HAINES HER WAY
The original plan for Thursday was the 12 mile round trip hike to a viewpoint of the Samuel Glacier in Tatshenshini - Alsek Provincial Park. That plan was in jeopardy from the very beginning. First, we tried to recover from the previous day’s climb of Mount Decoeli by sleeping in. We eventually woke up groggy and sore. I made a huge breakfast, which we enjoyed under an overcast sky. What happened to our sunshine? I thought it was always sunny in The Yukon.
We broke camp and left after the official check out time. We made a brief visit to see Kathleen Lake, but the clouds compromised the scenery. It was windy and cold, too. We were content to jump in the car and head south. We passed more nice lakes, and before long we saw a sign for Million Dollar Falls. I’d never heard of it, but obviously we had to check it out.
There is a picnic area and campground here. We parked the car and followed a short trail to stairs leading down to a view of the falls. It is a nice waterfall deep in a canyon, but at a million dollars, I’d say it is a bit overpriced. Below the main waterfall the river continues to cascade deeper into the canyon. That looked interesting, but getting down in there would be a major undertaking due to imposing cliffs.
We passed another couple on the way back to the car. They told us that they had passed a grizzly on their way into the campground. Oh boy! We drove a couple of laps around the campground hoping to see him, but had no luck. We returned to the highway, and a few minutes later passed a black bear on the side of the road. I quickly stopped and turned around, but by the time we got back to the spot he was gone. I do wonder if the black bear we saw was the “grizzly” that the other couple had seen. Some people don’t know the difference. It is possible, given how close they were.
Eventually the road climbed back above treeline. The drive is probably very scenic, but it wasn’t long before it started to rain. We reached the trailhead for the Samuel Glacier around noon and pulled into the parking lot. The weather was nasty, and the clouds were hiding the mountains around us. The prospect of a 12 mile hike in a cold rain wasn’t very inspiring, and if conditions didn’t improve, we wouldn’t actually be able to see the glacier anyway. We decided to skip it. We ate lunch in the car before resuming the drive.
We drove through more alpine country to the U.S. border. After a brief stop at customs, we headed down the Chilkat Valley towards Haines. This valley is home to thousands of eagles during nesting season. We continued into Haines, and then headed out to Chilkat State Park. We set up camp in the campground, which is in a lovely rain forest. It was definitely one of the prettier campgrounds we stayed at.
Ironically, the weather was better here than it had been earlier in the Yukon. It was mostly cloudy, but there was no rain. I decided to do a short hike out towards Seduction Point while Christy took a nap. It was a nice hike in the rain forest along the Chilkat Inlet. After a mile in the woods I arrived on the shore at Moose Meadows Beach. If you’re thinking that Moose Meadows Beach sounds like a pleasant place to camp, you would be correct. There are campsites back in the trees, but immediately adjacent to a beach with fantastic views across Chilkat Inlet to the Rainbow Glacier and the massive waterfall below it. That waterfall is the beginning of Ludasesca Creek, which runs only a short distance (most of it vertical) before entering the Chilkat Inlet. Farther along the trail was another view across the channel to the Davidson Glacier.
From Moose Meadows Beach I headed deep into the forest. At one point I saw fresh moose tracks in the mud. I sat on a log for 15 minutes hoping for a moose sighting, but it didn’t happen. A few minutes later I did see a porcupine, which was cool.
After 3 miles I reached Kalhagu Cove. I took a break there before heading back. From there it is possible to extend the hike to Seduction Point. However, that is a rugged off-trail hike. I headed back, content with my 3-hour (6 mile) afternoon stroll. That evening we drove back to Haines. Along the way we were treated to a spectacular sunset over the Chilkat Inlet. We drove through town and headed out to Chilkoot Lake. We made dinner at the picnic area and watched the local fishermen there. Then we headed back to the campground for our final night in a tent.
Our final full day in Alaska was going to be a crazy one. We had reservations for the ferry to Skagway at 12:30. We had to make that, as there is only one per day. Once in Skagway we would have a 90 minute layover before leaving for Juneau. That sounds like a long time, but our plan was complicated. I had to return the rental car. That meant that I would have to drive off the ferry, return the car, and then walk back to the terminal. Meanwhile, Christy would deal with our luggage. Assuming we made it onto that ferry, we would spend our final night in Juneau at a hotel before flying home early the next morning.
Despite having major time constraints, I decided to squeeze in one last hike. I got up at 5am (first light) while Christy slept. I drove a few miles to the Mount Riley Trailhead on Mud Bay Road. I started my hike up Mount Riley at 5:30 under overcast skies. The hike was a 1,500’ climb over nearly 3 miles. It was almost entirely in deep forest. At the summit I found a series of rock outcrops that were just above the tree tops. They afforded great views of the Chilkat and Chilkoot Inlets and the town of Haines at the base of Mount Ripinsky. The higher peaks across the Chilkat Inlet were lost in the clouds, but it was still a grand view. It was definitely a suitable way to end the trip.
I returned to the car in record time and drove back to the campground. Christy was already breaking camp. I made breakfast and we packed for the trip home. Before we left we ran into a pair of rangers. We gave them our bear spray and leftover stove fuel and headed to the ferry terminal. After a long wait we drove onto the ferry. The ride up the fjord to Skagway was extremely scenic, as the morning clouds had given way to sunshine. I was a bit bemused that one of the nicest days of our trip was spent on a ferry instead of hiking! Still, the views of the surrounding peaks, waterfalls, and glaciers were fantastic.
We drove off the ferry in Skagway. I dropped Christy and our luggage off in a parking lot near the terminal and returned the car. I jogged back to the terminal and we re-boarded for the trip back to Juneau with 20 minutes to spare. That ride was even more scenic, as it was a gorgeous afternoon. We were treated to one final spectacular sunset before we arrived in Juneau.
We had dinner on the ferry that evening and then caught a taxi from the ferry terminal to our hotel. We went straight to bed, as our flight home was at 6am. The next morning we took the hotel shuttle over to the airport. I was quite pleased that it was raining that morning. Our flight to Seattle was smooth, and after a layover and breakfast there we had one last flight home.
We definitely plan to go back to Alaska. We’re eager to return to Glacier Bay for another sea kayaking trip, as we covered only a small portion of the park. Sitka is another place I’d live to revisit, and we may give Juneau another try since we had bad luck with the weather there. There are quite a few places in Alaska that we haven’t been to yet, too. Maybe we’ll get back there in a few years.
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