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The Alaskan Wilderness Odyssey - The Kluane Kluster - An Adventure for the Ages







Part 3 - For this entry, you are going to get two different perspectives on the same incident/story. There were several momentous adventures on our Alaskan trip, but this is one that none of us will ever forget. The first perspective here is written from my wife, Jen. The second perspective was written by my son, Caleb. You'll want to read all the way through. Caleb did a great job with capturing his side of this.

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- June 29th, 30th

In the last couple of days, we partially hiked a trail at King's Peak. The weather was cool and drizzly. We met a gal who was a backpacking guide from Quebec at the trailhead who recommended that with the current conditions, we shouldn't try to summit the mountain. She had tried to summit it the previous day, and it was too steep and slippery to make it achievable. We decided against that trail and figured we would just do short hikes and return later for dinner, since we had a nice enclosed pavilion for dinner that overlooked Kathleen Lake.

We did a hike that took us up to a glacier with all sorts of glacial till under it. Dave and I went half way up while the kids went to the top. We also met a wonderful couple from Switzerland who had a jeep-like rig that had everything possible for the outback. It was impressive! In meeting the couple, the said that they had their vehicle shipped to the US for their trip!

We headed down further to a waterfall called Million Dollar View. It was super powerful in a stunning gorge. By that time, we headed back to the pavilion and made a fire in a cast iron pot bellied stove that was there. There were stacks of wood provided there to use.

The first day at Kluane, we stopped in at the visitor center to get info on the area - very helpful! But, in talking with the rangers about potential hikes, we found it difficult to determine if we were on the same page in figuring out the level of difficulties of the surrounding trails. It all depends on your experience as a hiker as to what you think is difficult and what is easy. One of the rangers showed us a neighboring trail that went up and over the mountain that shadowed the ranger station we were in. There was a trail that traversed the back side of the mountain, gradually moving upward, while there was a more challenging side, where you could scale the front side of the mountain that was near Kluane Lake. This would require a more drastic ascent and the ability to scramble.





What we decided to do was Dave and I would hike up the backside trail after dropping the kids off on the front side to ascend the same mountain. Eventually, we would both meet up about half way through, but coming at the same mountain from different angles. We had brought 2-way radios to use, but we had left them back at Cottonwood Lodge, so we didn't have a way to communicate while on the trail. We made sure that everyone had their own canister of bear spray, as well as air horns. We assumed that we would be covering a huge expanse and would need the air horns to signal the other group when we saw them (or use them to scare grizzlies). And speaking of grizzlies, the trail we were going to do was just reopening for hiking, because they had been having "bear problems" on that trail. It had been closed for a while, and they had just deemed it safe again.

We dropped the kids off, drove back around the ranger station, and parked our truck at the base of the backside trail of Sheep Mountain. With bear spray and air horns in hand, we took off on our uphill climb. We took our time with lots of breaks along the way. At the 2K point, we sat on an overlook eating turkey jerky and overlooking the expanse of the mountains, river valley, and the toe of a glacier.

We got to our proposed meeting point, and since we had taken extra time getting there, we were thinking the kids might already be there - but they weren't. We sat on an area that jutted out over the river valley, but the trail the kids were supposed to be coming on towered over top of us. We waited and scanned the horizon for about 30 minutes, but they never came.

Dave decided to head further up the trail and mountain ridge, but this was precarious. It was a steep ascent that went through thick brush that ranged from about 6-8' tall. It was close quarters with very limited visibility, and it was a perfect place for grizzlies to spend their days. I waited down on the overlook, continuing to scan the ridge. I was hoping they would be able to spot me and head over the mountain ridge to the trail I was on.

It took Dave over an hour to go up and back. He had gone up as far as he physically could hike, but he ran into a rock scramble that he couldn't continue to ascend. The trail he also hiked up was littered with grizzly scrapes along the way. Grizzly will dig up areas looking for food. These scrapes often are about the size of a grizzly bear itself. Dave had passed by about 30 separate scrapes on the way up the ridge before he got above the brush and the tree line! I heard him playing his harmonica along the way and figured it was to make noise for the bear, but I had no idea what he was actually walking through! There was also fresh scat littered along the way. He said that he could see about ten feet in front of him most of the way through the brush...scary!

By this point, we were wondering if they had found an alternative spot to get off the ridge and down the mountain. After another half hour of waiting, we decided to scratch a note in the dirt by the trail marker post and head down to try to meet up with them elsewhere.




I was uneasy about leaving, so I prayed we'd get a glimpse of them if they were up there. I kept scanning the ridge for one last glance. We had hiked down the trail about a half hour- headed back to the ranger station to get help - when all of a sudden, we looked up and saw three small figures bobbing along the ridge-top, and as I looked closer, I could see Karli's white hair shining in the sun!

We were ecstatic! I went running to go back to the rock jutting out as Dave blew his air horn. But, at that point, they didn't respond with their own blast, so they hadn't heard it even though it was echoing through the valley we were in.

Dave headed back toward the ridge and blew the air horn again. This time they heard it, because this time they responded with a blast from their own air horn. Tara later told us that was her favorite moment - hearing our air horn sound.

In the meantime, Dave hiked back up the ridge on the same trail he had been on before with all the bear activity. Again, I could hear him playing his harmonica as he ascended through the brush. He was determined to meet them at the rock scramble where he had been forced to stop. When he got up there, he had to point and direct the kids about where the trail met the overhead ridge. They had started at one point to head into an area they thought would get them to Dave, but the reality is they were headed to a drop off but couldn't see it. Eventually, the kids found where the trail connected and started to descend. But, they had to go slowly and pick their way down the trail. Later on, Karli told us that Dave's harmonica playing (he was just learning) never sounded so good.

It took awhile, but the kids did connect with Dave above the tree line, and they all hiked through the bear infestation together. There was so much sound being made with those four, that they had no worries of bears bothering them:)

It was a happy sight seeing them round the corner and meet up with me. We gave them a quick snack and water and headed down the trail and to the parking lot below. I walked with Caleb in the lead and heard the adventures though his lens as Dave walked with the girls hearing their version of the adventure. I thanked God several times that we were all safe together!

We swiftly scaled down that mountain and headed back to our truck, which we found had a dead battery when we got there. Dave had to charge it up.

After that, we headed a few miles back down the road to Cottonwood Lodge. Every evening that had good weather, they had a lovely older couple who played Christian, country, and polka music for all the campers to dance to. This was done on the back of the store deck. For us, there would be no dancing tonight. We were worn out from the day. We showered and got things organized to leave the next morning. We had a campfire and roasted s'mores as the waves gently lapped on shore with the sun rays bouncing off the tops of the nearby mountains with a pink hue (Remember the sun doesn't actually go down here in the summer).

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And for a different perspective, here's what Caleb wrote reflecting on this same day and adventure.

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Kluane put on show! 





      Basecamp was posted up on the shores of Kluane Lake located on the outskirts of the provincial park shadowed by the surrounding peaks in the Saint Elias mountain range. A much needed down day after the 31 hour haul from Banff provided some reprieve from driving in the confined space of the truck. After a day of lounging around and gathering information on the surrounding area, we were prepared and ready for another full day on trail. 

     My parents dropped me and the girls off on one side of the mountain for a more strenuous start before driving to their take off point further down the road to hike in the neighboring valley. Our hike was nothing like we had ever done before. The trail took no time in asserting itself as a challenge. The mountain didn’t give anything up easy as we attempted to summit its highest and northernmost peak. In the first mile and a half we had scaled roughly 2,200 feet. The mountain threw everything at us from skree washouts to boulder ridges. The summit provided an outstanding view of the whole valley. The field of vision stretched far up Kluane Lake past where we had camped all the way up the river delta to its source at the toe of the glacier. It was at the summit the realization of what we had set out to conquer set in. Standing between us and the rendezvous point where we were to meet our parents stood three peaks along a ridge the trail followed. 

     Looking into the faces of my sisters after a 3.5 hour summit, I knew climbing the remaining three peaks were not an option. The decision was made to side-hill our way along the ridge to keep our elevation and avoid the up and down terrain the ridge featured. 

     Not too far into the start of our trek across the ridge, we came around the edge of a rock washout to discover a herd of mountain goats that stood between us and the path of least resistance. With no intent to change our course, we pushed on - hoping the goats would alter their route. As we approached the herd, it was clear they had no intention of leaving the patch of grass they were grazing on. The goats then began to stare us down as their babies fell behind them. Thirty yards away - we figured we had ventured close enough. Bear spray at the ready, we dropped in elevation to work our way along the hill and avoid the herd. After skirting around the herd we found a rhythm, making fantastic time as we continued our side-hill strategy surpassing the second peak. 

     One thing we discovered on our expedition was no matter how hard you attempt to avoid mountains obstacles, the mountain will always have the last laugh. We were halted as we began to skirt around the third and final peak. There stood a gnarly insurpassable washout. It appeared as if the mountain had melted away into the steep valley below exposing its bones of sharp bedrock splines. In referencing our topographic map for an alternate route, the realization quickly dawned on us that the only way to continue was to climb the third peak. Step after step we pushed ourselves to the limit. The girls fought tears as they had clearly met their match. Burying our heads into the mountain side, we grinded our way to the top. Six hours in, mere exhaustion consumed our bodies. Scanning over the landscape that strewn out from the peak on which we stood, we looked wishing the end would be in sight. 

     Far down the ridge we spotted the overlook standing above the shrubs that peppered the hillside in the distance. As we began the final descent, our parents blew their air horn to signal us. After another response rang through the valley, we knew we were on the home stretch. My dad’s poor harmonica playing never sounded so good as we made the final approach. They were elated to see us after dropping us off six and half hours prior on the opposite side of the mountain. 

     The final three miles seemed like a walk through the park with stories of our expedition ringing through the river valley as we shared every detail of our expedition with our parents. After being on the mountain for seven and a half hours, we finally made it back to the two-trek where the truck was parked. 

     The hike was an experience of a lifetime and a memory with my sisters I will never forget. We came, and we conquered Sheep Mountain aside Destruction Bay. Time to see what Alaska has to throw at us as we enter The Last Frontier.

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"What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are." - C. S. Lewis

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