A smoky pinnacle beckons in a hiker’s personal Shangri-La


This month, Jane Vincent is coming with me on an attempt to climb the pinnacle.

It’s a pinnacle I now call Dragon Mountain.

Recently, hiking there on my own, setting my own pace, very aware of my surroundings, I was in tune for miracles.

The mountain was un-named; a mountain in a range of mostly nonames south of Taye Lake, which is an official name. Because of certain features, I think of that area as Yukon’s Middle Earth.

I park my car on a small lay-by off the Alaska Highway at kilometer post 1514. Walking west, I come to the dirt road heading north.

In a spruce forest of swampy ground, orchids bloom, along with other moisture-loving flowers. Newly-made paths go around the worst of the water, after which I come upon the ‘super-highway’ in terms of trails – a level dirt road following a slight ridge.

The forest gradually opens. There are trembling aspen. I ignore a trail heading west, marked with pink ribbon, to continue north. (Do not rely on my directions. If you do this hike, bring your own map for the lay of the land).

As the spruce lessens, the poplars become smaller. I love these dwarfed poplar forests.

Where the trail elevates, littered with boulders, the main ATV trail bends east. Here at a fork in the trail, not really sure, I take an even more inconspicuous path and keep heading north.

The landscape keeps opening. I enter the land of old dunes; the is trail sandy now. I round a sprucetopped hill to the west. To the east is the big spruce-covered ridge that leads up to what I named Tolkien Mountain.

On my way up there are glimpses of a rock face I don’t really recognize. The trail peters out as I look down on a lake that I do know, in-between Tolkien and the one I am on.

There is hardly any bushwhacking to do, and maybe only three steps in, I am up to my head in dwarf birch.

Some kind person before me has hung a few tiny pieces of orange ribbon at pivotal points. I make meticulous notes of the ribbons and land features in my head, so I will be able to fi nd the trail again on my way down from the mountain.

There is a bit of a climb on the beautifully-layered granite of the rock face. And by way of ancient faults, pathways through the towering rock, I feel the connection with Tolkien.

Tolkien, which I have hiked many times, being so lovely and exciting, for the way it is and looks on the topographical map. I had never before gone up this regularshaped pyramid among more glorious-looking giants.

Topping the first rock face, I am finally in my own personal ShangriLa with wide open space and unlimited vistas. The weather is inbetween rainy days, surprisingly dry and warm.

The alpine is carpeted with past-bloom mountain avens, and a lot of rock rubble. I see only a few blooming wildflowers.

For animals, I meet only a regular squirrel that has opted for life at the top of a mountain. For birds, there is only an American pipit, near an abandoned nest still containing eggs. I am not sure if they are hers.

Reaching the top, an inukshuk indicates other people do hike here. The top is nice, but the mountain calls me onward.

I hopscotch down over to the other side, following the ridge. To the west are vertical drops; to the east, steep, scree slopes; while to the north there is, in the near distance, a red rock.

Coming closer, I see, it is a pinnacle!

Clouds roll up towards it from Taye Lake, making it look as if it is breathing and exhaling smoke.

The scariest part is that it actually looks accessible. I could follow the narrow ridge leading to it. Not quite knife-edged, from here it looks – if not walkable, at least climbable without ropes.

With the weather being warm with no wind, it would be perfect. But I am alone.

I climb back up to the inukshuk where, sitting among wildflower blossoms surprisingly abundant, I eat my well-deserved lunch.

The way down is – as always – lovely. Gravity is now on my side. Yet, this hike still holds other surprises to come. Still in the alpine. I meet a ladybug to tell Bruce Bennett about.

A ladybug, on the back of a dragon. Who would have thought?

And Bruce tells me she is a Coccinella transversalis, a transverse ladybug, and that the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) is writing a report about it.

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