Sue North

From one adventure to the next ...

UK Recap – Scotland by Car!

Oh my goodness, this post is long overdue. We took another hiatus from the blog to focus on our home and self-care. January and February were all about hibernating and settling into the house. We’ve now had the chance to host both of our families in the new place, and it’s really starting to feel like home to us.

 

I kept meaning to write a quick recap of our travels to Scotland in October and early November, but was not able to to find the time or energy until this weekend. The stories and memories are not as sharp as I’d like them to be given the trip was 3 months ago, so there will be more photos and less description than usual. I apologize!! We plan to get back to blogging more regularly during our travels this spring and summer, when we begin hiking, canoeing and camping again.
 

 

Scarborough, England
Our UK adventures began in Scarborough – a seaside town in the north east of England. We were treated to sunshine and relatively warm temperatures given that we were visiting in early November. Fiona and I treated ourselves to coffee and breakfast sandwiches on a patio by the waterfront, happy to have left the cold temperatures behind us in Ottawa.
 
Fiona and I spent the day playing tourist, visiting Scarborough Castle and St. Mary’s Church as well as the Scarborough Market Hall. We learned from the boys that food in Scarborough had been less than stellar, as they’d found most meals lacked flavour (few condiments!) or variety. On our last day in Scarborough we managed to find a delicious lunch spot named Relish, tucked in an alleyway within walking distance to the market. We’d highly recommend stopping in for a bite or hot drinks!
 

 

 

 

The next morning we boarded the train bound for Scotland. It had been a short 2 night stay in Scarborough, and we were eager to begin our road trip from Edinburgh through the Highlands.

 

Edinburgh

We began and ended our road trip in Edinburgh, and this allowed us to stay in both the Old Town and New Town neighbourhoods. During our first visit, we stayed in a lovely, well-placed Airbnb rental  on the Royal Mile (Old Town). The unit was right beside Edinburgh Castle and allowed us to walk almost everywhere we were interested in seeing. We started the day with a castle tour, and finished with a hike up Arthur’s Seat. It was late afternoon and sunny, and we found the trails and hill to be quite busy. We’d recommend visiting earlier in the day, potentially the morning as we later heard from friends who also visited that it was far less busy at that time. It is a popular spot, so do not expect to be alone up there! The views were worth it though.
 

 

Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh

 

Stirling Castle

We visited two more historic sites near Edinburgh – Stirling Castle and Lithlingow Palace. Stirling Castle is beautifully restored and rich in history. This is somewhere to take your time. The gardens were beautiful even in November, so I suspect in spring and summer they would be spectacular. We found Lithlingow Palace to be unexpectedly enchanting – it was great for a quick walk through as it is not restored / inhabitable.

 

Linlithgow Palace

 

Glencoe
 

 

We picked up our rental car in Edinburgh, landing a larger than expected Mitsubishi Outlander. Antoine had previously honed is left-side driving skills during our 2016 trip to Australia, so he took the wheel for entirety of the trip. We left the freeways behind us, journeying on winding roads through Loch Lomond and the Trossochs National Park. We were booked for the evening at Loch Linnhe Waterfront Lodges, but we took our time along the roads, stopping to enjoy the views and photo opportunities when we could. Antoine managed like a expert on the tiny narrow roads with no shoulders, often hugging along the sides of lochs as we wound our way through hills and mountains. It was a bit scary meeting lorry trucks on tight turns on these roads, but it was worth it for the spectacular scenery!

 

Ben Nevis from Cow Hill trail

 
 

 

We enjoyed a lovely Scottish dinner at The Holly Tree Hotel. The next day we took our breakfast loch-side on the deck of the cottage before hitting the road again, bound for Ben Nevis. Ben Nevis is the tallest mountain in the British Isles. We were not looking to summit Ben Nevis, as we hadn’t the gear or the time on this trip. So we visited the visitor’s centre to ask for advice on moderate day hikes with great views nearby. We chose the Cow Hill hike, an 11km circuit route with beautiful views over the town of Fort William, down Glen Nevis and Loch Linnhe.
 

 

Isle of Skye
After completing the hike, we hopped back in the car bound for Isle of Skye. We’d planned two nights in this region, with one stay in an Airbnb called the Boatbuilders Cottage in Breakish and a second evening at the Raasay House on the Isle of Raasay. I think that we all adored our time on the Isle of Skye. The winding roads, stunning vistas, ample hiking possibilities… It had it all! We would highly recommend having a car when visiting the Isle. There is so much to see, but it would be challenging without a vehicle. Fall was also an excellent time of year to visit. The weather  was nicer than expected and the stops were less busy than during the summer months.

We used Earth Trekkers “Isle of Skye One Day Itinerary”  blog post to plan our route, visiting the Fairy Glen, Quiraing, Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls and Old Mann of Storr. We missed the hike at Quiraing by accidentally continuing down the road beyond the parking area, and were not able to hike Brother’s Point due to the soggy state of the trail. But it’s incredible how much you can see and do on Isle of Skye in one day! We would love to return and complete more hikes and possibly camp one day; getting to see it by car was breathtaking though. We finished the day in Dunvegan, where we found the castle to be closed for the season. We made up for this with a stop at the oldest bakery on Isle of Skye for tea and desserts – the bakery opened around 1870!
 

 

Raasay House and Isle of Skye in the distance

Filled with tea and treats, we set off to catch the ferry in Sconser to the Isle of Raasay. Cory had found a neat place for us to stay at Raasay House, which ended up being one of our favourite and most memorable accommodations on the trip! Raasay house was build in 1747, and has quite the history. We were pleasantly surprised to have our rooms upgraded upon arrival. The boys enjoyed the pingpong table in the games room while Fiona and I got ready. We later gathered in the library for drinks by the wood burning fire before enjoying a fancy meal at the restaurant. It’s a very special place, and we would’ve loved to spend more time adventuring the Isle of Raasay. Next time!!
 

 

Inverness
The last destination on our roadtrip was the town of Inverness. We travelled eastward along the A82, stopping to visit the Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle. While we didn’t spot Nessie during our visit, Mother Nature really cooperated with us by giving us sunshine and pleasant fall temperatures. Everyone was incredibly charmed by the town of Inverness! We stayed in a converted church Airbnb along the riverfront in the centre of town. We walked about town, stopping to pick up souvenirs for our family and friends. The town had a neat vibe to it, and Fiona was left dreaming of a move to Inverness. That evening we enjoyed wood fired pizzas and drinks at the Black Isle Bar in central Inverness. Like many restaurants in the UK, dogs are welcome to join their owners for dinner. I wish that this was something we had here in Canada!
 

 

The next morning we hit the road again, destined for Edinburgh to spend our last evening in Scotland before taking the train back to London. All in all, we travelled approximately 980km across Scotland by car. We really loved our time here, and Cory and Fiona were an amazing couple to travel with!
 

 

Scotland Travel Tips: If you’re going to visit castles or other historic sites in Scotland, it might be economical to get the Explorer Pass. We luckily visited during the winter season, so we received an extra discount on the purchase price. This meant that our passes were paid for after only 2 castle visits! Unluckily, there were a number of sites that were closed or only open on limited days of the week due to the season.
 

 

 

 

And lastly, when planning a visit to Scotland make sure to pack a raincoat and rainboots. During our trip it always seemed to be threatening to rain, but in the end we actually only had one full rainy day while the others were spotty showers and some were full sun. We were very fortunate for November!!
 

 

That’s all for now 🙂 Thanks for reading, and your patience while we were away from the blog.
 

 

Liz & Antoine

Sorry for the hiatus! We bought a house :)

Hi everyone!

Thanks for your patience while we took an unexpected mini hiatus from the blog. It all went awry on September 12th, 2018 – two days after we returned from our five week vacation to the Yukon. While we were on our trip, we had to put house hunting on the backburner; but on our final 9 hour drive back to Ottawa, I immersed myself in the latest house listings and eagerly set up 3 showings for our first week back.

 

The first two showings were rather disappointing, but the third one exceeded our expectations. Before we knew it, only 3 days after returning home, we put in our first offer on a home. Two days later, our offer was accepted! Flash forward 3 weeks, and we were moving into our first home with the help of our incredible group of friends. Thanksgiving weekend was spent hurriedly unpacking so we could host Friendsgiving dinner in our new dining room.

 

The past two months have been quite the whirlwind, and inevitably that meant our blog has been neglected. For a period of time it actually wasn’t even live – this is what happens when you host your own website and have to move the server with you, or when you lose power and Antoine the webmaster is not home to fix it!
We apologize for the hiatus, but promise to have new content up soon including photos and stories from our recent trip to the UK.

 

In the interim, here are a few house photos of our two favourite rooms! 🙂

 

Liz & Antoine

Stewart-Cassiar Highway (#37) – Stewart and Smithers, BC

Thank you for your patience waiting for what will likely be the last big story from our Yukon travels! It took me far longer to get this posted than I expected, as Antoine and I had a busier week than planned. More on that in a blog post to come 😉 In addition to these “storytelling” posts which were written while on our trip, I am planning to craft up a summary post detailing our trip route, campsite locations, highlights and summarized expenses for the trip in case this proves useful for anyone planning a trip to the Yukon / NWT. But for now let’s get back to the tales from our last bit of adventuring…

 

There are two routes you can take to get to the Yukon via British Columbia. The first is the Alaskan Highway (1) route, which we travelled on through the Northern Rockies to Watson Lake, YT in early August. When planning our route back to Ottawa, we decided to take a different return route via the Stewart-Cassiar highway (37). We expected our adventures to be over once we left the Yukon, so we’d originally planned fairly long days of driving along this route. My cousins had travelled along this highway in early August on their way to the Yukon, though, and had some must see recommendations for us. As a result we departed the Yukon a few days earlier than expected in order to stop in their two favourite little towns along the 37: Stewart and Smithers, BC!

 

Bear Glacier on Highway 37A to Stewart

 

Our first stop was Stewart, BC which is a 45 minute detour from the highway along the Glacier Highway (#37A). This highway takes visitors past over 20 glacier formations that are visible from the road, including Bear Glacier. It’s a twisty, beautiful route through the mountains down to sea level – the scenery was quite a contrast from what we’d become used to in the Yukon with lush, towering trees reminding us of a rainforest. The town of Stewart (population: 500ish) is located at the head of the Portland Canal, the fourth longest fjord in the world at 90 miles. Stewart is considered Canada’s most northerly, ice free port. Based on recommendations from Paul and Nat, we stopped in for drinks that evening at the funky Bittercreek Bar and Lounge. This eclectic little spot is filled with local oddities, serving up craft beers from nearby Terrace B.C. Live music was starting at 7:30pm, but we couldn’t stay to enjoy it as we’d planned to spend the night camped outside of town.

 

We hit the road around 6:45pm bound for Salmon Glacier. This is the world’s largest road accessible glacier, and the fifth largest glacier in Canada. The road to the glacier also crosses the Canadian-American border. Stewart is located only 3km from the Alaskan border and the town of Hyder, Alaska. After our quick jaunt into the U.S. we continued down the road and back into Canada, hoping to camp nearby the glacier. Sadly weather was not on our side, with rain in the forecast for most of the night and next day. The mountains were also socked in with clouds, which made viewing the glacier difficult that evening. We continued past the summit viewpoint and found ourselves a nice campsite on a side road. We quickly fell asleep listening to the sounds of rain on the car roof and a nearby waterfall.

 

Salmon Glacier on a rainy day

 

The next morning the clouds had lifted a bit, but rain persisted. Visibility of the glacier and ice fields had improved though, and we stopped periodically along the route to take pictures. We planned to stop at the Fish Creek Wildlife viewing area on our way down to see grizzly and/or black bears feeding on coho, chum and pink salmon spawning in the creek. The constant downpour put a damper on these plans, and we decided not to stop in as we’d had many bear viewings just along the highway 😉 After a quick stop at the Canadian Border Services building, we were back in Stewart and Canada! We enjoyed a delicious breakfast by the window at Temptations Bakery & Deli before departing, bound  for Smithers BC. We were hoping to leave the rain behind us!

 

Main street in Stewart, BC

 

Fortunately Mother Nature was on our side and the weather improved steadily as we made our way to Smithers, BC. We arrived mid-afternoon at the Twin Falls Recreation Area just outside of Smithers. Nat and Paul had recommended this spot for camping, but it was full when we arrived. We forgot that this was Sunday of labour day weekend…! We’d been on vacation so long we were never quite sure what day of the week it was! We took a short hike to the bottom of the waterfalls, and then debated starting out on the steep, longer Glacier Gulch hike. I was still recuperating from a cold and was leaning towards a more relaxing afternoon in Smithers, though. Antoine sensed that I wasn’t up for the adventure, so we hopped in the car and headed to the recently opened Smithers Brewing Co. for some not exactly well earned pints.

 

Over a lovely hour of craft beers, we hatched our next plan. There was a second recreation area was located outside of town, about 20km down a forest service road. For those who are not familiar with camping in British Columbia, recreation areas are free camping spots located throughout B.C. This site was also only 15 minutes away from the hike we wanted to do the next morning beginning at the local ski hill – Hudson Bay Mountain. This was another Paul and Nat recommendation! After a fun drive down a dirt road in far better shape than the Dempster, we arrived at the Dennis Lake Recreation Area. We joined one other camper, and a third joined us shortly after. The site really only had room for 3 campers, or maybe 4 if someone was tenting. We couldn’t enjoy a campfire due to the fire bans across B.C., so we set up our car tent and cooked dinner lakeside. Afterwards we curled up in our camp chairs for a Netflix night in our cozy tent home theatre. Oh the life!

 

View from the dock at Dennis Lake Recreation Site

 

We woke late, yet again, that morning. This is what happens in quiet camping spots when we don’t set an alarm… The sun was shining and temperatures rising, so we packed up camp and readied ourselves for the Crater Lake hike. The trailhead begins slightly left from the green t-bar at the Smithers ski hill. As it was Labour Day there were many people on the trail, including families with young children and lots of dogs. The trail was fairly easy to the lake, so we decided to continue on past the crowds with a summit bid to Hudson Bay mountain. The mountain was shrouded with clouds when we began our climb, but we got a glimpse of the summit as we neared the top. Unfortunately the distance was a wee bit deceiving. We arrived at the top ridge around 1:30 and quickly realized we had no hope of reaching the summit as our driving destination beyond Prince George was over 4 hours away. Slightly disappointed, we started our descent back to Sue the Subaru.

 

Crater Lake

 

Along the way we met a group of “Smitherites” who informed us that we’d missed signing a guest book near the top. Bummer! We also met a hiker named Serge from France who was visiting Canada for work. The long weekend had given him the opportunity to explore some local mountains in B.C. We hiked the rest of the way down the mountain with him, with Antoine and Serge conversing in French on a variety of topics including his travels, his love for the Canadian mountains, and life in France. It was a great opportunity for me to practice my oral comprehension 😉 We exchanged contact information and promised we’d let him know if we ever travel to the French Alps in the future!

 

This exchange was one of many we had with travellers over the past few weeks on our trip. We met lots of visitors from outside Canada, including travellers from Belgium, Switzerland, France and Germany. Ironically we met less Canadians on our travels, especially on the more northern parts of our journey. It reminded us of one of the reasons we planned this adventure in the first place: Canada is a huge, diverse and awe inspiring country filled with natural wonders. Antoine and I want to spend as much time as possible exploring this amazing country we call home. Canadian destinations don’t seem to get nearly enough credit, but travellers outside Canada seem to know how lucky we are and flock here to consume Canada’s natural splendours. As Serge explained to us, the Rockies are just as inspiring as the Swiss Alps, with far fewer people and development. It was a wonderful reminder of how lucky we are to call this beautiful country home! We can’t wait to continue exploring it.

 

Our last 5 days of travel were spent visiting friends and family in Alberta and Northern Ontario. Thanks to my Aunt Joan, Al & Val, Britta,  and my parents for graciously hosting us along the way – your awesome company, delicious sustenance and comfy beds after five weeks sleeping in our car were much appreciated!

 

For our last hike of the trip, we took a quick trip to Canmore Alberta while visiting Britta in Calgary. We’d planned to hike the Ha Ling Peak trail, only to find that it was closed for updates.  After some last minute research, we decided uponGrotto Mountain trail. We could not complete the full loop and make it back to Calgary for dinner, so we only adventured up until the Echo Canyon portion of the trail. Echo Canyon is a popular rock and ice climbing area. The views of Canmore and warm, sunny weather made this a worthy adventure!

 

Liz and Britta in Calgary

 

After three nights in Alberta with friends and family we hit the highway again, making it to the Ontario-Manitoba border in just one day. This long day of driving was worthwhile as it allowed us to spend two nights and a full day in Sault Ste. Marie with my parents! We arrived back in Ottawa on Monday September 10th after 38 days on the road. We could truly not have asked for a more memorable trip 🙂

 

Thanks so much for following along on our journey across Canada.

 

Liz & Antoine

 

Kluane National Park and Reserve: King’s Throne and Sheep’s Creek trails

On August 28, we bid farewell to Paul and Natalie and began our journey south. We had spent over two weeks travelling together, 10 days of which we were on the Dempster. From encouraging us to get off the beaten path, to entertaining walkie talkie comms, late night snacks (fresh cooking stove popcorn!!) and oh so valuable fishing knowledge and tackle, this trip would not have been the same without them.

From the Dempster we set our sights to Whitehorse, where we knew we could find some much needed amenities: showers and laundry! Readers are probably noting a pattern here. In all honesty though, the frigid stream-side showers were not cutting it! We spent just one night in Whitehorse; getting clean, stocking our cooler, and dining out. Such luxuries! We also fit in an oil change for our car Sue at the 9900 km point of our trip, before hitting the road again eastward to Kluane National Park and Reserve. As we neared the park, snow capped peaks began to appear on the horizon and we knew we’d made the right decision to spend our last few days in the Yukon in this area.

Pine Lake campground

Our first evening was spent at the Pine Lake territorial campground, just outside Haines Junction, YT. This Yukon campground has 42 nicely trees sites, some with views of the lake. We weren’t lucky enough to secure one of these as we arrived later in the evening, but we managed to find a quiet site and cooked our dinner over the fire. The next morning we accidentally slept in to the unusually late hour of 9:40am. Without the sounds of Paul starting coffee in the morning, we overslept! Oops… We quickly stopped by the beach at the day use area of the campground. Antoine flew the drone for better views of the nearby mountains, while I tested the temperature of the water. A raft floated on the lake, seemingly enticing swimmers, and I have to say this was the warmest water I’d felt so far in the Yukon! If we’d had more time, I would’ve loved to swim, but with plans for a day hike we set off south down the highway towards Kathleen Lake.

Kathleen Lake

A Parks Canada campground is situated on Kathleen Lake, a crystal clear lake that is backed by the Kluane Range. Based on recommendations from the Kluane Visitor’s Centre we’d decided to try the King Throne trail, and possibly the King Throne Summit route if time permitted. The hike description promised a steep route with sweeping views of the lake, and estimated that the 10km round trip hike would take between 4-6 hours. We ate lunch lakeside in the day use hut, warmed by a wood fire. The winds were really strong and chilly, whipping across the lake. We hoped the hike would be sheltered from the winds, as they seemed to be coming from the direction of the mountain.

Getting blown away by the wind

Oh how wrong we were… The first 2km of the trail followed the lake but was protected from wind by thick forest. The fall colours were starting to show in the vegetation along the trail: bright yellows, oranges, reds and pinks! The trail began to climb steeply after the 2km mark, leaving the trees and their shelter behind us. We climbed along rock covered switchbacks towards the throne of the mountain, with spectacular views of the lake below us. The wind increasingly blasted us as we continued upwards, though, making the hiking more difficult. No one likes a headwind! We reached the throne in an hour and 15, and sought a quick reprieve from the wind to consume snacks in a groove in the mountain. We decided not to continue to the summit given the winds – it would not have been an enjoyable hike. We returned down the mountain back to our car, finishing the trail in 2.5 hours.

From there we returned to Haines Junction for a delicious dinner at The Village Bakery. We tried the lentil shepherd’s pie, a pepperoni cheese bun, an espresso square and a two layer brownie. We washed this down with local Birch Sap beer by Yukon Brewing. Mmmmm!

Dust clouds beginning to form on day 2 in Kluane

We continued east after dinner to Congdon Creek campground, on Kluane Lake, the Yukon’s largest lake. We didn’t have great views of the lake up arrival, though, due to a dust storm. We initially thought the clouds were thick fog or rain, but learned the next day at the Tachal Dhal Visitor’s Centre that winds through the Slims River / A’ay Chù valley stir up glacial silt which forms thick clouds in the valley and lake area. Congdon Creek is known for high grizzly bear use, and a tent enclosure with electric fence has recently been installed for tents. Tenting was previously prohibited in this campground. We felt rather safe in Sue though, and had no sightings or encounters with bears while at the campground. The black flies were very thick at this site though!!

Kluane Lake the next day after the dust had settled

Having learned from our mistake the day prior, we set an alarm for the next morning to ensure we started our hike of the Sheep’s Creek trail before noon. This 10km hike promised gorgeous views of the valley and surrounding mountains, and the possibility of viewing the toe of the Kuskawash Glacier in the distance. The weather forecast was not promising, calling for a 60% chance of rain. But as we’ve learned on this trip, forecasts can’t be trusted in the Yukon! We ended up having beautiful weather for the full 2.5 hours of our hike on the Sheep’s Creek trail, with excellent visibility of the Kuskawash glacier and snow capped mountains around us.

 

 

The fall colours were just starting in Kluane, a bit behind the mountains along the Dempster. We met a nice Belgian couple and a German family on this hike. The German family were kind enough to take our photo at the top of the trail, so no selfies required this time! We’d wanted to continue along the ridge route to the summit of the mountain, but looking at the time we realized we needed to start our drive back to Whitehorse and onwards. We hoped to make it 4 hours past Whitehorse to shorten our drive to Stewart, BC the next day. We hurried down the trail, just as the winds began to pick up glacier silt in the valley below us. It seems we’d had a perfect weather window for our hike! At the end of the hike we spotted a large herd of Dall sheep on the mountainside above us. I counted at least 30 of them in our binoculars.

We hit the road again, destined for Northern BC via a different route along Cassiar Highway (#37). Next stop: Stewart B.C. and Hyder Alaska.

Thanks for reading 🙂

Liz & Antoine

Our last days on the Dempster Highway

After a busy few days of hiking our way down the Dempster, our legs were ready for a break. And what better way to rest than fishing? The Ogilvie River was not cooperating with us, so we continued south towards Blackstone River which we’d previously camped and fished on before parting ways with Derek and Jeni. We discovered another beautiful campsite on the river, a ways from the highway at approximately km 98. Two other parties had also set up camp here, but there were plenty of spots right on the rivers edge. We went to bed really early that night and rose rather late, almost fully recuperated from our hikes.

 

Paul eagerly set out with his hip waders that morning to scout the fishing for us, but returned with dire reports. It seemed the high water levels were continuing to affect us! We packed up camp and continued south on the Dempster, stopping at any spots that looked fishable. We really wanted a fish fry evening! After one unsuccessful stop, Antoine and I decided to brave the chilly river waters for a much needed “shower.” Brrrrrrr!!!

 

Nat and Paul fishing at a culvert on the Blackstone River

 

Sadly the Blackstone never rewarded us with any fish. Defeated, we headed to the Tombstone Interpretive Centre to sit by the wood fire and enjoy some freshly brewed Labrador tea while we made a plan for the night.

 

We decided to stop in at the gravel pit we’d stayed at on our first night on the Dempster, as this was part of a different waterway than the Blackstone and Ogilvie Rivers. We secured a campsite at the Tombstone Mountain campground, and then returned to try our luck there one last time. We didn’t catch the 8 fish we were needing for dinner, but I managed to catch my first two Arctic Grayling and Paul caught another one. No photos were captured for proof as it started raining just as we cast our first lures. The 3 fish were enough for a delicious appetizer, fried in a skillet with Cajun batter. What a great end to an incredible 11 days on the Dempster highway!

 

Highlights of our time on the Dempster:
  • 3 different mountain ranges (Tombstone, Ogilvie and Richardson), easily explorable from the highway

Drone shot of the Ogilvie Mountains

 

Tombstone mountains

  • Experiencing multiple seasons along the way, and watching the colours change in the mountains and tundra

  • Wildlife and bird sightings including caribou, a grizzly bear, foxes, beavers, and some distant dall sheep; ptarmigans, gyrfalcon and eagles, among others

 

  • Reaching the Arctic Ocean and seeing the Arctic communities of Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk

Lowlights of our time on the Dempster:
  • Eagle Plains (very poor road conditions and least exciting scenery)
  • Mud, mud and more mud. It’s everywhere!
  • Few spots to shower, other than a frigid dip in rivers or creeks

The highlights far outweighed the few lowlights of the trip! Next up: we head south back to Whitehorse and Kluane National Park and Reserve for our final few days in the Yukon.

Thanks again for reading 🙂

Liz & Antoine

Hiking in the Ogilvie Mountains: Sapper Hill, Mt. Distincta, Mt. Infant and Mt. Abraham

We thought our days in the Ogilvie Mountains would be filled with fishing. We were naively planning a fish fry night for our first night there, as the Ogilvie River was calling our names and we were ready to slay arctic grayling. Unfortunately Mother Nature had different plans for us! We learned while stopped at the NWT-Yukon border that the Peel River ferry crossing closed due to high water levels. It seems we’d narrowly missed an extended stay in the North, having just crossed the river the day prior. The high water levels on the Peel River could also be seen in its tributary rivers, which includes the Ogilvie River and Engineer Creek. The waterways were barely recognizable from what we’d seen a few days prior on our journey north – they were rushing, high and extremely turbid. There would be no way for the fishies to see our lures in these conditions!

 

The weather was not cooperating either. We arrived at the Northern Ogilvie Mountains viewpoint to pouring rain. The skies were dark and showing no signs of stopping, so we set our sights on Engineer Creek campground. There were a few day hikes nearby that we were wanting to do, and we hoped that the weather would improve the next day. Nat and Paul sent out some satellite phone requests to friends for the latest forecast on the Dempster, and these sounded promising. But we’ve learned that weather forecasting in this region is less than stellar, so we had to take these with a grain of salt.

 

We set up camp at Engineer Creek, and made use of the kitchen shelter for dinner and socializing. There was a wood stove and good company! Most of the folks in the campground were on their way northbound and were disappointed to hear about the ferry closure. We were counting our lucky stars that we made it out. Sadly there are no photos of our time here thanks to the rain… It poured throughout the night and into the morning, and Engineer Creek rose significantly in the night. The rain stuck around for our breakfast preparations but finally abated around 10am, so we packed up camp and readied ourselves for a hike at nearby Sapper Hill.

 

 

The campground sits below the Sapper Hill tores. These unique rock features are apparently filled with fossils. We parked at the Engineer Creek bridge and climbed upwards. The trail had turned into a creek, which made climbing rather interesting. Antoine’s boots are not waterproof, and so it was a rather wet hike for him. The views were worth it though! Everyone clambered to the top of one of the tors for a view of the valley, but my clumsiness and slight fear of heights got the best of me. We dined on Swiss chocolate cookies which Paul had earned that morning when he helped a couple from Switzerland retrieve their spare tire from under their truck.

 

 

We ate a quick lunch in the parking lot after the hike, and hit the highway again with another hike in mind. During the drive Nat and Paul finally got to see their first grizzly bear munching greens on the side of the road. We watched for quite some time as she wandered the roadside, even crossing right in front of their truck for an epic photo opportunity. When she finally disappeared into the bushes we continued onward to Mount Distincta. At km 153 we parked the vehicles and walked onto the ridge of the mountain. Due to the location of the highway, you can instantly walk into the alpine zone for this hike!

 

Storm clouds were threatening to the north, but there was blue sky beyond the grey so we pressed on. At one point we could no longer see the peak we were aiming for, but the skies eventually started to clear as we reached the top and we were one again treated to rainbows across the valley below. Slowly a gorgeous 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains and valleys began to reveal itself. This was a relatively gradual and extremely rewarding hike!

 

We decided to switch it up on our way down, heading for a different ridge. Paul continued to that peak, but midway we changed our minds and traversed back over to the other ridge across some unexpectedly dodgy rocks. As Nat described it, “It’s like surfing, but on rocks!”

 

We made it back to the car shortly after Paul. He’d scouted out a gravel pit for us to camp in that night! Situated below the mountain we’d just hiked, it was spacious and serviced by a creek. There were also a number of abandoned pallets nearby so we made a makeshift fire pit and settled in for the night. We sat by the fire and planned our next hikes with the help of “Along the Dempster,” an awesome guidebook that my Uncle Craig sent to us before the trip. This was another memorable evening with great company!

 

 

With so many more mountains to explore, we went to bed early that night. The clouds were clearing as we settled into our vehicles, so I set my alarm for 1:30am in hopes of catching the northern lights. When the alarm went off Antoine told me we were clouded in, but I looked onto the horizon and spotted the telltale green lights. They stretched across the sky, dancing mainly in green but with a few flares of fuschia and purple. It was a frigid night though; ice formed on the dash of our car over night!

 

The next morning rocks in the stream were covered in a thin layer of ice. The sky was bluebird clear though, and we were excited for another day of hiking! We weren’t quite ready to leave the Ogilvie Mountains given the weather, but our options were somewhat limited due to the soggy tundra conditions. A chain of mountains at km 130.5 seemed to be accessible from the highway, with little tundra navigation required.

 

 

We started up Mt. Infant at around 11am. The clear skies provided us with stellar views of the valleys around us, including the Blackstone River we’d camped and fished on during our northbound trip. Partway up the mountain we happened upon fresh scat, which Natalie hypothesized was 1 day old bear poo. Paul wasn’t so sure, but then we came across fresh root digging marks and thought we better not stick around. We hurried up past the tree line with thankfully no sign of the bear.

 

We made it to the summit of Mt. Infant around 1pm for our lunch break. We traded snacks with Paul and Nat to mix up our provisions: Cajun nut mix for Snyder’s Buffalo Preztel bites. We’ve gotten good at mixing up our snack options via wheeling and dealing this past week 😉

 

We continued on for another 30 minutes, but Nat and I were ready for a break. Paul and Antoine continued on to the peak of Mt. Abraham which could be seen in the distance, while we relaxed on a mossy mountainside sheltered from the wind. I organized my photos and finished up this blog while Natalie took more photos. We watched the boys as they progressed to the top in 50 minutes! They’re a bunch of mountain goats, I swear 🙂 When reunited we shared a pop tart treat before descending the remaining ridges together. All in all, the boys hiked around 14km while Nat and I hiked 11km. It was an awesome day of hiking with epic weather.

 

Next up: our final day on the Dempster!

 

Liz & Antoine

 

The Richardson Mountains – km 369 to NWT km 23.6

The Dempster Highway crosses a number of mountain ranges as it winds its way northward. The Richardson Mountains are the last range it passes through, and they are rather unique. Composed of dark shale and sandstone, the tip of the Laurentide Ice Sheet came to rest on the eastern edge of this mountain range during the last ice age. Wind erosion has smoothed the mountains, and canyons have been carved out by waterways. One of my favourite portions of the Dempster was the drive up the gorge, where the highway climbs 853 metres into the mountains from the Peel River.

 

The drive would have been stunning coming down from the gorge on our way northward, but rain and low lying clouds stifled our first views of this are. On the way south we took our time driving through the gorge and stopped for a quick hike when the clouds and snow stopped momentarily. Yes, you heard me correctly. It was snowing!! The peaks of the Richardsons were blanketed with the white fluffy stuff, and snow clouds settled in between some of the mountains around us.

 

This created a real contrast of seasons, as most of the vegetation was beginning to show their fall colours. We hiked to the top of a small hill to scout for wildlife in the valleys.  Although we didn’t have any luck on this front, the views were amazing and it felt good to stretch our legs after a day of driving.

 

 

We attempted another quick hike at the NWT sign, but the snow made the lichen on the rocks incredibly slippery. Traversing the boulders to reach the ridge proved challenging, so we aborted our summit attempt midway. We also learned that partially frozen cloud berries are extra delicious on this adventure!

 

Back at the cars, we decided to aim for Rock River Campground at km 445.8. We had scouted this campground on our journey northward and found that it was pleasantly sheltered in a canyon with large trees. We managed to score the best site in the campground tucked next to the river! We cooked dinner over the campfire that night, accompanied by red wine and great conversation. Emboldened by the wine and a well stoked fire, some of us (ok, everyone but Antoine!!) took freezing baths in the river. For my family back home, this was waaaaaaay colder than a polar bear dip in Lake Superior in the winter!!

 

Rock River Campground

 

We slept soundly in the cool temperatures, serenaded by the sound of the river beside our car. This was one of our favourite campsites of the trip!

 

We continued southward, aiming our sights on the Ogilvie Mountains and Ogilvie River. More hiking and fishing to come!

 

Liz & Antoine

 

Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk – 140km on Arctic Tundra

Before

The goal was to hit the road early to Tuktoyaktuk to give us plenty of time to explore. Unfortunately some time change issues got in the way of this plan! We also needed to take advantage of the amenities at Happy Valley Territorial Campground in Inuvik. All justifications aside, we didn’t hit the road until almost 11am! This too proved to be a false start – as soon as we hit the new road to Tuk and got up to speed, we noticed Sue was vibrating pretty badly despite the relatively smooth surface. Antoine hypothesized that the heavy caked mud on the tires likely fell to the bottom of the tires following our car wash the previous evening and put them off balance. So we turned around for round 3 with the power washer in Inuvik, and this more thorough effort seemed to correct the problem. We were back in business!

 

After

 

What we didn’t expect was how much we would enjoy this drive. When we pictured arctic tundra, we thought it would be fairly flat and desolate. Instead we found the landscape to be rolling and varied, dotted with so many lakes and beautifully coloured vegetation. The clouds also began to disappear as we headed northward!

 

The tree line disappeared behind us at approximately km 100, and there seemed to be as much water as there was land around us. This road was an engineering marvel! One of only a few roads in the world built on permafrost, it’s hard to imagine how they completed it. So much gravel and fill must have been required, and the road meanders amongst the many lakes, creeks and ponds dotting the tundra. Prior to the road’s completion in November 2017, the community of 900 could only be reached by plane or ice road in the winter. Everyone waved hello to us as we travelled the road, including local berry pickers and hunters out on their ATVs. We stopped repeatedly for photos, attempted wildlife viewing (only birds, so far!) and cloud berry picking.

 

 

Due to our late start, we arrived too late to take in the cultural information sessions offered each day at 2pm in the sod house. This was an opportunity to hear from local speakers about life in Tuk, and I’m sad that we missed out on this! We stopped at the point of town to dip our hands in the Arctic Ocean and capture some photos.

 

 

We visited Grandma’s Kitchen for lunch,  as a number of people highly recommended it to us. We dined on cooked muktuk (buluga whale), dried whitefish, and homemade buns with cloud berry jam. We also learned that cloud berries are locally referred to as akpik berries. Grandma’s Kitchen was opened by Joanne in late June in anticipation of the influx of visitors the newly opened road would bring. We were lucky enough to get to chat with her and her daughter Shelby about life in the North after our lunch. Shelby worked on the highway to Tuk driving a gravel truck. Their family has a lovely ocean front home, complete with the food truck on the beach, a sunroom and greenhouse. We wished we could’ve stayed much longer visiting with them!

 

After a quick two hour visit, we were back on the road south to Inuvik. We set up camp in a picnic area just outside of town, where we saw more wildlife than we had all day! While brushing my teeth I watched three busy beavers working on their dam. The next morning Paul got up close and personal with three foxes playing in the parking lot. Nature is so neat!

Next up: the Richardson Mountains 🙂

 

Lots of love, Liz & Antoine

 

The Dempster: Blackstone Uplands (km 78) to Inuvik, NWT (km 737)

After an incredible two nights in Tombstone Territorial Park, we packed up and hit the Dempster Highway for real this time, starting our multi-day drive to the Arctic Ocean. The Dempster Highway is the only road in Canada that takes you across the Arctic Circle. This 737 km gravel road takes visitors through 10 of Canada’s 217 ecoregions, which are large areas of similar landform and climate with different ranges of plants, animals and soils. Prior to the trip my Uncle Craig mailed us a copy of the Dempster Highway Travelogue, and this little guide proved very useful informing us about neat features at various km markers along our route.

 

For example, the travelogue informed us that Dall sheep reside along the mountainside at km 178.4. Their trails down the mountain to Engineer Creek are visible from the roadside, and we were able to spot three of them bedded down on the mountain with our binoculars. We were surprised by how white they were!

 

We stopped for a quick fish at km 195.5, where the distinctly red Engineer Creek meets the blue Ogilvie River. Antoine sent up the drone for some cool shots while I attempted to catch my first arctic grayling. No luck here either! 🙁 But views of the Ogilvie mountains made up for my poor fishing skills. This range of mountains differed from the Tombstone ranges, as they are comprised of light grey limestone rubble slopes and tall spikes of rocks known as tors. These are only found in unglaciated terrain! Here’s a shot of the Ogilvie-Peel viewpoint, which shows the northern fringe of these mountains. We couldn’t wait to return to this area on our way back down the Dempster for more fishing and some day hikes!

 

Engineer Creek meets the Ogilvie River

 

The driving got increasingly dicey as we left the Ogilvie River region and entered the Eagle Plain Plateau. It seemed that the maintenance crew forgot about this section of the road, with huge potholes and slick conditions slowing our drive to a crawl. There were also limited options for camping along the Eagle Plains portion of the highway. Paul had identified a nice spot near Eagle River at km 378 in his Garmin InReach, but it was rained out, with recent tire tracks indicating someone had been stuck. Rain was in the forecast for the next day, so we decided to camp further along at a gravel pit off the highway around km 387. We set up in our two vehicle T formation, with a tarp to keep us dry while we cooked delicious one pot meals on our camp stoves. In the evening we wandered back to the highway to snap some photos, picking Labrador leaves and rose hips for tea later on our drive.

Our gravel pit “campsite” in Eagle Plains

 

We woke up early the next morning prepared for a long day of driving to Inuvik, NWT. By 9:30am, we’d reached the Arctic Circle! The Mackenzie Mountains lay in front of us, shrouded by thick low lying clouds. We were a bit bummed as the views would have been epic, but at least it was rain and not snow! The clouds were even thicker and the wind even wilder once we reached the Yukon-NWT border at 10:30am. Oh wait, I mean 11:30!!! We were on Mountain Standard Time now – 1 hour ahead.

 

Arctic Circle viewpoint – Mackenzie Mountains hidden by cloud

 

Highway conditions improved immensely once we reached NWT. We could now start travelling faster than 30km/h. We reached the first ferry crossing of the Dempster at the Peel River around noon on Tuesday August 21st. This cable ferry had been closed down the week prior for three days due to rain, so we were happy to find it functioning despite the inclement weather. In the winter the ferry is replaced by an ice bridge. After the short ferry ride we had a quick lunch in our vehicles thanks to continued rain at Nitainlai Territorial Park. We stopped shortly after for more snacks in Fort McPherson. This community of 900 sits between two ferry crossings on the Dempster. We were lucky to spot a spunky silver fox just outside of town. He was sporting a summer black coat with a white tail and skipped along the highway for quite some time while we sat parked watching. I wish I’d been able to capture a photo – he was beautiful and the first wildlife we’d seen in some time.

 

Description of local foxes at the Tombstone Interpretive Centre

 

The next ferry crossing at the Mackenzie River was even more beautiful, albeit a little slow with two stops including the community of Tsiigehtchic. The Arctic Red River joins the Mackenzie River near the ferry crossing. 2 hours later, we rolled onto the 12km stretch of paved highway that leads to Inuvik, NWT! According to our travelogue, Inuvik is Canada’s largest centre above the Arctic Circle, with a population of 3,400. That night we treated ourselves to dinner and a stay at Happy Valley Territorial Campground, centrally located in Inuvik. What it lacked in asthetic appeal, it made up for in amenities. Laundry and free hot showers! They were a welcome warm up before heading to bed in 1 degree temperatures. What more can you expect from the Arctic?!

 

Next up: the new road to Tuktoyaktuk and the Arctic Ocean!

 

Thanks for following along on our journey 🙂

 

Liz & Antoine

Tombstone Territorial Park – Fold Mountain and Grizzly Lake Trail hikes

We were late leaving Dawson City on Friday August 17th, stopping to grab much needed showers and a few supplies before hitting the Dempster Highway. Before leaving town we wandered up to an area known as the Midnight Dome. At an elevation of 2911 ft, this lookout offers a panoramic view of the Klondike and Yukon Rivers. This would have been the perfect spot to catch the Northern Lights which had lit our way home the previous night.

 

After this quick stop it was time to continue on our journey northward. We spent our first  evening in Tombstone Territorial Park camped in a gravel pit alongside the North Klondike River at approximately km 60. Paul was lucky enough to catch a few arctic grayling that night before calling it quits for the night.

 

 

The next day we woke early to head to the Visitor’s Intepretive Centre in Tombstone Territorial Park. We had hoped to do some backcountry camping along the well known Grizzly Lake hiking trail, but were informed that this route had been hit with extremely inclement winter-like weather so hiking was not recommended. A number of hikers had been trapped for a few days awaiting a good weather window to make the hike out. We hunkered by a fire in the Intepretive Centre, enjoyed freshly brewed Labrador tea and contemplated our next move.

 

Based on recommendations from the staff, we decided to hike Fold Mountain, which is visible from the Interpretive Centre. This was not an established trail, but it promised amazing views of the valley and two lakes hidden behind the mountain. The skies looked a little threatening, so we packed our rain gear in anticipation of a wet hike. The hike necessitated a river crossing of the chilly Klondike River. I watched the first 3 in our group roll their pants to their knees and made it across. Unfortunately for me, everyone else was 5’10 and up! The river hit me mid-thigh, but luckily my pants were quick dry. Oh the joys of being vertically challenged!

 

The arctic flora and fauna on Fold Mountain were incredibly memorable – like nothing I’ve come across hiking before. The lichen and spongy ground was beautiful and forgiving to walk on and the arctic plants smelled intoxicating, particularly the Labrador! We stopped repeatedly to gorge ourselves on mountain berries including cloud berries, blueberries, cranberries and crow berries. the cloud berries were a group favourite – they look similar to a light coloured blackberry, with burgundy leaves similar in shape to a strawberry plant. The berries range in colour from white to peach to salmon in colour and the taste is amazing but difficult to describe…like a juicy buttery flavoured delight! I’ve never snacked so much on a hike 🙂

 

 

It began to rain when we stopped for lunch at a nice lookout spot over the valley. We could see spots of bluebird sky poking through the clouds and made the decision to continue on just as a rainbow greeted us over the valley.

 

 

As we hiked along, Antoine spotted two caribou high above us on the ridges where we were headed. We were also consistently greeted by the squeaks of arctic ground squirrels who made the mountainside their home. We eventually crossed the ridge where we’d first viewed the caribou and realized it was a false summit, with a higher peak above us. We continued along as the weather grew increasingly nice in hopes of reaching two mountain lakes. As we plodded along upwards, my cousin Paul shouted at us to get down! My first thought was bear, but as we peeled upwards we saw the two caribou descending towards us. We stayed down and quiet and experienced a close up encounter with these gorgeous animals. They were far bigger and darker than expected – photos from my phone camera cannot do them justice, nor do they show how close we were to them. It was better to put the phone away and just take in the viewing!

 

 

We continued along for awhile longer, ending with gorgeous views of both lakes below. We’d met a journalist and photographer at the Interpretive Centre who joined us on the hike, and so we managed to get some epic non-selfie group photos at the top. Thanks Jimmy for your awesome photography skills!! We will have to share these photos later on – I thought that we transferred them onto my laptop but it seems they did not save. Bummer! I stole a photo from Nat instead, which includes Jimmy 🙂

 

We chose an easier route to descend in order to bypass the bog and deeper river crossing we’d originally tried. From up high we could see the river braided further down, and we crossed back over more easily this time. We met up with Derek and Jeni on the trail back, and joined them at their campsite in the Tombstone Territorial campground. That night we enjoyed great company and food including moose meat, mushroom gravy stop potatoes, maple syrup by the spoonful and nachos baked over the fire. This was a day to remember!

 

 

The next day we decided to do a day hike to lookout along the Grizzly Lake trail. This was a much busier route in contrast to a Fold Mountain, where we never crossed another hiker. This meant no wildlife viewing besides a far friendly arctic ground squirrel who seemed to be used to frequent visitors. The hike to the viewpoint was 3km, but we extended our trip along the ridge line to approximately the 6km point. The sun was shining but the wind was howling. Visibility was perfect to see the snow covered Monolith Mountain and Grizzly Lake below it in the valley. These are vistas that Tombstone had become known for.

 

That night we camped at a pullout along the Blackstone Creek at approximately km 98. Antoine caught his first two arctic grayling here, but we threw them back as pasta and dehydrated meat sauce was on the menu. My cousins had spotted large grizzly bear and wolf tracks along the river bed, so we were extremely cautious with our food and grey water that night. We slept the night with no encounters – phew!

 

On Monday August 20th we hit the road again, leaving the boundaries of Tombstone Territorial Park. Next up: the Ogilvie Mountains and Arctic Circle!

 

Liz & Antoine

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