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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 Range in Wyoming but in a totally different Yukon tundra environment.
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!
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.
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.
Light and shadows on the tundra slopes of the North Klondike River valley.
After two nights at Divide Lake, we packed up and moved onwards to Talus Lake, where we spent another two nights.
Another view of our tent at Talus Lake, looking towards Tombstone Mountain, the namesake peak of the range.
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!
Northern lights above our tent and Mount Monolith (7103 ft. / 2165m).
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.
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.
A spectacular sunset on the tundra of the Tombstone River valley, with Tombstone Mountain behind.
Local resident marmot of Tombstone Pass. We never did see any grizzlies on this trek, just marmots! That's ok with me.
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.
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.
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!
Hiking out after a fantastic week in the Tombstone Range.
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!