Camera: Kodak 66; Film: Kodak 120, Tri-X 400
Camera: Kodak 66; Film: Kodak 120, Tri-X 400
A Pandemic Roadtrip: Final Installment
After the strip down search my car suffered getting into Canada, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the U.S. Border Patrol. The officer was professional and to the point, and after a quick exchange of identification, I was welcomed back home. For the first time, I was asked for my car’s registration, but other than that, everything was par for the course.
3651 miles traveled.
A Pandemic Roadtrip: Part Six
The Yukon; finally I was in the Yukon Territory. I have nothing against B.C., but now Alaska is in the sights.
Don’t let anyone fool you, the Alaska Highway is not completely paved. It’s close, but it’s not complete. The Yukon always has sections that are gravel, and the sections go on for miles. It can be a bit dusty, especially when a semi truck is in front of you.
I admit the gravel travel is worth it once you come across Muncho Lake. The jade colored waters light up even on a dreary day. “Muncho” in the Kaska language translates to “big water”, and it is that,
Kluane Lake is the largest lake within the Yukon, that lies entirely within its borders. It’s a huge lake, and in normal years there is a visitor’s center that is worth a stop. This year, due to Covid-19, it was closed.
There were many businesses and sights closed to the public along the entire route. Places that I have historically stopped at for food or gas, were closed. Laird Hotsprings, a very popular natural swimming hole and gathering place, was completely shut down. For much of the route through northern British Columbia and across the Yukon, there were signs out on the road frontage thanking truckers. After a while, it made total sense. There is no one else driving these roads; just the truck drivers. One place I stopped at, near the Alaska border, there was a sign out front, and I did ask the owner about it. He told me that the truckers were the only reason he was open and able to stay afloat. No tourists, and only a few Alaskans like me, trying to get home.
Final stop for the night: Haines Junction, YT
A friend recently sent me this photo. I came back to Minnesota a year after first driving up to Alaska, because I needed a pickup, and vehicles can be expensive in Alaska, and often beat on. I forget all of the details, but it’s possible, I simply wanted to drive the AlCan again.
I found a 1966 Chevrolet C20, Camper Special in one of the auto trade magazines that were around back at the time. It came with bald, bias-ply tires, but a sound 327 engine, and a rather smooth ride, compared to my Bronco. I didn’t have anything in the trailer that belonged to me, but the canoe riding on the top is mine. I sent my Dad into a state of mild depression, when he saw what I was about to drive for 4000 miles.
I bought a set of tires, replaced all fluids, hoses and belts, and the truck made it to Alaska without so much as a hiccup.
A Pandemic Roadtrip: Part Five
I pushed the mileage to just under 650 on this day, getting to Toad River at around 8pm. A shortcut on Highway 29 meant that I could avoid Fort St John, but there was a major construction project on 29, so I doubt it cut off much time. Still, it was a highway I had not driven previously, and it’s always good to get in some new territory.
Overall, this part of B.C. is just stunning country, and there was wildlife galore. Black bears and bison, for the most part, but I did see a couple of moose.
My usual layover in this part of British Columbia is at the Toad River Lodge, and I swung in here once again. I’ve written about this lodge on here before, but I can offer a quick refresher. On my second drive to Alaska, I was driving a slightly older Chevy pickup, pulling a UHaul trailer. I don’t believe I had anything in the trailer, it was full of stuff a buddy of mine talked me into hauling up for him. I did make use of the trailer roof though. I pulled into the Toad River Lodge on that trek to Alaska, and watched a single engine aircraft land alongside the Alaska Highway, and then promptly taxi down the highway, where it pulled in front of the Toad River Lodge. They landed for some breakfast. I knew this was my kind of country at that moment.
They are currently doing a lot of work to the lodge. The old, and probably original cabin I stayed at, is no longer standing. Several new cabins, with running water even, now stand along the lake shore. I rented one of those new, fangled cabins for the night. Not as cozy, and without a bit of atmosphere, but I had a sound night of sleep.
A Pandemic Roadtrip: Day Four
The fourth day of the drive back to Alaska took me to McLeod Lake on the famed Fraser River of British Columbia.
I was starting to see more wildlife now, and that always adds to the drive for me. I was woefully unprepared for wildlife photography however, with a cell phone and the 120 shooter, a Kodak 66. I made do, as best I could.
The first real sighting in BC was a moose. I did not stop for a moose, nor did I later stop for a caribou. I see them all the time, as it is.
I do not normally see a lot of black bear in Alaska, so I stopped to take pictures of a couple of them. In all, black bear ruled the animal sighting roost: I spotted 17 along the road, all eating the lush grass, like the one in the picture.
This picture came about, mainly because I had spotted a lynx, which is an incredibly rare sighting along a road. I hit reverse, but by the time I came to where I had seen the wary cat, it had made its way to the tree line. Just 100 yards further on, was this black bear. I hadn’t even made it out of second gear yet, so it didn’t take a lot of effort on my part to slow for it.
Further on down the road, I came across a pair of bison. I would go on to spot several on this day. They really are magnificent beasts.
I did not see my first grizzly until the final day of my drive, after crossing into Alaska. It was a sow and her cub. The cub was absolutely adorable, as it stood on its hind legs in order to get a better look at me, or maybe my car. I did slow down in order to attempt to get a picture, but that action seemed to intrigue the mother a tad too much. She started to trot right over to my car, leaving her cub standing on the opposite shoulder. Since I was in a car that sat lower than she stood, and I had an open window for a clear view, I decided the picture wasn’t that important and released the clutch to move forward. The sow continued to trot, and I proceeded to engage second gear.
A Pandemic Roadtrip: Part 3
The only restaurant food I had on the entire trip was in Missoula. I stopped at a small, local shop on Hwy 93. I walked up to the restaurant, and was greeted on the sidewalk by an employee. Several menus were on display boards along the sidewalk; it could have been a drive-in. There was only one other customer, a fellow traveler on a motorcycle. I placed an order, and waited out on the walk.
Any drive through western Montana is a passage through some beautiful country. The temps had dropped dramatically from the day before, the skies were overcast, and a light mist hung in the air. Highway 93 winds north out of Missoula, skirting the western shoreline of Flathead Lake. Eventually, it passes through Kalispell and Whitefish. The only bad traffic was in Whitefish. Oddly enough, I think it was the worst of the entire trip.
The Portal was different. Most of the normal questions were not asked, although I was asked if I was transporting a firearm. Covid-19 questions were on the front burner, opioid questions came in second. In all my travels through Canada, this was the first time my car was searched. And boy, was it searched. An agent even opened a mouthwash bottle, and did not screw the lid on properly. My duffle will have a minty fresh scent for the rest of the trip.
I was a bit surprised about the overzealous border agent, but I chalked it all up to boredom. I was there for approximately 40 minutes, and no one else came through. I was given my orders: Take the shortest route to the Alaska border, no stopping for food, no stopping for pictures, and only pay for gas at the pump. During the search, they found that I had all the food needed to cross, along with plenty of water and camping gear. I was asked if I had lodging plans, and I said I only had one night planned – camping near Golden, British Columbia. They must have been satisfied, because they let me pass.
*A footnote: I am not complaining about the procedure, as much as I’m detailing the account for other travelers. The world has changed, even between neighbors. I am extremely grateful that the Canadian officials let me return home through their country. They did not have to, and I am fully aware of that fact. Still, it was a night and day different experience, from what I have been through in the past.
My first camp site in Canada was in BC’s Kootenay National Park. A little more formal of a setting than I had been visiting up until this point. Much of the facilities were closed. One tidbit of info: Just because a website says they have working showers at the campground, does not mean that one is allowed to use the working showers. All were shutdown due to the pandemic.
Notice, once again, I lost a front license plate to a souvenir hunter. The Nissan has been without a front plate since a visit to Tampa, Florida in 2016.
Connecting Generations through ice & snow:
After the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the people of Canada wanted to honor the slain president. In November 1964, the Canadian government, following the suggestion of famed mountaineer, photographer and cartographer, Bradford Washburn, elected to name an unclimbed peak in the St Elias Mountain Range, Mount Kennedy.
The mountain lies 145 miles from Whitehorse, YT, within Kluane National Park, and less than 10 miles from the Alaska panhandle. Mount Kennedy forms a triangle with Mount Alverstone and Mount Hubbard. At the time of the dedication, the mountain was the tallest (13,944 ft) unclimbed peak in the St Elias range.
National Geographic put together a team to make the first ascent of Mount Kennedy in 1965. The team was led by Jim Whittaker, who had been the first American to climb Mount Everest, and was made up of mostly experienced mountaineers. Also making the climb: Bobby Kennedy, to honor his fallen brother.
On 24 March 1965, the climbers made for the summit. This was Kennedy’s first taste of mountaineering. To add to the tension, RFK was no fan of heights. The other climbers insisted that politics was far more dangerous than climbing mountains, which would prove prophetic.
Crossing the Cathedral Glacier, Kennedy fell into a crevasse. Luckily, it was a narrow one, and he only went in to the waist, and quickly scrambled out. The final run to the summit is the most risky, as the climber has to traverse a narrow ledge with a sheer one thousand foot drop.
Jim Whittaker and Bobby Kennedy would become good friends on the climb, a friendship that would last until Kennedy’s death. Whittaker would name one of his sons after the U.S. Senator.
50 Years Later:
Fifty years after the original ascent of Mount Kennedy, the two sons of Jim Whittaker wanted to honor their father and his friend Robert Kennedy. They decided to climb the mountain themselves.
Leif Whittaker is an experienced climber like his father, but Bobby Whittaker had more experience in Seattle’s Grunge Scene than summiting mountains. Christopher Kennedy, the son of RFK, would join the Whittakers on the expedition.
Return to Mount Kennedy is the documentary about the two ascents. The footage from the original climb is pretty impressive to see.
I saw a screening of the documentary prior to the Coronavirus outbreak. It was put on by REI, the outdoors store, which had Jim Whittaker as its early CEO.
The documentary is available on several streaming platforms. The original National Geographic story can be found in the July 1965 edition of the magazine.
Trailer: Return to Mount Kennedy