Autumn Among the Tombstones
by Marko Marjanovic
Yukon Hiking ~ Fall 2012
Hiking through the colourful landscape of Tomstone Territorial Park
For a brief time every autumn, the subarctic tundra of Tombstone Territorial Park erupts into a palette of fiery colours. It’s as if nature has cranked the saturation and vibrance dials of purples, reds, and yellows to the max.
With the hope of hiking through this colourful landscape, my wife, our friend Kai, and I packed our car with camping and hiking gear and drove 500 kilometres from Whitehorse up to the Dempster Highway. Unfortunately, nature doesn’t wait for long weekends, so we arrived to find we’d missed the peak colours by a week.
Nonetheless, the remaining autumn hues did not disappoint, and we were keen to get hiking. Our chosen hike--Pilot’s Peak (officially known as Mount Vines)--lies 117 kilometres up the Dempster Highway, right at the northern tip of the park. The hike starts by crossing the shallow, braided expanse of the Blackstone River, so we rolled up our pants, tied our hiking boots around our necks, and ventured into the frigid waters.
Cold. No, wait--more like numb. I had forgotten my sandals at home, so I was crossing the river barefoot. Halfway to the other side, I slipped. Time screeched to a halt as my hand dipped into the icy water, followed by a full arm, followed by one of my hiking boots that was tied around my neck. We hadn’t even really started hiking and I already had a boot full of water.
It took us half an hour to cross the river, but we made it to the other side in one piece. We laced up our boots--which for me meant one that was sopping wet--and headed onto the open tundra. What looked like flat, open ground from the highway was actually bumpy, uneven tussock grass. We navigated across a small brook and then started up a broad hill to the base of the mountain.
An hour later, we came to a rocky, scree slope, and the trail really started to climb. We found ourselves bent over, climbing a steep section. Near the top, we took a well-deserved break and explored towering rock pinnacles. These tall rock columns give this volcano-shaped mountain a distinctive crown on top.
Finally, we clamoured to the summit of Pilot’s Peak. The view to the east was filled with dramatic rolling ridges, each with grey-white dolostone tops that contrasted their yellow and crimson sides. The ridgetops looked like parts of a blank canvas where nature had forgotten to finish painting the landscape.
At last, we headed back down the mountain. Although we had missed the pinnacle autumn hues by a week, we had never been in a landscape so completely immersed in fiercely vibrant colours. The view of the vivid tundra below us allowed me to completely forget about the soggy boot on my right foot. But as we came closer to the end of our journey, we spotted our car--which, unfortunately, was on the other side of the river. Y