Imagine it: 25 million acres of wilderness with glaciers & grizzlies, & few people in sight. Standing there, with silty green river water rushing around you, braiding off in different directions, your boots wet & muddy, your soul nourished. Since we live on the road, migration is essential. It’s too hot in Arizona. It’s also too hot in Portland, Oregon, believe it or not, to be living in an SUV! So, we head north. We’ve traveled north a few times, north to Alaska. On our way, we made our first encounter with the Yukon Territory. Many people pass through the Yukon on their way to Alaska. However, it is the Yukon, it turns out, that we were looking for. For it is here where one finds things he can’t find anywhere else.
“Be humble, for you are made of dung; Be noble, for you are made of Stars.”
Yukon is home to the wild, with an estimated 6,000 grizzlies, an animal we deem the symbol of wilderness (Watch this great speech about Yellowstone Grizzly symbolism & stories). It is 120 million acres with 34,000 people (24,000 of which reside in the capital border city of Whitehorse). Meanwhile, wilderness is dwindling around the world. Places like California still fight to bring back the grizzly on it’s flag and recent conservation efforts are underway to bring back the grizzly to the prime habitat of Northern Cascades. Grizzlies are far and few between in the United States (While people worry of being killed by a grizzly bear, more often are we killing grizzlies). However, here in Kluane region in the Yukon, there exists one of the highest grizzly densities in the world! We have hiked here and encountered 7 bears in one day, 5 of which were grizzlies. That’s a lot of bears in one day! The question you might be asking is, “Did you sleep that night?” Well, believe it or not – we did! In the land of the midnight sun, with grizzlies all around, we’d hiked so many tiring miles that when we finally laid down our packs and set up the tent, our bodies needed rest. When we opened our eyes in the morning and looked at one another, we couldn’t remember falling asleep. But we were ready for more.
Kluane National Park in the Yukon is also part of a greater complex that is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The adjacent regions in Alaska and British Columbia including the Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park (British Columbia), Wrangell-St Elias (Alaska), & Glacier Bay (Alaska) encompass over 40 million acres of wilderness. In addition to the wildlife, this region houses the largest non-polar ice field in the world!
In addition to the impressive glaciers, the region houses some very high mountain peaks! It is home to the highest mountain in Canada, Mt. Logan, which is the second tallest in North America, second only to Denali. It’s a highly tectonically active region, with earthquakes occurring often.
Other special wildlife in the region include wolves, wolverines, caribou, Dall’s sheep, salmon, and many more. We had the pleasure of watching some sheep glide across a high mountaintop. It’s a nail biting experience. I think the sheep would mock our best rock climbers. They are incredible creatures!
Humans have a long history in this region, too. Although modern living wasn’t present in the area until a military push in the 40s to build the Alaska Highway, ancient people have been in the area for much longer. Archeological evidence has been found in the Yukon for some of the oldest humans to set foot in North America, over 10,000 years ago, possibly double that! Imagine these early humans crossing at Beringia into an entirely new region, facing new terrain and new wildlife. Research from as recent as 2017 suggested ancient human presence from over 24,000 years ago! While in the region, we’ve learned about several of the southern Yukon’s Tutchone peoples, one of which are the Kluane First Nation. If this all rings a bell, yes, we named our dog Kluane! Such a beautiful name encompassing everything about this amazing place.
With all of this natural history, cultural and human history, geological marvels, and biological diversity, this land of extremes is one of the greatest places to nourish your soul. You can get out there, connect with earth’s land and animals by walking with the grizzlies, connect to the cosmos by experiencing the midnight sun in the summer and the auroras in the winter. You get to experience the quiet, have time and space to ponder your intricate place in this web of life. You are humbled.
“Be humble, for you are made of dung. Be noble, for you are made of Stars.”