Hike to Mystery Lake

Much of our time since we arrived in Vancouver a little over a week ago has been taken up dealing with issues pertaining to my elderly father’s declining health, but this weekend we’ve changed gears and we’re on grandparent duty while our son and daughter-in-law enjoy a short getaway without kids. Alhough the temperature was only 5ºC (41ºF) when we got up this morning, the sun was shining and we decided to take the boys on a mountain hike.

It’s been almost two years since our snowshoe adventures on Mount Seymour, but we took the same road that zigzags up the mountainside to the ski resort. Locating the trailhead near the bottom of the ski lift, we set off for Mystery Lake.

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Though the Vancouver Trails website calls this an easy hike, I tend to agree with those who left comments saying that it’s significantly more challenging than that. It’s fairly short, but steep, ascending approximately 150 metres over slippery tree roots and loose rocks. It was also quite wet and icy this morning which made it a bit more arduous than it might be during the summer months when, on hot days, people hike up to the lake to picnic and swim.

Although the hike was a bit more challenging than we expected, it was well worth it for the beauty that greeted us when Mystery Lake came into view.

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We sat on a rocky bluff along the shoreline and ate our picnic lunch. Though the lake wasn’t frozen yet, we had no desire to plunge in for a swim! In fact, the boys had lots of fun playing with the ice on the puddles.

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Rather than returning by the same trail we climbed up, we headed toward the Mystery Chairlift and went down the rocky path directly below it. Though not as scenic, it was an easy descent.

I didn’t think about the fact that we might fit in a hike while we’re here, so I didn’t bring my hiking shoes. I was impressed, however, to find that my golden sneakers managed the trail without any problem! They provided plenty of grip even on the most difficult parts.

Dressing for an autumn hike

Dressing for a hike is all about comfort, not style. I don’t want to look terrible when I’m on the trail, but I’m much more concerned about wearing clothes that are comfortable and well suited to the conditions. When we set out last Saturday morning, the sky was overcast and the temperature was 17ºC (about 63ºF). We knew that it was likely going to get warmer as the morning went by, so as always, layering was the key.

I started with a long sleeved grey and white striped Breton tee and a comfortable pair of jeans that used to be black, but are now faded to a dark charcoal grey. (Any tips for keeping black jeans from fading would be much appreciated.) Both items are several years old. Next, I added a lightweight athletic jacket that I bought at our local thrift store back in January. It was like new and was definitely one of the best $3 investments I’ve ever made! It’s been to Mexico and Europe with me and I’m sure its cost per wear is already just a few cents. The final layer was my Uniqlo ultra light down vest.

I wear a ball cap to shade my face. There’s a good reason for that. I have no depth vision. I never have had so I don’t know what I’m missing. My brain has other ways of compensating, but wearing sunglasses removes whatever sense of depth I have and makes walking on uneven ground treacherous. As a result, I never wear them when I’m hiking.

Being surefooted on the trail is important, so good sturdy footwear is vital. My Merrell hiking shoes may not be particularly glamorous, but they’re comfortable and provide excellent support.

One thing I’m not wearing is makeup. Why would I? I admit that I look a little washed out in the photos, but I was hiking! I did wear sunscreen though. Even when it’s overcast, I want to protect my skin.

As the morning progressed, the sky cleared and the temperature rose. Layers came off and by the end of our hike the jacket was tied around my waist, the vest was tucked into it’s little sack and tied to one of my belt loops, and my sleeves were pushed up.

One more time!

Every fall, regardless of how many times we’ve had the trailer out over the summer or where we’ve taken it, I yearn for one more camping trip. When September arrives, however, the calendar starts to fill up and it doesn’t always happen. The weather didn’t cooperate when we planned on going earlier this month, but this weekend we finally managed to squeeze in two more days of camping, hiking, and kayaking. Now I can clean the trailer out and get it ready for winter without regret.

Big Knife Provincial Park, located in central east Alberta where Big Knife Creek flows into the Battle River, takes it’s name from a native legend. Two hundred years ago, the Blackfoot and Cree who inhabited the area were bitter enemies. According to the story, Big Man, a Cree, and Knife, a Blackfoot, fought near the banks of the creek. Apparently, both warriors died in the battle. In spite of this somewhat bloody history, the park, which is less than an hour from home for us, is now a lovely place to retreat from the busyness of life.

After setting up camp on Friday morning and having an early lunch, we set off to hike the 4.7 km River Flats trail. Beautiful views like these ones whetted my appetite for getting out on the river!

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Unfortunately, it started to rain shortly after we got back to camp and we spent the remainder of the afternoon in the trailer playing crib! As we ate supper, the clouds parted again and the sun came out, so I decided to go for a quick paddle before dark. Richard’s back has improved, but he’s not taking any chances with it yet, so I was on my own in our son’s single kayak again. When I set off shortly after 7:00 PM, the river was bathed in golden evening light.

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Soon afterward, I accidentally took a wrong turn leaving the river’s main channel and I ended up spending most of my time in a shallower dead end backwater. That wasn’t all bad. The quiet arm of the river was bustling with beaver activity! I lost track of how many I saw and how many tails slapped the water when I got too close!

An hour after I set off, the river looked like this and I had to boogie to make sure I got back to the boat launch before it was too late to see anything at all!

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After breakfast yesterday morning, we ventured out to hike the park’s longer trail system, the 5.8 km Highlands Trail. This one climbs out of the river valley and follows a ridge above. I love this view of the meandering river below.

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The Big Knife trails are far from challenging, mostly level, grass covered, and well maintained.

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With the abundance of rain that we’ve had this year, everything is very green, a beautiful backdrop for the fall colours.

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The beavers weren’t the only ones busily preparing for winter. It seemed that almost every Canadian thistle along the trails had a bee busily gathering nectar and they were completely oblivious to me and my camera getting up close. There were clusters of little purple flowers everywhere and just as I stopped to take a photo of one, a bee decided that it wanted to be in that picture too.

In the afternoon, I was back out on the water. The Battle River flows so slowly that looking at it, one might wonder if it moves at all. The fact that I paddled upstream for an hour and a half and returned in an hour, even though I spent some of that time drifting, proves that it really does! The push ups and planks that are part of my daily exercise routine definitely pay off, but by the time I spotted the bright yellow buoy in the distance that marks the location of the boat launch, my arms were ready to say they’d had enough!

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Now we’re busy cleaning out the trailer and getting it ready for winter. If we do get out for any more hiking or kayaking this year, it will be as a day trip.

Drew’s special day

Our grandchildren have been blessed with an abundance of toys, games, and books so when two of them had birthdays this spring, we decided to be creative. Our gift to each of them was a special day on their own with Gram and Grandpa once school was out for the summer. Yesterday was 11-year-old Drew’s day.

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We left his Calgary home early in the morning and headed for Banff National Park where our day started with a hike in beautiful Johnson Canyon. Drew was beyond excited when we spotted a black bear crossing a hillside shortly before we arrived at the trailhead. The bear was too far away to get a good photo, but the entertaining little ground squirrels (like the one shown above) and red squirrels along the trail certainly weren’t!

Catwalks affixed to the limestone cliffs make the canyon easily accessible to everyone and the 1.1 km trail to the lower falls involves very little change in elevation.

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At the lower falls, a bridge crosses the creek allowing both an excellent spot from which to view the falls and access to a water-formed tunnel through the rock to a closer viewing platform.

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The crowd thinned out a little as we moved on toward the upper falls, another 1.5 km up the trail. Spectacular views continued to surround us as we climbed.

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We knew that the water level was much higher than when Richard and I did the same hike almost three years ago, but I didn’t realize how much until I compared photographs. Considering how much rain Alberta has been getting this season, I guess it shouldn’t be surprising.

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August 2016

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July 2019

After reaching the spectacular upper falls, we stopped to enjoy our picnic lunch before continuing our adventure.

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As we started back down the trail Drew announced, “This is the best birthday present ever!” It was then that I realized that the day was as much a gift to ourselves as it was to him! It definitely filled my heart to overflowing.

In addition to the hike, Drew had been eagerly looking forward to relaxing in the Banff Upper Hot Springs. I love this photo of his “floating head”!

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After soaking our tired feet and muscles in the hot pool, we made a quick stop at the Bow Falls Viewpoint then ended our day with a delicious restaurant dinner and a browse through a few gift shops before bringing a very tired boy home!

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Tomorrow we have a completely different agenda planned for his 9-year-old sister’s special day.

Hiking in January!

The last time we came to Mexico, we took a taxi about 9 km from Coatepec to the smaller town of Xico where we enjoyed a lovely lunch. Today, we went a little further past Xico and down a very rough cobbled stone road to go hiking. Hiking, in January! What a treat!

The last time our friends went hiking in the area, they were able to take a trail down to the bottom of Cascado de Texolo, but today that trail appeared to be closed. Instead, we crossed a suspension bridge and took a trail that climbed to a ridge high above the valley.

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Cascada de Texolo

In many ways, the hike reminded me of hikes we’ve done at the BC coast and in the Rocky Mountains except that the plant life was entirely different. Instead of forest, we were hiking through jungle.

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As we climbed higher, we could see a building perched on the edge of the ridge above us. Could it be a restaurant? If it was, we decided, we’d have lunch there.

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Sure enough, it was and we did! The food was delicious and the view was amazing.

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I had to pinch myself and remind myself that it really is January as I enjoyed the brilliant flowers along the trail.

Coastal adventure continued

On the west coast of Vancouver Island where we camped over the Thanksgiving weekend, more than half the days in October tend to be rainy ones. When the forecast promised sunshine on Saturday and rain on Sunday, we planned the weekend’s activities accordingly. Saturday morning found us back on the beach walking, playing, and searching for treasures washed up on the shore.

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Matt and Robin

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Adding to my shell collection

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Sam and his parachute man

Of course, a sandy beach like this one is an open invitation for castle building!

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is home to numerous hiking trails varying from easy loops of less than 1 km to the rigorous 75 km (46.6 mile) West Coast Trail that takes approximately a week to complete. For Saturday afternoon, we chose the popular Rainforest Trail. Made up of two loops, one on each side of the highway, this scenic 2 km trail took us deep into the forest away from the sound of traffic. The entire trail is a wooden boardwalk that protects the dense undergrowth while allowing hikers to enjoy the magnitude of the towering trees and massive ferns. Though not a difficult hike, there are over 700 stairs along the way!

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That’s a very big tree!

Though much of what is seen in the rainforest is huge, sharp eyes can also pick out many smaller things including a wide variety of mushrooms and other fungus. These ones, growing right in the campground were my favourites.

I almost expected to see a forest nymph or a smurf peeking out from beneath one of these!

As anticipated, Sunday was wet and drizzly. We spent the morning visiting the Kwisitis Visitor Centre learning about the history, people, and wildlife of the area. This small, free museum overlooks Wickaninnish Beach and is located on the site of the original Wickaninnish Inn.

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Rain or shine, the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is absolutely stunning!

 

Digital detox

After two weeks away from my computer and with very limited cell phone access, I’m home and back at the keyboard again. I was able to write my last two Fashion Friday posts in advance and schedule them to publish automatically while I enjoyed a much needed digital detox.

We spent the first week camping with our daughter and her family on the banks of the same lovely little creek at Botrell, Alberta that we visited with them last summer.

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Every now and then, we retreated under the awning or into the trailer when the sky began to rumble with thunder and it started to rain. One afternoon, about ten minutes of golf ball sized hail left us with damage to the awning and a hole in one of the skylights. Those will need to be replaced, but we patched them up with some awning repair tape and carried on.

Another day, we did the same hike at nearby Big Hill Springs Provincial Park that we did last year. A beautiful spot, it also has historical significance as the location of Alberta’s first commercial creamery as well as a failed attempt at a fish farm.

On the trail, our old knees had a hard time keeping up with the grandkids who ran up and down the hills like little deer!

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When they stopped long enough, it was a beautiful spot to get some great photos of them.

Time with these little people is always such a blessing!

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We spent our second week away from home at Camp Harmattan, the Church of the Nazarene campsite located in the valley of the Little Red Deer River between Olds and Sundre. There we enjoyed rich times of worship and prayer and sat under the teaching of two extremely gifted speakers. We also spent most of our afternoons relaxing and reading and evenings visiting around a campfire. What a blessed time of rest and rejuvenation!

Now we’re back in the real world, but feeling very refreshed by our time away.

 

Hidden gems

In addition to world renowned sites like some of the ones in Jasper and Banff National Parks, Canada is home to many hidden gems usually known only to local people. We also found some of those on our recent travels.

After saying good-bye to our son and his family and leaving the mountain parks behind, we spent another week in the nearby foothills where we camped at Bottrel, Alberta with our daughter’s family. There’s actually nothing at Bottrel except a general store and a small unserviced campground, but we heard about it because our son-in-law’s mother lives nearby.

The campground is only 40 minutes from our daughter’s home in northeast Calgary. As soon as we’d set up camp on the bank of the lovely little creek that runs through the campground, we drove into the city to pick up Drew, our oldest grandson, who enjoyed two days of camping with Gram and Grandpa before the rest of the family was able to join us.

One of the things that we wanted to do during that time was introduce Drew to kayaking, but the creek was too small for that and we didn’t know of any lakes in the area. Richard spoke to the storekeeper, who also runs the campground, and learned of a small fishing lake nearby that’s known only to the locals. The highlight of our outing to Winchell Lake was the rare opportunity to watch a loon and her chick close up!

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About 20 minutes from the campground, on our way into Calgary, we had also passed signs for Big Hill Springs Provincial Park. A quick online search revealed that its 2.3 km (1.4 miles) hiking trail with an elevation gain of only 20 metres (66 feet) was popular with young families. Not intending to do the hike until the rest of the family joined us, we decided to take a drive over to the park just to check it out. Drew was so enthusiastic, however, that we ended up hiking the entire trail that day! Of course, as little boys are inclined to do, he put in a few more steps than we did!

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Later in the week, we packed a picnic lunch and returned with the rest of the family. With Drew as our guide, we did the hike again.

An interesting geological feature in this small park, which is located in a beautiful coulee, are the mounds of unusual rock called tufa (too-fah). Apparently tufa forms when water, rich in calcium and carbonate, emerges from the ground. As it comes to the surface, it releases carbon dioxide into the air and forms outcroppings of calcium carbonate rock.

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The first part of the hike was particularly pretty following a stream with lots of little waterfalls.

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I believe this was 3-year-old Simon’s first hike, but he was very keen to go!

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Later in the afternoon, back at the campground, the creek was a great place to cool off!

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Two great hikes in Jasper National Park

As part of Canada’s 150th anniversary celebration, the country offered free Parks Canada passes to every Canadian and every visitor from around the world who requested one, giving each of us free admission to national parks, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas across the country. We put our pass to good use when we spent a week camping in Jasper and Banff National Parks with our son Matt, daughter-in-law Robin, and grandsons Sam and Nate, who were enjoying their first family vacation in the Beatrice, a newly restored and much loved family heirloom.

Like most mountain parks, both Jasper and Banff abound with hiking trails of varying lengths and degrees of difficulty. While at Jasper, we took advantage of two of these.

Valley of the Five Lakes

We chose this trail on the recommendation of my aunt who has lived in Jasper since 1953 and who continued to hike into her late 80s. The 4.5 km loop, located about 9 km south of Jasper, was an excellent choice. With only 66 m elevation change it was an easy hike for all of us.

The loop takes in all five small lakes, each a different shade of blue or green, but all strikingly beautiful.

First Lake

First Lake

Second Lake

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Second Lake

Third Lake (and in my opinion, the most beautiful)

Third Lake

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Isn’t that just stunning?

Fourth Lake

Fourth Lake

Fifth Lake

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While bears are known to frequent the Five Lakes area, especially in berry season, we saw only this frisky little chipmunk who was happy to pose for a photo.

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Maligne Canyon

With a depth of more than 50 metres at some points, Maligne Canyon is one of the deepest in the Canadian Rockies and certainly one of the most spectacular. For our second hike in the Jasper area, we started at the 5th bridge and hiked up the canyon trail to the teahouse at the upper end.

When I first looked at my photos, I was disappointed. Somehow they just didn’t capture the magnitude of what we’d seen. Then I realized that it was the thunderous sound of the water churning through the deep, rocky canyon that was missing! Use your imagination as you follow us up the trail and try to imagine what it sounded like as the canyon walls narrowed and the rushing water echoed below.

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Where does all that water come from? Located in the Maligne valley, Medicine Lake is formed by the Maligne River. One of the interpretive signs along the hiking trail compares Medicine Lake to a “giant leaky bathtub.” Water from the lake drains into what is thought to be the largest inaccessible cave system in the world and resurfaces downstream through springs along the canyon walls.

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The power of the moving water becomes evident when you look at the shapes of the rocky canyon walls that have been whittled away over eons.

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In some places, rocks and sand swirling around in the turbulent water wear potholes in the canyon floor or walls. Over time, as the canyon wears deeper these potholes, or bowls as we called them, are left above the water level, reminders of a previous time. You can see a pothole still being formed near the centre of this picture.

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Another interesting feature is the chockstone. Chockstones are giant boulders that have become wedged across portions of the canyon which narrows to only two metres at the top in some places. Over time, erosion slowly reduces the size of the chockstones until they eventually tumble to the canyon floor. There is a chockstone with moss and trees growing on it near the top of this photo.

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The promise of dozens of fossils preserved in the rock beneath our feet was an incentive to keep our young grandsons going as we climbed the last portion of the trail which is a bit steep. They became very good at spotting these reminders that this was once a very different looking world and enjoyed making rubbings of several of them.

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Though this hike isn’t a long one, if you go, allow yourself lots of time as there are so many interesting things to see and photos to take!

There are many trails in the canyon area and rather than retracing our steps the entire distance, we took a higher trail from the 4th bridge back to the 5th. Though we were above the canyon walls and further from the thundering water, the views were beautiful.

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Don’t get eaten by a bear!

We have never seen as many bears in the wild as on this trip… 18 so far! We’ve even hesitated to go hiking in some areas due to the risk of meeting a bear on the trail. In spite of the sign, we did do the 9th Avenue Trail at Dawson City though.

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The only wildlife we saw was this curious fellow who stopped munching long enough to watch us go by.

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Well, that’s not entirely true. There were also mosquitoes! Lot’s of mosquitoes! We made two errors that a hiker should never make. First, I forgot my water bottle. I filled it and left it sitting on the counter in the trailer. Fortunately, I’d packed some pop for our lunch, so we were able to stay hydrated. Second, we forgot bug spray, a big mistake, especially in the north! The mosquitoes hadn’t been bad in town, so we didn’t didn’t even think about them until we were out in the bush getting bitten. Luckily, it was a cool day and we were wearing long pants and sleeves, so we didn’t get eaten alive.

Back to the bear sign though. Notice that it says, “BE ALERT MAKE NOISE”. I’ve been giving Richard a hard time lately over the fact that throughout our many years of marriage, he hasn’t been a very open communicator. I know that some of you who know him will find that difficult to believe, but it’s true. I also read that talking works better than carrying bear bells as a way to avoid an encounter with the furry beasts. When we read the sign, I told Richard, “Today you’d better talk to me or you might get eaten by a bear!” In fact, I think a new code phrase has been born. From now on, if I think he’s being particularly uncommunicative, all I’ll have to say is, “Don’t get eaten by a bear!” and he should know what I mean!

Anyway, I digress. Back to the hike…

Beginning in 1898 when the population of Dawson City swelled with thousands of people hungry for gold, tents and then log homes were built up the steep hillside behind the present day town. Today, the uppermost avenue is 8th, hence the name of the 9th Avenue Trail that follows the perimeter of the town, but further up the hill. As the gold rush came to an end and the population dwindled, the hillside homes were eventually abandoned, but there are glimpses all along the trail that there were once people living there. The homes were often built on flat platforms with stone retaining walls. Most of these wooden structures are long gone, but a few signs of them can still be seen.

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There was no garbage collection in Dawson’s early days. Broken and discarded items were often piled up outside the buildings. Rusty remnants can still be seen along the trail offering archaeologists plenty of information about life in early Dawson.

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I’m not even sure what that was, but the bed springs were obvious. I wonder who slept on them and what their story was?

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The hike was not a long or strenuous one. The 9th Avenue Trail itself is only about 2.5 km in length. We made it a little longer by adding the connecting Crocus Bluff Nature Trail which leads out to a viewing platform perched on a rocky bluff overlooking the highway entering Dawson and the confluence of the Klondike and Yukon Rivers.

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