Southern Yukon Lakes 2006

Headwaters of the Yukon River
The Southern Yukon Lakes are located on the western Yukon and British Columbia border and nestled within a vast mountain range that separates the dry northern Canadian interior from the wet Alaskan pacific coast. Though rarely visited, the area can be easily accessed via the Alaskan Highway or by taking the AMH ferry to Skagway and driving north on the Klondike Highway. This intriguing network of wilderness lakes is also the source of the mighty Yukon River that runs 3185 Km / 1980 Mi to the Bering Sea.

Tagish Lake
This wild and beautiful lake is the traditional territory of the Tagish first nation people, many of whom live in the small community of Carcross Yukon (population 431). The name Tagish itself is a place name which means 'it (spring ice) is breaking up' in the Athabascan language.

These long lakes are like fresh water fjords between the mountains and are frequented by high winds that can make them dangerous. Early in our trip we met a Tagish gentleman on Bove Island who knew the lakes well and advised us to “leave very early in the morning to avoid the strong gusts that come up in the late morning and afternoon”, a strategy that served us well throughout our stay.

Most of the best campsites on the lakes are located on points of land and have no doubt been used for centuries as they usually have good fishing and a breeze off the lake to keep the misquotes down.

The lakes region is surprisingly dry year round with precipitation ranging from 250 ml in the valleys to 600 ml up in the peaks. The surrounding boreal forest is dominated by spruce, pine, poplars and willows that support bear, moose, wolf, caribou bobcat and beaver to name but a few.  Good fishing can be had for kokanee, trout, char, grayling, sheefish and whitefish, be sure to bring rod and reel if you plan a visit!

In Graham Inlet we met Marion and Jim Brook who own Brookland's Wilderness Camp and rented us this rustic cabin for the night. Marion was wonderful hoist and over tea and cookies she regaled us with her stories of 45 years living in this remote wilderness paradise. We felt a bit sheepish that we had no reservation and had just dropped in unannounced but she passed that off by saying “well, we would have thought you real snots if you hadn’t stopped by” What a hoot!!! That evening we met her son Jim who owns Osprey Air a charter float plane business based out of Atlin BC. As a bush pilot Jim knew the country intimately, that evening he told us of a rare carbon meteorite he had found that hit the lake one winter, and shared other invaluable information with us on the area and the route ahead.

Staying in the cabin was a real treat from living in our tent, with a comfy feather bed and a wood stove for heat and cooking, it would have been very easy to stay longer.

On our way early in the morning, the sun rising over the mountains, crisp cool fall air, a superb day to be alive in the north.

We stopped to climb a nearby hill on an island by Deep Bay and have a bite to eat, the beauty of northern British Columbia stretching out before us in all directions.

We explored the remains of Ben-My-Chree at the southern tip of Tagish Lake that was once a frontier Shangri-La carved out of the wilderness by an English couple, Otto and Kate Partridge. Otto who had grown up on the Isle of Man named it Ben-My-Chree (Manx for “girl of my heart”) as a romantic tribute to his wife. In the early 1920s wealthy socialites from across the world, including President Roosevelt and the Prince of Wales, made the long journey to visit their fabled flower gardens and have high tea. Tours continued to be offered by the White Pass & Yukon Railroad into the 1950s, using the sternwheeler Tutshi to take people down the lake system from the train station at Carcross.

Brenda woke me up from a perfectly good nap to take this picture, but capturing this moment was well worth it.

At the end of Graham Inlet there is a 4 Km/ 2.5 Mi portage to Atlin Lake. Back in the early 1900s it was known as Taku Landing and a short steam engine railroad transferred people and supplies from one steamship in Tagish Lake to another in Atlin Lake. Today it is overgrown and unused, and the little locomotive that ran the short distance between the lakes “the Duchess” sits beside the WP&YR railway station in Carcross. So if you wish to make the jump from one lake to the other you will have to hall your boat and gear across the portage yourself. Uff da!

Atlin Lake
The quaint little town of Atlin B.C. (Population: 400) is located on the eastern shore of Atlin Lake directly across from Taku Landing and it is a great place to rest up and resupply or as a starting point to enter the lake system. The town of Atlin can be accessed via a 97 Km / 57 Mi dirt road (Hwy 7) from Jake’s Corner on the Alaskan Highway. Atlin Lake is the traditional territory of the Tlingit Áa Tlein Ḵwáan and the name comes from the Tlingit word meaning "big lake", very appropriate for it is the largest natural lake in the province. Along the lake's western edge is the majestic Boundary Range and enchanting Atlin Provincial Park, fully one-third of which is occupied by glaciers.

The Llewellyn Glacier whose great tongue of ice flows down from the Juneau Ice Field releases the sediments that give this lake its aquamarine hue. At the end of a small inlet there is a 5.6 Km 3.5 Mi Trail to the base of the glacier, a nice little “leg stretcher” away from our kayaks we told ourselves. Of course we had to hike up and stand on the ice, the very source of the Southern Yukon Lakes, a natural conclusion to our journey. 

"I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn't photograph them." -Diane Arbus