Adventures in Tombstone Territorial Park

Tombstone Territorial Park, and the highway that leads to it, evoke the images of the Yukon we love so much: vivid colours, vast, open land, and jagged-steep beautiful mountains. As such, pictures of the park regularly adorn Yukon calendars and postcards.

Naturally, I felt a strong pull to this place when I moved to the territory in November 2013. And imagine my disappointment when, come September 2014, I had not yet been there, and there was no time off in my foreseeable future.

Well, wouldn’t you know it — my job requires me to renew my CPR certifications every year. Mine was set to expire in a couple of days, with the next re-certification course was eight days after the one-year date. Call it what you will — irresponsible dumb luck, perhaps — but an eight-day leave-without-pay window of opportunity opened, and the Tombstone tundra lay before me.

So I drove up the Klondike Highway in a rental car. I beheld magnificent views of lakes and mountains, and that magical moment when the leaves are all the possible colours. Off to a good start, I thought.

I arrived in Dawson after 9:00 p.m., checked into my hostel and set about tracking down the sourtoe shot I had heard so much about. I’ll save you the gory details, but suffice it to say, I found the bar, and am now the proud owner of one Capt. Dick’s World Famous Sourtoe Cocktail club card.

The next morning I woke up early and headed off on the Dempster Highway to Tombstone. The hike to Grizzly Lake is 11 km. It starts up a rather steep section, with looming views, showing the mountains and valleys that lie on the other side of that particular stretch of the Dempster. At the top of this steep section Grizzly Valley spreads under your feet; bright colours of green, purple, red, and orange, and sharp intimidating mountains dominate the view. In the distance is Mount Monolith, which lies at the end of the valley, along with the titular lake.

From here, the trail continues along a mountain ridge for a while before gradually descending into the valley bottom where you reach the lake and monolith. The trail was a mixture of beaten down dirt and grass, scree rocks, and boulder hopping. The little snow I encountered posed no obstacle, and when I reached the base of Mount Monolith, I found the campsite dry and clean.

I had made great time and thought I could continue hiking to the next campsite, Divide Lake, which was about 6 km away, over a mountain pass. The mountain pass is a slog up a steep hill. At the top I found snow on the other, much steeper side of the pass. The image of a floating park ranger head appeared in my mind’s eye: “No one will come and help you if you get in danger out there,” it said. This was quickly followed by the realization of how disappointed my partner would be if I hurt myself on some silly solo-hike. But, I’m pretty stubborn. Onward.

I descended down the steep snowy section of the trail. The snow posed two dangers: it act like a slip-n-slide from hell (or to hell, in this case) if I slipped and fell; and it concealed the larger rocks below my feet that could twist or brake my ankle if I missstepped. Luckily, I made it to the bottom unscathed. From there, Talus Lake is around the corner of a mountain ridge along the valley bottom. I arrived at Divide Lake and made dinner on my tiny stove made from a cleaned-out cat food container. After dinner I continued towards Tombstone Mountain (Talus Lake).

Yes, the Tombstone Mountain was only six more kilometers from where I stood. A light rain began to drizzle on me, and I put on my rain jacket. Coincidentally, this is also the moment an irrational mortal fear struck me — I thought I heard the movement of a large creature approaching me from behind. I stopped and spun around as fast as I could, only to see a beautiful valley extravaganza, and not a murderous grizzly. This happened several times before I realized it was my jacket rubbing against itself.

At the conclusion of my 25 km solo hike, I made it to Talus Lake. That night I couldn’t see much because the clouds and rain had moved in. I simply set up my tarp, crawled under my sleeping bag, and immediately fell asleep. I awoke in the middle of the night from a nightmare, wherein I was camping in Tombstone, but I was also being hunted by an abominable tundra yeti. In that hazy, hypnagogic, post-sleep state, I truly believed, like a child, that both a) yetis existed; and b) one was out there, right now, looking to eat me alive. I both knew that that was preposterous, and knew that that was exactly what the yeti wanted me to believe.

I managed to fall back asleep and awoke again surrounded by the bizarre yet gorgeous sound of a dozen happy ptarmigans. The rain had stopped and the clouds had dispersed, and I was face-to-face with the truly awe-inspiring view of both Tombstone Mountain, and a valley that appeared to go on forever.

I will always remember this moment when I think of the majesty of the Yukon — that and imaginary snowmen that are out there waiting to consume my soul. 

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