Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
HAINES JUNCTION, YUKON TERRITORY — The clouds thin, the wind retreats and Sherpal Singh sees an opportunity. The pilot flies the Helio Courier aircraft in the direction of Mount Logan — Canada’s highest peak — before slowly, smoothly performing a U-turn. He then pumps the landing gear with his fist to lower the skis attached to the base of the plane and sets us down — on a glacier.
A minute or so later, I am walking on ice and snow in Kluane National Park while our plane sits quietly behind us. Though increasingly frequent, the glacier landing is still rare. The conditions need to be precise. The pilot must be confident he or she can get down and back up before winds increase or cloud cover descends.
Singh, who pilots for Icefield Discovery, was glad to have me land. As he pointed out, “How many people can say they landed on a glacier?”
Not enough, in my opinion.
We stood at the foot of Mount Saint Elias, the namesake of the Saint Elias Mountain Range and the second-tallest mountain in Canada, standing at 5,489 metres (18,008 feet) — 470 metres (1,542 feet) shorter than Mount Logan, which was a few hundred yards away and layered with clouds. The peaks here are gargantuan; with the Mount Logan massif holding a claim to the the title of largest mountain in the world based on its volume.
The Saint Elias mountains are also distinct for other reasons:
- They include 11 peaks that are more than 5,000 metres (16,404 feet) high
- They are the highest, youngest and fastest-growing mountains in Canada
- The temperature at their site reached minus-77.5 degrees in 1991, the lowest temperature ever recorded outside of Antarctica
- They are part of the world’s largest non-polar ice field
While both cost and weather conditions may prohibit many people from participating in a glacier landing, seeing them from ground level is breathtaking, too. Kluane National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a jewel of Parks Canada’s system, has numerous hiking trails and picnic grounds around its many lakes. While there’s talk of a possible lodge being placed within the park, for now visitors can either camp or stay in Haines Junction, a town of 600 people who live right outside of Kluane.
You may even find the water in this part of Yukon provides thrills in its liquid form too. Outfitters offer fishing tours, which come with the bonus of spotting wildlife such as moose, bears and eagles.
In fact, I got so close to a moose while in a boat in the Kathleen River that for a moment it seemed to me as majestic as one of the peaks to my back.
MORE ABOUT VISITING KLUANE NATIONAL PARK
Getting There: Most visitors arrive to Kluane National Park from Yukon’s capital city, Whitehorse, via the Alaska Highway. The drive is about 180 kilometres (112 miles) and takes about two hours.
Icefield Discovery Flights: During the flying season, the planes leave daily, weather permitting, from the landing strip outside of the national park. The sightseeing tours last from 1-2 hours and there’s no guarantee of a glacier landing. The cost starts at $250 per person. The company also has a base camp at the foot of Mount Saint Elias that can be rented for an additional $1,250 for three nights (maximum of three guests) for those adventurers who want to hike and explore deep within the mountain range. Website: www.icefielddiscovery.com.
Where to Stay: Dalton Trail Lodge in Haines Junction provides stellar guided and self-guided fishing experience. Room rates include meals served in the property’s cozy lodge or its exquisite Lake House. Rates for a week-long stay start at around $4,000. Visit the property’s website for full details.