The Bounty Up North

Stikine River & the Cirque of the Unclimbables

canada parks, adventures

Cirque of the Unclimbables, conquered    Photo: Corel

Stikine River
British Columbia

In a little more than a week and 150 miles of intermediate canoeing on the lower Stikine River, you can travel between two countries, among 10,000-plus-foot oceanfront peaks, and through two biological worlds—the dry eastern slopes of the Coast Mountains in British Columbia and the temperate rainforest of the southeastern Alaska coast. It's a mountain corridor so spectacular and varied that when John Muir visited in 1879, he likened the Stikine Valley to the grandeur of Yosemite.

We shoved off for our ten-day trip from Telegraph Creek, B.C., silt grinding audibly against the canoe, and dug into the swirling current, bound west for Wrangell, Alaska. We gazed up at the blue-white glaciers and the awesome barrier of the Coast Mountains. Some of the highest peaks—Devils Thumb, Kates Needle, and Castle Mountain—mark the boundary between Canada and Alaska, and shield the interior from Pacific storms.

Beneath us was the Stikine, a highway during the Klondike gold rush of the late 1800s, with a current so fast that only jet boats can navigate upstream against it. You can raft the river—and many do—but the mazes of braided channels take full advantage of a canoe's dexterity and make paddling much more satisfying than floating.

Camping along the way is simple: At the end of each 15-mile day, pick any of the Stikine's numerous gravel bars and beaches. On day eight, we camped at the Great Glacier of the Stikine, where a short trail leads to the snout of the glacier and a pool of icebergs. A magnificent delta, an important migratory stopover for sandpipers and other shorebirds, marks the journey's denouement. To reach the true conclusion, paddle till the Stikine's silty outflow gives way to green salt water, then cross the bay over to Wrangell and scrape ashore. —Byron Ricks

DETAILS: Alaska Vistas (866-874-3006, runs jet-boat shuttles to the Telegraph Creek put-in from Wrangell, $1,400 for six people. Or canoe with an outfitter. Nahanni River Adventures (800-297-6927, charges $3,160 for a 14-day Stikine trip from Whitehorse.

Cirque of the Unclimbables
Northwest Territories

Deep in the glacier-scoured valleys of the western Northwest Territories stands a crop of sheer granite so formidable that 1950s explorers dubbed it the Cirque of the Unclimbables. Today, however, it might be better labeled Funclimbable. Take, for example, Lotus Flower Tower, a 2,200-foot wall that's a smaller version of Yosemite's El Capitan. A floatplane will drop you off at Glacier Lake, 300 miles east of Whitehorse, where a nine-hour hike will get you to Fairy Meadows, a patch of grass surrounded by a rock amphitheater. Spend two days working your way up the tower's 22 pitches, bivouacking alongside a sea of granite after the first ten. For the best shot at clear weather, pencil in a two-week block in July or August. —Tim Neville

DETAILS: Gravity Adventures (877-772-5462, leads climbers up Lotus Flower Tower, starting at $3,800 (including flight from Finlayson Lake, in the Yukon).

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