Thursday, April 16, 2009

Crust skiing on the Cassiar

We headed for a soak in the Liard Hotsprings and were glad we did.

The wood bison were everywhere along the road and they have to plow trails along the sides to keep them from just staying on the highway. You see, they love the cut grass on the road sides. The amount of bison poop was equally as impressive, let me tell you.

The Cassiar Highway is everything it's chocked up to be. The road is in perfect condition and dry as a bone. They really get after the snowplowing. But, there are almost no services, and many weren't open for the spring. One could make a fabulous ski trip out of it. There's at least one heliskiing operation, and lots of possibilities from the car. Mo spotted a black wolf through the trees, and at Dease Lake we picked up a few groceries and gas.

We camped on a lake south of Dease but in the morning, we couldn't make it past Kinaskan before busting out the skis for a sunny skate across. What a treat when the stars allign for this phenomen. It takes warm melting conditions and cool nights to set up to a solid corn kernal-like consistancy. Dreamt of by skate skiers all year- lakes, marshes, and open meadows are all likely suspects.

Afterward we drove on and passed a couple of spruce grouse on the road, likely filling up on gravel. Yes, they really do eat rocks. Something bigger caught our eyes and we realized we were seeing a lynx!

It was nonplussed by us and seemed to care less that we we rolled to a stop right next to him. We got some photos and video.

Still buzzing by our "Wild America" encounter, we decided to take the Stewart,BC/Hyder, AK turnoff and down to the Portland Canal. Stewart keeps its Christmas decorations up at least until April, and is a town of about 1000. Hyder population 30. They stare at each other across the border at the end of a 90 mile long fjord. Stewart enjoys a favorable position on the mudflats, Hyder, hangs precariously to a rocky ledge nearer the deep water. Both date to mining, timber, and roadbuilding booms. The inn we are staying at was built in 1922 and is a grouping of Victorian-looking wood homes on the main drag. They say it's the friendliest ghost town in Canada.

However, the pizza at the only open restaurant really sucked. They sell this stuff at the grocery stores in large bricks called "pizza cheese". It looks and tastes a bit like drywall compound mixed with Velveeta. Not recommended. But then again, this is from a guy who bought ketchup chips.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Haines and back to Canada again

I kid you not. Today's headline in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory:
"Few answers emerge from heated exchanges
April 13, 2009
Insults, accusations and non sequiturs formed the back and forth cavalcade of question period in the legislative assembly last Wednesday.."

And, yes it's still just a territory. Why the hell haven't the made this place a province by now? Maybe Canadians are waiting for somebody to move up here before committing to it...

Haines was fabulous. Greg & Marnie treated us royally in their gorgeous house on the hill. They treated us to whisky, whiskey, margaritas, Haines Brewing Company's wares, and a slightly hungover pancake cook-off.

Their happy dog Pelley & Chance took a while to warm up to each other, but Pelly would not be denied by the old grump, and toward the end they were mostly buds.
Marnie is the town's lead Physical Therapist, and Greg does a variety of things (like we noticed, so do many of the men of Haines). He started The Expedition Broker a few years ago to help find adventurous trips in Alaska for adventurous people. He took us to ski powder on Easter at Haines Pass on a fabulous bluebird day. Here's Mo cutting a few telemark turns.

Hard to beat that. If you are planning a trip to Alaska, start with Greg. He really works to find you a perfect trip. Definitely check out his cool website.
Friends "Roger" (name changed to protect the innocent) and Sean also went for the ski, and we learned a little lesson about how the US treats foreigners. Roger is a Scot. His passport is red. He would hand it, and his green card, to border control each time we crossed the border. They would take it inside, xerox and scan it, ask him all sorts of probing questions like, "Have you been fingerprinted lately?" then stamp it and hand it back. We Americans, on the other hand, simply answered a few questions as to the contents of our lunches, and if we were carrying $10000 or more, and never even got a stamp. What's up with that? Is Scotland on our terror watch list these days. God help us if clansman ever try to take over our countries, I know, but it's time to lighten up a bit. Roger told us he was supposed to get fingerprinted every time he crossed the border. What a pain living in a border town. Luckily most of the border guards are cool about it, he tells us diplomatically. We "land of the free"-ers were incensed, and apologized for being ogres of the world.

We put our name in for a boat slip in Haines harbor. In 5 years, we might just get something. The tide was pretty low this morning walking the docks.

The weather for the ferry ride from Haines to Skagway was spectacular. The wind was behind us, so it was perfectly calm as we rode on the back solarium. Such a bluebird day - and so appropriate that we actually spotted a mountain bluebird in Skagway at the Taiya River Bridge. It really knocked our socks off. Not an expected bird at all. It must have been passing through to a summer range. Very cool.

We stopped briefly in Skagway to see if we could find a replacement part for the bike rack. The odds were 1000:1 that the tiny outdoor shop - The Mountain Shop would have a "Mighty Mount Universal Mount" by Yakima. It busted on a washboard road in Haines. The shop clerk looked at the computer inventory and told it said she had one. My heart raced. One. That's all I needed. She found the ladder and climbed up to the dusty boxes above the fleece jackets, and pulled down a box. In it were, not one, but four of the suckers. If they fail at the rate they did so far, I've now got enough "Mighty Mount Universal Mounts" to last the whole road trip to Seattle.

Canada is, well, different. I'm hoping our Canadian friends got distracted by the first photo, and will ignore this next observation.

We were at the hotel bar in Whitehorse and a large group of sunburned skiers were at the tables behind us. It was clear they were a little goofy, and maybe drunk, but Monique had a better view, so I asked her, "Are they being dorky?"

"No", she said, "just Canadian."

But they do have a beautiful country. We've loved the scenery. And the Coffee Crisps.