The Aishihik Rock Slide

For three consecutive Sundays, my husband and I have been going to a place we both fell in love with. He found it when hunting for bison, and I knew the spot from hiking up to the tors along the Aishihik Road. We discovered the rockslide while being there. Initially we liked the spot because if you have a vehicle that can handle a bit of off-road driving, you can drive right up to the foot of the mountain. On the Alaska Highway coming from Whitehorse, before the Aishihik Road at the Otter Falls cutoff, look for kilometer 1542. Somewhere past that post, turn right, into a bush road going north, perpendicular to the highway. At the power line, turn left, and proceed west. Not far from here is an overgrown firebreak. This has a bush road at the west side going north again (another right turn). Follow that to the end and voila: the mountain.

First Sunday. As snow is still sparse, I hike straight up, following tracks, following stories. I come by a kill site with bits of rabbit fur, drops of blood and this “fist-sized” thing. It is bloody and smells awful. I slide it in my pocket. Yes, I do things like that. At home I will look at it to find out what it is. Higher up, I see sheep and signs of sheep. The hillside has been grazed and there are lots of droppings. There are intriguing rock outcrops for them to hide in-between. The brown gneiss is full of weathered holes and little caves. The sheep move away before I can get close to them. It is here I look down and see a story on a bigger scale — a rockslide to the west. The Aishihik rockslide, I subsequently learn, is an old one, an early Holocene event that occurred after the end of the last period of glaciation. As thin lake sediments and shorelines overlie parts of the landslide, we know it happened approximately 30,000 and 10,000 years ago. This is according to Yukon Geological Survey geologists, who investigated the site in 2004 — freshly disturbed soil and vegetation suggest continued instability.

Second Sunday. Still with little snow, I set off to explore the rockslide itself. Soon, I am among a jumble of house-sized boulders, which I learn later, are composed of gneissic rocks — a magical world of snow, ice, and rock. In the snow-free crevasses, I find dry, fragrant ferns and prickly saxifrage. I spot a perfect vantage point higher up. No matter what line I pick to reach that spot, I either slide down in crevasses where it would be impossible to climb back up, or I pull myself up out of a place where it would be impossible to go back down. I decide to let go of my goal and turn towards the hillside I was on last week. Even that seems impossible at first, but soon everything becomes friendlier. I pass a rabbit trail, a lovely poplar grows out of a crack, and only too soon, I am again on grassy, snowy slopes.

Third Sunday. Exploring the rockslide itself proves a little tricky in winter, and this week, with a lot more snow, I walk along the bottom of the slide on snowshoes. The bottom lies in a spruce forest of large trees. Planning to circumvent it, of course, I find myself climbing up the rocks again; the rocks at the bottom are overgrown with vegetation, crooked poplars, and lone spruces. My old metal army snowshoes prove handy to bridge the sub-angular boulders. Now, I find myself in the middle of the slide. It is laid out like the fingers of a spread-open hand reaching down into the forest.

The thing in my pocket? Yes, it was rabbit guts. I thank Panya Lipovsky, a surficial geologist at Yukon Geological Survey for suggesting two documents that helped in the writing of this piece. 

About The Author

Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top