A few years ago I was living in Jasper Alberta, one of Canada’s many adventurous mountain towns. On our way out of town there was a sign that read “Scenic Route to Alaska”. The sign was daunting, and enticing… It was a sign for a road that if traveled, would guarantee wild stories, adventures that would thrill, and moments that would leave you breathless.
After I moved back home and started my photography business, I’d often think of those times just a year or so before, when I use to drive by that road sign. I’d catch myself daydreaming about the adventure I would find if I traveled that road. Finally decided that there’s no way that we can go on another trip, without exploring more of our own backyard first.
Canada is the second largest country in the world, with 9.984 million square kilometers. There are seriously less people living in all of Canada, than just the State of California. And people say that Alaska is the last frontier, those people have never explored Canada, and especially northern Canada.
The Alaska highway starts in Dawson Creek, British Columbia. The road is 2,700 km long, and ends in Delta Junction, just south of Fairbanks. Our plan wasn’t to spend much time in Alaska itself though. We intended to use the road just far enough to get to Whitehorse, and explore as much as we could in the Canadian territory, Yukon.
Myself, my girlfriend and business partner Hailey, and our long time friend Brooke Willson, had all agreed to embark on this epic road trip and run the best trails that we could find!
The Yukon boasts the highest mountains in all of Canada and the second tallest peak of the entire continent, Mt Logan. There are only 35,000 residence in the entire territory and there are only a handful of people exploring the epic trails near the territory’s only city, Whitehorse.
Trail running is fresh passion for me. I’ve never been much of a runner, in fact I was only ever interested in hiking as a means to explore new and wild places that I could only access on my own two feet. When I started trail running, I realized I could see more of the hills, and I could see them all a lot faster!
After surfing Google Earth and local trail and hiking guides with Hailey for a few weeks, we found some great trails to tackle! The drive up to Whitehorse took a few days, about 30 hours of driving from Calgary Alberta. We were all looking forward to stretching our legs and breathing some fresh alpine air! The closest alpine hike to Whitehorse is 12 km away from the city (how’s that for location).
Grey Mountain is a 5 km turn around but the entire trail is mostly running along a ridge to a gradual summit. We hit the summit pretty quickly and ventured further down the ridge as far as we could go. After awhile you start to descend the other side of the mountain so we decided to loop back and call it a day. Our first run was probably my favourite, the conditions were perfect but the views of the small city, the nearby glacial lakes, it was hard to beat. It was also easy going with minimal ascending and descending. Grey Mountain was perfect for warming up getting a feel for what was still to come in the Yukon.
After Grey Mountain we were feeling a little more confident, we wanted a challenge. We drove about an hour south to Carcross to hike Nares Mountain. The elevation gain as 1000m, so we knew we would be mostly hiking but we figured it was worth strapping on some boots instead of trail runners for this one. The ascending was actually pretty steep and relentless. It’s only 4 km to the summit so you can imagine how steep it was! This one was worth taking a little slower, the views were absolutely incredible the entire way. The summit lends spectacular views off Nares lake, Tagish Lake, and Bennett Lake. The small town of Carcross is sits right at the edge of where Nares and Bennett lakes meet. To the the south are unlimited and unobstructed views of mountain peaks leading into British Columbia. We didn’t break any speed records on this hike, but we were happy to spend a little more time on it.
Sheep Mountain was an ambitious trail-run-turned-hike… With an elevation gain of 1,163 m, we knew we were in for a good day! One of the unique things about the Yukon is its’ climate. Most places in the western hemisphere tend to have their most mild temperatures during July and August. In the Yukon, they actually tend to have their warmest days in May and June! This was definitely one of the hottest days we experienced.
The entire hike felt like it was directly in the sun. There were also a ton of grizzlies in the area, and we were just about the only people on the trail. We were very bear aware… yelling, making noise, looking out for signs of bear in the area. We ended up getting worn out a lot faster than usual. It’s one thing to be bear safe in places like Alberta, or Montana, but being safe in the Yukon takes a lot of energy!
Sheep mountain put us all in the mood for an easier going mountain to run up.
Mount White has an elevation gain of 700 m and it’s only a 6km round trip. The trail head is about 40 minutes east of Carcross, and just south of Jakes Corner. Mount White was collectively all of our favourites. It was the perfect balance of views, elevation, a few scrambly bits to keep things interesting, and just over a lot of fun! After getting to the summit of Mount White, you have the option of taking a steep scramble section back down to the trail head, or you can go back the way you came, which is what we did. The trail in was better for running.
Nares Mountain was scenic nearly the entire way up! The run itself was mostly a slog. We hiked the entire way up until we reached the top of the ridge. The trail is gradual enough that we were able to run almost the entire way down. Nares Mountain can be seen from the small town of Carcross which is about an hour south of Whitehorse. If you make the round trip quick enough, you can treat yourself to some pretty great coffee in town afterwards!
Trail running and hiking in the Yukon goes hand in hand with bear safety. The official government website almost guarantees that if you spend any amount of time on the trail, you’re going to have a bear encounter. I’ve had many bear encounters in the past so I was anticipating a few here. But we were fortunate enough not to run into any. We did see more than 40 bears from the road though, so you can be sure that they saw us on their trails, even if we didn’t see them!
The best way to stay safe is to respect the fact that you’re literally walking through the bears’ living room, and kitchen… So travel in groups, 4-5 is perfect. Make lots of noise, talk loud and get creative with your bear yells. Ours was “Marco…. Polo!”. Make sure every single person in your group is wearing bear spray, knows how to use it, and has it accessible in a moments notice. Bear spray is meant to be fired at the bear inside of 20 m, spraying from the ground which is the bears nose level, and then continuing to spray in a “Z” or an “O” pattern. Be scent free. It blows my mind how many ladies walk into the bear country right after shampooing and conditioning their hair, with their boyfriend following close behind, wearing giorgio armani. If it smells sweet, you’ve peaked the bears’ curiosity… Don’t brush your teeth, wear scent free deodorant and if you want to be outside with fresh hair, wait a few days for the scent to wear off or invest in some scent free hair products as well.
I’ve been fortunate enough to travel from Africa to Alaska this year, and a lot of places in between. The Yukon in undoubtedly one of the greatest places to get out, go for a run, and explore. There is nearly endless wilderness areas. With tons of opportunity to explore with novice wilderness experience, or legendary wilderness experience. I’m already planning my next trip back. Hopefully I’ll see you there.