We are now in Prince Rupert. We spent the entire day yesterday driving and just now had time to upload this post. I’ll share more of our thoughts of the Prince Rupert area in a later post. For now this will get you caught up to Wednesday at least!
We blasted in and then back out of Whitehorse on Thursday (8/18). We did not get to the Railway & Mining Museum. As we expected from the weather conditions when we woke up it was raining on and off with an unexpected cold biting wind as we arrived in Whitehorse. We made the decision to just get our errands done and then move onward. This left us with diesel, groceries, and laundry to get done. We divided up and Breann and I took laundry duty while Hilary and Hannah took grocery duty. By the time the grocery shopping was done there were only a few minutes left on the dryer cycle. We all folded the dry laundry and then headed back to the bus with the load of clean clothes and groceries.
After putting things away we ate lunch and discussed our next steps. As we were discussing the pros and cons of the Railway & Mining Museum it began to rain in earnest. Decision made! The rain made the decision easy for us since the museum is principally based around a two mile interpretive train ride. The train cars were open sided. It did not sound like something fun to do given the conditions. Easy – we’ll just continue on our way.
After filling up with diesel, we continued south east on the Alaska Highway. We ended the day next to another lake on a paved turnout.
Friday found us arriving at the intersection of the Cassiar Highway and the Alaska Highway. This was our determined ending point of our travels on the Alaska Highway and the beginning of our journey on the Cassiar Highway. Within just the first few miles I was already liking the Cassiar Highway much more than the Alaska Highway. The Cassiar is a substantially narrower and slower road. Along with the narrower road the mowed edges are significantly closer to the edge of the road. Additionally, the road has no shoulders at all. In short, the road feels much more rustic rather than the more modern and contemporary feel to most of the Alaska Highway. Yes, I was loving it.
Just about every time we stop driving, be it for a break or for the day, I take the time to do a quick walk around checking the tires, hubs, and brakes for excessive temperature. Well, when we stopped for lunch I noticed we were leaking diesel from the primary fuel pump on the engine. Over the course of the next couple of days I determined it only leaks while running and is not leaking excessively. Hopefully it will continue to stick to a slow leak until we get into an area of greater population where I can find a Cummins shop to pick-up a new fuel pump from. Considering the engine has almost 700,000 miles on it I’m not surprised the fuel pump is at the point of needing to be replaced – just hold together a little while longer!
Okay, so finishing lunch we continued south (monitoring the fuel leak as we went) and headed west from the Cassiar on a short side jaunt. This time we were heading out to the abandoned and decommissioned asbestos mine in the former town of Cassiar. The mine was decommissioned in 1992. According to the MilePost (2015 Edition) the mine produced much of the world’s high grade asbestos before being shutdown. Given the mine was only 8 miles up the road it sounded like an interesting side trip to take.
The area proved to be everything we had hoped and then some! Arriving at the old mine site we met an older man who informed us we were welcome to park almost anywhere we wanted. Alongside the old airport runway was suggested as one good place for us to park the night. Over the course of the next twenty minutes or so we learned he was the famous “Scappy Larry” from the Canadian Discovery Channel show called “Jade City”. He runs the local scrap yard business as sole proprietor with some sort of a starring role on the “Jade City” show, which we were told was finishing filming of its third season. The show is focused around the lucrative and high quality Jade mining occurring in the mountains around the area of the old asbestos mine. He even informed us we could buy a “Scrappy Larry” t-shirt at the Jade City Jade store (we didn’t!) At any rate, we had a great conversation with Larry Noel and appreciated his tips on what we could and couldn’t do in the area. Following our conversation with Mr. Noel we parked along the old runway and settled in for dinner.
As we were driving in to the area we noticed a number of “roads” (better to call them trails) cut into several of the mountain sides. We considered this an open invitation to go see where the roads went and “what was around the next corner”. So we did! Let me tell you, those were some awesome trails cut into the sides of the mountains. Much of the time I needed to run the Jeep in 4×4 Low Range in order to travel slow enough to be safe. Low range was also required to give us enough power to climb and descend the very steep grades! We drove around for about two hours covering no more than 5 miles. Yes! – this was what I had in mind to be able to do when we decided to tow the Jeep instead of our car.
In line with our stated mission of seeing bears in Haines we continued to keep our eye out for bears in the back woods. As expected, we did not see any bears, but saw plenty of fresh scat! We know they are out there, just not visible to us!
We also explored some of the ruins of the old airport buildings and associated support structures. Most of the buildings have been reduced down to rotting structures as they are slowly overwhelmed by the encroaching Alders and Willows. It was fun to walk along and through the old structures trying to figure out what they were for. Good times!
Having failed to explore all of the accessible off road trails and enjoying the solitude of this very quiet place we decided to stay another day. Saturday became a play and catch up day. We took the time to have pancakes – always a treat – caught up on cooking needs, and did yet more exploring.
I also spent time investigating the fuel pump for any obviously loose fasteners that might be indicted for being the cause of the fuel leak. Failing to find an obvious source of the leak externally on the pump I moved on to adjusting the clutch. I had to replace the clutch brake in Fairbanks after the new one put on back in May failed. Without the clutch brake the transmission will frequently refuse to go into gear since the input shaft to the transmission tends to not slow down enough to allow for the gears to be engaged when the transmission oil is hot. The new clutch brake installed in Fairbanks solved the problem. However, I did need to adjust things a bit more to get it setup optimally for the way my linkage works.
Views from the 4×4 trails in the area:
Sunday (8/21) we woke to a cloudy and gray morning and decided we would continue on our way south. We had determined to drive out the spur road called Telegraph Road. Telegraph Road ends at the former town site of Glenora after passing through Telegraph. The road travels along the Stikine River and passes through the area of the grand canyon of the Stikine. Calling it a grand canyon is no stretch of the imagination.
Leaving the bus in the City of Dease on the Cassiar Highway we drove the jeep out the 70+ miles of Telegraph Road. Telegraph Road is a dirt road with wildly varying road surface conditions. While tractor trailers do travel the road to bring fuel and other supplies out to the town of Telegraph, we thought bringing the Jeep for our drive and leaving the bus behind made for a much more enjoyable side trip.
This side trip was definitely worth the effort and time. The Stikine Canyon is incredible. The little town of Telegraph is a first nations Community with a section of the original town site preserved alongside the more modern town. The town of Telegraph was originally founded to function as the bridge point between the navigable portion of the Stikine River and other mining locations further inland. The history of this area dates back to the early 1860s and gold strikes inland along various rivers and streams in the area. A few of the original buildings are preserved along the river with tourism related businesses associated with several of them. We went into one small “hotel”/”restaurant” just to get a feel for the ambiance of the town.
This sign was erected alongside the road about halfway there.
This side trip took about 7 ½ hours in total to cover the 150 mile round trip distance. This included multiple stops along the way there and back and time spent at the end of the road enjoying the Stikine at the end of the road. We also explored a native people’s fish camp also situated at the end of the road. All in all it was a great day. The day had even cleared to mostly sunny for most of the afternoon and evening – no rain!
Monday (8/22) we hit the road again, this time with the destination of Hyder, AK in mind. We had heard from several people we met along our travels, including Scappy Larry, that Hyder was a great place to see brown and black bears fishing for salmon. In fact, the local geography and salmon spawning grounds interact in such a way as to cause a high degree of concentration of bears within just a few thousand feet. This concentrated spawning and bear fishing grounds is so well known and visited that the National Park Service built an observation boardwalk to get people up and out of the way of the bears walking along the stream banks. We took the endorsement of many people and the information from the guide books all proclaiming this a great place to visit as further encouragement to make it a destination. With our lack of Grizzly bear sightings starkly in mind we decided Hyder shouldn’t be bypassed, after all it was only about 45 miles off the Cassiar Highway.
Highway 37A is the designation for the spur highway running east and west between Hyder, AK and the Cassiar Highway. Somewhat in the middle of this 40+ mile highway is the well known Bear glacier. Bear glacier is just across from the highway on the other side of the lake created from the melting glacier. We decided to make one of the pull offs a few miles before the glacier our staging point for our visit to the area. We found this great little gravel pull off hidden back in the trees right at the foot of the mountains. Immediately behind us the mountains rise up another 1000+ feet with numerous glaciers hanging down the north facing slopes. Right out our back window we have a view of a hanging glacier and its associated melt-water water fall. The highway is very sparsely traveled during the day and almost abandoned at night. Peace, solitude, and God’s magnificent creation all around, what more could we ask for?!
We enjoyed a little offroading as well:
View from our back window in the evening:
Tuesday we drove into Hyder passing from British Columbia back into Alaska at the same time. (Hyder is the southernmost road accessible town in Alaska.) Hyder appeared to have been a bustling community at one time, but that time has come and gone! There is not much to the town of Hyder anymore. There is much evidence of tourism related businesses which have come and gone over the years with only a couple left remaining to fulfill the needs of what appears to be a very small flow of tourists into and out of the area.
Hyder’s sister city just on the BC side of the border is Stewart. Stewart appears to have more going for it including an airport with a small runway, support services for the mining (gold and silver primarily) and forestry services, deep water port services, RCMP offices, a small medical center, and of course the expected tourism related businesses. Still, Stewart is not a very large town either and we found no good coffee available after 2pm. (Oh the horrors of it all! He-He)
We headed out to the bear viewing area right away arriving mid-morning. We quickly learned bear sightings were very few and far between for the past few weeks. The rangers did not have any good explanations for why so few bears were around this year. We hung out for a while hoping the black bear that had been sighted around 8:05 would show himself again. After about an hour we gave up and decided to drive up to Salmon Glacier.
Male Pink Salmon – called Humpies for the distinctive back hump the males get when ready to spawn:
Salmon Glacier is billed as the world’s largest glacier accessible by road. It is truly tremendous! We had lunch at an overlook where one could almost see the very ice fields serving as the beginning of the glacier. Even with the cold wind coming off the glacier the ambient temperature was warm enough for us to be comfortable in light jackets while sitting and enjoying the view over our picnic lunch. Incredible!
After our visit to the glacier we again stopped in at the bear viewing station. We arrived in the early afternoon and hung out for another hour. Deciding the warm afternoon temperatures were serving as a deterrent to bear activity and thus could explain the lack of bears we drove back across the border into BC and explored Stewart. There wasn’t much to explore.
After supper we headed back out to the bear viewing overlook hoping to catch some evening bears feeding on the plentiful Pink and Chum Salmon. This time we hung out for two hours well into the twilight after sunset. NO BEARS! So, based upon what the rangers told us there had been three bear sightings throughout the day, just not when we were there. The bear sightings were also very short and all the bears were black bears. Oh well, it was not to be.
Driving back to the bus was an interesting experience. By the time we started driving back to the bus it was around 9:45PM and truly dark. Driving in the dark felt strange. Thinking back over the past few months I realized I haven’t driven in the dark since the end of April. In fact, since making our way up into Canada back in mid-May we haven’t really seen much darkness at all, let alone need to drive in it.
We also saw stars! With the lack of true darkness during the summer hours in the north we haven’t seen stars in months. How awesome to see the big dipper, Venus, and many other stars twinkling in the darkness! Yes, we may have not seen any grizzly bears yesterday, but it was still a great day. Sure beats working!
Speaking of working, it is time for me to start thinking about that again. Someone has to pay the bills! If you know of anyone I should reach out to regarding an IT job please pass it on! Once we get into better cell phone coverage further south in British Columbia I’ll begin the process of tracking down my next opportunity.
Wednesday was predicted to be sunny and warm, with temperatures approaching the upper 80s. We haven’t seen those kinds of temperatures since, well, since we don’t remember when (maybe Anchorage?). We decided to stay put and enjoy summer.
Near to us, about 1 ½ miles down the road, is a very small glacier in the cleft of a north facing crevasse. The toe of the glacier can’t be more than a few hundred feet above the road way. Looked like a perfect hiking destination! This was our first order of business for the day. Hilary, Hannah, and I set out to reach the toe of the glacier around mid-morning. We hiked up a dry wash, skirted along the glacier run- off pouring down another part of the wash, and bush wacked our way through the alder and willow thickets when our path was blocked by water. As we neared the toe of the glacier we found our way blocked by a sheer cliff and the raging torrent of water coming down. Bummer! So close, but so far.
We setup the screened in gazebo (no bugs!) and enjoyed our lunch in the pleasant summer conditions. It felt good after so many weeks of clouds, rain, and cool temperatures. Taking opportunity of a few hours to sit down I set to work on this blog post. My family is now hoping I have not used up all my words for the day writing this blog leaving none left to use with them! (I only have so many words a day and I’ve used up a lot of them in this post!)
When school ended back in early June we decided we would continue to have the girls do some school over the course of the summer break. We have traditionally had them do some math and English each summer to help keep them from losing all their hard gained knowledge. This summer we decided to just do math on our travel days. As we have since traveled all over Alaska and now continue down through Canada they have continued to work through math lessons as we travel. We now find ourselves approaching the end of August and with that we need to get more organized and figure out when the next school year officially starts. As I write this it is the 24th of August with just one week left until September. We are still about two plus weeks away from arriving back in the lower 48. Do we keep to the existing schedule until we arrive back in the lower 48 or just start school at the beginning of September? Decisions, decisions, decisions!
Writing up these blog posts generally takes a couple of hours. Between writing down the happenings, collating, editing, and organizing the photos, and finally uploading the pictures and placing them into the post it is easy to spend two to four hours completing all these tasks. Now, add in slow networks and the time increases yet again. Taking the time these past months to keep the blog updated had given me a new found respect for some of the bloggers I regularly follow who keep their blogs updated with new content on a regular basis. It truly is a labor. I’ve enjoyed having time to devote to this modest work.
While I find writing down the details a great memory aid and way to further ingrain the memories I also have high hopes you have enjoyed following along with us. With that all said (written!), let me know if there are things you’ve noticed I could improve upon to make this an even better blog. Since I’m not a natural writer I assume there are literary techniques, etc. I could employ that would make this blog better for all involved.
Also – thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read. I recognize there are many other blogs, media, and of course life events competing for your time. Thanks for following along with us!
- Thursday, 8/18: 193 (31 miles east of Teslin, British Columbia)
- Friday, 8/19: 203 (Cassiar, British Columbia)
- Sunday, 8/21: 81 (Dease, British Columbia)
- Monday, 8/22: 227 (Bear Glacier area, Stewart, British Columbia)