Travel blog – Vancouver to Yukon part 3 – Pleasant surprises

One thing I’ve learned on this trip is to expect the unexpected, and to be very flexible with plans.  Travelling to the Yukon on the borderline between peak season and off season has meant dealing with things being unexpectedly closed, things becoming unexpectedly available, things being unexpectedly more or less time-consuming than expected, and things I didn’t even know existed being things that would be very interesting to see/do.

My second full day in Whitehorse was no exception to this.

After realising the night I arrived that there was a very slim chance of getting into a Kluane Glacier flightseeing tour, I spent my first full day in Whitehorse as if I had the second day available too.  I still almost ran out of things to do.  But the slate for day two was, nevertheless, not completely blank.  While in Watson Lake, someone there had suggested that Miles Canyon was worth a visit – it was only in one of my guides and I’d kind of glanced over it while planning.  And in my hotel, I came across a flyer for a bicycle rental shop.  Having seen how bicycle-friendly the town was, I made plans to rent a bike, spend the morning riding out to Miles Canyon and back (a few hours total, return), then ride out to the brand new Kwanlin Dun (First Nation) Cultural Centre and take a look around.  Even with those plans, I would still have had many hours to kill – I’m sure riding around would have kept me entertained, though.

I got up and showered, and came out of the shower to discover a voicemail on my phone.  It was Kluane Glacier Tours – a couple had booked into a flight leaving at 1 and I could join.  I paused for a minute, tried to reconfigure my day in my head (I’m the kind of person who plans, spontaneity happens only after careful consideration), and called them back.  According to GoogleMaps (which foiled me once again) it was 2.5+ hours to Haines Junction Airport.  As it was approaching 10AM, I hopped in the car, grabbed a quick lunch to take with me at Superstore, and headed out.

I of course arrived quite early – before noon – so after checking in I drove into Haines Junction to find virtually every business closed.  I was tempted to grab a coffee at the one restaurant that was open, but instead settled for exploring a rest stop with a beautiful view of the nearby mountains.  That was only just the beginning.

I returned to the airport and met an almost-retired couple from Oshawa, and a woman from Germany, who along with myself and our (rather attractive) pilot Sandy comprised a full plane.  The little 5-seater plane was a surprisingly smooth ride despite the often-intense wind coming over the glaciers.

I can’t even begin to describe the flight.  We flew out into the icefields of Kluane National Park, which is tucked in the Southwest corner of the Yukon, between borders with British Columbia and Alaska, and contains Canada’s tallest mountain, Mount Logan.  We spotted a small group of mountain sheep on our way out, but the real attraction was the beautiful glaciers.  The whole area is just a never-ending sheet of ice, covering a beautiful and seemingly never-ending mountain range.

The whole experience was truly astounding – seeing mountain peaks that appeared about 100m tall above the ice and realising they were in fact 3 km high is just amazing.  We flew over a number of glacier-covered mountains and valleys, and it was a pretty clear day so we caught a glimpse of Mount Logan (which is massive) in the distance.

The whole flight was only about 75 minutes and we covered but a small portion of the park – but the sheer size of it all is just overwhelming.  I really have no more words, and I’m sure my photos will not do it justice (a small sample are in my Yukon set on Flickr – more to come when I return to Vancouver).  This place is a national treasure and I’m so glad we’ve protected it.  Fortunately, the BC portion of the icefields is also protected, as is the Alaskan section.  I’m so, so, happy I got to see it in person – very few people ever have.  This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

After we landed, it was a short drive back to Whitehorse, where the new plan was to walk (because there wouldn’t be time to rent a bike and return it on time) to Miles Canyon, and to abandon the cultural centre visit.  I got a little over a third of the way to Miles Canyon, stopping near the Whitehorse Dam, and lost the trail. Once I re-found it, I looked at the map and realised the walk would be significantly longer than I had time for, and reconfigured things once again.

One of the convenient things about unexpected things happening is that driving times, within the Yukon, have been consistently shorter than I had planned for based on GoogleMaps.  I had planned a full day to get to Dawson, and a full day to get back, as well as much of the day to get to Skagway, Alaska, to start the return trip.  The trip to Dawson is actually only about 6 hours (not 9 per GoogleMaps or 12 per my GPS), and Skagway is only a couple of hours and I need to check into my ferry at 2:15 PM Alaska time, which is actually 3:15 Pacific.  So I’ve gained a bunch of unexpected time.  My initial plan had been to, if time, visit the MacBride Museum (only open Tues-Sat) before leaving for Skagway later this week, or possibly just head straight to Skagway from Whitehorse first thing in the morning.

So, the new plan: MacBride Museum tomorrow (Tuesday) morning, then the drive to Dawson.  Drive back Thursday as planned, possibly with a side trip en route.  Then Friday morning visit Miles Canyon (by car) on the way to Skagway, leaving plenty of time to eat lunch in town before checking in.

Some unexpected things turn out really, really, well.

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