Week 58: Kenai, Wrangell and the Top of the World Highway

Dawson City anyone?
Camera: SM-A715F Aperture: 1.8 Focal Length: 5.23 Shutter Speed: 650 ISO: 32
Dawson City anyone?

Week 58: Kenai, Wrangell and the Top of the World Highway

Anchorage – Mountain Biking

With another stop at a garage to get our bearings repacked, we are up early today and make the most of another gloriously sunny day here in Alaska. We ride our bikes through the city, partly along the Campbell Creek trail on our way to Kincaid Park. This park on the ‘cape’ of Anchorage is an outdoors heaven, with ski trails in winter and hike/bike trails in summer. The two do not intertwine, so the network of paths is very dense, and as the area is hilly gets some great up and downhill action going. We ride in on the ‘Sandbox’ trail towards the ‘Bolling Alley’ trail which is 5.8km long taking twists and turns and up and down. The boys do fantastic but we make the mistake of taking a side trip on the ‘Toilet Bowl’… a really annoying little loop down and up that throws especially Bo off his game… or down the toilet.

All is quickly forgotten as we get back on the Bolling Alley and continue to race the tracks and get better and better at it. To exit the park a few hours later, we take the ‘Tower Power’ trail which is a 2.3km ride that keeps up the curves but is mostly downhill, a great finish for this singletrack adventure. Sven then takes off to meet up with our friends David and Amy to experience the more challenging MTB parks on the mountainous side of Anchorage while the rest rides back and relaxes in a mall with a well deserved ice cream. With the RV being ready for the road again and having said our farewells to David and Amy, we conclude a very satisfying day out in the city of Anchorage.

Kenai – Exit glacier & Seward

Next we go and explore the peninsula of Kenai, which has several highlights to discover. This time we have taken the weather forecast into account and start off with a hike at the Exit Glacier. It is truly amazing to see the difference of the size of the glacier as you drive the road towards it and pass the signs with different years. The hike is a really nice one, with spectacular views at the glacier and a round along the riverbed. Especially the rocks with the scratch marks of the ice are really impressive, and sad to know this glacier like so many will just get shorter and shorter in the years to come.

After lunch we drive into Seward with the intention to explore the coastline and fjords a bit more, but the weather is so bad we take plan B; Spend some time in the local library and take a free shower at the public showers in the waterfront park of town. The boys score their Kenai Fjords NP badge and get to play some computer games in the library while we get some internet stuff sorted and take turns showering by ourselves… a real treat! As we drive back land inward we find a lovely spot at a trailhead in the woods close to the road for a quite sleep.

Kenai – Russian River & Soldotna

We head in to a Western direction today, first going to the Russian River Recreation Area, which has a trail along the Russian River that ends in the Kenai River. The attraction here is that the salmon run of this year is in full swing, the annual stream of salmon making its way upstream to do what they were made to do; spawn and die. At the waterfalls close to the Russian Lake (a popular spawning spot) the salmon jumping show is an incredible sight, with hundreds of big fat Sockeye Salmons trying to make it up. Some already blood red filled with eggs ready to spawn, others still a silver grey (apparently the 2nd run catching up with the first) getting close to their spawning ground.

The other reason for hiking to this spot of course is that bears also know that there are hundreds of salmon just catching their breath in the shallow waters ready to be picked up and eaten. As we approach the viewing point we run into other people telling us we just missed two mother grizzlies and their babies… DARN! As always, wildlife can not be directed, so we take our loss and mostly enjoy the salmon show keeping our fingers crossed for some bear action. As we want to leave and take the anglers trail along the stream, we run into fishermen making their way back as there is an ‘angry grizzly mom with cubs’ on the trail so we take the detour back – although we did consider for a split second to go see the bear hahaha.

In the afternoon we drive to Soldotna to check out its Tsalteshni trails right outside of the town center. As we had so much fun on the trails in Anchorage, the boys take another stab at singletrack mountain biking with Bo now really getting comfortable getting up out of the saddle and basically making all the little climbs on the trail. The park is concise but with plenty of trails to discover, so after 2 hours there still were trails to be done. We are heading back towards Anchorage however, as we also want to see the bore tide wave roll in, a phenomenon supposedly spectacular as the wave can even be surfed, but today it is no more than 1 foot high which leaves us very underwhelmed… you win some, you loose some!

Wrangell & St Elias NP

Following the Glenn Highway (Alaska 1) land inwards, we have another National Park on the agenda: Wrangell – St Elias. This park is connected across the border with the Canadian Kluane NP, and is basically a giant wilderness park, bigger than Switzerland in surface and centered around the mountain ranges of Wrangell and St Elias. The Alaskan summer shows its ugly face again with a dark and grey sky, taking away the view of the snow-capped mountains which is a shame driving out. As we get to the Visitor Center there is a dry spell that gives us the opportunity to do a small loop hike to stretch our legs. With this weather the decision is quickly made to continue the drive, and hope for better weather on the other side of the mountains.

As we roll into Nabesna road for 25-mile of gravel it does not look like it is getting any better, but you never know… It will be good practice for the road ahead, so we continue on to the free campground of the National Park – Kendesnii. Having promised time to fish in the adjoining lake, Bo braves the rain with dad in tow, to catch a fat grayling or rainbow trout. Unfortunately they come back empty handed so dinner will be a simple spinach, potatoes and sausage – Dutch style :-). In the camping spot next to us we run into a Dutch couple (fixing their bikes, of course) so we share experiences and tips/tricks.

Top of the World Highway to Dawson City

Time to say goodbye to Alaska and drive up north for the Taylor/Top of the World highway, a former trail over the ridges of the Yukon hills that has now become a road towards Dawson city with a border along it. The road closes from October to May, and with that the opportunity to cross the border, and thus is not the best road to take we were informed. We decide to take it anyway as we hate back tracking and we can not miss Dawson City with its gold rush history.

The verdict is quite a mixed bag; the first 65 miles to Chicken from Tok (the Dutch should really laugh at these two names, we did! :-p) are paved but in a bad state with frost heaves and mean dips, then there is 30 miles of gravel which is actually quite nicely packed, and then the last 13 miles to the border we hit what looks like brand new tarmac! Nice! Into Canada is another 66 miles of gravel but really nicely graded so we actually manage to cover this part of the journey much faster than anticipated. We stay the night on Top of the World – or so it feels – before driving the final stretch to Dawson City the next day.

Dawson City – Gold Rush Capital

And that stretch was very smooth, so we are there within the hour which means we are right on time to find a good camp spot at the territory campsite along the Yukon River. To get to Dawson city you need to take the -free- ferry to cross the river, which runs 24/7 so we decide to stay across the river and explore the area from there. First we spend a few hours relaxing at the campsite, the boys playing in the mud of the river and us cleaning up the RV a bit, especially on the outside with all the dust and dirt it has accumulated on the past roads.

After lunch we grab our bikes – oh how we love our bikes! – and ride off the campground towards the ferry, which has just arrived so we can ride straight on it. Across the river we park our bikes at the visitor center to get some information on the town and plan the rest of the afternoon. Dawson City is the place all the Klondike gold rush stampeders made their long journey to to find that promised land filled with gold. Before that, Dawson city was a small first nation settlement, and the first nation inhabitants quickly packed up their stuff and settled 3 miles downstream when the hordes started to roll in on their embankments. The whole town still has many of the old buildings, some beautifully restored, some left to remind us of times past.

There is plenty to do as many buildings are under the care of National Parks Canada, and the Explorer booklets of the boys have a great scavenger hunt, including geocaches hidden around town which manages to entertain us all for several hours. Once done, the boys get spoiled with a new tag, stickers, tattoos and a souvenir ‘loonie’ (one Canadian dollar) of Dawson City. Then it is on to a local restaurant to celebrate our 12,5 year anniversary (2 weeks overdue) and the birthday of Max and Wolfje… don’t ask :-). We have some delicious locally caught fish & chips (arctic char) and cocktails to make it extra festive – mocktails for the boys.

As a final must-do, we head out to the Downtown hotel for some proper saloon action, and a very special treat; the Sourtoe Cocktail. It is a shot of hard liquor of your choice with a human toe in it… YES you read it right – a HUMAN TOE. The original toe was a toe that was frostbitten and chopped of, nowadays the toe is a donation from somebody who’s toe had to be amputated but the fact remains that it is a HUMAN TOE. There is one rule to get admitted to the club; drink it fast, drink it slow, but your lips must touch the toe. Sven chickens out, and so mom has to take the honors and give the boys a good time by kissing the toe… Only in the Yukon… After this we ride our bikes back to the ferry which again is just about to leave, lucky us, and round up a great day in Dawson City.

The next day it is time to do some serious gold panning (Sven) and visit all the gold searching sights around the town. Sven has biked ahead to the claim that is open to visitors to dig into the paydirt and start panning, while the rest of us drive the Bonanza Creek road and visit the different historical sites there. There is a huge dredge (no.4) still in the creek which is open to the public and gives great information on the gold searching then and now. It is such an impressive machine and brings the Gold Rush episodes we have seen really to life!

There is also a small park at the Discovery Site where the Klondike gold rush began, with all types of machines and historical artifacts which makes for a fun stroll. We also have to find some geocaches as we go along which we almost fully succeed at, finding the last one when we are reunited with Sven at the panning site. To top it off, as we are having lunch Sven actually finds a slither of gold in the last pan of dirt he cleans out! Sweet! We get the Dredge no.4 tag at the visitor center and then start what will be a 2200+km drive back south… Bye Yukon and Alaska!!

Next week: The long Alaskan Highway to Canada’s NPs

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