A little Jaunt to the Yukon
A good road trip has got to be one of my favorite things to do. Sure, I love hopping on a plane and getting to a far away, exotic destination in a matter of hours but not quite as much as I love loading up the truck and spending hours gazing out the window watching the landscapes, and towns big and small pass by. There is also a huge appeal of seeing my own big and beautiful backyard. A road trip up to the Yukon to see our brother Devon has been in the works for years but all of our conflicting schedules made it very difficult to nail down dates, this year though we just blocked off time and made it happen. Dev had his truck on the island and needed to drive it home to Atlin so it only made sense for us to accompany him and we decide given the time of year, we might as well turn this journey into a bit of a ski trip.
Our initial plan was to start the trip by doing the Garabaldi Neve traverse but Mother Nature shut that idea down and instead we had a very socked in stormy day in the Callahan, the snow was nice though and it's always easier to settle into long days on the road after a good walk in the mountains. We spent a night in Pemberton at the charming Pem Ho, the bar downstairs played nothing but old blues tunes and the pool table was empty so it was a easy place to pass the night away. We hit the road the next morning via the the Duffy Lake road and we were so lucky to have nice weather (a) because that road would be fucking terrifying in the snow and (b) because it's so damn pretty and having visibility to see the monstrous mountains and huge valley bottoms was a pretty spectacular thing. I have never in my life driven a road that made me feel quite as small as this one did.
We made it to Prince George that night and checked into yet another charmer of a motel, and at my suggestion ate at one of the worst sushi restaurants in quite possibly the world. We all did a great job pretending we were enjoying our meals all the while Dev and Kimbra were getting their years supply of sodium intake in their noodle dishes and Erik and I were choking down our mushy sushi, apparently the server had a bloody nose too but Erik was kind enough not to mention it till after we finished eating. The night was still young and Prince George was our oyster so we did what most 30ish year olds would do, went bowling, obviously. This was the beginning of our tour de small town bowling alleys. Bowling, as it turns out is a great way to have at least one hours entertainment, drink some beers and it's also a fantastic place to witness the culture of whatever tiny northern town we happened to be in. We miraculously woke up the next morning with out food poisoning and hit the road, next stop was Smithers.
In Smithers we skied knee deep powder the first day then after it puked all day and night we skied waist deep powder the second. We did this glorious down hill snow sliding at this little place called The Hankin-Evelyn backcountry area, a mountain completely dedicated to ski-touring and split boarding, a place where they plow the road every day, have cut below tree line runs, designated up tracks, a warming hut and a plethora of alpine terrain. It sounds too good to be true I know, but it's not and we can't understand why this idea hasn't caught on and why there aren't more of these incredible adult playgrounds around. Smithers also happened to have a bowling ally, which we obviously hit up it was good but got demerits for not being licensed.
Terrace was next, we had heard incredible things about Shames mountain and the backcountry access off of it. Shames is a community run co-op and has a real un pretentious, down home feel that seems to becoming more of a rarity in ski hills these days. The conditions weren't awesome but we got a one up pass and toured around and got a sense of the area and were blown away at the terrain and the potential of awesome riding to be had. Shames, we will be back.
We continued north on highway 37 and beyond Smithers you really start to realize just how vast and wild BC really is, aside from a smattering of one horse towns, and gas stations there really isn't much and if you wanted to run away and be truly alone in the wilderness that would be the place to do it. I started to feel just how different the north is too, I realized that it would be a very difficult place to live and I became really curious about the type of people that this cold, wild, dark and remote place attracts: It was very easy to pass hours daydreaming out the window imagining the goings on and lives that these people lead. The beauty that is in the untouched and vast landscape that we drove through was incredible, nothing but trees and mountains and open road with very little traffic. After a long day of driving we posted up for the night in Dease Lake, as it turns out not much happens in Dease Lake and with no bowling ally to amuse us we made pasta in the hotel kitchen had a few beers and crashed. I woke up early and went for a little yonder around town in the balmy -15 temps just to see what Dease Lake is all about, I quickly realized that I don't think Dease Lake is a place I would like to live. We didn't waste any time that morning and were on the road early, our next stop was Whitehorse to get supplies and then on to Dev's place in Atlin.
The moment we drove into Atlin I was blown away by it's beauty and as soon as we stepped out of the truck I could feel that along with being spectacular the town has a really unique feel to it. Atlin is small, only 300 people live there currently but over the years because of the boom bust tendencies of resource towns the population has gone from 10,000 during the height of the gold rush to just 45 in it's slowest times. The history in Atlin is rich and you can feel it when you walk through its streets, there are remenats of the gold rush era everywhere, old cabins falling back into the earth, artifacts in peoples front yards, and the old buildings that still stand and function in the town. It really feels like not that much has changed from the late 1800's. This charming little town sits on the edge of Atlin Lake, and all around the lake huge mountains emerge right off it's shore and you find your self constantly staring at them day dreaming about the endless possibility of epic riding. Conditions were not in our favor while we were there unfortunately but there were many other activities to be done in this amazing little town.
Like most small towns there are the interesting people that they attract. I had a few amazing conversations with some locals one day while I was out walking. We were also lucky enough to spend an evening with Devon's good friends Wayne and Cindy Merry. Now in their mid 80's they shared with us stories of their incredible life ranging from living and working in national parks in the States from Denali to Yosemite where Wayne was part of the group of climbers that first summited El Cap. They told us about falling in love with the north and driving with their two young boys in the 70's to settle in Atlin where they could ski and climb till their hearts were content and where for the first while they lived off moose meat and potatoes while trying to make a living doing various jobs in the tiny town. They are the type of people that you feel so fortunate to have crossed paths with as they have lived such inspiring lives and have so much wisdom I can't help but hope that maybe if I'm lucky a little bit of that will rub off on me.
Spring was a cool time to be in the Yukon, when we rolled into Whitehorse and chatted to Devons friends most of them were like grouchy grizzly bears coming out of a winters hibernation and there were lots of grumbles about the long, hard, dark and cold winter that had just passed. But it was evident that spring was on it's way, with each day noticeably longer then the last it was getting dark close to 10pm by time we left, the sun felt warm and the snow was receding remarkably fast. Soon enough the midnight sun would be out and people recovering from nearly full days of darkness and temps of forty below with 24hrs of daylight.
Over the 17 days we were gone we drove over 2,500kms, saw a wolverine, a fox, a fisher and a porcupine, bowled in 3 bowling alleys in three different towns, somehow didn't get bed bugs from any of the questionable motels we stayed in, drove a bear cat, shot a 22, met trappers and climbing pioneers, ate the best beef dip on a hot dog bun at a truck stop, Toboggoned down the fastest luge track of my life thus far, saw the northern lights and met some incredible people from all walks of life each with their own unique story of how they came to live in the Yukon. It was such an amazing trip and so great after all these years of talking about it to finally make it happen, it also opened our eyes to all the amazing things to see and up there so there is no doubt in my mind that we won't be back there in the future.
For any other film nerds reading this I was shooting on Ektar 100, TriX 400 and Portra 400.
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