Tom Sunter and his son Andrew had a father-son trip through British Columbia, up the Inside Passage to Alaska, over to Whitehorse in the Yukon, to Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories then down to Jasper-Banff before heading back to Ontario. It was a bonding experience!
Andrew: I was moving back to Ontario after living in the West for a few years and was about to get married. I had three weeks between jobs and decided to take the long way home and asked my dad to join me.
We started in Vancouver, driving north to Whistler, on to Prince George and then over to Prince Rupert on the coast. From there we took an Alaska Marine Highway ferry along the Inside Passage to Skagway, Alaska stopping at a couple of places along the way. We just pitched our tent on the deck of the ferry and spent the time chatting with lots of interesting people: all ages and all types. The views are spectacular and you see whales and dolphins. The first stop in Alaska is Ketchikan, which I think is known for its totem poles.
Tom: At one of the places we stopped, Andrew and I were walking by this small river—really just a creek—and what we thought were rocks were actually salmon making their way up from the ocean to spawn. The creek was just full of them. We followed them a ways until we reached a waterfall and there was almost a queue of salmon waiting to jump the falls. They were jumping, three or four at a time, and hundreds—maybe thousands—were waiting. Many, of course, would not make it and the seagulls were there to pick them off. When the salmon finally reach the place where they were born they lay their eggs. Then they die. It really is kind of a miracle and something to see.
When we stopped in Juneau we took a tram ride up the side of Mount Roberts. There are trails going further up the mountain that we decided to take. Clouds rolled in as we were walking and we found ourselves in what seemed like dense fog. We were high up and there was snow on the ground and it was slippery. When the clouds cleared I realized we were on a very narrow path that fell thousands of feet on either side. I was in street shoes, which did not give me much grip, and feeling a little nervous. At the same time, it was exciting because it was the first time I had ever been that high and I remember looking down, down, down.
Andrew: We drove from Skagway to Whitehorse and did some hiking in the area that became famous during the gold rush.
Tom: Yes, it’s called the Chilkoot Trail and many prospectors took that route in search for gold. It’s more than 50 km long and crosses the American-Canadian border. I would have loved to have taken it for I have read Pierre Berton’s book on the Klondike and it was quite a test for them to make it over the Chilkoot Pass.
Andrew: We had to drive around Nahanni National Park Reserve and the road took us down into northern British Columbia before heading up to the Northwest Territories. It is a dirt road most of the way. There were bears and bison sometimes blocking our way. I would have liked to have hiked in the Cirque of the Unclimbables, but perhaps another day.
Tom: What I remember most about the drive to Whitehorse was how beautiful it was with all those snow-capped mountain peaks. The setting along the Yukon River is quite something. When we cut up to the NWT, the dirt roads really scratched up Andrew’s car. There were great stands of white birch. The NWT is very different from the Yukon and extremely deserted. We went up as far as Hay River on the south shore of Great Slave Lake and then headed down to Alberta, going through Wood Buffalo National Park. That’s the largest national park in Canada and one of the largest in the world. Bison roam freely there.
Andrew: We got to enjoy this fantastic landscape and see these wild animals without competing with any crowds! We camped most nights and brought a propane stove so we did it on the cheap. There is a good camping infrastructure. We drove about 6-7 hours a day. At that time of the year it is almost midnight before it gets dark because you’re so far north.
I wish we could have spent more time at each place. The next trip I would like to see more of Alaska. We only saw the coast and it is lush and green and not like the rest of the state. Although we were running out of time we did do some scrambles and hikes at Mount Wilcox across from the Ice Fields near Lake Louise. It was a great trip.
Tom: I have very good memories of that trip. After Alberta we drove almost straight through to Ontario because Andrew was very anxious to see his soon-to-be wife!
Photo credits: Andrew and Tom Sunter
© Riding the buses 2011