Backpacking Trip into Yukon's Kluane National Park Reserve (Part 2)

In my previous  article I showed you the pictures from our first day in the backcountry of Kluane National Park Reserve. Today, I'm co...

In my previous article I showed you the pictures from our first day in the backcountry of Kluane National Park Reserve. Today, I'm continuing my story, and you'll see the mighty glacier as well as a real grizzly bear which we met on the trail.

A first day of any backpacking trip is always the most difficult. Part of it is because you have to carry all the food you brought. As days go by, the amount of food lessens, so is the weight of your backpack. But I think the biggest challenge is for your body to adapt to hiking with a heavy load, that's why the first day is the most tiring one. If you have a choice, I would recommend to avoid a long hike on the first day for this particular reason. We didn't have much choice but to hike 23 km / 14 miles, because the only backcountry camping was at the end of Slim's River West trail.
Despite its remoteness, backcountry camping in Kluane National Park Reserve was a very pleasant experience. We camped at a designated campsite with a fire pit put up from stones, benches and even firewood cut and left by the park's staff. Not far from our campsite was a really nice toilet, so you don't have to sacrifice your comfort much if you camp in the backcountry.
This is the view 30 m / 100 ft from our campsite. Good luck to find anything similar at a front-country (car) camping.
The group of German young men (remember, I told there is a direct flight to Whitehorse from Frankfurt, Germany?) camped nearby. They were one day ahead of us, and hiked the plato on Observation Mountain the day before. Now, they were packing their stuff and getting ready for the hike back to the parking lot.
We started our hike to the plato on Observation Mountain at 9 am. Because we camped at the same place for two nights, we didn't have to carry the heavy load in our backpacks on our second day. So we only took essentials like snacks, extra clothing and water. The return hike to see the Kaskawulsh Glacier from the top was 18 km / 11 miles. The elevation gain (and then loss on a way back) was about 850 m / 2790 ft, so it's pretty demanding hike after all. 
Canada Creek had a few dozens of streams and was a bit smaller and shallower than the Bullion Creek. We managed to jump over the majority of those streams, but we still decided to take our pants and shoes off and wade it at its broadest point.
Beautiful northern flora.
First 5 km / 3 miles we followed the Canada Creek, and then the Columbia Creek. There is no trail maintained by Parks Canada any more (Parks Canada calls it 'a route'), so you have to be skilled enough to find a way up and down yourself. But because many people hike this route, it's relatively easy to follow a clearly marked path for most of its length. As the route goes up the hill at the Columbia Creek, that's your last chance to fill up your water bottle.
There is steep ascent for about 2 km / 1.2 miles. Use caution as the soil is often loose. Hiking poles are the must here, especially on the way down.
You get rewarded with stunning views for your bravery.
Hiking along the steep ridge can be nerve-itching, especially when you realize that no one is going to rescue you for at least a few days if you fall down or get injured. What worked for me - I wasn't looking down.
Can you spot white dots on the mountain wall?
These are Dall sheep. I have no idea what pushes them that high up the steep wall for most of their life. Perhaps, the fear to get eaten by a wolf, fox or coyote? There is not much vegetation to pasture as you can clearly see.
After a strenuous and dangerous climb (my friend told me that was the scariest one he's ever done in his life), we finally reached the plato.
Plato is basically an alpine tundra with no bushes and trees. Well, I saw only two bushes to be precise. We used them for the navigation as they can be seen for miles. 
A little spring with blooming algae. Not a good idea to drink from it.
The first arm of the mighty Kaskawulsh Glacier finally showed up on the horizon.
Now with the second arm.
The glacier is enormous - it's 5-6 km / 3-4 mile wide in its broadest point.
A small pool of turquoise water in the muddy glacier.
This glacier is one of the most powerful and impressive things I've ever witnessed in my life.
Kaskawulsh Glacier as the majority of other glaciers in Canada, moves 2-3 m / 6-10 ft a day toward its toe.
The toe of the Kaskawulsh Glacier which becomes a Slim's River which, in turn, feeds the Yukon River via Kluane Lake.
It took us 7 hours to reach the viewpoint on Observation Mountain, but our hike down was only 4 hours. Tired, but happy we returned to the campsite. This day hike was definitely worth the effort. On the picture below - the Canada Creek reaches the Slim's River.
We woke up late the next morning - around 9 am. After we had a breakfast, we packed our stuff and headed back. That day we were supposed to hike 23 km before reaching the parking lot. 
I did not take many pictures on our third day of the trip. My camera was mostly in the backpack, and I would only occasionally take it out. 
This cute ground squirrel that was digging a hole in the sand, was one of the few reasons I took my camera out that day.
After hiking almost halfway to the parking lot that day, we saw what we only wanted to see from a car's window - a grizzly bear! We stopped. We were on the river bed. The distance between the bear and us was about 300 m / 900 ft. That seems a bit far, but don't forget that a bear runs really really fast, so we're talking about 10 seconds between him and us. We only had two whistles, two bear bells (now useless), one bear spray (my friend lost his spray on the first day) and one knife. Pretty harmless weapon against bear's paws with huge sharp claws.
The bear noticed us, too, and stopped. That was a crucial moment for everyone - us and the bear. We figured out that the bear was not scared nor surprised by our appearance. He wasn't going to approach us, either. The bear is not a trouble maker and he does not consider us as food after all. Also, it was a male bear, so no need to protect his cubs, which is the most popular reason a bear ever attacks a human. A father-bear can even kill his own cubs in the shortage of food, so a mother-bear needs to protect them from everyone including their own father. 
It was a huge bear, the size of a cow. His fur looked gorgeous on the sun. He was definitely a healthy bear. The park ranger told us that a skinny or a ill-looking bear poses a real danger as he can be desperate.
'Blow the whistle', 'I said to my friend. 'Take your camera out', said my friend to me. I put my backpack on the ground, gave my bear spray to my friend, took my camera out, changed the lens to a telephoto one and started shooting. After I've taken a few dozens of pictures, I said, 'Now blow your whistle'. He did. The bear seemed a bit scared now. Slowly, he turned toward the forested area and after a few final glimpses, disappeared from our sight.
My knees were still shaking, but at least I was glad that the real threat had gone. If he'd attacked, we would have fallen on the ground face down and played dead. There was no alternative. We tried to wade the river to bypass the area where the bear just was, but could not do that because of the muddy bottom where you can easily sink. We were moving slowly, constantly looking in the direction where the bear had gone. But, thankfully, we have not seen a bear since then. But I'm still wondering how many there were that we didn't see?
In my next article I'll show you my pictures with Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights that we saw on the second night in Kluane National Park Reserve. Stay tuned!

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