

In the summer of 1899 the White Pass & Yukon Route (WP&YR) railway arrived at Lake Bennett. Almost immediately the Chilkoot Trail was abandoned in favor of this newer, faster and cheaper way of moving goods and people into the interior.


Chilkoot Pofile Day 4

Another day of splendid weather, cold but clear. Well, cold. That’s relative, just below freezing. Nothing compared to what it will be in a few months (-40°C and colder). Smaller creeks and puddles have just a thin coating of ice.

A face in the ice.

A face in the ice.

I am in no rush today. Not sure how far I will push. Near Deep Lake I run into a major blueberry patch. They are as big as small grapes and so tasty. Where are the bears? I see none, so I have a healthy breakfast. They taste so much better out here…

With every step towards Lake Lindeman the trail becomes more lovely. Pine trees and a deep gorge, open views on the surrounding mountains, skeletons of boats. Within 3 hours I arrive at Lake Lindeman. What a beautiful location. A solid cabin invites to stay. There is plenty of drift  wood on the shore. Wouldn’t be hard to have a sizzling stove going in no time. Time for lunch. I am feeling up for more so I keep walking.

Bare Loon Lake, British Columbia

Bare Loon Lake, British Columbia

Passing several smaller lakes and a trapper cabin the trail slowly turns sandy and wide. In the summer there must be traffic by day visitors coming up with the train. The train service has stopped a few weeks ago for the season, so all is quiet today.

I arrive at Lake Bennett. Happy. The end of my excursion. Sort of the end. The end for tonight. It is moving to see the lake disappear in the distance knowing this was a major accomplishment for the early miners if they had made it this far.

Lake Bennett

Lake Bennett


“The sky is already purple; the first few stars have appeared, suddenly, as if someone had thrown a handful of silver across the edge of the world.”

Alice Hoffman

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One Man's Paradise

Chilkoot Trail: Day 3

In the summer of 1897, news of the Klondike gold strike turned the intermittent trickle of hardy prospectors into an uncontrollable flood of fortune seekers. More than 30,000 men, women, and children scaled the daunting Golden Stairs during the Klondike Gold Rush hauling one ton of supplies to sustain them for a year. The hardship and drama is very much unimaginable by today’s standards.


© Parks Canada

Today: the queen’s stage, or hors catégorie, as the French would say. From Sheep Camp to Happy Camp in about 8 miles and almost 3000 feet of climbing.

Another crisp morning. In the summer the ranger will kick you out of camp at 6 in the morning, because of avalanche danger. Not so today. The snow from last winter is  gone, the new accumulation is harmless, and most importantly, there is no ranger. I am slowly getting into a rhythm. It takes me an hour in the morning to stow all my belongings into my backpack and get ready. Although it’s day 3 and I have already consumed some food, there is still not enough room for all of my stuff inside the backpack. So I am stuffing socks in my pockets, the camera bag houses the gas, waterbottle, sleeping pad, and raingear go on the outside of the backpack. I am looking like a traveling salesman, but it works. I also think, all the dangling makes enough noise to keep the bears away.

I make it above the treeline. It is pretty straightforward to follow the trail. Shortly before the Scales I run into snow. Luckily I see the footprints of Sam and his dog. The scales were used to weigh once more the gear of the miners. Packers would charge by the pound. At some point there was also a tramway heading up Chilkoot Pass. Until a couple of years ago a wooden tower from the tramway was still standing nearby. Now the towers have been reduced to a pile of rotting beams. Rusty cables on the ground are great trail markers. A couple more inches of snow and the cables will disappear. Around the pass turns out to be the most challenging section of the trail this time of the year. Big granite boulders are covered with a couple inches of snow. It is impossible to see where the rock ends and where the hole begins. I don’t want to twist my ankles here.

After a number of false summits I reach the top of Chilkoot Pass. It is winter up here. Most artifacts are hidden beneath the snow, except for some massive iron wheels. The Golden Stairs… Go look up the historic images of this place with a thousand miners crawling up the pass. Like an ant hill, simply amazing. I am sitting by myself at the same place almost 120 years later. Humbling.

Chilkoot Pass

Chilkoot Pass

I spend some time in the emergency shelter, which would be a great place to spend the night. No wood stove, no wood to burn, but a nice shelter. This would be an amazing place to watch the Northern lights! It’s too early to call it a day, and it is easier to stay warm walking than sitting around in the shelter. Who knows what the weather will bring tomorrow? So, I keep going, descending to Crater Lake. What a sight. Glassy surface! How often does this happen? Frozen waterfalls and creeks make for an interesting descent.

Crater Lake

Passing a few piles lumber (Stone Crib), I finally make it to  Happy Camp, another fine warming hut. “Happy to see you!”

I don’ t expect any other visitors, so I make myself comfortable attempting to dry out socks, boots and whatnot. There is a big poster on the wall showing Happy Camp during the Gold Rush. What a miserable place it must have been compared to today. Still, the miners called it Happy Camp for a reason: They had made it over the pass! In the flickering light of a candle they were served coffee, stale bread with some butter and a piece of canned beef – happiness.

Well, it’s freeze-dried Pad Thai and the last can of beer for me tonight and I call it a day.

boots

Not quite.

At 3 AM in the morning I hear voices outside, flash lights flickering across the room. Two ladies and a dog made it across the pass, coming from I have no clue where. They have been hiking for 12 hours straight and are to put it mildly out of their mind happy to have found this place in the last glimmer of their fading head lights. An hour later it’s all quiet again. Everybody is settled in for the night.

This time for good. When I leave the cabin in the morning the two night walkers are stlll sound asleep. Only their company, Nugget, is growling at me.

Good bye Happy Camp!


“Look, when do the really interesting things happen? Not when you’ve brushed your teeth and put on your pyjamas and are cozy in bed. They happen when you are cold and uncomfortable and hungry and don’t have a roof over your head for the night.”

Ellen Potter

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Note to self

In a different light

“Everything you can imagine is real.”

Pablo Picasso


Traveling near White Pass Summit in British Columbia on a strangely sunny day.

This image was taken with an IR camera, courtesy of Jim Ashcraft.

Sony NEX-7, converted to IR, ISO 12800, 1/4000, f/16

Thank you for letting me play with your camera.

Always chasing the different look, I attempt to see familiar scenes with different eyes. In photography there are a number of approaches that can give your image a fresh look. Visit a particular location at different times, in all seasons, change your viewpoint, take your images with different lenses, vary your settings… Now, an infrared camera gives you a whole new set of eyes. Instead of the visible spectrum, you see the world according to its temperature. To make this world visible to our eyes, magic electronics convert heat into gray tones or false colors. Jim’s camera does the gray scale conversion and boy does it do a great job.

What’s your way to keep a fresh look on things in photography (and real life)?

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