RubiKon Adventures

Tales and travels of "GrizzLee", "Looksha Lori" & "Yukon Johann"

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Rubikon Adventure Quest 2011: Part 3 (The Final Chapter) - Donjek Route (June 27 - July 6)

This is Part 3, The Final Chapter, of our experience from hiking the Donjek Route in Kluane Park during a 10 day period from June 27 thru July 6, 2011.

There were 3 of us in our party (GrizzLee, Yukon Johann and Bighorn). This hike was truly the pinnacle of our experiences. It is a very rewarding experience and now a personal favorite. The scenery alone is overwhelming. Words and pictures cannot capture the emotional experience. It is a hard hike and physically challenging. But more than that, it was also a mental challenge and a real test of personal fortitude.

Note: Before attempting this kind of adventure, please read the note from the Kluane Park Service found in Part 1 of the Donjek Adventure Blog.. You could die doing this..

Read the blog and see the videos here:

We took time to stop and smell the flowers. There was interesting flora and fauna everywhere we looked. Most of it familiar...some of it very, very strange.

In Episode 2 we described the "moon-like" landscape that we hiked for miles. We ended up camping at a crossroads, so to speak, at the mouth of the Bighorn River. What you see here is a ritual trash burning on the glacier flats of the Donjek River. We had fires for two reasons; 1) To rid our garbage and lighten our load and; 2) To rid our garbage and reduce the smell of food odor.
I called it a crossroads because the route description mentions wading up the BigHorn River (which should take about 45 mins) or alternatively doing a bushwack up and over near a pass that takes 2-3 hours. We had a enough bushwacking for the time being and decided that the BigHorn River would be more palatable. It was big and cold. We explored it and found that we could cross where the river braided into several smaller "creeks" as demonstrated by "BigHorn" here in thigh deep water. Thus, we didn't have to swim. In the end, it took us over 2 hours to traverse up the river to our next challenge, Chert Creek.
Yukon Johann taking a much needed break by a beautiful creek. We had a big day traversing the edge of the Donjek River Valley, even traversing some brushy areas and bush-wacking a bit. Scenes like this were pretty common for us.
The payoff was camping in this magical valley of glaciers. This view of the Kluane glacier from our camp was priceless.  
Lets add some foreground for true effect. Seriously, no photoshop needed.
The silty river bed wasn't very good for holding our tent stakes, so we used big rocks. We found one heavy object that was no rock at all, but a Sheep's horn. Look closely at the center of the picture (Click to enlarge). Sheep horns and skulls, were scattered almost like liter in the river valleys.
We headed up Chert Creek and made a big boo-boo in navigation. We ended up at the base of a waterfall with nowhere to go but up and over a cliff. We saw grizzly tracks there that went up and over the cliff.... "what the fark !!!! is this?" we said to ourselves. If a bear can do it, we can too. It was scary to ascend with full packs. One wrong move here and it would have been a tragedy. But why in the hell did a bear ascend this rocky creek and climb over a rocky cliff? We'll never know. Even better question - why did we?
Thankfully, we made it up and over safely. We took a breather and looked back toward the Donjek valley far below. In checking the route, AND the GPS we realized that we should have followed a tributary creek farther below and then ascended up on the other side in a gully. We were 150 yards away from the recommended route. Damn it!!
GrizzLee and Yukon Johann happy to be alive. To celebrate we had a snack.
Our camp that day was in a flat area below Atlas Pass... Which was to be our next big challenge.
That evening, we had dinner guests; or was it we were dinner guests? In any event, we had a great time sharing the mountain valley with Dahl Sheep. It was awesome.
Yukon Johann got the tent ready for the evening.
The next day we ascended up the creek towards Atlas Pass. It was tough going (much tougher than it looked from camp) and required many creek crossings and hiking on ice in the narrow sections. The last bit required a steep ascent up to the pass over a scree laden field. As usual, we found that stepping in certain places would cause us to sink. We had to choose our pathcarefully.

Once at the pass, we took a big breather. The route description said that the views would be overwhelming if the weather was clear.
Oh my gosh. The views were stupendous.
Everywhere we looked, snow, glaciers and Sheep tracks.
The views into the ice fields were almost more than a mortal man could take. We sat for at least an hour and soaked it all in. We had many moments of silence. It was a truly magnificent experience. We could see far across the endless icefields and into Alaska AND we could see down to the Donjek Valley from where we came.
After our religious experience at the top of Atlas Pass, we knew it was time to go. We were oblivious to the hell that would follow.
The route said to traverse a ridge and look for a "Hole #9" green area. Like a golf green. We continuallly sank up to our ankles and knees and had to choose our steps down carefully. We kept asking, "A golf green here? Its all farkin rock. No plants in sight for miles. What could possibly grow here?"

And yet, we found the golf green after much searching. We were out in a totally alien world. No plants and multi-colored gravel. But below one of the gullies, there was a patch of green.  Son-of abit!. The route description said to proceed JUST to the right of the green. It looked like a cliff from above. (Plug your ears here) Goddammit! It was a 70 degree slope down hard packed rock... no traction. Fuuuuuudge!!!! No turning back. There was ice in the gully below, it was dirty, it looked like rock from above; a nasty trick, no traction there either. The ice fell into Atlas Creek down a steep gully. One wrong breath, one wrong step, one wrong anything here and someone was going to get hurt, and as dramatic as it may sound, maybe even die. We made it through. GrizzLee slipped once and nearly slid to the bottom.  This picture does not clearly demonstrate how steepthe descent was. This was almost suicide. The park service should have been a bit more explicit about the dangers posed in this part of the route. It was (pardon my French here) fucking scary. 
Afterward we congratulated ourselves for getting down safely. As we proceeded along Atlas creek, we didn't talk much to each other. I think we were doing some soul searching and thinking about the unbelieavable challenge we just faced AND overcame. This picture of Yukon Johann reflects the mood we found ourselves in. Reflecting on a day of pure heavenly bliss followed by terror and adrenaline. That is a tough pill for anyone to swallow.   
We had times of camaraderie between father and son.

Looking back at the wall of terror.
Bighorn, our new friend and fellow adventurer. Who can forget such an experience shared by the three of us.
Speaking of Bighorn...We found another sheep skull in the river bed during one of our breaks.

We were in a funky mood and this picture was proabably the turning point in determining a nickname for our hiking partner and new friend.
Speaking of friends, the folks who left these tracks near our camp are friends we didn't really care to meet up close and personal.
What the heck were we looking at here? Not sure. Just another trash burning fire to lighten our load and smelly burden.
Maybe we were looking at this mountain from our camp.
Our camp in the bush along the Duke river was relaxing, 'cept maybe for the grizzley tracks nearby.
Hiking in the bush along the Duke River we found an entire moose skeleton. In a nearby meadow, we found the skull and antlers.
It was GrizzLee's time for some back country silliness.
A perfect fit.
This was all too wierd and in hindsight, it looks a bit scary as well. Something like one would find in a David Lynch movie. 
As the day wore on we saw more and more of these.
And more. Even the wolves were getting in the act. Yep those are wolf tracks walking parallel with the grizz tracks.

At some point, we had to climb up over some cliffs along the Duke River. This is looking back after bushwacking for a couple of hours.

This is what we were in for the rest of the day. The Kluane Hiking guide book written by Vivien Loughheed mentioned a horse trail all the way to Granite creek. She's a liar. There is no trail. AND parts that looked like they might be a trail, cannot be traversed by a horse. The hike from hell was not over.   
Holy bushwack Batman!!
This picture cannot convey the amount of bushwacking we had to do. Up, down and sideways in trees and brush that stick to you like velcro. Close your eyes, as one never knows when they may get poked by a branch. GirzzLee suffered bruised arms and ripped shirts fighting the ungodly bush. On top of that, the ground gave way underneath as the muskeg/thick moss was so soft we sank several inches (6 inces or more) with each step. Like hiking on a very soft trampoline, but with a full pack. GEEEZUS!

And yet, in the midst of it all we found beauty, like this unusual fungi growing in the bush.
 At one point Bighorn yelled out, "There's a Cabin... There's a Cabin". We accidently found the abandoned Granite Creek Cabin. But we weren't exactly at Granite Creek!
We camped on the banks of the Duke river that evening. Licking our wounds and hoping to reach civilization the next day. We had a huge dinner, eating our food reserves in celebration. 

The river rock was somr\ething to see. It was amazing and one of many things we experienced that deserve more attention than is given here.

The road ahead. From the initial scouting trip down river, it appears that no more bushwacking will be required. WRONG!! We had about five miles to go. We bushwacked, waded the Duke River, fought 15 rounds with the relentless bush.
In the end we made it out alive. We felt we hadn't conquered anything. We made it through. We were stronger for it and much more appreciative of mother nature. In the end, we have more repsect for the land and developed a friendship that will last many years, maybe a lifetime.  

We never saw any bear or moose on our trek. While signs of them were certainly everywhere. We attributed this to following bear country protocol and making plenty of noise on our journey. It was a good thing that we never encountered a bear. Unfortunately, this means we scared many moose away as well. 
The day we exited our trek. We drove the Alaksan Hwy to where it crossed the Donjek River. From the highway there are fantastic views up into the heart of the Donjek Valley. What did we see? A lone Grizzly wandering toward us along the river. This picture isn't anything special, but it is as close as we got. However, that bear, was more scared of us than we of it. Once aware of our presence it turned and jumped into the river. It swam out to several islands and acorss to the other side about a mile away. 
This was the final set of tracks we saw on the Donjek River. This picture was taken moments after seeing the Grizzly. They don't really look too fresh do they? We realized that many of the tracks we saw on our trek may have been just as old, or do I mean just as fresh!?! We were lucky not to surprise a grizzly in the bush. And for that we are thankful.

Until Next time... Stay safe, stay hungry... Open your eyes and see the world around you.
Read Part 1 here:
Read Part 2 here:


  1. Hey I'm interested in doing this hike and was wondering if you'd be able to give any tips, and answer some questions about it. My email is

    1. Sure, no problem. I sent you and email with some more details and my personal contact information. I look forward to sharing what I can to help you out.

      The Donjek was the best trek I have ever done. Very tough, but very rewarding.


  2. Very good. I did the route in August 2011 and it was tough no doubt. Enjoyed seeing the similarities and differences. Descending Atlas was tough, i did it in fog and snow and followed a creek down which in the circumstances was probably my best option. I still think about this trek three years on!