Wilderness Backpacking in Kluane National Park, Yukon Territory, Canada
- Potentially see wolves, bears, woodland caribou, Dall sheep, and golden eagles in a pristine wilderness setting
- Spend a day atop Hoge Pass, with its alpine wildflowers and majestic views into the Wrangell St. Elias Mountains
- Experience the far north with its 20 hours of daylight
- Transportation from Whitehorse to the trailhead and back
- Nutritious, tasty meals while in the backcountry
- Bear spray, bear canisters, and all group gear
|Dates||Aug 5–11, 2014|
|Difficulty||3 (out of 5)|
Our moderate backpack will take us into the incomparable wilderness of Kluane National Park in the Yukon Territory. Our off-trail route will take us across open tundra, along one wild river, and into the alpine scenery of the park. Our there-and-back route should offer us ample time to immerse ourselves in the sounds and sights of this special place. We will have time to relax, look for wildlife and wildflowers, take photos, and have at least one layover day. In previous trips to this area, we have seen caribou, wolves, bears, Dall Sheep, golden eagles, and other interesting wildlife. The emphasis on this outing will be on nature observation and the experience of unspoiled wilderness.
Kluane (pronounced Kloo-Ahn-ee) is derived from the Tutchone Indian phrase “Lhu An Mun,” meaning plentiful fish lake. Kluane National Park—along with Wrangell St. Elias and Glacier Bay National Parks in Alaska, and Tatshenshini Provincial Park in Canada—is part of the largest land preserve on Earth, as well as the greatest nonpolar icefield on the planet. The park, established in 1972, covers 8,500 square miles, of which about 10 percent is composed of remote, yet accessible—for the adventurous—green fields and valleys. These green areas have been used for nearly 3,000 years by the Tutchone Indians for fishing and hunting, and most recently by Europeans. The park’s highest management goal is to preseve its flora and fauna.
The trip is suitable for experienced backpackers in good physical condition. While our route with backpacks on should only cover 24-30 miles, the challenges of the trip should not be taken lightly. The route is essentially off-trail. For two of the days we will be walking on spongy tundra over uneven terrain. There will be a few stream crossings though they shouldn’t be too difficult. We will be in a remote wilderness setting with few, if any, people carrying full packs in grizzly country.
Day 1: Starting early from Whitehorse, we will travel by bus for about three hours to the trailhead. Much of the ride is very scenic, as we ride along the shore of giant Kluane Lake. Starting our hike by early afternoon, we will travel over the Burwash Uplands, mostly on an elevated earthen dyke. From there, we'll continue over an open area of tundra and wetlands, where we have seen interesting birdlife, such as phalaropes and greater and lesser yellowlegs.
Day 2: We will head cross country, over open tundra, and work our way to Burwash Creek. Along the way, we will pass several ponds or small lakes and at least one stream as we head toward the mountains in the distance. This area is known for a small herd of woodland caribou, moose, and wildflowers.
Day 3: After hiking a short distance to our campsite, we will hike up to Hoge Pass, a beautiful area offering stunning views of the Wrangell St. Elias Mountains and tantalizing glimpses into the seldom-visited Donjek Valley. The area has a nice variety of alpine wildflowers and is often the home to many Dall sheep.
Day 4: We will explore the area behind Ampitheater Mountain, a distinctive, sedimentary formation that overlooks the Burwash Uplands, look for wildlife and wildflowers, relax, and try to get a good view of the Burwash Glacier.
Day 5: We will start our way back, crossing the tundra again, and perhaps camping at one of the ponds in this area.
Days 6-7: We will hike back to the elevated dyke and camp in this area. The following morning, we'll make our way back to the rendezvous point with the bus company, which will get us into Whitehorse in the late afternoon.
Whitehorse, the largest city in the Yukon, will be our beginning and ending point for this trip. You should arrive into Whitehorse two days prior to the trip start to allow for any flight delays or mishandled luggage, etc. If you arrive early, there are many interesting things to do in Whitehorse: a nice walk along the Yukon River, an interesting museum, a cool fish ladder, etc. We will meet the night before the trip to go over all details of the trip. Flights out of Whitehorse should not be made until the day after the trip to take into account any delays due to weather or other exigencies. More details on lodging in Whitehorse will be provided upon sign-up.
Accommodations and Food
We will be camping all nights of the trip. All food on the trip will be provided, and meals will be vegetarian friendly. The Sierra Club provides group equipment, including pots, cooking utensils, stoves, fuel, tarp, satellite phone for emergencies, and first-aid kit for group use. Trip members should notify the leaders of any special dietary needs. As usual on Sierra Club outings, all members help with carrying group gear, cooking, and clean-up duties -- each person assisting in the kitchen for probably two days, depending on the group size.
The trip is rated a three, a moderate backpack. Trip members should be in good physical shape, capable of carrying a full-pack (probably 45 pounds at the start), over uneven terrain. We will travel six to eight miles a day, cross-country, with no real trails. Altitude and elevation gain will not be much of a factor, although there will be a few times we will do some climbs without our full packs. Besides carrying the full packs, the challenges of the trip include being in remote wilderness, dealing with changing weather conditions and some minor stream crossings, and being in grizzly country.
Equipment and Clothing
There will be no need of any specialized equipment for the trip, just what is needed for a week-long backpack trip in the mountains. Due to the remoteness of the trip, it’s imperative that all equipment should be in good shape, high-quality, and field-tested. The leader will send out detailed equipment lists for all trip members. Sharing a tent with other members is encouraged, to reduce weight and environmental impact. In addition to their own gear, which shouldn’t exceed 30 pounds, trip members will start out carrying 13-15 pounds of group gear, which should go down a little each day. The leader will go over gear with everyone before approving them.
While maps are not required for trip members, they are never discouraged—especially if you want to brush up on map and compass and GPS skills. The only topo maps needed for our route will be:
- Duke River 115 G6 (nearly the entire route is on this one map)
- Steele Creek 115 G5 (just a small section is on this map, though it will cover sections we will be looking into)
- Kluane Lake 115 G and 115 F, a less detailed map, covers a wider area but is not suitable for navigation
Maps and books can be obtained at Mac’s Fireweed Books in Whitehorse: www. macsbooks.ca
- Lougheed, Vivian, The Kluane National Park Hiking Guide (3rd edition, 2007).
- Theberge, John B., Kluane: Pinnacle of the Yukon. Out of print but a good source of natural history of the region. Available in libraries or on Amazon.
- The Kluane National Park: www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/yt/kluane/index.aspx
Wilderness will be our main topic. We will talk about the challenges and necessities of preserving tracts of land large enough to ensure wolves, bears, sheep, caribou and others always have places to thrive. We can talk about the Yellowstone to Yukon initiative, its present status, and how it seeks to preserve large corridors to allow for genetic diversity in animal populations. We will practice Leave No Trace principles while on the trip.
Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Kluane National Park & Reserve.