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Old 08-12-2010, 10:55 AM   #1
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Summer BC/Yukon/NTW/Alaska trip, summary

This summer we left for Canada and Alaska in our annual summer adventure. Due to work, my wife wasnt able to make the whole trip but she flew in to meet us in Alaska. My navigators were my girls, 8 and 9 years old. This is the third summer of traveling and we are all comfortable with the van and longer road trips.

Summary:
8831 miles
45 days, 34 with rain at some point during the day or night.
1591 pictures
Fewer mosquito bites than expected
More big animals up close than expected. Bears, caribou, moose, wolf, lynx, bison, musk ox and more.
2 flat tires and 5 rock chips in the windshield (courtesy of the Dempster Highway)
5 single vehicle accidents viewed. All seemed to have gone over a soft shoulder.
4 gallons of windshield wiper fluid used.
Coldest evening was 38 degrees outside. Hottest day was 88 degree.
Fantastic clouds, scenery, and amazing landscapes.

We stayed in hotels 2 nights, campsites 14 nights, and on our own (remotely)29 nights. We tried to mix up the remote camping, which was prettier and quieter, with the pay campsites where we could take a shower and do laundry.
The campsites where we stayed longer were Homer Spit Campground,Seward City Campground (Waterfront Park) and Teklanika River Campground in Denali. We would recommend them all and we enjoyed our time at each one.

I did use my 4x4 but you could easily do much of my trip without it. On a more frequent basis, I appreciated my lift (4), the shorter turning radius and the softer Quadvan ride on the very long Dempster Highway. As it would start to be time for camping, all of us would look for a little, unused trail large enough for the van but slightly overrun with weeds to indicate that someone didnt live at the end.
Occasionally, these little trails would peter out and Id need to back my way out but usually we found a nice secluded camp spot.

Fuel and Electric
I have the basic diesel tank(26G) and get 400 miles pretty comfortably, dropping to 300 or so if I spend the day in 4wd low or putzing at slow speeds. Fuel was plentiful and I never was concerned with my fuel status. Likewise, I never plugged in the whole trip, mostly because we drove almost every day. When we stopped at Seward, Homer Spit and Denali, I could go 3 days before the battery would get to 12.2v, requiring a recharge. Using a dry site without services, we got better campsites, immediately on the water.

Weather:
It was generally cold at night and even cool during the day. Most days had rain at some point. I only wore shorts (my normal summer attire) 3 days on the trip. Oddly, our warmest day and night was at Inuvik, the furthest north destination on the trip.
We used our sleeping bags almost every night, supplemented occasionally with the diesel heater.

Least useful items brought:
Two lanterns. Given day without darkness as we got north, we never used our interior lights, much less our lanterns. What was I thinking? It was a belts and suspender strategy at a nudist colony.
11x13 Coleman screen tent, given that we didnt have bugs , we didnt use the tent.
Backpacking supplies including backpacks and tent which we brought for Denali. We found out that we could have rented it outside the park which would have opened quite a bit of room inside the van.
Garmin GPS - I have the 2009 US map updates and the Alaska coverage for included POIs was very poor. Sams Clubs werent listed. Major roads were included but only about half of the stores, gas stations, etc. Canadian coverage was even poorer with the Dempster Highway not even included.
Delorme Alaska Topo Atlas book. This large format book wasnt detailed enough to be helpful at the trail level and wasnt really needed at the state level. In fact, Alaska has few enough major roads outside the cities that we used the AAA Alaska Canada foldout map which worked fine for high level discussions.
Sprint Phone - Sprint coverage is nonexistent outside Anchorage and Fairbanks. I ended up using skype as my communication method of choice.

Most useful items brought:
The Sportsmobile. Given our weather, the van was the perfect vehicle. It didn't matter if it rained or not, we stayed dry. While every choice has some compromises, I couldn't think of a better choise for our style of travel.
SPOT - so my wife could track me every day and had some comfort that we were safe.
Ipod/computer for playing the books on tape and making the highway miles go quicker. Without radio coverage for most of the trip, I became very familiar with the girls song playlist. I can hum along with High School Musical (1, 2 and 3) pretty well at this point.
The new tire jack, recommended on the forum, bought for this trip. It made changing the flats (2) relatively straightforward. I would strongly recommend the optional equipment; a minion to slap the mosquitoes off your back while you are changing the tire. I brought two and found them invaluable.
Milepost Guidebook - Given that the GPS didnt have great POI coverage, we used the Milepost guide quite a bit to understand what services were available where.
Rubber boots. Alaska is wet and boggy. It seemed like most of our hikes included sinking into water up to your ankles at some point. In hindsight, I would have brought rubber boots up to my knees.

With hindsight, what I wish I had brought:
My lovely wife for the whole trip. Being a single parent is a tough job and not for me.
A letter documenting that my wife gave me permission to cross into Canada with the kids but without her. Canadian Customs sent us to secondary interview at Sumas, Stewart and Skagway because I didn't have the letter. In two cases, they called my wife to make sure I wasn't kidnapping the kids. I have no problems with the idea, I just should have brought the letter.
Our Thule cartop carrier. Its large and while its somewhat awkward to get into, it would have allowed us to store some items that were only planned to be used once or twice on the trip. I explored buying a SMB trailer for the trip and ultimately Im happy I went without. It would have just added more complexity getting in and out of some of the more secluded camping spots we used.
More lenses, and perhaps another camera, one for each person. At times, it was difficult to capture the beauty of the place and I'd like to think the problem was with the equipment rather than the photographers

For us, the journey was broken into four portions of which Ill post here as I pull it together.

Seattle through British Columbia to Watson Lake including Hyder
Yukon, NWT and the Dempster Highway
Kenai peninsula, Alaska
Inland Alaska, including Denali, Fairbanks, North Pole and up the Taylor to Coldfoot

Stay tuned for those updates although here are a few overview pictures.

Loads of wildflowers



Caribou, moose and bears, oh my...



And another contender for the Big Sky country, so much different than Seattle.




It was a dirty ride and I got a preview of the van with a two tone paint job.


Here is the sky view of the trip minus the Hyder side trip. Somehow I lost the tracks; I strongly suspect user error



-Mark
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Old 08-12-2010, 12:42 PM   #2
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Re: Summer BC/Yukon/NTW/Alaska trip, summary

Out-frickin-standing!

I really do appreciate the Least Useful and Most Useful lists. Great pics of the wildlife too.


Herb
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Old 08-12-2010, 12:44 PM   #3
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Re: Summer BC/Yukon/NTW/Alaska trip, summary

Awesome man. I hope to do this in the next 2 years.

thanks for sharing.

out of curiosity what did you use skype with?

steve
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Old 08-12-2010, 01:32 PM   #4
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Re: Summer BC/Yukon/NTW/Alaska trip, summary

very cool buddy
LMAOROF about the minions

bw
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Old 08-12-2010, 03:18 PM   #5
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Re: Summer BC/Yukon/NTW/Alaska trip, summary

For not having enough cameras, I'am already waiting the next pictures. Excellent...
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Old 08-12-2010, 03:49 PM   #6
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Re: Summer BC/Yukon/NTW/Alaska trip, summary

Thanks for the writeup and pics. Looking forward to the next installment(s).
R
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Old 08-12-2010, 06:16 PM   #7
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Re: Summer BC/Yukon/NTW/Alaska trip, summary

This section will cover
Seattle through British Columbia to Watson Lake including Hyder

Ill preface this part of the trip report with the comment that 2 of the 3 members of the expedition are under 10 years old so much of this will be oriented to what is fun for kids.

Id recommend the Klondike National Park Museum in Seattle http://www.nps.gov/klse/index.htm as a warm up to the trip if you have a chance. It is interesting and set the context and flavor for all the historical gold themes that played out all along the trip. We also brought gold pans that we used rarely but Im glad we had them.

We left on June 21, after our school let out but before Canadian schools let out. This would play in our favor keeping the crowds down for the first part of the trip. Of course, the crowds may also have been influenced by the rain and cold weather It made for dramatic clouds but didn't encourage dawdling outside.

We crossed the border at Sumas, East of the Blaine Crossing. We headed up to the Yukon using the West Access route (Seattle, up Highway 1) until Prince George where we went West on 16, up the Cassiar Highway, with the sidetrip to Stewart-Hyder.

The lower half of BC is well populated with a lot of services but limited opportunities for remote camping. We stopped in Lytton because they have free public gold panning but the river was too high and the bars were covered. While their nickname is the Hot Spot of Canada due to their hot weather during the summer, it was in the 40s and raining for our visit. This is also where you start to read about the Caribou Gold Rush.

We stayed at Clinton Pines Campground which Id recommend. While snug sites, the showers were good and there was wifi and free firewood.

Given that this is tourist country, every town had a catch to capture tourists. With kids, we stopped at every gimic including
The World Chainsaw Sculpture Capital


The World Largest Fly Fishing Rod

The World Largest Gold Pan


At Quesnel, we decided to go to the Historical Recreation town of Barkerville. While an authentic gold rush town in its time, it is now populated with actors playing their part of shopkeeper, gold miner, showgirl, etc. Since the schools hadnt let out for summer break in Canada and it was unpleasantly cold, we had the run of the place to ourselves and a handful of hardy elderly tourists from Europe.
The historical characters would literally chase us around the town to practice their pitch and give their presentation. They have a full size Cornish Water Wheel which was used to pump out their mines and they have a great presentation to explain how it works.
All of us enjoyed it and Id recommend it although I suspect it would be a different experience in the true rush of the summer crowds. I'll also note that Barkerville was tied for first place in our ice cream eating contest, giving a cone of ice cream that was almost as big as their heads.


At night, we camped up a old mining/forest road that was quite steep and slippery but leveled off to a nice camping spot after a while. Warm (using the diesel heater) and dry, I gave thanks that we were in the Sportsmobile, not a tent.


The mosquitoes started to be a problem and they decided to wait until we came outside to eat us. Every evening, as we set up the top, we would hunt mosquitoes until we deemed the van safe. One evening we just kept getting the bugs until we decided they were coming through the vents. From that point onward, our camp checklist had Turn Vent to Off.


If you take the Cassiar Highway, Prince George is the last major town until you get to Whitehorse, the Capital of the Yukon Territories. If I hadnt been so impatient, Id should have stocked up on supplies.
This is where we started to see black bears, a total of 9 before we got up to Watson Lake. None were threatening or concerned with us, they were either crossing or grazing along the side of the road.

We started to get into some nice camp spots where we had an entire lake to ourselves. This may have been the best part about northern BC and the Yukon was the general lack of people.

The Hyder/Stewart cutoff is a must in my view.
It is a beautiful drive with long lacy waterfalls when it is raining (as it was for us) and glaciers peeking out from the fjord like mountains.
Gas/diesel is available in Stewart and there is both a grocery and bakery. Going through to Hyder Alaska and back into BC gives access to both the bear viewing and the Salmon Glacier. The viewpoint for the Salmon Glacier is well worth the drive and while there was an attempted mutiny on the way out, we were all happy and excited once we were out there.

Note that we were too early for the salmon run and the associated bear viewing. It sounds like they usually show in early July- September. We decided to try again on our way back in August.

We stayed in Camp Run-A-Muck simply because I didnt see any remote camping opportunities. It was fine as we were one of a handful of campers for a 60 space RV park. We ate breakfast at the SeaAlaska Inn which has a rough fishing/construction decor and all the walls are covered in stapled and signed dollar bills. While we decided not to strip the walls of currency, we made a note of the location in the event that our gold panning plans didnt pan out. We spent a little time just walking around the town and exploring the road out to Salmon Glacier.







Back out and North up the Cassiar, the services become less frequent and much smaller. They are frequently a Caf/GiftShop/Gas/Motel/Market all in one building run by a couple of people. At one, it was a single guy and we had just placed our order for breakfast when a caravan of RVs (Fantasy RV Tours) came in and overwhelmed the place. We would end up seeing these and others throughout the trip.

How little marketing can you get away with? This guy knows.

The next usual stop is Watson Lake Signpost forest. It is a little bit of a backtrack if you have come up the Cassiar but worth it to peruse their 60K+ signs.



We are now on the AlCan proper and the traffic jumped noticeably.
We stopped at the Dawson Peaks Resort and had some great pie ala mode while skyping back to my wife. In general wifi was available many places but the bandwidth was thin. If you use Skype video, it was choppy although voice was ok.

Between Watson Lake and Whitehorse is Teslin. There is a Nitsutlin Trading Post with fuel, a restaurant and a small museum of stuffed wildlife.
The area is largely Native American and the George Johnston Museum was an unexpected surprise and worthwhile stop. He lived from 1884-1972 and the museum did a great job of showing rural life for Native Americans in the early 1900s.

With that, Ill stop and pick up the Yukon Territories for another thread.
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Old 08-12-2010, 07:21 PM   #8
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Re: Summer BC/Yukon/NTW/Alaska trip, summary

Quote:
Originally Posted by cellularSTEVE
Awesome man. I hope to do this in the next 2 years.

thanks for sharing.

out of curiosity what did you use skype with?

steve
I ran skype on my Dell Inspiron laptop. In fact, my kids are also my IT assistants.

As I'd pull up to get fuel, they would boot the laptop and start looking for an available wifi connection. They would connect, sync email and start skype while I filled the tank. If their mom or others were around, it was a quick call to say we were safe as I was cleaning the windows. It was like a tire change at Indianapolis 500:-)

At campgrounds, we'd use video skype to catch up with family but again the Canadian connections were generally slow; I think they were DSL. In Alaska they were generally quicker.
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Old 08-13-2010, 12:29 PM   #9
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Re: Summer BC/Yukon/NTW/Alaska trip, summary

Don't know if I can read this thread without weeping. This is the trip we were supposed to take this summer but couldn't take enough time off. Gaddang work. I have to retire!!!

Sigh....
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Old 08-13-2010, 07:24 PM   #10
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Re: Summer BC/Yukon/NTW/Alaska trip, summary

Great Shots Thank you for sharing them the Wife and I did it last year same roads same places same bears. Looks like you did a great job as a single parent. Im sure it was a hassle with customs but that's great that they care about the kids.

Ron
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