Trip Reports: Backpacking In The Tombstones, Yukon - September 2016

The Tombstone Range is a small but spiky mountain range located in the northern Yukon in Canada, almost up by the Arctic Circle. I have been dreaming of visiting and photographing these remote mountains since I first saw some photos of them almost 20 years ago. Because I've wanted to see these peaks for so long, and because this was the furthest point north we'd be traveling on our road trip, this trek would be both figuratively and literally the climax of our summer's travels!

As I wrote about previously, rainy weather forced us to hang out for almost a week along the Klondike before we had decent enough weather for backpacking. But the wait was totally worth it; we enjoyed seven days of great weather, amazing sunsets, and lots of aurora activity during our trek!

Canada, Grizzly Lake, Mount Monolith, Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon, hiking, Tombstone Range, photo

Backpacking in to the Tombstone Range. First stop: Grizzly Lake. At the end of August and beginning of September, the tundra bushes and willows were bright yellow. Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

Canada, Grizzly Lake, Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon, tent, Tombstone Range, photo

Our tent at Grizzly Lake. In order to preserve the landscape in Tombstone Territorial Park and also to help prevent grizzly bear encounters, all backpackers are required to camp at several designated campsites along the range. Each tent site has an elevated tent pad, and there are ropes strung along the paths to keep people from trampling the fragile and squishy tundra. There are also outhouses, cooking tents, and storage lockers to keep food away from the bears. I think much of this didn't exist until recent years, but it's probably a good thing as the range inevitably becomes more well known. Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

Canada, Glissade Pass, Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon, hiking, Tombstone Range, photo

After a first night at Grizzly Lake, we hiked over Glissade Pass with our new German friend Sabina to Divide Lake, where we camped for the next two nights. Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

Canada, Divide Lake, Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon, tent, Tombstone Range, photo

Our yellow tent camouflaged in yellow autumn tundra willows at Divide Lake. The peaks around Divide Lake were super impressive to me, reminiscent of the Wind River┬áRange in Wyoming but in a totally different Yukon tundra environment. Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

Canada, Divide Lake, Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon, reflection, Tombstone Range, photo

A cloudy sunrise at Divide Lake. Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

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Canada, Divide Lake, Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon, aurora, tent, northern lights, Tombstone Range, photo

Auroras dance in the sky above our tent at Divide Lake. Every evening when fellow campers were hanging out at the cook tent, we'd all agree to shout and wake each other up in the night if and when we saw aurora activity. I was setting my alarm for every hour in the night to check, but the auroras sometimes come and go so quickly that you could still miss them. So a few times I awoke to shouts of "AURORA!" and quickly scrambled out of the tent! Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

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Canada, Divide Lake, Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon, aurora, reflection, northern lights, Tombstone Range, photo

Aurora reflect in the calm waters of Divide Lake. Technically I'd seen the northern lights before: last winter in Haines, Alaska. But those were stationary and relatively weak ones that time. So, really, seeing the full-on dancing aurora here was my first real aurora experience. It's so unreal, so magical! I was surprised by how fast they move around the sky, the various kinds of shimmering they do, and the variety of colors from magentas to greens.

For this trek I hauled my super heavy Sigma 20mm f/1.4 lens specifically in the hopes of using it for photographing auroras, and fortunately it got put to good use! When the aurora are moving quickly, it's really helpful to have such a bright lens to take shorter exposures. Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

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Canada, Divide Lake, Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon, Tombstone Range, photo

A calm evening reflection of the rugged peaks at Divide Lake. Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

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Canada, Mount Frank Rae, Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon, hiking, North Klondike, Tombstone Range, photo

During our layover day at Divide Lake, we hiked up nearby Mount Frank Rae, which offered a huge view of the Tombstone Range and the vast North Klondike River valley beyond. Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

Canada, Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon, North Klondike, Tombstone Range, photo

Light and shadows on the tundra slopes of the North Klondike River valley. Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

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Canada, Talus Lake, Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon, tent, Tombstone Range, photo

After two nights at Divide Lake, we packed up and moved onwards to Talus Lake, where we spent another two nights. Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

Canada, Tombstone Mountain, Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon, tent, Tombstone Range, photo

Another view of our tent at Talus Lake, looking towards Tombstone Mountain, the namesake peak of the range. Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

Canada, Talus Lake, Tombstone Mountain, Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon, reflection, Tombstone Range, photo

Tombstone Mountain reflects in Talus Lake during a fiery sunset. This was actually a "second" sunset; the sun had already set a half hour prior according to the clock, but that red light bounced around the globe under the clouds, offering a second sunset later than it should have happened! Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

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Canada, Mount Monolith, Talus Lake, Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon, aurora, tent, northern lights, Tombstone Range, photo

Northern lights above our tent and Mount Monolith (7103 ft. / 2165m). Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

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Canada, Talus Lake, Tombstone Mountain, Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon, Tombstone Range, photo

A view of Talus Lake, Tombstone Mountain, and the Tombstone River valley. Talus Lake is a cool place because there's a ton of wandering around to be done and lots to see in the area. Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

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Canada, Tombstone Mountain, Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon, Tombstone Range, photo

Tombstone Mountain (7192 ft. / 2192m). Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

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Canada, Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon, blueberries, Tombstone Range, photo

The autumn tundra bursting with delicious wild blueberries. In order to pack light for this trip, we probably didn't bring quite enough food; we were rationing each M&M with great care. So it was a pleasant surprise to gorge ourselves on ripe blueberries! Don't worry, we left some for the bears. Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

Canada, Talus Lake, Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon, Tombstone Range, photo

Cook tent at Talus Lake. Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

Canada, Tombstone Mountain, Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon, Tombstone Range, photo

A spectacular sunset on the tundra of the Tombstone River valley, with Tombstone Mountain behind. Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

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Canada, Tombstone Mountain, Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon, Tombstone Range, photo

Sunset above the Tombstone River and Tombstone Peak. Hats off to James Studarus who encouraged me to go check out this creek! Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

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Canada, Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon, marmot, Tombstone Range, photo

Local resident marmot of Tombstone Pass. We never did see any grizzlies on this trek, just marmots! That's ok with me. Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

Canada, Glissade Pass, Grizzly Lake, Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon, hiking, Tombstone Range, photo

After our two nights at Talus Lake, we made the long haul back past Divide Lake and over Glissade Pass to Grizzly Lake, where we camped again for our sixth and final night in the Tombstones. Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

Canada, Grizzly Lake, Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon, aurora, reflection, northern lights, Tombstone Range, photo

A spectacular aurora display reflected in Grizzly Lake. Though we had enjoyed watching the northern lights on almost every night of this trip, this night was by far the most impressive, with strong waves of multi-colored aurora coming for almost three hours! With a calm reflection as well, of course I was shooting photos like crazy but after a while I just laid down on a big flat rock and watched the lights dancing all around the sky above. Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

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Canada, Grizzly Lake, Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon, tent, Tombstone Range, photo

Sunrise light on the peaks above Grizzly Lake. Having spent half the night awake watching the northern lights, I barely managed to drag myself out of the tent long enough to snap this sunrise shot before going back to bed again! Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

Canada, Mount Monolith, Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon, hiking, Tombstone Range, photo

Hiking out after a fantastic week in the Tombstone Range. Photo © copyright by Jack Brauer.

Though I have complained a bit in my previous posts about bad weather and excess down days during our big Alaska/Canada road trip, this trek in the Tombstone Range was so awesome that it made up for all of it. With jagged peaks, autumn tundra colors, great light, and fantastic auroras, it was everything I'd hoped for and an instant all-time classic trek!