August 10, 2016. Johnson Crossing, Alaska Highway mile 836, Yukon
It was cold and rainy, the hills had me drenched in sweat but at least I was warm.
Two hours later I pulled off to camp and managed to patch the sleeping mat.
After a very cold night I regretted not getting a warmer sleeping bag, I am heading north and to a higher altitude. Its likely that I’ll need to use my emergency bivy to keep warm. The road surface was mostly good and with few exceptions it never got too steep. I only saw two canoe outfitters vans zoom past me the whole day.
With gloomy skies and increasing wind, I pulled up to Quiet Lake campground and decided to call it a day. There were 6 germans there about to head out on a canoe trip down the Big Salmon river.
Later a cool expedition truck pulled up. Also with germans going on a canoe trip. They complained how there was no firewood at the campground and left.
As I was making dinner, 4 more germans show up. Guess what? They are going down on the river, in canoes!!! It was rush hour at Quiet lake! But it is really amazing how passionate they are about the outdoors. For most of them it isn’t their first time here. It wasn’t mine either. This is the 4th time I am up here, surely bound to return again and again under the spell of the north.
The cold morning had me clenching my fists to keep fingers warm and riding into cloud filled valleys for 10 seconds before returning to pick up the camera.
Nobody until noon when I ran into the cadets and the army, doing a 230km trip on the Canol by bikes.
“You are going the wrong way!”
Yelled out one of them, I regret not turning around and biking with them for a bit to chat.
The alpine tundra is definitely my favorite terrain. Vast views and tall mountains. Best enjoyed over some instant mash potatoes.
I was on a mission to get to Ross River, where I had sent a food drop and gotten in touch with a warmshowers host. With the tailwind the ride was a breze.
I got to share yard space with Zuza the dog and got to hang out with Shaun. He had recently built a cabin and between work at the post office, library, ground keeping and other odd jobs he finds time to work on his new lot and write short stories.
A rather frightening visit to the general store had me top off my supplies and Shaun packed few meals for me as well. The Dena people do not have a word for goodbye because it implies that you will never meet again. Instead they say nahghanstanzi – ‘till we meet again.’
Pretty worried about the state of the bike and if it would last the remaining 250km of road and ~400 of trail. The sleeping bag, what about bears? What about rivers? But one thing at a time, first – the 8 o’clock ferry to North Canol.
The road was as unremarkable as a dirt road in the Yukon can be. Although unusually flat at times and full of porcupines.
Closer to Dragon lake the hills picked up.
The bridge situation explains why there was no traffic. The guys helped me get my bike across, one of them lifting the entire thing up to the road.
And since it was blueberry season, dessert for today was taken care of.
Via giant hill-less valleys I was getting closer and closer to the big mountains. The surroundings all indicated that I was heading to the middle of nowhere and it brought that feeling that one can’t really describe.
Out of nowhere two Alaskans appeared. They were planning a trip up the canol trail with their cool rig. Apparently it swims and so does the trailer. They were happy to hear where I was headed and I promised some info when I am done. Unlike me – they haven’t even turned on their action cam even once 🙂
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Evening found me at another open cabin. Getting spoiled with warm nights, tables and chairs, and spectacular views.
Caribou looked on curiously as I stared them down from afar. You could feel their hesitation and fear of the unknown as they scattered away, looking back to see if I am giving a chase.
Further and further away from civilization and into the Mackenzie Mountains. There was nobody here. I scour the alpine tundra for bears, caribou and mountain goats. I breathe in the fresh mountain air and frown at the surrounding dark clouds.
Few more hours of tailwind and fast moving clouds took me to MacMillan Pass. End Yukon, begin Northwest Territories.
Its 400-something kilometers of trail from here to Norman Wells. No services, no bridges. No help, no cars, just what remains of the old pipeline road and the endless Mackenzie Mountains.
THE CANOL ROAD (YUKON)
- Start: Johnson’s Crossing (127km from Whitehorse)
- End: MacMillan Pass, border with Northwest Territories (or continue on the Canol Heritage Trail, first ~100km are in great condition and rideable)
- Distance: 452km (5248m of climbing)
- Time: 4-7 days (I did it in 4.5)
- Maps: good maps can be found at almost any visitor center or downloaded online as PDF
- Weather: “if you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes.” – that sums it up. Can be rainy/snowy/sunny. Nights are cold even in summer.
- Road conditions: Gravel/dirt. It can get muddy or rough in sections
- When to go: July and August (July is rainy, September and later can be cold and snowy)
- Camping: There are few campgrounds on the way km 77, 99, 164, 332(basic). Lots of other camping spots, pullouts, etc. There is a hotel and camping at Ross River
- Services: Lodge/Restaurant at km0 across the bridge. Ross River (km 226 has general store, post office, laundromat/showers (ask at the band office), library, lodge and free camping by the ferry.
- Ferry: after Ross River(km226) opens around 8-9am*
- Getting there: Fly, bus, drive, bike or hitchhike to Whitehorse, Yukon or Johnson’s crossing (mi 886, Alaska Highway)
- Getting back: Backtrack ~226km to Ross River and try to get a ride from Ross River to Whitehorse (should be easy, note: people drive the Campbell highway north to Carmacks and then south to Whitehorse). There is barely any traffic on North Canol so you will likely have to ride back to Ross RIver or continue on the Canol Heritage Trail to Norman Wells*(more info on that in the next post)
- Dirt road riding, possible with heavy loaded touring bike. Few short steep sections but generally the grade is very mellow.
- There is little traffic on the road, especially after Ross River.
- Aside from Km0 (Johnson’s Crossing) and km226 (Ross River town), there are two road maintenance camps at km99 and km419
- no phone service except near Ross River