Exploring Atlin and the nearby volcanic field

Atlin Mountain might have lost some of its white stripes, but Atlin itself is still as much fun as ever – all inhabitants 100 percent colourful, all sights 100 percent amazing.

Sometimes, on a long weekend, the girl gang and I drive down on a Saturday morning, spend the night and drive back Sunday evening.

We go with the flow, but our weekends are packed to the brim with activities. There are endless possibilities and we have not yet exhausted the supply.

In 1985-86, I lived in Atlin for a year. Hence, I notice how the mountain has changed in response to climate change.

We also have friends in Atlin, and one of them was our personal guide for the weekend.

He is one of the plentiful, often single, men in town. You can usually find him among the others at the wisdom table in the Pine Tree Restaurant (the food is excellent, by the way).

Don’t forget to check beforehand if there is something organized going on in town when you plan to go. We always forget to do this, and once missed the Tarahne Tea because we didn’t know it was on.

The last time we went, we could have attended a glacial talk given by summer students.

One weekend in May, we did take in the opening of the bar after the winter season, with live music. This event might not have been advertised, but the residents know about these things and the dance floor was full all evening.

In terms of geography, Atlin is famous for Atlin Lake and Atlin Mountain. As far as its history, the gold rush in 1898, the Tlingit people, contemporary mining and art are all important.

You may also know that there are plenty of possibilities in and around Atlin for more extreme adventures.

Over the years, we have walked along the shoreline of Atlin Lake, peeked into old cabins, hiked Monarch Mountain, visited Frog Rock, bathed in the Warm Springs, entered the Grotto, walked around Pine Creek Falls and Discovery, and swum in Surprise Lake.

In other words, we have enjoyed the better-known sights. Not everything is clearly marked, so one needs a bit of exploring skills to find it all.

What is quite well marked, when you know how to find Boulder Creek, is the Boulder Creek Dam. Have you ever heard of it? I hadn’t. It’s awesome; quite a feat of engineering, built at the turn of the previous century.

I did know Ruby Mountain, and climbed it recently with Nancy Ohm.

Our other friend, Fabiola Roy, who understands the importance of a hike, turned left onto Surprise Lake Road on the way into town and dropped us off before connecting with our personal ‘Randy’s Ravenous Adventures’ guide.

After she left us where the rockslide meets the road, we followed a ridge of cinder cone on the south side of the rockslide.

I am trying to use the correct geological terminology, having read – with difficulty – three scholarly articles on the subject. Yes, Ruby Mountain is a cinder cone in the Atlin Volcanic Field, in the Surprise Lake area.

Geologically speaking, the eruptions were quite recent, events from the Quaternary period, circa 540,000-200,000 years ago.

We climbed up a steep slope made up of small red rocks called tephra, described by Edwards et al in 1996 as brown-red pyroclastic deposits of bombs and scoriaceous lapilli. (Lapilli are the small pieces, scoria the rocks that have air pockets in them, tephra or pyroclast the general name of material the volcano spits out.)

The last stretch, even steeper, hung ominously above us,  but was offset by the joy of looking into a real crater when we reached the top. I’ve never been to Hawaii, so this was as real as it gets.

According to the articles, Ruby Mountain has similarities to Hawaiian volcanoes. The rocks at Ruby are alkaline basalt, hawaiite and possibly basanite.

We followed the rim clockwise to the highest point of the mountain where, from the very top, we could see Atlin Mountain to the east. From this vantage point,  it looked quite small. We could also see Atlin Lake, Teresa Island and, farther south, the Llewellyn Glacier.

After gloriously enjoying 360 degrees of view, we walked back through the crater, which is covered with periglacial frost polygons. The crater felt hollow.

My neighbour, who happens to be a former geology professor, told me later that, just as the individual pieces of tephra have air pockets, so could there be air pockets among the tephra in the vent, and to be careful.

I asked him why some of the rock is red and some is black. It all has to do with the oxidation of the iron in the rock, which could have happened at the event but also through weathering, he explained.

Indeed, when I split pieces of red scoria with my rock hammer, most were darker inside.

On the way back, we realized that climbing down was much faster than climbing up, and that we would be too early for our pick-up.

We saw an interesting outcrop in the rockslide and aimed for it, following animal trails on the loose tephra side hill. Lo and behold, Nancy spotted a caribou between the hummocky mounds of tephra below.

As we retreated to the safety of the rock outcrop to watch, the caribou also seemed to be checking us out.

We pretended to be female caribou, since we hadn’t had much luck with some human males we had encountered earlier.

We had tried to impress them by pretending to be foreigners collecting xenoliths, foreign rock embedded in the pyroclast. They weren’t impressed.

And probably for the benefit of our wellbeing, neither was the caribou.

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