Return to Spirit Canyon

What I love about writing for What’s Up Yukon is that it encourages me to do a little research about the things I write about.

Even if I can’t use it in my article, I always learn a lot—mostly things to watch for next time. So I will have to walk into Spirit Canyon a third time this spring, to see for sure.

This lovely little canyon lies fairly close to the Alaska Highway, between 37 Mile and Mount Ingram.

I am curious about the habits of ravens. On May 31, 2010, I was in the canyon, and on the cliff wall was a raven’s nest with five big raven babies sitting on the edge.

This spring I’ve been in the canyon twice, but the nest appeared empty.

On both occasions I saw adult ravens, and the second time, as I stood on the east rim of the canyon, a raven flew away from beneath me.

Next time I will walk in from the bottom of the canyon, hoping to see where that raven came from. Maybe there is a new nest, or a pair of ravens working or sitting on the old nest higher up the cliff wall.

In early March this year, I went to visit some friends who live at Blue Kennels and asked if I could walk across the property and go up the hill to walk to the canyon. Normally I start this hike west of the canyon to avoid trespassing.

That day the hiking was very easy and I was at the canyon in no time. I did have to pass by the dogs, getting them all excited. They kept barking as I climbed all the way up the hill.

When my friend and I approached from the west side a few weeks later, they barked only briefly, since we were only a distant threat.

I had not taken snowshoes either time, which was wonderful on that first hike. I only had to plough through snow maybe 200 yards from the kennels to the foot of the hill. The hillside was cleared of most snow by… I’m not quite sure what force of nature.

When I returned three weeks later, it had snowed a bit, but had also melted again, so I was sure the east side would be in the same condition as the west side had been earlier.

The smart thing would have been to bring snowshoes. This side of the hill faces more to the east, whereas the other side faces straight south.

I wonder if Mother Nature had skipped that south-facing slope and dumped all her snow on the east-facing slope. We walked through knee-deep snow on the steep side hill.

On the climb toward the canyon the first time, there had been a dusting of snow over the light brown, grassy slopes. Big, exposed boulders were scattered everywhere, with bigger outcrops of rock higher up.

There were small stands of poplar, individual spruce trees and, here and there, a lone pine.

To my right on the crest of the hill two elk stood calmly, just looking at me.

I was going to the left, aiming for the visible top of the hill, climbing the rocks to where I could see the canyon below me. I descended to the rim of the canyon.

What a glorious sight! I had forgotten how beautiful it was. Or was it more beautiful now, with the reddish cliffs trimmed with white snow? The sheer walls.The impressive drop. The patterns in the rock.

I thought I loved this side of the canyon best. But on the next trip I would take that back. When feeling glorious, there is always a sense of it being the best party ever.

On my second hike, with a friend I wanted to share this splendour with, I came upon the canyon from higher ground again, only not on purpose this time.

We kept wanting to go higher, to outrun the deep snow somehow. We did find some well-worked grassy slopes under a crest of rock. Lots of animals seem to frequent this place.

Below us, we could see elk disappearing in the lower end of the canyon. The closer we came to the canyon, the more evidence there was of wildlife—even an insect. We inhaled the perfume of the winter’s melting droppings, like flies. You gottalove it.

In places, we slipped through mud and poop. When we arrived at a spit of land high above the canyon, we still couldn’t look into the canyon. We discussed a way down, not wanting to end up at terrain too steep, or at a sheer drop, only to find we would have to work our way back without slipping.

Lots of animal tracks led the way, but we are not mountain sheep.

All went well, and suddenly we looked into the big cathedral. The canyon opens wide and ends in a narrow slit that continues at the other end.

I walked to a point. So many animals had been there! What kind of animal parties do they have up here? We saw tracks of a coyote that had been dancing on a very precarious ledge. And all the scat seemed to be elk, deer, maybe even sheep.

After enjoying the view into the canyon, I had a closer look at what I was standing on, a flat place about six feet in diameter.

Looking into a crack beneath my feet, where my platform should have been connected to the side of the hill, I saw daylight coming through at several places!

Gently, I moved back onto safer ground. I never did feel that the rock could fall off any minute, but the granite here is extremely eroded.

The walls looked smooth and almost polished, but we saw lots of granite that was crumbling into large crystals—best not to take too many chances.

My partner that day and I are well matched. We both love the adventure of not quite knowing where we are going, or what route to take, following animal tracks, common sense, instincts and our lust for adventure. Yet we are both cautious about our safety.

We had our lunch sitting on dry ground amid thin dry grass and the coarse crumblings of granite, our backs against warm rock.

As we descended to the bottom, we found more treasures, even a rock wall painted (by Mother Nature) that marked the entry of the canyon.

We will be back, for sure.

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