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Todayville Travel: Part 3 of Gerry’s Yukon Road Trip

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Last in a 3-part series on a Yukon road trip – Mt. Logan – Kluane National Park

by Gerry Feehan

“You’re not going to believe this. Sian called again. It’s just cleared up at base camp and the radar report looks good. It’s a go if you’re still willing.”

I’ve been a geography nut since I was a kid. My noggin is full of useless facts. In pre-metric days I memorized details of the world’s highest and lowest: Mount Everest 29,028 feet, Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench 35,814 feet. As a proud Canadian I knew that our highest peak, Mt. Logan in Yukon’s Kluane National Park, topped out at 19,850 feet above sea level. To my chagrin, North America’s highest reach, 20,320-foot-high Mt McKinley, was located across the border in Alaska. As usual, America had outdone us, even at something as Canadian as rock, snow and ice.

I’ve always wanted to see Mt. Logan. We were nearing the end of our six-week-long Yukon road-trip. The highway would take us through Kluane National Park, so I made inquiries. A Whitehorse friend told me it was possible to organize a flight from Kluane Lake into Logan base camp. The camp is on a glacier in the heart of the St. Elias Mountains, a vast roadless, uninhabitable wilderness.

Sian Williams and her partner Lance Goodwin operate Icefield Discovery near Haines Junction, Yukon on beautiful Kluane Lake. I called early in June to book a day-trip. Sian (pronounced “Shan” – a Welsh name chosen by her bush-pilot father Andy) told me that due to spring’s late arrival they’d been unable to access the camp located on Kaskawulsh Glacier beneath Mt. Logan. She added that the long-term forecast was poor. I was crest-fallen. We were booked to leave the North by ferry on June 21, the summer solstice.

We arrived in Kluane National Park with only a two-day window of opportunity. I checked in with Lance. He wasn’t optimistic. Sian had flown into the camp a week earlier and been stuck there, socked in by a brutal snowstorm. Kluane’s mountainous terrain means that all access is by air. And this region is too dangerous and unforgiving to rely solely on instruments so visual flight rules are always in force. No see, no fly.

We sat put, waiting for the mountain weather gods to calm. Our first night, camped on the shore of frigid Kluane Lake, we enjoyed a repast of fresh Arctic Grayling (supplied courtesy of my fly rod). Meters away a grizzly bear, terrifying claws in close-up view, combed the beach in search of its own fishy catch. The next day we spent cautiously hiking an alpine ridge, bear aware. Fortunately we shared the pristine view with only mountain sheep, moose and caribou.

As we set off she pointed to a gaping cobalt scar part way up the snowfield, “Watch out for the crevasse.” We set course accordingly.

 

A grizzly set of claws

The morning arrived when we needed to make a move for the coast. The solstice was nigh. I phoned Lance and he said, “I spoke to Sian on the satellite phone. It’s still a whiteout up there. Sorry.” We reluctantly packed camp and were on our way south when Lance rang back, “You’re not going to believe this. Sian called again. It’s just cleared up at base camp and the radar report looks good. It’s a go if you’re still willing.”

We high-tailed it for the Kluane airstrip where we met Donjek, the pilot. He was born here, named after the Donjek River that flows into Kluane (naturally his father was also a bush pilot). As we took off, the plane’s shrinking shadow followed us across the emerald beauty of Kluane Lake. Soon the lake gave way to a snaking, silt-laden river. We gained elevation and the dirty toe of Kaskawulsh glacier appeared. Then all was ice; white curving fingers spilling from mountain valleys. Dark lines of ground rock defined the course of each icy highway. Then all became snow, the line between earth and sky indiscernible.

 

The airplane shadows Kluane’s emerald waters

Kaskawulsh Glacier

We flew over the camp. Sian waved from below, a tiny solitary figure surrounded by white glacial enormity. Mt Logan, draped in sun and cloud, stood imperiously in the background. Donjek lowered the skis of the Helio-Courier prop plane and we skidded to a smooth stop.

A landing on skis

 

Sian had spent nearly a week alone on the glacier

We climbed from the cockpit and walked through virgin snow to where Sian was standing in a deep pit, shovel in hand. It looked like she was cutting blocks for an igloo. Actually she was retrieving the prior season’s camp from burial under three meters of winter snow pack. (That’s how glaciers grow – year upon year of accumulated snowfall eventually compressing into ice. At Logan base camp the ice is over a kilometer thick.)

Donjek helps to dig out last year’s camp

We helped Sian haul a heavy tent from its deep winter interment. She suggested we hike over the glacier to a viewpoint framing Mt. Logan. As we set off she pointed to a gaping cobalt scar part way up the snowfield, “Watch out for the crevasse.” We set course accordingly.

The glacier toe

When we returned Sian boiled water for tea and chatted about the inner workings of glaciers and their role in hydrology, geography and world climate. Icefield Discovery’s headquarters, on Kluane Lake, house the Arctic Institute of North America, which conducts glacier research.

We were in the heart of the world’s largest non-polar ice field. Due to its proximity to the warmer, lower Kluane valley and nearby Whitehorse, the St. Elias region is ideal for ice-core sampling and Arctic-style exploration. Canada’s other, more northerly polar arctic regions are less accessible and more inhospitable.

Don’t forget your sunscreen!

After three sun-drenched hours on the glacier Donjek fired up the prop and we skied off into the airy abyss, down the dirty winding glacial trail and back into the summer greenery of Kluane Lake. It was late in the day when we finally climbed into our RV and started south for Haines, Alaska, three-hundred kilometers away on the coast. Along the way, colorful pink Yukon wildflowers contrasted with the snowy splendor of Kluane’s mountains – as did my beet-red, fried face. I’d forgotten to apply sunscreen.

Yukon wildflowers

Near midnight we arrived in Haines, located in a narrow spit on a scenic Alaskan fjord. As we set up camp a wildlife ballet greeted us. Two brown bears were dancing, performing a grizzly twilight duet. Behind them across the spit, like curtains on a stage, two majestic waterfalls cascaded into the ocean.

A Grizzly midnight waltz

In the morning we awoke with the solstice. Summer had arrived. Our ferry departure was nigh.

A glacier highway

For a final boreal treat we rode our bikes through a coastal rainforest. Dwarfed by thousand-year old giants, we crested a hill in the dappled forest and came upon a large group of Japanese tourists, walking single-file. Each sported a pair of white gloves and what looked like a beekeeper’s hat. As we rode by, one by one they broke into spontaneous applause – golf-clap style. On occasion life is surreal.

 

Gerry Feehan QC is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He and his wife Florence live in Red Deer, AB and Kimberley, BC.

Gerry Feehan

 

Thanks to these amazing local companies who make Todayville Travel possible.

Click below to read Part 1 in Gerry’s 3-part series on the Yukon.

Click below to read Part 2 in Gerry’s 3-part series on the Yukon.

Click here to visit our Travel section and see more of Gerry’s stories.

 

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Here’s What Happened When A German Man Got Stuck In Calgary Amid COVID-19

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A German traveller stuck in Canada as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic is the latest addition to the Business on Camera team in Calgary, Alberta. Josef Bodenbenner, from Marburg, Germany speaks English, Spanish and German and is BOC’s new Director of International Language and Culture.

Business on Camera is an award-winning documentary film company and visual public relations firm established in 2010 specializing in corporate communications and video marketing.  BOC works best with entrepreneurs pursuing radical social change and energy companies seeking communications support in the areas of video, PR, and social media marketing.

“If I would have found a Calgarian with the same skill set I would have hired them,” begins Matt Keay, Business on Camera CEO, “Josef can read, write and speak German, Spanish and English. On top of that, he brings eight years of experience in finance and international banking, plus he is a Supple Leopard.”

Although his original plans were derailed by COVID-19, Josef has seized this new opportunity with excitement and is thrilled to be a part of the BOC team. “It’s amazing to be here and see what is happening with Business on Camera,” he says, “there is the social aspect with their documentary film production, and they are supporting Alberta companies like Eavor Technologies Inc. in exporting their technology around the globe.” 

Drawing on his years of financial experience overseas and multilingual capabilities, Josef has quickly become a key player in elevating BOC during the COVID-19 crisis. “We are sourcing new production partnerships in film and TV,” he says, “exploring tax and currency advantages, researching compliance protocols and working to attract investment to the province.”

Bringing on team members from outside of Canada, particularly during a pandemic, can be a tricky process. To ensure best practices, Business on Camera referred to the Government of Canada and Government of Alberta websites for the latest information regarding updated employer practices during COVID-19. Working with Josef to ensure work visa compliance, BOC was able to successfully bring him on board as the official Director of International Language and Culture.
Sensitive to the COVID-19 situation, BOC remains humble as their team works quietly away at Work Nicer Coworking in Calgary’s Beltline, grateful for the opportunity for continued expansion. Work Nicer Coworking is Alberta’s fastest-growing Coworking Community with over 600 members throughout their Calgary and Edmonton Locations. 

Josef can be reached by phone at 403-478-3836 or [email protected]


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Todayville Calgary

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Calgary Hotels Open for Now

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What does a “state of emergency” mean for tourism in our city

Over the last number of days we have seen closures of many different services and businesses. We are all curious about what will still be available in the coming weeks. In the meantime it seems as though hotels and hostels in Calgary will continue to keep their doors open for now.

Calgary has one of the highest concentrations of head offices in Canada. Many of the large organisations are owned by foreign bodies, relationships with foreign diplomats or have senior chartered professionals travel through our airport. We host various events and summits over the year that draw large crowds of people from across the globe. The most undeniable example is the Calgary Stampede, which recently announced a loss of 80% of their workforce due to rising concerns in the spread of Covid-19. Their organisers are working closely with Calgary Emergency Management Agency and the Alberta Health Services. Check out their full update here.

We are used to a high intake of tourists over the summer months of the year. According to VisitCalgary.com Q4 report from 2019 we welcomed just under 18 million people through our Calgary International Airport. 

How Covid-19 is affecting our hotel industry

We have 74 hotels in Calgary with more in towns like Cochrane and Airdrie. In the same report from VisitCalgary.com, their data shows that hotels in Calgary sold over 3.3 million rooms in 2019. If we look at the effects of what a travel restriction can do to our economy, we will see a dramatic reduction in tourists spending money in our city. 

Following orders from the City of Calgary, Grey Eagle Casino has temporarily closed their doors, in light of this direction a message from the General Manager Martin Brickstock stated: 

“This closure notice becomes effective immediately. We anticipate this closure will be until further notice, but we promise to provide consistent updates as information becomes available.

We look forward to inviting everyone back when we reopen. Please take care and be safe.

Please note that Grey Eagle Hotel will remain open”

Other well known institutions who have multiple locations throughout Calgary have offered updates on their services. They are also making arrangements for last minute cancellations from people who have had their travel itineraries disrupted. It is difficult to know how this will play out in the coming weeks however they are taking every available step to ensure the highest standard of hygiene. 

Marriott Hotels – Covid-19 Update

Hyatt Hotels – Covid-19 Update

Hilton Hotels – Hilton’s Commitment to you

Wyndham Hotels – Covid-19 Update

Sandman Hotel Group – Our respond to coronavirus (Covid-19)

In other countries there have been major closures of major hotel chains. Suspending of recreational facilities seems to be the norm for now. An article from the New York Post states that some major names are shutting their doors. Could be evidence that we could be following suit in the coming weeks.

Major hotel chains shutting down due to coronavirus pandemic

        (NY Post – Lisa Fickensher – March 17th 2020)

Keep yourself in the loop aware of updates on the situation here in Calgary with Alberta Health Services or their self screen application. It is difficult to know what kind of pressure has been placed upon major businesses in our city on how they react. Every step is being taken to continue business. Calgary Economic Development is striving to keep our businesses aware of any updates in policy or guidelines. You can keep yourself in the loop by visiting their website – Calgary Economic Development Covid-19 Updates and Resources

For more stories, visit – Todayville Calgary

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