Traversing from Atlin to Juneau
This story originally ran in the Spring 2014 (V8I1) edition of Yukon, North of Ordinary.
DISTANCE: 110 km
TIME: 10 Days
SKILL LEVEL: Difficult
Sitting in front of the woodstove on another cold, dark night, I noticed the bottle of Scotch was nearly empty. It’s in situations like this that plans for overly ambitious adventures are formed. It hadn’t crossed my mind we could ever do it. That’s something other people do--not us. My wife and I were discussing the idea, but even the Scotch couldn’t clear my doubts. We planned to ski from Atlin, B.C., to Juneau, Alaska, at the end of March. That’s a total of 110 km across numerous glaciers on the Juneau Icefield.
Four months later, we were squishing into pilot Chris Moser’s bush plane, in Atlin. Due to time constraints, we had decided to fly over Atlin Lake and start the trip directly on the Llewellyn Glacier. Four friends were joining us, and with all of our gear, skis, sleds, and 14 days’ worth of food, we had every inch of the plane packed solid.
We arrived on the Llewellyn Glacier, and for the first two days the wind tore at us as we skied from one glacier to the next. But the third day was magnificent, with no wind and an endless blue sky, allowing us the chance to comfortably appreciate the landscape. The terrain was absolutely massive. Only the tips of rocky mountaintops interrupted the endless sheet of snow and ice.
On the fourth and fifth days, we moved through a blizzard, navigating solely by GPS and compass. The snow was so deep we took turns breaking trail in 15-minute intervals. We were still at a good pace though, and on the sixth day it stopped snowing and the fog cleared. Just in time, too, as we arrived at a crevasse field that led towards Echo Pass. We roped up and carefully navigated around bottomless icy caverns, using a probe to search for hidden cracks.
As we approached Juneau, the terrain became more rugged. Instead of huge, flat glaciers, we were now ascending mountain ridges and skiing down steeper slopes. When we arrived on the ridge below Nugget Mountain, we got our first glimpse of the ocean. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stop long to appreciate it, as the wind was so fierce it lifted our sleds into the air like kites, threatening to pull us off the mountain.
Day nine was to be our last day, but as we searched for a route to Juneau along Blackerby Ridge, we kept coming up against cliffs in a whiteout. We resolved to ski down to the Lemon Creek Trail. Big mistake. The trail was two full days of bushwhacking through coastal rainforest with our skis and sleds attached to our backpacks, which got caught on every branch. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Well, “they” have never been on the Lemon Creek Trail. As for the glaciers, we’ll definitely be back. Y
GLACIER TRAVEL TIPS
- Bring a GPS so you can get your bearings in a whiteout.
- Prevent snow blindness by wearing special sunglasses that fully cover your eyes.
- What is the best sunscreen?
- Diaper-rash ointment. Strange, but true.