We are based at Haines Junction, a small community on the Alaska Highway between Fairbanks Alaska 880km away to the north and Dawson Creek British Columbia about 1600km away to the south. The ” Green Sprout ” apartment we are staying in has turned out to be a little gem. We have gorgeous views to the snow capped mountains of Kluane National Park. Someone with a love of cooking just like us has fitted out this place and our very creative supplies acquired in Whitehorse will not go to waste. One of the things we bought was a soup thermos, as we plan to spend the whole day in the Park looking for Dhal sheep, having a nice , hot bowl of soup will hit the spot. At this time of the year there is nothing open and no commercial premises for food.
There has been a good amount of snow in the previous few days and the roads are a bit icy, but André is the man and he skillfully navigates the tricky bits. We had a bit of an introduction to the perils of winter driving as we were coming out of Whitehorse, one semi-trailer that had skidded and rolled on its side was holding up traffic. Only cars with all wheel or 4×4 could take the off road detour, luckily that’s what we hired. Shortly after that we came across another vehicle which was abandoned as it had slid off the road.
The scenery driving to Kluane is breathtaking and there is virtually no traffic on the road , so we can stop and admire the mountain ranges. Once we get to the Park there is a large glacier fed lake at the park boundary. We head out on the first trail that may have Dhal sheep and firstly we come across many sheep footprints but no sheep. On the way back to the car I spot a small herd with my binos, mainly girls and juvenile males.
This is the very early stage of the rutting season when big males fight it out, clashing with their big horns to win the title of dominant male and the thrill of having a harem.
We decide to go on another trail, this one steeply follows the edge of a south facing mountain, apparently the preferred face for Dhal sheep and the type of vegetation they like eating. No one has been on this trail at least since the snow fall. We follow tracks of a lone wolf as it criss-crosses the trail and dives into the forest often following large hare tracks. After a steady climb, earning our hot soup, we come across another herd. They are quite close and even though they spot us, they remain calm and grazing. This one has a few more males .
It feels quite special breaking trail in the snow and since we are on the edge of a grizzly bear conservation area, we keep an eye out for an additional encounter. Just as we are about to move on there is a cluttering of hooves and out pops one of the big males chasing another one literally meters away from us. As we are a little lower on the ridge than where they had been standing, we come as quite the surprise to them. The second male briefly checks us out and then quickly continues into the forest after his buddy.
We feel pretty pooped after the climb but we know there is a thermos also of hot tea and a muffin in the car and that spurs us on for the descent. It had been such a great day we decide to come back the following day. This time we are having our soup before we head out and as it is a lovely thick Moroccan chickpea soup it slops into the bowl with a big spill onto my knees. Great , just what we need, heading into the wilderness next to a grizzly bear conservation area smelling of deliscious cumin and spices.
This time we get to see the Dhal sheep scampering on the rocky outcrops with nibble hooves. The herd has moved onto a flat outcrop , too far for us to reach and get to.
You can’t resolve them but they are on the flat snowy bit of the hill. The day is sunny but crisp at -5c. No clouds today to block the view.
We gradually make our way back to the car and keep checking those south facing slopes. A perfect afternoon, no bears interested in my curious Moroccan scent 🙂
In the two days of travel we have come across maybe a total of 10 cars. You certainly would not want to experience a breakdown out here as it would be a long wait between cars and of course there is no mobile reception.