Conservation

Y2Y

Kaskawulsh-2

Kaskawulsh Glacier, Yukon


I did not know what Y2Y was until I discovered “Walking the Big Wild” by Karsten Heuer. As a young man, Karsten decided to travel from Yellowstone to the Yukon Territory by foot, ski, and canoe, following the trails of grizzly bears in the most rugged and remote ridges and valleys of the Rocky Mountains. This epic trip was in support of the Y2Y Conservation Initiative raising awareness for the need of wildlife corridors.

The establishment of wildlife corridors is a recent concept in wildlife conservation. Here is my current understanding how we got this point. National parks were created more than 100 years ago for the enjoyment of the people. We decided what that enjoyment was. In places like Yellowstone it was to protect the unique thermal features from human development. In Yosemite it was to protect the valley and the surrounding mountains from settlers, ranchers, and farmers. Some wildlife was also considered part of the enjoyment, such as bears and elk. Bears were fed and bear cubs were kept as pets and shown off by park personnel. Elk herds were considered great assets for a park to have. However, the initial mission of the national parks was not to protect wildlife. Wolves, for example were exterminated by hunters, trappers, army, and park rangers in Yellowstone National Park. By 1929 the last wolf had been killed in the nation’s first park. Apparently wolves were not considered part of the enjoyment at that time.

Over time studies by Aldo Leopold and Adolph Murie convinced park managers that predators are essential parts of intact ecosystems. Wolves were protected, even reintroduced, against much objection from a number of stakeholders, mostly ranchers. It was assumed that setting aside 2-5% of our lands for national parks would be sufficient to create small islands of “undisturbed” lands, which could sustain intact ecosystems. That number was later revised to 25% and up, which was never going to happen. There is no tolerance for national parks of that size. Not in a time, where for the first time the size of national monuments is reduced per presidential decree.

As an alternative to super parks, wildlife biologists suggested to create corridors, where wildlife can safely travel between protected or suitable habitats. The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative is one if those efforts to create a network of parks and connecting corridors that provide suitable wildlife habitats connecting otherwise isolated populations and thereby preventing local extinction.

Karsten Heuer’s book is not just about the adventure of hiking, skiing, and canoeing for more than 2200 miles in what’s left of the Rocky Mountains wilderness. During his trip he gave presentations to the public and the press about the purpose of his walk and the intentions of the Y2Y Conservation Initiative. You can imagine the kind of reactions he got. You may also be surprised how much appreciation and support there was from landowners, locals, and hunters.

The Y2Y Conservation Initiative was founded in 1993. Karsten completed his walk in 1999. 20 years later the program is still going strong. There have been ups and there have been downs. In 2004, Y2Y was recognized by the Canadian Geographic Society with a silver medal. Some parks were expanded, a lot of land has been developed. Reserve networks have been proposed in other states, such as New Mexico, Oregon, and Florida. Unfortunately, it appears we are just (2018) about to loose the last herd of caribou in the lower 48s. For them, it was too little, too late. This is the world we will be living in: land development and other human activities reduce the habitat required for sustaining healthy populations of wildlife. What was present in large abundance in the past, can be seen now only in parks and reserves. Tomorrow, you may have to visit a zoo, or go to your library and read about it in books…

The work is not done. I can only recommend this book. If you like it, there is a follow-up adventure: “Being caribou”. The author and his wife spent their honeymoon following the great caribou migration in Alaska. I would suggest, read the book first, then watch the amazing documentary.

If you want to follow up on the ongoing work of the Y2Y initiative please visit www.y2y.net.

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For the third time in its 45 year history the Iditarod race has been relocated to Fairbanks due to treacherous conditions in the Alaska range. What a pity.

The stretch from Finger Lake to Nicolai entails the most scenic and perilous landscape of the historic sled dog race. Unfortunately, the mushers don’t have much time to admire the beautiful scenery. Depending on weather conditions and time of the day they may not even get a glimpse of the scenery.

As a caretaker at Rainy Pass, one of the checkpoints on the trail, I witnessed one musher arriving just around sunrise on a beautiful winter morning. The first words from underneath his ice-caked fur hood were: “Whoaa, I never knew there were such beautiful mountains around”.

Arriving at Rainy Pass Lodge means the mushers and their dogs have mastered one of the first hurdles: the Steps. Steep, sometimes icy inclines in and out of the Happy River (what’s in a name). A few more nasty side hills and there you are at Puntilla Lake.

Straw, food, water, a dry cabin for the mushers to rest.

After Puntilla Lake comes the long climb to Rainy Pass, the highest point on the trail, and then the hair-raising descent into the Dalzell Gorge. It’s easy to tip your sled, crash into a tree, and in the worst case loose your team. Take a wild ride down that gorge with Jeff King. Past Rohn, a public forest service cabin, overflow, open water and the Farewell Burn are the last obstacles of the Alaska Range before the racers reach the open tundra.

All that drama will be missed this year and replaced by a long slog up the cold Yukon.

Iditarod is certainly a long hard race, but there are others that may be more challenging in terms of endurance, remoteness, and extreme conditions.

There is the Yukon Quest between Whitehorse and Fairbanks. 1000 miles. Long cold stretches between checkpoints. Four out of 21 competitors have scratched so far. Some participants of this race go on to race the Iditarod afterwards. This is prime season for long distance sled dog racing.

And then there is the, a Beringia, a 1,500-km sled dog marathon in Kamchatka, Russia. 19 mushers signed up this year. It will take about 24 days for the winner to cross the finish in Ust-Kamchatsk. In 1991 the event set the Guinness world record as the world’s longest sled dog race, with a route of 1980 kilometers.

There are great sled dog races all over the world. I hope they all will be held in the future, as it keeps a great tradition of alive.

One Man's Paradise

The Last Great Race

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One Man's Paradise

Escape from Lucania

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Kluane Icefield, Yukon

In 1937, Mount Lucania was the highest unclimbed peak in North America (17,150 ft). The mountain had seen only one attempt, that required a 100 plus mile approach with pack horses, crossing rivers and glaciers, uncharted terrain.  The leader of that failed expedition deemed the mountain “impregnable.” Nevertheless, he brought back photographs, which only motivated Brad Washburn to attempt he mountain, although in a different style.

Washburn had found three other young climbers. It was his idea to approach the mountain from Valdez, with the help of a bold bush pilot. That expedition turned into one of the greatest epics of mountaineering in Alaska. When Bates and Washburn landed on the Walsh Glacier the landing gear of the plane got stuck in the slushy surface of the glacier. Only after several heroic efforts, which involved ditching all non-essential gear, was the pilot able to take off, and there was no question, he would not come back with the other two climbers or pickup Washburn and Bates.

What would they do? Attempt the mountain, or find the quickest way back to civilization, which was at least 100 miles away?

David Roberts meet with Washburn and Bates, when they were in their nineties and wrote a pretty gripping tale about their adventure, which has everything from 3 left boots and only one right one, to grizzlies, and most of all a close friendship between two young men in dire straits.

They say there is no more terra incognita on this planet. Everything has been mapped. That may be true. But there are still forbidden places on Earth that have seen few or no human foot prints. The Saint Elias range is one of those places: vast, cold, and almost inaccessible. Today, you can take scenic flights across the Kluane Icefield and see endless glaciers and mountains, assuming the weather is cooperating, which is not all that often. Sometimes the glaciers feed raging rivers, sometimes they calf right into the Gulf of Alaska. That was the place, where Washburn and Bates found themselves after being stranded on the Walsh Glacier.
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One Man's Paradise

Tutshi Lake, Yukon

There is silver blue, sky blue and thunder blue. Every color holds within it a soul, which makes me happy or repels me, and which acts as a stimulus. To a person who has no art in him, colors are colors, tones are tones…and that is all.

All their consequences for the human spirit, which range between heaven to hell, just go unnoticed.

Emil Nolde


Emil Nolde was an Expressionists and is considered to be one of the great painters of the 20th century, mostly working in oil and watercolors. He is known for his vigorous brushwork and expressive choice of colors. His watercolor works include stormy, vivid landscapes.

Emil Nolde Marsh with Clouds

Marsh landscape with clouds – Emil Nolde

I guess it goes without saying that I am a fan of his paintings. His biography is interesting to read. He grew up on a farm at he German/Danish border, realized that he is not made for that work. He was 31, when he decided to pursue a career as an artist. Rejected by Art Schools, he took private painting lessons until he could support himself. In 1913-14 he participated with his wife in a colonial expedition to New Guinea traveling through Russia, China, and Japan.

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Nature

Don’t mess with me!

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North American Porcupine (Erthizon dorsatum), Yukon

Met this friendly little neighbor on my ride home. Although slow moving, porcupines protect themselves with a coat of quills. The sharp needles have hooks, which make for painful removal. North American porcupines floated from Africa to Brazil and slowly made their way up North. Porcupines have a long gestation period of over 200 days.

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