Categories
Hiking Travel

Hiking to Upper Dewey Lake

I went on a somewhat spontaneous two-day trip to Skagway, Alaska, in August 2019. Several people in town told me that hiking to Upper Dewey Lake (UDL), though quite strenuous, was worthwhile. Some said it was the best trail in the community. So, I decided to go on the hike the next day.

The trail is part of the Dewey Lakes trail system. While relatively simple to complete, it was physically demanding, seeing as I hadn’t hiked anything as formidable for a year or two.

A cabin next to Upper Dewey Lake in Skagway, Alaska, pictured on Aug. 18, 2019. (Steve Silva)
A cabin next to Upper Dewey Lake in Skagway, Alaska, pictured on Aug. 18, 2019. (Steve Silva)

A lot of the trail was an unforgiving ascent, reminding me of the Grouse Grind and part of the Gros Morne Mountain (James Callaghan) Trail hike. I was proud that I was able to do it, and the vistas were indeed rewarding.

The video embedded below offers a fairly comprehensive look at the journey. I put relevant video times in parentheses in this post.

I drove to Skagway from Whitehorse, Yukon, where I currently live, on Aug. 17. By the time I was ready to sightsee, it was 1 p.m. I asked a woman who worked at the hotel I stayed at if it was a good idea to go hike it right away. She warned against it, noting it’s a long hike and the windy conditions that day wouldn’t make it as enjoyable.

The hike begins

After a big breakfast, I began the hike at 10:19 a.m. the next day. I was back at the entrance at 6 p.m. I took many photos and videos, and I also made sure to spend time at the top to take in the views and think about the experience. I could have probably reduced the journey by three hours, if I wanted to rush it.

The entrance to the Dewey Lakes Trail System in Skagway, Alaska, pictured on Aug. 18, 2019. (Steve Silva)
The entrance to the Dewey Lakes Trail System in Skagway, Alaska, pictured on Aug. 18, 2019. (Steve Silva)

I stayed at Westmark Inn Skagway. My stay included free parking at a nearby lot that was close to the entrance of the trail system. A short walk past the train tracks (:32) got me to the entrance. There, there was a spot to brush shoes to prevent transporting the seeds of invasive plants (:40).

According to a sign on a nearby board (:44), a black bear was spotted on the trail system in May. A lot of people recommend carrying bear spray on hikes in the region. I saw at least one person carrying bear spray during the hike. I saw no bears but did come across what appeared to be, at least to my untrained eyes, a few spruce grouse (9:10).

The harbour of Skagway, Alaska, pictured from the Dewey Lakes Trail System on Aug. 18, 2019. (Steve Silva)
The harbour of Skagway, Alaska, pictured from the Dewey Lakes Trail System on Aug. 18, 2019. (Steve Silva)

Early on, I had to cross under a couple of pipes (1:05) that stretched up to the area of the first lake. I shared the trail with lots of caterpillars (1:40). There were some partly obstructed views of downtown Skagway (2:04) before I came across an outhouse (4:02).

Part of the Dewey Lakes Trail System in Skagway, Alaska, pictured on Aug. 18, 2019. (Steve Silva)
Part of the Dewey Lakes Trail System in Skagway, Alaska, pictured on Aug. 18, 2019. (Steve Silva)

Arrival at Lower Dewey Lake

The journey to Lower Dewey Lake had some of the steepest parts (2:48) of the entire trail to UDL. Most of the people I came across only went as far as that first lake, which is near Lower Dewey Reservoir. “Lower Lake Loop” (6:23) goes around the entire lake. I put that off for a potential hike when I came back (I was too tired, ultimately).

A caterpillar on the Dewey Lakes Trail System in Skagway, Alaska, pictured on Aug. 18, 2019. (Steve Silva)
A caterpillar on the Dewey Lakes Trail System in Skagway, Alaska, pictured on Aug. 18, 2019. (Steve Silva)

Later, there was a spot to either continue off to another toilet, Icy Lake, and Reid Falls, or head to UDL and the “Devil’s Punchbowl” (7:01). I went with the UDL option, of course.

Up it went… and up, and up, and up.

Part of the Dewey Lakes Trail System in Skagway, Alaska, pictured on Aug. 18, 2019. (Steve Silva)
Part of the Dewey Lakes Trail System in Skagway, Alaska, pictured on Aug. 18, 2019. (Steve Silva)

My calves remember that day well.

There were a few bridges, some stairs, and giant rocks (if that’s the correct term) that appeared to have had steps carved into them (12:32). The trail was well defined, and I never got lost. There were some trail markers (14:35) spread throughout.

Part of the Dewey Lakes Trail System in Skagway, Alaska, pictured on Aug. 18, 2019. (Steve Silva)
Part of the Dewey Lakes Trail System in Skagway, Alaska, pictured on Aug. 18, 2019. (Steve Silva)

There were a lot of “OK, I’m pretty sure the lake is just over this next hill” moments. Turns out, it was only safe to pre-celebrate once I reached the bridge at 19:21 in the video; I was quite close to UDL at that point.

Arrival at Upper Dewey Lake

Next to the lake (20:23) were a couple of cabins and at least one picnic table (20:15). According to the Skagway Recreation Center’s website, one cabin can be rented (21:24), and the other is first come, first serve (20:08). A wooden plank connected to a few big rocks (21:42) in the lake. I spent some time seated there to take in the views. It was a bit colder at the top but not uncomfortably so.

Upper Dewey Lake in Skagway, Alaska, pictured on Aug. 18, 2019. (Steve Silva)
Upper Dewey Lake in Skagway, Alaska, pictured on Aug. 18, 2019. (Steve Silva)

There weren’t many people there; it felt a little private. A short walk southwest offered up some of the best views (22:24). The trees obstructed most of the views on the trail until this point.

A view from near Upper Dewey Lake in Skagway, Alaska, pictured on Aug. 18, 2019. (Steve Silva)
A view from near Upper Dewey Lake in Skagway, Alaska, pictured on Aug. 18, 2019. (Steve Silva)

Further along that direction was the Devil’s Punchbowl. I was tempted to check it out, but I was too tired and too busy with other things I had to do that weekend. Pictures I came across online of the views from that spot suggest it would have been worth visiting.

I took no food with me to avoid attracting bears and to reduce weight of my bag. I felt a little hungry on the way back down. The hike wasn’t complicated, but it was physically tiring. The descent was tricky at times, namely given how steep some parts were, and also tired me out quite a bit.

A view from near Upper Dewey Lake in Skagway, Alaska, pictured on Aug. 18, 2019. (Steve Silva)
A view from near Upper Dewey Lake in Skagway, Alaska, pictured on Aug. 18, 2019. (Steve Silva)

I only went on two hikes during my trip to Skagway. Yakutania Point is a much easier and time-friendlier alternative.

Categories
Hiking Travel

Gros Morne Mountain (James Callaghan) Trail hike

A view from the north side of Gros Morne Mountain, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)
A view from the north side of Gros Morne Mountain, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)

I don’t know if the locals warn every tourist they see, but many definitely warned me: Gros Morne Mountain (James Callaghan) Trail is incredibly challenging to hike. For my skill level, I’d say they were right. That said, and maybe it’s already implicit when viewing photos taken at the top of the mountain, completing the hike is incredibly worthwhile, too.

I got into hiking when I moved to Halifax in 2015. I was (and still am) a little obese, but I have decent amount of stamina and strength. I hiked regularly before doing this. The journey reminded me of the trail at Cape Split Provincial Park Reserve because it seemed to go on forever. It also felt similar, at times, to the intensity of hiking up the Grouse Grind. Gros Morne Mountain Trail is not something you should attempt to do without time, prior thought, and some hiking skills.

According to Parks Canada’s website, the 16-kilometre round-trip trail reaches a height of 806 metres, and it takes between six and eight hours to complete. I stopped many times to shoot photos and videos (above) of the trail, and I finished it in about seven hours.

(If you’re visiting the Gros Morne National Park and you’re unsure if you can handle this hike, the Green Gardens Trail is another option. It’s about an hour’s drive away. It’s a little grueling but shorter, less intense, and also quite beautiful.)

The hike begins

A map located at the beginning of the trail at Gros Morne Mountain, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017.
A map located at the beginning of the trail at Gros Morne Mountain, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017.

My journey started at approximately 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 31, 2017. There were about 25 cars in the parking lot at that point. I was told by several people in the tourism industry that the summer rush had already finished in the area. I came across fellow hikers about every 15 minutes on the trail.

The entrance area includes a map (photo above), the usual warnings, and toilets. There is one outhouse about a quarter of the way in and another around the mid-way mark. There are a few lookouts and exhibits.

The trail is shaped kind of like a traditional balloon tied to a string. The first quarter (or so) of the hike is the string, which hikers have to complete again at the end to get back to the the parking lot. The string portion is a relatively standard hike.

Decision Point at Gros Morne Mountain, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)
Decision Point at Gros Morne Mountain, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)

Eventually, I got to a place many people told me about: Decision Point. This is where the string connects to the balloon. It’s called Decision Point because it’s supposed to be where you decide to either continue the hike or go back. The next major chunk of the trail (the gully) is much steeper, and there are lots of rocks that shift around when you step on them. The signs warn hikers not to descend that path, only go up.

A lot of the hike to Decision Point was uphill. I definitely built up a sweat and was tired, but that didn’t compare to the difficulty right ahead.

The gully

Gros Morne Mountain's gully pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)
Gros Morne Mountain’s gully pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)

This is the most grueling part of the trail. The gully is made up of lots and lots of rocks. Many were small enough for me to occasionally slide slightly. It’s almost entirely uphill. I found myself taking many breaks. Closer to the end, I stopped to catch my breath every 30 feet or so.

The views were already lovely from halfway up. The trail twists at the top, so just as I thought I turned the final corner, there was another. It was brutal but doable.

Gros Morne Mountain’s gully has an S-bend near the top, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)
Gros Morne Mountain’s gully has an S-bend near the top, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)

For me, the key was to take my time. Even if I had to stop on many occasions, I knew I’d get to the top eventually.

The summit

Steve Silva at the summit of Gros Morne Mountain, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)
Steve Silva at the summit of Gros Morne Mountain, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)

The gully leads to the top of the mountain, which is identifiable thanks to a vandalized, “Gros Morne Summit” sign. A lot of people ate lunch there and, of course, took selfies. To my surprise, I had cellphone reception for a lot of the hike so far, not so much on the other side of the mountain.

It was about 20 C that day. I brought a sweater jacket because people said it’s colder at the top. It was a bit colder, but I only wore a t-shirt for the entire hike. I tolerate cold better than most people, though.

A view from the north side of Gros Morne Mountain, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)
A view from the north side of Gros Morne Mountain, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)

A relatively short walk away is the other side of Gros Morne Mountain, overlooking Ten Mile Pond. That’s where people took the most photos.

One person I spoke with here told me she had done this hike several times, and this was the first time the weather was decent enough for her to see so far.

It’s all downhill from here

The downhill portion of the trail past the summit at Gros Morne Mountain, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)
The downhill portion of the trail past the summit at Gros Morne Mountain, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)

Well, downhill for a lot it, anyway.

People told me that the portion of the trail beyond the summit is more difficult than expected, and I found that to be somewhat true. It’s far less intense than the climb, but I found that I had to pay a lot of attention in some parts to avoid tripping or sliding on things. There’s also a section that I had to walk across (photo below) that had the same kind of unstable terrain as the gully.

The eastern portion of the trail at Gros Morne Mountain, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)
The eastern portion of the trail at Gros Morne Mountain, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)

I drink a lot of water, probably more than most people. I took three litres of it on this hike, thinking that that would be enough. It wasn’t. I had to ration my supply after the summit. I probably should have brought five litres.

On the east end of the trail, there’s a campsite next to a pond. A sign says the water isn’t potable (it needs to be boiled to be safe to drink). There’s also an outhouse in the area; it was as gross as I expected it to be.

The eastern portion of the trail at Gros Morne Mountain, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)
The eastern portion of the trail at Gros Morne Mountain, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)

The rest of the trail back to Decision Point was a bit muddy but otherwise uneventful. I didn’t see any animals throughout the entire journey. I was back at entrance by about 4:30 p.m.

The Gros Morne Mountain Trail was described to me by locals as the hike to go on. I found it hard to walk for a couple of days after, but it was an enjoyable experience. I’m proud that I was able to do this.

Know before you go

The view from Gros Morne Mountain's gully, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)
The view from Gros Morne Mountain’s gully, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)

A lot of journey is directly exposed to sunlight, so it might be wise to pack sunscreen.

Unless you’re planning on camping there, you probably don’t want to want to be on the trail at night, so make sure you know when the sun is supposed to set; plan accordingly.

There were only a few times times I took the wrong path; the trail is mostly straight forward, and there are trail markers.

Water. Take lots of it. Snacks, too.

The path on Gros Morne Mountain's gully, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)
The path on Gros Morne Mountain’s gully, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)

Something I do if I’m going on a hike, especially if there’s no cell reception on it and I’m going solo, is let someone know where I’m going and when I should be back. I’d recommend doing the same.

My calves hurt for days after the hike. That might happen to you, too, so you might want to take that into consideration when planning other things to do afterward.