Yukon’s Own Middle Earth

Somewhere high in the mountains there is a small, deep lake in between three mountain peaks. It’s a magical place.

It was a golden summer day in autumn. More golden because the poplar leaves turned very yellow this year, and more summery because this September we had an incredible amount of sunshine and 3 whooping days with temperatures above 20 degrees Celsius. The small deep lake was very, very blue.

Soon after deciding to go for a hike we had a destination in mind—a lake north of the Alaska Highway. How to get there was another matter. After a string of e-mails, debating the nearly infinite possible routes, we decided to walk down a little road that showed up on our ‘old’ geographic maps; based on arial photographs from 1979.

After our hike I phoned Alex Van Bibber, and he said that we were on Dalton trail and that our dirt road was there to provide access to an old American sawmill.

On our hike, we didn’t see anything that looked like a building (or sawmill) but we did come upon old rusted cans and other signs of human activity. Also the mixed forest, composed of aspen, spruce, willow, and pine trees, was open, almost as if trees were taken out and the ground was cleared of deadfall.

Later, we came upon a small area that was recently burned, with trees blown over the trail ensuring that no motorized vehicles had been in there for a while. As a result we saw many different animal prints on the trail.

We were puzzled by scratch marks from a large animal every few hundred feet. Later a biologist told me this could be a dividing line of the territory of two wolf packs.

Past where the sawmill might have been, the path became an ATV trail, which kept going north the way we wanted to go.

As with most trails in the area that go north from the Alaska, it was quite sandy. My hiking partner, Mary, who had inspected the terrain from the air, predicted that we would come across beautiful sand dunes, and indeed we did.

The whole landscape became sandy, with grey lichen covering the sand. Here and there we could see blowouts—sand holes where even the lichen couldn’t stabilize the ground. Some trees had taken root and stood on their own.

I would like to write another article on this Dalton trail, but for now I will write about a mountain I call “Tolkien Peaks” and its lake—so named because the magical landscape reminds me of The Lord of the Rings.

Mary had mentioned this mountain as an option for our hike, but I had said it might be too tough. I had only reached the high lake on top twice, but had made three attempts for it that fell short. The two times I had reached it were all day hikes; 12 hours of tough hiking.

We proceeded towards the top and found a route that only took four hours, with long strips of bedrock to lead us up. Only little folds of buck-brush. Looking at it later, it seems that the lake on the top might be a tarn gouged out by a glacier, which would mean the lake is not as deep as it looks and feels.

The two peaks on the north are cone-shaped, but could it have been that the one on the south was rounded and cracked open in several places by the force of the glacier. A glacier halted by the two cone-shaped peaks?

Walking on the bedrock, we soon came to the edge and looked down on the hanging lake in between the three peaks.

It was a dark blue wonder. Here, we stopped. This was far enough and definitely good enough.

On my two previous successful attempts, I had gone down to the lake, which has a beach of white rock on the north and black rock on the south. I have also circled the lake following the high tops, which was a magical experience on its own.

But the real magic happened when, at one point, we looked down and swore we saw a big fish swimming across the lake, just below the surface. We have tried to solve this mystery, the existence of such a big fish in this lake, but it remains unsolved.

Now, knowing that there is an easier access to the lake, I might go back more often and look for big fish. Or maybe Yukon’s version of the Loch Ness monster.

This September day with Mary, we sat at the top and saw cats’ paws on the lake, caused by a gale. The wind picked up even more, causing white caps, so we decided to go back.

Having wandered off to the west, we entered a big crack from the top and decided to follow it down, hoping it didn’t end in a cliff or unsurpassable rock face. It did not.

It lead us peacefully down out of the wind, high rock faces on either side —a glorious path with the perfect gradient.

The hike took a turn for the worse when I realized I had lost my brand new camera, but after hiking back up for half an hour, I found it. I’d like to thank this magical mountain for returning it to me.

And Mary, thank you too, for staying calm, and knowing we would find it.

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