Kluane National Park 2003

The Slim’s West Trail, located in Kluane National Park in The Yukon, follows a wide and easy valley for 22.5 km (14 mile) to a primitive camp at the base of Mount Observation. From there it’s a steep 4 km (2.5 mile) route to the summit where on a clear day one can look up the enormous Kaskawulsh Glacier to the surrounding snow capped peaks of the Saint Elias Mountains. The trek can be done in three days but we gladly took five in order to take our time and enjoy the scenery along the way.

We stopped at the Kluane National Park visitor center in Haines Junction to get our permits and buy a map of the area. The visitor center had several interesting exhibits on the geology and ecology of the Park along with information on the region’s history and culture. Afterwards we continued north on the ALCAN Highway to the trailhead at the end of Kluane Lake.

Fall is our favorite time in the Yukon, the biting flies, misquotes and no-see-ums are gone, the tourist are down, the weather is a little cooler, and maybe most importantly the fall colors are absolutely outstanding.

For the first two days we followed along the side of the braided Slim’s River as it winds its way through the wide glacier carved valley. The terrain was flat with a very gradual grade that made the hike in easy however there were a few smaller streams that came down from the mountains that crossed the trail. With no bridges on this trail getting across these cataracts could be challenging depending on the volume of water that varied day to day and hour by hour. For the largest ones we would make camp before crossing so that we could cross them in the early morning when the snow melt was the least and the water level was at its lowest. Nothing like wadding into an ice cold stream first thing in the morning to let you know you’re alive…Yowzaa!

Just before the final camp site the trail started to gain some elevation giving us a view of the surrounding valley. Arctic Ground Squirrels scurried about gathering seeds and grasses while keeping a watchful eye on us as we meandered through open stands of white spruce.

We made camp on this small rise overlooking the gravel bars of the Kaskawulsh Glacial Moraine just as the sun was setting and lighting up the top of Mount Maxwell.

 The following morning we packed up for the day and picked our way across the gravel bars to the base of Mount Observation. Along the way we spotted the tracks of wolf and bear in the soft sand along the creek.

Despite being late in the year there were three other people who were heading to the summit that day and it was great fun sharing the climb with them. The route to the top can be a bit vague at times so it was a good thing we remembered to bring a map.

Below us the sprawling Kaskawulsh Glacier flows down from Mount Logan and Saint Elias Mountain Range. The long black lines in the center are medial moraines caused by the glacier’s ice grinding away at the mountains and carrying rock debris along with it as it slowly moves down hill.

The summit at last and our “international team”, two from the UK one from the Netherlands and two Alaskans, took a well deserved rest and a snack while taking in the lofty Canadian view at 2115 Meters (6940 Feet).

On the descent we moved slowly and took our time, stopping often to enjoying the view of the wild and beautiful valley stretching back to Kluane Lake. To top it all off about half way down we spied two blond colored grizzly bears, a mom and her cub, grazing on the alpine blueberries that were scattered among the rocks and boulders, what an amazing day!

By the end of the fourth day we were beginning to feel a bit foot sore and we were glad to finally be able to stop and make camp at Bullion Creak. As it turned out it was a good place to camp, with binoculars we were able to watch a heard of Mountain Goats grazing on the flanks of the nearby peak.

Our final river crossing and an easy half day hike back to the car. It was a warm windless day and a few white butterflies flitted around the remaining wildflowers, the last vestiges of summer. On the hike out we talked of returning to The Yukon, hike the Cottonwood Trail maybe or a kayak trip down a river, for sure in the fall, we’ll look at the maps when we get home!

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”  -William Shakespeare