Sheep Creek – Tachal Dhal Trail, Kluane National Park
The “You were always on my mind” Walk
June 4th, 2015
The morning started out quite cool at 9C with wind gusts of 50-70 km all night.
We check in at the Tachal Dahl Information Centre. The Visitor Centre has this amazing location on the flat marshes of the mouth of the Slims River where it enters Kluane Lake. It is also at the base of Sheep Mountain and set back a ways from the road so from the road it is just dwarfed by the slope of the mountain behind it.
The young woman working there is trying to explain the hiking trails to a Japanese couple. The husband speaks a little English. His wife does not speak any English at all but smiles and nods her head all the while. It cannot be easy for them to be traveling alone in the Yukon. We ask the Parks Canada person if there are any Dal sheep on the mountain today. She says yes there are two but they are really high up. We go outside where there is an observation area set up with binoculars and telescopes trained on the mountain side. She shows us which telescope to look through and sure enough we can see two sheep lying down under a large rock. She explains that the sheep have moved high up the mountain for their summer grazing. The wind was freezing cold even with our windbreakers on so we moved back indoors.
Does she think it is a good idea to try the trail today? She said absolutely; yes you have to do this walk, the views are great, the wind is starting to calm down and the forecast is for 15C this afternoon. Were there any bear sightings was our main concern. Well you are in bear country is the reply so just make a lot of noise to let them know you are on the trail. This is the advice we have heard before, we have read this in the pamphlets prepared by Parks Canada and it is also posted on the information board at the trailhead. The pamphlets also say to walk in groups of 6 to 8 people but she said that this is a very popular trail and there will be other people on the trail too.
The trailhead is down a small gravel road about 2.5km from the visitor centre. The capogita clips the can of bear spray to the shoulder strap of his back backpack so that it is easy to reach. It is 11:00 a.m. as we head out. The trail takes us through a wooded area, mostly black spruce trees. The ground alongside the trail is carpeted with shiny leaves and flowers of the bayberries and cranberries. The flowers of the Yukon make the landscape far more colorful than I had ever expected. Today we see spots of yellow everywhere from the pontentilla shrubs, the pinks of the prickly rose, the purple-pink vetches, the white mountain avens with their bright yellow centers, bell shaped deep purple gensiana.
It is a steady uphill climb and we talk and holler and whistle and try to be as noisy as possible! We break out of the wooded area to a viewpoint about 2 km up the trail and the view is stunning. There below us, the Slims River winds its way through a valley surrounded by mountain peaks. We can see the fresh snowfall on the tops of the mountains.
The trail continues upward along this old mining road and we stop several times to take in the view. The sun has broken out and it is a beautiful sunny day. The trail branches at the 3.8 km point and the left fork leads down to Sheep Creek which is described as a bushwhacking trail so we know we are not going that way!
The trail gets narrower and sandy. We stop to look at an area that has some dug up roots strewn about – the work of a bear. The trail keeps its steady up hill course and again we see roots dug up along the trail.
We are now walking along a ridge and the trail has become a sandy foot path. The slope on one side rises up and has large rock outcroppings interspersed with the bright green of short alder trees and the dark green of the spruce trees. On the other side the slope down is more sandy and drier with the mountains rising up from the gully. You just don’t know where to look because it is all so wild and beautiful.
As we near the top of the ridge two women come down the trail towards us. They are the first people that we have seen on the trail this morning. They tell us that it is very, very windy at the top of the ridge and that they had not stayed very long. We thank them and put our jackets on.
The trail ends on the edge of a gully overlooking Forty-eight Pup Creek. It was indeed very windy. Standing on the ridge with the wind pushing me sideways made me happy to be able to hold onto the trail post while taking in the stunning view. All around are sculpted gullies, layers and layers of mountain peaks, and the river that looks like a long, long silvery ribbon. It is like a picture from a coffee table book – one of those aerial panoramas that you can only dream of ever seeing yourself. But here we are looking at this vast wilderness, too vast to take it all in. There is no sign of human habitation anywhere. You get a sense that this must have been what Canada was like when the first European explorers arrived and you are filled with awe.
The capogita wisely says, we are heading back down right away. He does not want to take the panini out of the backpacks and we are not stopping to eat our lunch.
Ahead of us we hear the sounds of the two women who we met earlier obviously trying to make as much noise as possible. They see us and stop until we catch up to them. They also had seen the evidence of the bears and were happy to have our company on the trail down.
Now we start to meet people heading up, first a German couple. The man says “bear” and points to the exposed tree roots. I say yes, roots dug up by the bears and he laughs, says ah yes like root beer! Then we meet a group of about six people, again I believe they are German speaking. All have their cans of bear spray at the ready.
The women we are walking with are from Tucson, Arizona. They had watched the film at the Visitor Centre on what to do if you meet a bear. They explained that there are two types of bear behavior and you have to recognize that behavior because what you need to do depends on what behavior the bear is displaying. If you come across a bear and startle it, the bear will likely take a defensive behavior – defend itself against you. So in this situation you should “play dead”. Or a bear can be offensive – i.e. he tracking you. In that case you have to defend yourself. I am not sure who would have the presence of mind to do this instead of just running, but this is what they tell you should do!
We stop briefly to take some pictures – you just cannot help yourself even though you know the pictures will not be able to give the sense of the height and depth and tremendous breadth of this landscape. The view walking down is just fabulous because the river and mountains are in front of you all the time.
The view is too beautiful and we do stop for lunch at the viewpoint just before the trail heads back into the spruce forest.
2:30 and we are back at the parking lot. The trail is 5 km long, a 10 km round trip with a change of elevation of 400 metres. Though it was always at the back of our minds, luckily we did not see any bears. We would have liked to see some sheep but the only wildlife we saw was a small squirrel!
Up to now we had been appreciating the Yukon wilderness as observers. Today we could truly feel the beauty and the danger of that wilderness.
And we still had that great drive along Kluane Lake to look forward to on the way back to the campground.