The single engine of our super skywagon hummed evenly–its rhythm much smoother than my heart’s thumping as we flew between mountains, their peaks somewhere above the plane’s wings.
Marie, our pilot, pointed out the right. “Avalanche!”
A small wall of pristine white snow broke away from the steep side of the mountain, cascading down and spreading out like the train of a bride’s dress over the banks lower down.
Our pilot turned her head towards me and smiled, telling us it was the first time this summer that weather conditions had been so perfect for flying like this!
Indeed, my Kluane Glacier Tour flight over Kluane National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Yukon, was about as perfect as it gets.
- Kluane is pronounced Kloo-wah-nee and is a Lu’An Mun Southern Tutchone word for “lake with many fish.”
- Kluane Lake is the largest lake in the Yukon, covering about 399 square km.
- Kluane was established as a game reserve in 1942 and a national park and reserve in 1972.
- Kluane was designated part of a regional UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979 along with Wrangell-St Elias, Glacier Bay, and Tatshenshini-Alsek (these adjoining sites are located in Alaska and British Columbia).
- This heritage site contains the largest non-polar icefield in the world and examples of some of the world’s longest and most spectacular glaciers.
- The central plateau contains over 200 glaciers.
- Elevations range from 500 m below sea level to 5000 m above.
- Some of the highest mountain peaks in North America are in this area, including Canada’s highest peak, Mount Logan.
- Populations of bears, wolves, caribou, Dall sheep and mountain goats that are endangered elsewhere are self regulating here.
While I had an amazing itinerary for my Yukon trip, I had anticipated the Kluane Glacier tour most of all. At first, it seemed doomed. The August weather was cool, damp and cloudy, with banks of clouds and mist.
When we checked in with Sifton Air the afternoon the tour was scheduled, we weren’t able to go up because of the weather. The forecast, staff at Kluane Glacier Tour told us, didn’t even look promising for the next day.
So, off we went to explore Haines Junction and wait and hope.
The next morning still looked about 50-50, but Marie said she’d take us up to have a look. She warned us that we might have to turn around without seeing much, but the other passengers and I were anxious to give it at least a try.
Marie, I soon discovered, was from France. She’d been flying all summer with Sifton Air and said there had been a lot of low cloud and mist, particularly during the week and a half I’d already been in the Yukon.
Luckily for me, the further over Kluane we flew, the bigger and bluer and brighter the sky became. Sunshine covered the mountain peaks. Snow sparkled everywhere. It was spectacular!
I’ve put together a slideshare of photos taken during my flight (the Kluane Lake photo, however, was taken on the ground)–just click below to come along.
I think the most spectacular thing I found in the glaciers was the way the ice was grooved–it looked to me more like a thousand snowmobiles had been racing over the ice with carbides on their skis than something that could just happen naturally. The same grooves were really visible in the ice fields, only even more amplified with deeper gouges cut in the ice from the movement of ice against ice.
I’ve found all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I’ve visited to be impressive, but Kluane stands out even among them for me, which is why my flight over the park ranked as #10 on my 2012 Staycation Tour of places I’ve been.
Some people, of course, like to challenge the elements even more than I do. You may find this YouTube video of Denise Norman and Danius Zoldokas on their first ascent in Kluane in the St. Elias range along the Yukon/Alaskan border interesting.
- Kluane Glacier Tours – http://www.yukonairtours.com/
- Kluane National Park and Reserve of Canada information – http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/yt/kluane/index.aspx
- Kluane UNESCO World Heritage Site information – http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/72/