Category Archives: Hiking

Sheep Creek Trail (Yukon)

Sheep Mountain

Time to spot some sheep!

 

Region: Sheep Mountain – Kluane National Park of Canada, Yukon, Canada
Return Trip: 10km (6 mi), 3-6 hours
Trailhead Location: Near the parking area at the base of Sheep Mountain.
Elevation Gain: 427m (1400′)
Skill Level: Moderate
Hazards: Grizzly bears, moose, dust/debris, narrow trail on cliff side, high winds


 

The second hike my wife and I completed while in the Yukon was along the Sheep Creek Trail.

Sheep Mountain sits just across the Alaska Highway from Kluane Lake; the largest lake in the Yukon. It gets its name from the Dall Sheep that call the mountain their home.

Before starting up the trail, we stopped off at the Tachal Dhal Visitor Center. They had some telescopes set up facing the mountain, which the Parks Canada attendant had pointed at a group of sheep grazing for their breakfast.

After spotting the sheep and checking out the visitor center, we got back in the car and drove up the 2km pothole-infested dirt road to the trailhead. They warn people in smaller cars and RVs to hike up this road, since the potholes can get a little deep (roughly 2 feet deep in spots). As is the way of the Yukon, things tend to be a little bit bigger and a lot more wild; potholes are no exception.

 

Sheep Creek Trail Map

You are here. Now go hike up a mountain.

 

The Sheep Creek Trail sees a lot more foot traffic than our newly conquered trail; King’s Throne. This means that bears are less of a danger, but caution is still the best practice. With our bear bells, bear mace and trusty mosquito head nets ready to go, we started up the trail.

 

Sheep Creek Trail River View

Looking back down the trail; Slim’s River is flowing into Kluane Lake.

 

The good news was that the majority of the trail turned out to be wide enough for two people to hike side by side comfortably. It was also windy enough to keep the mosquitoes off us for a lot of the hike, even at the lower elevations. The not so good news? It is an unrelenting, uphill hike. Sure, there are a couple spots that level out for a few meters, but they really don’t last long at all. That’s just part of the fun though.

 

Facing Kaskawulsh Glacier

Facing in the direction of Kaskawulsh Glacier; the source of Slim’s River.

 

There were definitely some great views along the trek up. It was a nice clear and sunny day, with only a few clouds in the sky. We could follow Slim’s River as it meandered down all the way from the far off mountain range. Sidenote: That would be an excellent canoe trip.

 

Sheep Creek Trail Path

Climbing higher and higher; you can almost smell the sheep.

 

Sheep Creek Trail 5km Marker

Reached the 5km lookout point. The wind must’ve knocked it down, or a grizzly.

 

Edge Of 5km Lookout

Not getting too close to the edge; it’s a dead drop and a long way down.

 

Windy At The Lookout

Don’t pay those ridiculous salon prices for hair this good; hike a windy mountain.

 

Kaskawulsh Glacier

Kaskawulsh Glacier is back there somewhere. [Click me!]

 

We made it up to the 5km lookout point, where the wind was extremely strong. So strong, in fact, that it might have been the cause of the fallen 5km point trail marker. After battling the high winds and pushing forward through a creeping fatigue courtesy of the hike up, we were treated to an intensely amazing view of the Yukon wilderness as far as the eye could see. It was definitely worth the effort to get to this ridge.

Being as windy as it was, we didn’t end up staying for very long here at the lookout. We started back down the trail to get out of the high winds.

 

Back Down The Trail

Heading back down the trail and holding on to my hat…so windy up there!

 

The Old Dusty Trail

Back down into the trees. Due to a drought, the trail was very dusty.

 

The Kluane Lake region was experiencing a bit of a drought during our time there. This caused a good portion of the Sheep Creek Trail to be exceptionally dusty. The hike wasn’t so bad on the way up, but on the way down, we seemed to be engulfed in small dust clouds for most of the way.

 

Sheep Creek Trail Parking Area

Back at the parking area. What an awesome hike!

 

A little exhausted and very satisfied, we made it back to the car and jumped in after shaking off a couple stubborn mosquitoes that were still latched on to our clothes in a last ditch effort at a meal. Thank you Yukon, you definitely did not disappoint. Another memorable hike in the books.

 

Thanks again to my wife for helping out with some great shots along the trail. 🙂

 


Get out and hike!


 

Copyright © 2015, Ben Aerssen. All rights reserved.

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King’s Throne Trail (Yukon)

King's Throne Mountain

Hail to the King. A view of the mountain from below. [Click me!]

Region: Kathleen Lake – Kluane National Park of Canada, Yukon, Canada
Return Trip: 10km (6 mi), 4-6 hours
Trailhead Location: Old mining road near the parking area at Kathleen Lake.
Elevation Gain: 548m (1800′)
Skill Level: Difficult
Hazards: Grizzly bears, black bears, moose, avalanches, rock slides, loose rock, narrow trail on cliff side


 

In June of 2014, my wife and I were fortunate enough to be able to make our way up to the Yukon for a few weeks. We had planned a few hikes for our time up there, the first being the King’s Throne Trail. Yep. Hiking up a mountain. Go big or go home, right?

King’s Throne towers above the beautiful, blue waters of Kathleen Lake. Both are located within the boundaries of Kluane National Park of Canada.

 

Kluane National Park Sign

Now entering Kathleen Lake – Kluane National Park. Let the adventure begin.

 

King's Throne Trail Map

That’s a lot of switchbacks; must be a little steep.

 

Having already hiked several kilometers of the Cottonwood Trail (following the mountain’s base) the afternoon before, we knew what to expect along the trail at this lower elevation; mosquitoes. Not just your run of the mill little blood suckers, but the gigantic, mutant variety that spawn only up in the Yukon. Huge, hungry swarms of them. Luckily we came equipped with mesh head nets. These were such a cheap investment and they turned out to be money extremely well spent.

With mosquito head nets in place, bear spray latched on to my belt and bear bells on our packs, we set off down the old mining road alongside Kathleen Lake.

While hiking down this first stretch, we came across a few older grizzly bear paw prints imbedded in the mud. By this point, we had already launched into several choruses of “Hey bear! Hey bear!” with a little jingle jingle from the bells and some clapping. We were now repeating our performance for the bears a little more often. Better to warn any bears we’re coming, then happen to sneak up on an unsuspecting mama bear. That would definitely not end well…for us.

The trail is fairly easy in the lower elevation, so we made good time here. As the trail started to rise up higher and higher along the mountain, it suddenly became more rocky. At the same time, we noticed that the trail had become quite steep in areas. This is where we started hitting the first of many switchbacks. Since we were concentrating on climbing up some steep trail bits, we didn’t stop to take photos until we were almost up out of the trees.

 

King's Throne Trail Tree Line

The trees are thinning out at this height. Only the strong survive.

King's Throne Trail Side

Careful with your footing, or you’ll be tumbling for a good distance. No pressure.

King's Throne Trail View

Part of the view on the way up. Motivation.

King's Throne Trail Almost There

Taking a breather after a very steep incline.

King's Throne Trail Clinging

One foot at a time as I shimmy up along the very narrow “trail” in the scree.

 

I have a special memory about this area of the trail because it was pretty damned scary; both on the way up and then down again. One particular spot here seemed to have fallen victim to a couple of rock slides. In effect, the already narrow trail (about 10″ wide here) had been cut away in two places creating two 4 foot gaps. Luckily, there was a tiny section of trail still in tact sitting all lonely and stubborn between the two affected areas of trail. Let’s call this small trail portion “Trail Island”. To reach the proper trail once again, you had to take a giant step across the first 4 foot section of nothingness and have your foot hit the 14 inch section of “Trail Island”. After managing to bring both feet over onto “Trail Island”, you then had to balance yourself and once again take a giant step across the second 4 foot gap in the trail. I can tell you from experience that when you’re a size 12 shoe, trying to not only fit my two feet onto a space of about 14″x6″, but also trying to balance my body weight and gear all at the same time is sort of a challenge. I guess it’s a good thing I had a mountain to partially balance my weight on. The other thing that my wife and I can be thankful for in this situation is that we both have long legs. It definitely worked to our advantage. This was one of those times where a certain clichĂ© phrase popped into my mind…”Don’t look down!”. Great, thanks for the useful tip brain.

 

King's Throne Trail View From Top

We made it! Time to sit back and enjoy the amazing view. [Click me!]

The owner of the B&B across the Haines Highway (where we were staying) had warned us that there was the potential for avalanches, as the snow was still thawing out and melting down from the peak at this time of year. We decided it would be best to heed his warning, so we didn’t hike all the way up to the peak. We reached our destination at the “seat” of King’s Throne. Man, what an insanely amazing view. It was unreal and truly breathtaking.

We sat up there for a while just taking it all in. It was quite the accomplishment. We decided to eat our victory snack – good old Clif bars – and washed them down with some water. We didn’t have anywhere else to be but up there. It was such a great feeling. After some time had passed, we eventually decided that we should start heading back down from our quiet, little spot at the top of the world.

 

King's Throne Trail Back Down

It started to get a little chilly after resting for a bit. Ready to head back down now.

King's Throne Trail Tree Line Back

The trees are starting to reappear. No mutant mosquitoes at this elevation though.

King's Throne Trail Steep

My hiking pole came in really handy here. My knees were very thankful.

King's Throne Trail Halfway Down

A little less steep, just as many loose rocks.

King's Throne Trail Dirt Trail

Back down to where there is more dirt than rocks. Cue the giant mosquitoes.

King's Throne Trailhead

Mission accomplished! No mutant mosquito is going to crash this party.

 

Our time spent on the King’s Throne trail is something we’ll remember for the rest of our lives. It’s just one of those incredibly awesome things. It was difficult and a little scary at times, but the payoff was priceless. It was not only about the incredible views that were presented to us from our vantage point up at the top, but also the immense satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that we got from being able to push ourselves and overcome the difficulties of such a hike. The Yukon is a special kind of place that keeps calling you back for more. I know that both my wife and I will be heading back up there the very next chance we get.

Thanks to my wife for being patient and grabbing some great action shots along the trail. 🙂

 


Get out and hike!


 

Copyright © 2015, Ben Aerssen. All rights reserved.

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Review: Black Diamond Trail Back Poles

Black Diamond Trail Back Poles

 


 

Some people might argue that hiking poles are glorified walking sticks. Why not just grab a stick on the side of the trail and use that instead? This manner of thinking is why hiking poles get kind of lumped into that group of gear that is considered a “nice to have” for some hikers. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that; to each their own as the saying goes. However, after trying out a pair of poles while hiking on a glacier in Alaska, I was instantly sold. When I got back to civilization, I ended up purchasing the Black Diamond Trail Back hiking poles.

BD Hand Grips

Simple rubber hand grip. Grip it and rip it.

Pros:

  • Comfortable hand grip
  • Easily adjustable to various heights with the FlickLock® system
  • Collapsible
  • Colour (easily visible in most environments)
  • Durable
  • Comes with powder baskets (great for snowshoeing)
  • Weight (525g)

Cons:

  • Price (they cost more than deadwood)
  • Made overseas
BD FlickLock

The FlickLock® system in action. Clever design.

Review:

The Black Diamond Trail Back hiking poles come with a hand grip made of rubber. While I find this to be comfortable and perfectly serviceable, others might find they need the extra padding offered by dual-density foam. That being said, you’ll also be dishing out more cash for the foam hand grips as they’re only offered on more expensive models. One of the main draws to these poles is how easy it is to adjust their height. You open the FlickLocks®, adjust the height, close the FlickLocks® and continue along your hike. It’s so easy, adjustments can even be done on the fly. Just watch your footing. The poles also come with height markers printed directly on the legs for you to use as a guide when setting them up from their collapsed position. After adjusting the height, they stay locked in position. The FlickLock® system does not come loose and start sliding down when in use. During several difficult hikes (like hiking up two mountains in the Yukon for example), I’ve never had these poles bend or bow out when supporting most of my body weight on some risky descents. These poles are very sturdy. Even though they are made of aluminum, they are fairly light-weight at 525 grams. Although, for the hiker that counts every gram, there are lighter options. The poles are easy to store with a collapsed height of only 65.5cm (25 inches). The “fire red” colour on the upper body make them fairly easy to spot in different environments if you happen to lay them down. With the addition of removable powder baskets, these poles are great to use in the winter for snowshoeing. The poles are also very useful on icy trails. For me, there are only two real drawbacks when it comes to these hiking poles. Firstly, the price point for these poles is fairly high, but I wanted a decent pair of poles that will last a long time. Secondly, these are made overseas. Unfortunately, this seems to be the case with most of the hiking poles I have seen.

BD Powder Basket

The powder baskets are on and ready to break some trails!

Final Thoughts:

  • The Black Diamond Trail Back Hiking Poles can definitely be a Godsend on trails with constant elevation changes. They’re easy to adjust and take a good beating. Even on moderate trails, people will find these useful to stay balanced and upright. Give your knees a bit of a break and grab some Black Diamond Trail Back hiking poles for your next outing.

5 out of 5

 

 

 

Copyright © 2015, Ben Aerssen. All rights reserved.

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Review: SmartWool Hiking Socks

SmartWool Medium Hiking Socks

 


 

Socks have one of the most important jobs out of all your hiking gear. They’re one half of the dynamic duo that help keep your feet dry and comfortable out on the trails (you’ll need good boots too!). Your feet are taking the most abuse of all your body parts when hiking. They’re helping to absorb a good chunk of the force and weight of your body (plus the weight of your pack) as you’re moving along. They’re also simultaneously acting as a lever to propel you forward, while responding to the uneven terrain surfaces to keep you upright. Needless to say, a lot of things are going on with your feet. If your feet aren’t comfortable, you really can’t hike properly. When you can’t hike properly, you get grumpy and possibly start taking out your anger on fellow hikers by cursing and throwing things. This is no good. When it comes to choosing a hiking sock, you should take the time and do your research. Luckily, the Internet is full of helpful people offering real-world reviews. Here’s my take.

Pros:

  • Comfy
  • Durable
  • Blister free fit
  • Wick away sweat
  • Made in the USA!

Cons:

  • Price
  • Some pilling (After extensive use.)

Review:

The benefits of the SmartWool hiking socks might not be immediately apparent while you’re standing in the store looking at a seemingly mundane pair of wool sacks that go on your feet. While I could tell you to try wearing a pair of cotton socks out on the trail instead of wool, I really don’t want any potential fiery death rage flung in my general direction because you now have some nice blisters (or worse). While these socks are a bit more on the pricey side, you do get what you pay for. SmartWool socks are super tough. I’ve had my 1st pair now for several years and after severe use, they don’t yet have any holes. The only issue I’ve encountered is that the socks do pill a bit in some areas. I guess this is to be expected after being used and washed many times though. I only recently bought another pair to have on hand just in case. SmartWool socks are very comfortable. The foot bed has a nice cushion and there’s enough room so that your toes aren’t crushed together. The packaging states that these socks have a blister free fit. I’m going to have to agree with the company on this one. While wearing these socks, I’ve never once had any blisters. I’m not saying you will never get blisters while wearing these socks because they are some sort of magical foot pouches. I would imagine that if they became wet and the hotspots of your feet were constantly rubbing against your boot for many kilometers, then logic dictates that blisters are bound to form eventually. The SmartWool socks are constructed with a bit of nylon for elasticity purposes. Because of this, once they’re pulled up, they don’t fall down. When I’m out hiking, my feet are dry in these socks. They do their job well by wicking away any sweat.  Want another solid reason to buy these? SmartWool socks are made in the USA.

Final Thoughts:

  • SmartWool hiking socks are worth the price in the long run. Be nice to your feet when you’re out on the trails. Grab a pair of these SmartWool socks and hike along your merry way. Seriously, nobody likes blisters.

5 out of 5

 

 

 

Copyright © 2015, Ben Aerssen. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Clothing, Gear, Hiking

How To: Layering For Winter Hiking

Layering Featured

 


 

It’s -15 degrees Celsius and snowing outside? Get out and hike!

It’s winter here in Canada. Yeah it’s cold out, but so what? If you dress for the weather outside, you’ll be a comfortable and happy hiker while you’re out on the trails.

The Concept

Layering is key when it comes to spending long periods of time outdoors doing physical activity during the cooler winter months. By dressing in multiple lighter layers, you’ll be able to adapt to fluctuating weather conditions and quickly manage any changes to your body’s temperature.

The idea is that after you’ve been moving around for a while and have generated a fair amount of body heat, take a quick break to remove a layer (usually the mid layer). This will cool your body down before you start to sweat profusely and drench your clothes.

Having wet clothes while you’re outdoors in the cold of winter is the last thing you want. After your clothes become wet, the cold air will begin to cool them down quite fast. When your clothes are wet and cold, you become wet and cold. At that point, it’s very hard for your body to maintain warmth. This can potentially lead to hypothermia.

The Materials

There’s the age old adage that states cotton kills. While your favourite, comfy 100% cotton blend t-shirt won’t sneak up and try and stab you in your sleep, it will lose all ability to keep you warm when it becomes wet. Cotton takes a very long time to dry when wet, as it absorbs sweat or water rather than “wicking” (pulling) it away from your skin to the outer surface where it can evaporate. This is obviously not ideal.

Enter your new friends – wool and synthetic garments. These materials will wick away sweat from your skin, they dry quickly and they will still insulate when wet.

Layering Materials

Materials: Polyester and Wool; the two materials you’ll want to get more acquainted with.

The Layers

  • The Base Layer. This is the layer that sits closest to your skin. The base layer is responsible for wicking away any moisture from your skin. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to cover up in base layer garments from the neck down. Firstly, go and grab some good old long johns! Also known as thermal underwear, you’ll want to throw on a long-sleeved top and a pair of bottoms.  These can be found in both wool and synthetic materials (ex. Polartec Power Dry®). For winter activities, there are three different weights available; light, mid and expedition (the heaviest used for the coldest conditions or low activity). Choose the garment weight that will best suit your upcoming hike. Next up, pull on a good pair of hiking socks (ex. SmartWool) to keep your feet dry and warm. Tip – Always bring at least one extra pair of socks with you. Always. Wet feet are horrible to hike with. On top of sucking out precious body heat, wet socks create optimal conditions for blisters to form. If your socks become wet, swap them out for a dry pair.
Base Layer

Base Layer: Underwear has never been so high tech. It’s like you’re wearing a piece of the future.

  • The Mid Layer. This layer helps provide you with warmth. The mid layer will be thicker than your base layer. It should fit comfortably (not baggy) and it shouldn’t restrict movement in any way. A popular option here is fleece, but wool also works well. The mid layer is the layer you’ll be removing to cool down and then putting back on again to warm up when you slow down or stop. For this reason, you’ll probably find that a fully zippered top is the most efficient option.
Mid Layer

Mid Layer: Use your escaping body heat and some insulation to stay warm. GO SCIENCE!

  • The Shell Layer. This is the layer that keeps the wind and snow out. That being said, the shell layer should be weatherproof; windproof,  waterproof and breathable. Over the years, a few reliable technologies have popped up that perform very well in this manner. Probably the most well known and most widely used is Gore-tex®. For your upper body, you’ll want a good quality hard shell jacket. For your lower body, a pair of weatherproof or weather-resistant pants will do nicely. These will be large enough to fit over top of the layers beneath them. Sometimes, you’ll need more ventilation to cool down during your hike. A lot of jackets and pants have ventilation zippers built in that you can quickly open up to let out a bit of that increasing heat.
Shell Layer

Shell Layer: Slap Old Man Winter in the face. Throw on a weatherproof shell.

  • The Extras. Lastly, you’ll need to cover up your head and your hands. Again, you’ll want to stick with synthetics or wool. For your head, you can use a thick wool toque or a thinner polyester toque; it’s up to you. To cut the wind on your noggin, pull up the hood of your shell jacket. Optionally, you can wear a neck gaiter, balaclava or face mask to keep your neck and face warm. For your hands, you can grab a thin pair of glove liners and then slip on a larger weatherproof pair of gloves over top. Remove and add these layers as needed. Personally, my gloves are the first layer that I remove even before my mid layer. I have found that once my gloves are removed, I cool down nicely and my body maintains a balanced temperature. Something else to consider bringing on your winter hike are those little chemical-based hand and toe warmer packs. They may come in really handy if you’re in need of some instant heat. As a bonus, they’re very light and easily fit in pockets.
Some accessories

Extras: Don’t allow frostbite to ruin your day. Keep those extremities toasty warm.

Final Thoughts

Put these layering concepts to good use this winter and head outdoors to enjoy those stunning, snow-covered landscapes. You won’t regret it.

 


Get out and hike!


Copyright © 2015, Ben Aerssen. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Clothing, Hiking, How To Guides, Winter