WHAT THE PLAN IS: JESSICA KELLEY’S SUMMER IN THE YUKON TERRITORY AND ALASKA

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MARK SIREK
MARK SIREK Administrator Posts: 313

Words and Photos by Jessica Kelley @jkelley @jessi_goes

Trailhead and Hyperlite Mountain Gear followers may already be familiar with the bold and amazing adventures of our longtime friend Jessica Kelley. She’s an endurance athlete and coach, currently living in rural Washington State. A recipient of the 2018 Kyle Dempster Solo Award, we’ve shared a few of her ambitious trips like the “Methow to the C," as well as her top shelf photography. True to form, this summer she’s embarking on one of her biggest trips yet. Read on and stay tuned for the trip report to come!

At the end of June, I'm embarking on a 1400-mile human-powered loop through the Yukon Territory and Alaska.

I'll start in Whitehorse, pedaling east along the AlCan highway, and then climb up and over the Cassiar Mountains via a steep gravel track called the South Canol Road.

After the South Canol Road, I'll "bike" the Dena Cho Trail. The Dena Cho trail is an historic route traditionally used by the Kaska First Nations people, and is decidedly non-bike friendly, with some potentially tricky river crossings. The day before I depart on the Dena Cho, I've arranged to meet with a Kaska elder who will share his knowledge of the area and explain the cultural significance of the route.

When I reach the end of the Dena Cho, I'll continue riding along remote and hilly gravel roads that eventually connect to the Klondike Highway, leading to Pelly Crossing. At Pelly Crossing, I'll inflate my packraft, lash my bike to the bow of my boat, and paddle down the Pelly River. The Pelly River is an infrequently paddled river where I'm more likely to see bears, moose, or caribou than other people. After approximately 40 miles on the Pelly, I'll reach the mighty Yukon River, where both the current and headwinds will probably pick up. From here, I'll paddle 160 miles on the Yukon River to Dawson City.

In Dawson, I'll hop back on my bike and take a 150-mile side quest up the gravel Dempster Highway to Tombstone Territorial Park. Tombstone is a remote park with "few established trails, rough terrain, and drastic weather changes." I'll spend several days exploring the area on bike and on foot.

From Tombstone, I'll head back to Dawson and then west along the Top Of The World Road. This road will take me across the northernmost border crossing in North America and into Alaska. Once in Alaska, I'll ride the gravel Taylor Highway through the tiny, funky village of Chicken, AK, probably stopping for a drink in their "very lively saloon."

After Chicken, I'll continue south past the abundant wetlands and forests of the Tetlin Wildlife Refuge–which, if I'm being honest, will probably attract abundant mosquitoes and black flies as well. I'll camp at the enticingly named Deadman Lake before crossing the border once again and returning to the Yukon Territory.

Back in Canada, I'll take another detour into Kluane National Park, an area known for high mountain peaks and massive valley glaciers. After several days exploring Kluane on foot and potentially by boat (depending on water levels), I'll get back on my bike for the final push to Whitehorse, completing the human-powered loop. The new route will be approximately 1,400 miles, with 200 miles bikerafting the Pelly and Yukon Rivers, and up to 100 miles on foot.

WHAT I KNOW ALREADY–AND WHAT I DON'T

I've made a similar trip before to Alaska, but this trip is based primarily in Canada. International travel, even when it's "just" to Canada, definitely adds complications. I live in a small rural town in Washington State, and shipping resupply boxes from my small remote town to another remote area in a different country is not straightforward. No one could tell me how long it would take for boxes to make the journey, especially with customs involved. I live close to the US/Canada border and actually ended up driving my resupply boxes across the border and mailing them from Canada so I could guarantee they'd arrive in time!

On my previous Alaska trip, I also paddled the Yukon, but the Yukon is a very long river, and I was on a completely different stretch. And I've never been on the Pelly at all. So while I'm feeling generally comfortable with the packrafting portion of this trip, I'm still going to be in a small inflatable boat, alone, in the middle of the wilderness, paddling stretches of river I've never seen before. That's definitely going to keep me on my toes!

HOW I'M RESEARCHING

Obviously, the Google is a great starting point for research, and I've spent a lot of time online reading trip reports and staring at maps. But I'm also relying on some "old-fashioned" resources such as hard copies of river guidebooks and phone calls to locals. In fact, I originally had a slightly different route planned out, but changed it after gathering more info from locals about winds, current, and objective hazards.

WHAT I'M ANTICIPATING/APPREHENSIVE/STOKED ABOUT

I am super excited to visit Tombstone Territorial Park and Kluane National Park. I've seen photos, and they look stunning. I'm glad I'm making time to explore them on foot. I'm also looking forward to the Dena Cho trail. I'm grateful that a Kaska elder is willing to take time to chat with me before I set out, and I think it will be really cool to ride/hike that trail after meeting with him. Last but definitely not least, the Canol Road should be a challenging yet rewarding way to kick off the adventure. It involves 14,200 ft of climbing over 140 miles. All gravel, no services. That's gonna be a doozy!