Alaska Highway + Haines Road, Yukon + BC + Alaska – Also grizzlies love salmon

The whole night wind shakes the camper cabin, rain splashes on the roof, and in the morning the thermometer reveals 6°C. The view from the window doesn’t improve things. The green mountains from yesterday are covered with a thick blanket of snow. Kluane Lake, with sunshine of intense colour, appears only pale blue-green today. Mount Logan, part of the St. Elias Mountains and with 5.959 m the highest peak in Canada cannot be seen from the road. The only way would be to book a flight. The first bushes turn yellow, and autumn will reign soon.

We are leaving Alaska Hwy at Haines Junction to follow Haines Road. Via Haines and Skagway we want to go to Whitehorse and back to Alaska Hwy. This stretch is said to be the “super route” in northern Canada, but we can’t see too much scenery due to continuous rain. Haines Road follows the route of the old Dalton Trail that was used during the gold rush as alternative to Dawson City. Already in 1890 Frank Dalton had established a first part, and later on a trading post. High tolls for using his trail brought him more money than most gold claims. With completion of the railway line from Skagway to Whitehorse the Dalton Trail lost in 1900 its importance, but then the gold rush was already gone.

When entering British Columbia we are crossing a 75 km long treeless plateau that offers glorious vies to mountains and uncounted glaciers. 1065 m high Chilkat Pass descends steeply and continuously down to the sea. Somewhere in the middle is the frontier crossing-point that is announced well in advance to allow even heavy trucks to stop. The Americans are asking us for fruits and vegetables, but all we have is from Anchorage. They believe me and let us pass. As we are heading off three officers are stopping us. They have curiously watched us for a while. One of the Federal Agents seems to have jumped directly from a TV series: bulletproof vest, boots polished till they shine, perfect haircut, cool sunglasses. We have a lot of fun with the three of them, since they just stopped us for private reasons, and as we have answered all their curious questions we may leave.

In Haines we are first booking a ferry to Skagway. Since we’ve got a couple of hours, we are following Mud Bay Road along the fjord. Views to the glacier went murky due to clouds, but we are luckier at Chilkoot Lake State Recreation Site. The outlet of the lake into the river is known for the possibility to watch fishing grizzly bears – or Alaska brown bears, as they are called here –during salmon migration. Altogether we will see seven grizzlies today: two mothers, one with a twin couple, and one with three cubs. They stay on different sides of the river and don’t appear at the same time not to get in their way. The cubs are all from this year, this means still not big and fairly clumsy. They roll and tumble around and drop the salmons often that their mothers fish patiently. But woe betide her if she doesn’t bring the next fish fast enough. Then they whine, cry, and growl like any hungry baby in the world. Of course, there are anglers at the river as well. It’s getting funny as a group of three bears is leaving their fishing grounds and strolling along the shore into the anglers’ direction. Panicking, half of them escapes into the middle of the river, the other half spurts ashore. Who wants to pick an argument with an adult grizzly mother? To allow bear and men to get out of their way there is a marked zone on the street where one of the bear families usually crosses from forest to river and the other way round. This area may be passed only by car, not on foot. Most men respect this –not the bear mother. When we want to leave she’s jumping in a completely different spot in front of our truck, and the cubs right behind her. So we have to stop again, taking the camera and more pictures.

The river is famous as well for its bald eagles that find plenty of food here. But they come in thousands, when bears and men are gone – between October and March. But some early birds have already arrived. We have to leave, frozen stiff, to not miss the ferry. It will take us in an hour through the fjord to Skagway, Alaska.

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