Saturday, June 12, 2010

Hiking In The Ibex Valley: Whitehorse and The Yukon 2010

"I would rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth."
~Steve McQueen

I knew for three weeks about this hike. It haunted me a bit, frightened me a bit, thrilled me too. 27 km in 6 hours? It seemed rather ambitious yet I was up for the challenge. My friend Ian, whose house I was sitting (along with his cats) in Whitehorse, YT, told me before departing for Uzbekistan, that a small group of us would do a good hike before my flight back to Ontario. He explained it was across the floor of the Ibex Valley, a gorgeous region of land 25km north of Whitehorse. We would use two cars, one at our extraction point and one at the beginning of the trail. Here is a map of the Ibex Valley. Our hike looped below the Alaska Highway and met back up with it via a side road.

We organized our gear at the start of the trail. I was excited to try my Osprey daypack, a Kestrel 28L, as I knew it would be the perfect place to put it through its paces, as well as being handy for many future day hikes. There were four of us in total, and we headed out on trail which is usually frequented by bikers, ATV enthusiasts and skiers in the winter.

The trail was mostly flat, with a few rolling hills but no steep ascents or descents. We made good time and chatted amiably amongst ourselves. I was glad I had packed lots of water and some Gatorade, as well as lots of food. It is amazing how quickly you become depleted when hiking, especially if you are hiking at a good clip. I had forgotten my Camelbak in Ontario but it was easy to drink while hiking with the side pockets on the pack. I didn't want to slow the group down and was determined to keep pace with them. All three of my friends are consummate Yukoners, seasoned hikers, used to multi-day treks and much more ambitious excursions than this one. Thus I wanted to prove my mettle by not lagging on the trail.

As we crested a ridge I caught sight of a beautiful perspective...snow capped mountains as far as the eye could see. I looked out, loving the thought that they were so untampered with, not trodden upon by many people at all...the land free to breathe as it wished.

You can see from this photo the angle of the sun was quite distinctive. I wish I could articulate what it is about light and the North, what makes it so unique. I'm sure it must have to do with the latitude and angle of the sun, but from this artist's perspective I can only appreciate the effect it has on me rather than analyzing why it is the way it is. At times it is almost diaphanous, thin like the air, gauze-like. It's rays reach like a filigree over the earth. It bewitches.

Here are a couple of the many MANY bear tracks we saw on the trail. The earth was sandy and it was easy to make out the tracks...fortunately they were going in the opposite direction! The top photo shows an adult black bear while the shot below is a cub. We had bear mace and tried to make noise so as not to surprise them and reduce the chance of a potentially nasty encounter.

About 9 miles along the trail we approached a lake where my friends knew would be a perfect spot to stop for lunch. I asked Ian and the group about living in the Yukon and listened to them talk knowledgeably about animal tracks and previous adventures in the North. It is certainly a land of extremes: extreme climate, beauty, potential, serenity, and certainly extreme fortitude.

The vista took my breath away. My heart sang with gratitude that I was seeing this and experiencing this special place. We only passed a handful of people on the trail, all of whom were on bikes. They seemed a bit incredulous that we were hiking rather than biking the distance. As we neared the lake I could discern that it had a glorious turquoise colour, a quiet gem in the wilderness. A few birds were around but, as in Alaska, the enormity of the landscape made birdsong few and far between...silence predominated.

So many greens and soft colours composed the landscape. It was as though the earth was waiting to open with vibrancy and colour in a few weeks of warmer weather.

Although I knew the waters would be frigid I had an urge to jump into the lake, to break that still mirror reflecting the mountains above it.

After lunch we continued on, covering ground quickly. We spotted a few elusive Dall sheep up on the mountains to our left...small specks of white contrasted with the dark shale. We marvelled at their habitat, such a precarious life, their survival depending on their surefootedness.

After six hours we made it back to the car that we had left as a shuttle for ourselves. My feet ached but the rest of me was happily exhausted, a great day of exploration and companionship behind us. In times of sickness or fatigue, when I am in a crowded waiting room or on the subway, I think back to this day, use these memories as food to carry me through the trying times. It takes one to truly appreciate the other.

We discover that nothing can be taken for granted, for if this ring of stone is marvelous then all which shaped it is marvelous, and our journey here on earth,
able to see and touch and hear in the midst of tangible and mysterious things-in-
themselves, is the most strange and daring of all adventures. ~Edward Abbey