Trip Number: 13029A
Staff: Mike Abbott
- Potentially see wolves, bears, woodland caribou, and golden eagles in
their natural habitat
- Walk right up to a giant glacier in a true wilderness setting
- Enjoy the Yukon’s diverse scenery -- wild rivers and streams,
canyons, and views of the Wrangell-St. Elias Mountains
- Transportation from Whitehorse to the trailhead and back
- Nutritious, tasty meals
- Bear canisters from the park service
Photo: Brandon Breen
Our 60-mile backpack, considered one of the classic backcountry routes in the
Yukon’s Kluane National Park, will take us deep into the heart of unspoiled
wilderness. We hike along wild rivers and cross two mountain passes with stunning
views of the surrounding Wrangell-St. Elias Mountains. We will camp beside rivers,
a giant glacier, and one remote lake. We will enjoy nearly 21-hours of sunlight
a day, giving us flexibility in our hiking schedule. The flora and fauna of
the area are rich and varied. In previous trips to the area we have seen woodland
caribou, wolves, bears, golden eagles, and Dall’s sheep.
Kluane (pronounced Kloo-AHN-ee) is derived from the Tutchone Indian phrase
"Lhu An Mun," meaning plentiful fish lake. Kluane National Park --
along with Wrangell-St. Elias and Glacier Bay National Parks in Alaska, and
Tatshenshini Provincial Park in Canada -- is part of the largest land preserve
on Earth, as well as the greatest nonpolar ice field on the planet. The park,
established in 1972, covers 8,500 square miles, of which about 10 percent is
composed of remote, yet accessible -- for the adventurous -- green fields and
valleys. These green areas have been used for nearly 3,000 years by the Tutchone
Indians for fishing and hunting, and most recently by Europeans. The park’s
highest management goal is for the preservation of its flora and fauna.
The trip is suitable for experienced backpackers in very good physical condition.
We will be hiking over a variety of terrain, from spongy tundra to river corridors
to some talus slopes and some boulder fields. There will be many stream crossings,
and we will have to descend two fairly steep passes. With the long days, we
should have plenty of time and our pace will be unhurried. There may be times
when we choose to hike in the evening. If our progress is good, we will have
one layover day.
Photo: Michael Thacker
Day 1: Starting early, we will leave Whitehorse on our shuttle
bus. It is about three hours to the trailhead by bus but we will stop for awesome
coffee and Danishes in Haines Junction and to take in the view. We should begin
hiking in the early afternoon, over the Burwash Uplands, mostly on an elevated
earthen dike, over an open area of tundra and wetlands known for interesting
birdlife and woodland caribou.
Day 2: We will continue for a few miles over the Uplands and
then drop down to the Burwash Creek. We'll follow it upstream until we come
to the base of the mountains, where we will camp for the night.
Day 3: We will climb about 1,000 feet to Hoge Pass, which
grants us spectacular views of the high Wrangell-St. Elias Mountains and the
Donjek Valley. Working our way down the pass to reach Hoge Creek, we will follow
the creek to the mighty Donjek River, often filled with ice floes from the calving
Day 4: After following the Donjek River for a couple of miles,
we will join up with an old horse path, which will lead us along the remote,
seldom-visited Donjek Valley. We will camp near the Donjek Glacier, listening
to it crack and calve through the night.
Day 5: We will layover in camp and day hike close to the face
of the glacier. We will generally spend the day exploring the river with direct
views of the face of the glacier throughout the day, taking care not to get
caught up in surging water from glacial face calves.
Day 6: If the weather is clear we will hike to near Atlas
Pass via Expectation Pass. This will offer us stunning views of the Donjek and
some of the bigger peaks in the ice fields. The elevation gain along this alternative
route is steady, but the contouring is easy. Once we cross the headwaters of
Chert Creek we will be at the base of Atlas Pass, a beautiful alpine area.
Day 7: Our hike will take us to the top of Atlas Pass, with
its incomparable views, and then we will descend on talus slopes to the Duke
River, which we will follow upstream to our campsite.
Photo: Michael Thacker
Day 8: Today we will ford the Duke River. In periods of high
water, this is a challenging crossing. We will then bushwhack up a steep hill,
eventually coming to an old mining road to get to Cache Lake, where we will
spend the night.
Day 9: We will leave Cache Lake and head downhill along Copper
Joe Creek for six miles, through an open area where we have seen Dall’s
sheep and golden eagles in the past, to our shuttle.
Day 10: Layover day. If our progress is sufficient, we will
have a second layover day somewhere on the route. If weather allows we will
explore the ice field in high Alpine country before crossing Atlas Pass; else
we will explore up the Duke River before crossing back in to the Copper Joe
We expect to travel six to eight miles a day, but a variety of factors, including
weather and water levels in the streams, could alter our plans. Group speed,
health and the weather make planning a fixed daily routine impractical. Please
be aware this itinerary is just a guide.
Fly into Whitehorse by July 20th to ensure flight delays or mishandled luggage
won’t prevent you from beginning the trip. If you arrive early there are
abundant things to do in Whitehorse: a great museum, a cool fish ladder, etc.
We will meet in Whitehorse on July 21st for a pre-trip dinner and orientation.
And early on July 22nd, a Monday, we will drive by van to the trailhead. The
trip ends on July 31st, and flights out shouldn’t be made until August
1st at the earliest. More details on lodging will be provided later.
Accommodations and Food
Photo: Brandon Breen
We will be camping all the nights of the trip, beginning on the 22nd. All food,
except extra snacks, will be provided during the course of the trip. Meals will
be vegetarian-friendly. The Sierra Club provides group equipment, including
pots, cooking utensils, stoves and fuel, tarp, satellite phone, and first-aid
kit for emergency care. Trip members should notify the leaders of any special
dietary requirements. As usual on Sierra Club trips, all members help with carrying
group gear, cooking, and clean-up duties -- each person assisting in the kitchen
for two or three days.
Given the length, off-trail nature, pack weight, and potential for bad weather
this trip is rated a five. Participants should be in good physical shape, capable
of carrying a 50-pound pack over difficult terrain. We will travel six to eight
miles a day, cross-country, with no real trails. Altitude and elevation gain
will not be much of a factor, though there will be a couple of elevation gains
in the 1,000-foot range, and we will descend two steep passes. The highest altitude
of the trip will be at 7,000 feet above sea level. We will walk over rock and
boulder fields, tundra, and along river valleys, with numerous stream crossings.
Equipment and Clothing
Photo: Brandon Breen
There will be no need of any specialized equipment for the trip -- just what
is needed for any long, rigorous backpacking trip. Due to the remoteness of
the trip, it’s imperative that all equipment is of high quality, field-tested,
and in good condition. Boots should be able to withstand frequent stream crossings.
A head net for mosquitoes might be nice, though in the past bugs have not been
much of a problem. Sharing a tent with another participant is encouraged, to
reduce weight and impact. In addition to their own gear, participants will start
out carrying 15-18 pounds of group gear, which should go down a little each
day. The leader will go over gear with each participant before approving them.
While maps are not required for participants, they are never discouraged either
-- especially if you want to brush up on map, compass, and GPS skills. The maps
for the Donjek Route are:
Bighorn Creek 115 G3
Duke River 115 G6
Steele Creek 115 G5
Burwash Landing 115 G7
Donjek Glacier 115 G4
You can buy them here:
Canada Map Office
615 Booth Street
Ottawa Ontario K1A 0E9
613-952-7000 or 800-465-6277
- Lougheed, Vivian, The Kluane National Park Hiking Guide.
- Theberge, John B (Editor), Kluane: Pinnacle of the Yukon.
Photo: Michael Thacker
Wilderness will be our main topic. Why is it good to preserve it? Do we need
to preserve more? How can we best accomplish this? We will also talk about the
challenges of preserving tracts of land to ensure large animals -- wolves, bears,
sheep, caribou -- will always have places to roam. And we can talk about the
Yellowstone to Yukon initiative, its present status, and how it seeks to preserve
large corridors to allow for genetic diversity in species populations. We will
offer strategies to help you become more involved. We will practice Leave No
Trace principles on the trip.
Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate
under a permit from Kluane National Park.
Travel in Alaska and the Arctic
Sierra Club outings in Alaska and Arctic Canada are special experiences in true wilderness, but they also carry an element of risk. Trip locales are often remote, away from the amenities of civilization, including sophisticated medical care and immediate evacuation possibilities. Many of our Alaska and Arctic Canada trips now carry satellite phones, but even with this technology, communication with the outside world can be difficult and emergency assistance can be days away. Weather in Alaska and Arctic Canada is unpredictable, and inclement weather can be severe. Among other hazards are cold river and stream crossings, tidal activity, calving glaciers, the psychological effects of remoteness, and the presence of large wild animals. You're in good hands, though, so don't worry: Your trip leaders have vast experience in the Last Frontier, and they'll provide all the guidance you need.
See the How to Apply for an Outing section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation Policy.
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
Mike Abbott currently lives on the Florida panhandle. His 30 years of backpacking and rock climbing includes much of the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains along with the desert Southwest, British Columbia, and the Yukon. Mike enjoys exploring and sharing the alpine world above all other outdoor pursuits. He is a dedicated Leave No Trace practitioner. Mike is a National Outdoor Leadership School graduate, Wilderness EMT, and PADI dive master. Professionally he is the CEO of a small engineering services firm.
Don Murch is an organic farmer, commercial fisherman, and wilderness guide with extensive travels in the wilds of Alaska. He has 35 years of experience planning and executing backpacking, rafting, and group tours in the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Mexico. Gourmet cooking is one of his favorite pastimes.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips