The drive around Kluane Lake near A'ay Chu (also known as Slims River) delta is stunning. And yet, until last week, I never took the time to stop and explore.
It all started with a brief investigation of a boat launch that turned into fun with candle ice; which then turned into a little bit of rockhounding; which then turned into a little hike up to the original Alaska Highway route to see Soldier's Summit, where the highway was officially opened on November 20, 1942.
There are lots of places to rest and lots of interpretive signage to read along the way.
View of Sheep Mountain from Soldier's Summit (which is on Sheep Mountain).
Plenty of sheep on Sheep Mountain, enjoying the afternoon sun.
A seam of something running through (and down) the mountain.
A'ay Chu/Slims River from the Old Alaska Highway.
Sheep Mountain Interpretive Centre. I've never been inside. It's closed every time I go by.
Along the trail, there were fantastic views of the A'ay Chu delta and what is normally an island in the bay (see the Google Earth picture above). From up on the original Alaska Highway, it appeared as if the island was no longer an island. The lake levels were so low that the island was now connected to the delta by a muddy plain.
Is it walkable? I asked myself.
The Island as seen from the Old Alaska Highway. Only 0.8 kms from the road, but what is the walking like?
It looks pretty wet. Should I bother?
To provide a little perspective, you can see the bridge across the river at the top of the photo. That's a lot of mud.
I just couldn't resist. There was only one way to find out if I could walk to the island and that was to try. From my raised vantage point I plotted the most likely route and skipped down the mountain to the muddy plain.
The mud was dry enough to start caking, but how solid could it be? I grew up in the prairies, where caking mud clumps to footwear like money clumps to Oprah.
I took my first tentative step. The mud was as hard as concrete.
It softened a little as I got further from the road, but when it did it felt more like I was walking on thick shag carpeting than on mud. I was expecting a thick layer of gunk to build up on my shoes, but it never did. The mud soon turned to hard sand and the walking was easy.
Footprints leading back to the car.
A stiff but not entirely unpleasant breeze was blowing down the valley, kicking up swirls of sand and creating pretty sand sculptures on the now-sandy delta.
A gust of wind and a blast of sand.
A little bit of swirling sand, partly caused by...
...road and bridge construction.
The island, warmed by the mid-afternoon sun, was lovely. There were trails around the island. I had heard, and I can't remember where, that someone wintered horses on the island. There was plenty of dried horse manure to support this story - but no horses.
First steps on the island.
Looking back across the sandy (it wasn't that muddy after all) plain. The car is an unidentifiable speck on the right-hand side of the picture.Following the horse trails up the east side of the island, I watched the silty river create swirls of brown sediment in the clear blue-green lake.
I continued following the trails, which led me to a smooth, rocky outcrop on the top of the island. I had a fantastic 360o panorama from the island's peak. The best view, though, was looking back up the river valley.
Not finished with my exploring, I decided to circumnavigate the entire island. I started heading down the north side of the island which, unlike the south side, was thick with brush. The northern end of the island was surrounded by a sea of rotting ice.
A sea of rotting ice, as seen from the island's peak.
Working my way back to the west side of the island, where there was less ice, I sat down and enjoyed the view of the water. The colour and clarity of the lake always impresses me. One might think I was hiking in more tropical climes.
But the ice proves otherwise.
Just another gorgeous view.
Having nearly circled the island, I found a nice little harbour, mostly sheltered from the rest of the lake. The wind on Kluane can churn up some spectacular waves so it's good to know where shelter can be found. As you can see by the shoreline, the water level is much lower than normal.
Cool, clear water. The muddy bottom makes it ideal for anchoring.
This little armada sure seems to like it there.
Although I was eager to get back to my family after a week away, I was reluctant to leave the island. Still, I was able to leave without any regrets. I hadn't planned on visiting the island but I just couldn't resist.
Do you think there are any support groups for people with compulsions to explore?
Explorers Anonymous, maybe? Ah, let's face it - for an explorer, twelve steps is never enough.