While living in the Yukon, I discovered a place called Tombstone Territorial Park. The park is located on the Dempster Highway and about a 1.5-hour drive from Dawson City, 7 hours from Whitehorse and 11.5 hours from Watson Lake where I was living.
The park protects 2,200 square kilometers of a unique wilderness of rugged peaks, permafrost landforms and abundant wildlife, all reflected in a rich First Nations culture. The Dempster Highway bisects the park and provides an opportunity to view stunning arctic tundra landscapes and access to hiking areas.
I knew that before I moved from the Yukon, I had go hiking in the park. My husband and I planned a trip up to Dawson City and an excursion on the Dempster Highway to the park (which he was not looking forward to).
There are many reviews of travellers driving the Dempster who get flat tires. The road is mostly made up of rock shale. This caused a little fear in us as we only had one week to do our sweep across the Yukon by road before we had to move. A flight was booked for our cats in Calgary and we couldn’t afford an extra 5 days waiting for a replacement tire in Whitehorse if we did get a flat. Life is at a much slower pace up north. It pretty much takes at least 5 business days to receive anything!
In addition to being close to the Arctic Circle on a highway made of shale and facing a timeline, we also knew that hiking in this rugged country was serious business. Not only are there mountains to climb, there are also black, brown and grizzly bears. It is extremely advisable to carry bear spray with you at all times when venturing out into the wilderness. We unfortunately, didn’t have any. I’m not sure why. I know we had planned to get some while we were in Whitehorse, passing through, but we never did. Having no bear spray made me more afraid of being in my surroundings because I was less prepared.
We spent a couple of days in Dawson City having fun and woke up with a hangover. What a way to start the day! And, while my husband was not overly pleased driving north on the Dempster, I on the other hand, was amazed. What an intensely beautiful place. I felt so small driving that little windy road through miles and miles of untouched wilderness. It is a sight to behold and a feeling to encounter in one’s life for sure.
When we finally reached the park it was time to find a campsite. The campsite was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever been on, and I have set up camp on many throughout North America. Nestled between wild prickly rose bushes and right beside the Klondike River, the site was perfect!
We wandered over to the interpretive centre to get a map of trails so that we could start planning the hikes we would do over the couple of days were there. Since it was later in the day, we decided to hike the Grizzly Creak to Monolith Lookout trail.
Distance to the Lookout: 3 km
Time: 1 ½ hours – 2 hours (one way)
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
Start point: Km 58.5 Dempster Highway
Description: This popular trail begins from the parking area at Km 58.5. After about 1.5 km there is a widened area by Cairns Creek. After this point the trail starts gaining substantial elevation. Upon reaching the lookout you are rewarded with spectacular and often breathtaking views of Mt. Monolith.
It was a beautiful trail that started in boreal forest and then petered out into tundra. We kept conversation to alert any large wildlife that we were coming and eventually took out the bear bell and rang it every so often. It was a silly little bear bell in the wilderness of the Yukon. How would it protect me? I laugh at the ridiculousness of it now.
My fear subsided in the forest part because you could see into the trees, but in the last part of the trail near the end where we had to turn around and hike back was in really thick shrub that was over our heads. I heard a “poof” and “huffing” sound in the thickets and my heart started pounding… It was pounding so hard that I could almost see it pounding through my chest. I knew those were bear sounds. Stupid us, we weren’t prepared at all. I felt defeated and disappointed. I felt like a little speck of dust in a mighty huge place. I had prepared physically for Tombstone, but not mentally or logistically.
I couldn’t sleep a wake that night. I woke up every hour on the hour not really knowing what time of night it was because the sun was beaming into our tent. We were in the land of the midnight sun where it dances circles around the sky during that time of year. I didn’t get any sleep at all, but I was happy to be spending the rest of my short time in Tombstone awake and listening to the sounds of the tundra and the Klondike River flowing right next to my tent.
We decided to pack up the next morning and drive to Haines Junction which is on the west side of Whitehorse. A long drive, but I needed to compromise with my husband. He wasn’t all into being up on the Dempster because of the flat tire stress, but he was into seeing the highest mountain peak in Canada.
To be continued…