Canada – The Yukon
Canada embraces seemingly endless wilderness, much of it flat country laced with lakes and ponds. The Yukon Territory, however, is a land of towering mountains and legendary gold discoveries. One of the most striking sights in all of North America is the massive ice field high in the remote northwest, laying across the great arc of coastal mountains that joins Alaska and Canada. Apart from Greenland, this is the greatest nonpolar ice field in the world.
Kluane National Park was established in 1972 to protect 8,500 square miles (22,000 km2) of this bleak, beautiful country. On the Alaskan side, these magnificent mountains and glaciers have been protected in the Wrangell-St Elias National Park and Preserve. Together, these parks make up the largest area of protected wilderness in the world.
This is a land of violent geological forces. Ash from a volcanic eruption 1,200 years ago lies 3 feet (1 m) thick atop Kluane’s Klutlan Glacier. Eskers and hoodoos (gravels ridges and rock columns sculpted by glaciers) are still being formed. High cirques and the faces of hanging valleys ring with the sounds of summer waterfalls. At the heart of Kluane stands Mount Logan, Canada’s highest peak at 19,341 feet (5,900 m). Climbers come from far and wide to tackle its slopes, and those of nearby peaks.
Over 2,000 glaciers spill from the ice field, 60 of which are ones that move dramatically (advances of 2 miles [3.2km] per year have been recorded). Such glaciers sometimes dam rivers, forming lakes. When the glacier weakens, the lake breaks through and carves a new river. About 200 years ago, the Lowell Glacier dammed the Alsek River, submerging the Haines Junction area. Raft remains have been found high on the mountain, which would have been the high-water mark. In 1850, the ice-dam broke, sending a wall of water roaring down the valley. The Southern Tutcheone Indians still tell stories of this devastating inundation.
The Alaska Highway runs along the north-eastern boundary of Kluane and, on a clear day, snow-capped peaks dominate the landscape to the west. To the east is Kluane Lake, which lies outside the boundary of the park. For visitors who would love to see the glaciers but are not up to the climb, bush pilots based ath Kluane Lake offer inspiring sightseeing trips.
Kluane’s verdant fringe is accessible from the highway and there are over 300 miles (500 km) of trails. In the lower elevations, forests of spruce, quaking aspen, and balsam predominate. The densest concentration of grizzlies in Canada id found here, as well as black bears, caribou, coyotes, moose, and wolves. In spring and summer, there are bright with the colors of moss campion, arctic poppies, fireweed, and lupine – just some of the 1,300 plant species that grow here. Higher yet, Dall sheep seek refuge from predators on precipitous slopes.
Over 105 species of bird have been recorded in Kluane. These include the golden eagle, the peregrine falcon, and many songbirds.