Backward Turning around

Having to retrace your path isn't always a bad thing, as you get to see the scenery from the opposite perspective. In order to catch the Alaska Marine Ferry in Skagway, we had to repeat several hundred miles of the AlCan. This time around many of the mountains looked as if they’d been inverted and dipped in powdered sugar.

The weather seemed to take a turn the night our Arizona friends flew home. We had at least a little snow nearly every day until we reached the coast. People here take snow in stride, even in the middle of August. They tilt their heads ever so slightly if you ask, “Can you believe it’s snowing?”

The Chugach Mountains with a light dusting
Kluane Mountains, Yukon, with a heavy dusting

On our way back to the AlCan we paused at the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve which is hard to describe without using superlatives: It’s the largest wilderness and national park in the U.S., containing 9 of our 16 highest peaks. It’s bigger than 6 Yellowstone National Parks. It has 4 mountain ranges with 300 mountains. Of its 3k glaciers, one is the size of Rhode Island, and another is 75 miles long. The stats don’t stop.

On a clear day anywhere near this place, the mountains of the park dominate the landscape.

Wrangell Mountains from the Glenn Highway

As with its contiguous Canadian neighbor Kluane National Park, you can’t just drive or hike in to see Wrangell-St Elias, you must fly or join an expedition. Driving the two gravel roads on the west side - which is what we did - still doesn’t get you very close to the really big stuff.

Park map showing the Nabesna and Mccarthy roads
Scenes from the McCarthy Road, originally built in the 1890’s as a railroad for the Kennicott Copper mine. Top: Mt. Wrangell overlooking the Chitina airstrip. (A relatively flat and wide “shield” volcano, Wrangell is active and occasionally lets off visible steam.) Middle left: trestle bridge 238 feet over the Kuskulana River - an interesting ride. Middle right and below: Liberty Falls where we camped.
Scenes from the Nabesna Road. When we asked a ranger how the park was named, she responded that Wrangell was a Russian explorer and St. Elias was a saint. Well there you have it.

Back on the AlCan, we camped again at Kluane Lake, this time on the shore below mountains holding snow. The temps dropped and brought more overnight.

Kluane Lake & mountains
Our spot on the shore

Please excuse the number of Kluane Lake shots - it was just so beautiful with snow!

South end of Kluane Lake

In the Yukon town of Whitehorse we turned toward Skagway on the South Klondike Highway. From there the road follows the rivers and lakes and the railroad about a hundred very scenic miles down to the coast.

Bove Island & the aptly named Windy Arm of Tagish Lake where we camped

Skagway is a lovely little port at the north end of the Inside Passage, with 832 permanent residents. The other 9k people there were visitors from 4 cruise ships, which stop here each day from April to October. The place seems able to maintain its character and sense of Gold Rush history.

Skagway scenes. Top: Don’t know what her story is, but she fortuitously walked her costumed self right into my frame. Bottom right: The Tazlina, our ride for the first leg south

We’re now headed south on the Inside Passage.

Created By
alison blakeslee

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