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.
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.
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).
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I only went on two hikes during my trip to Skagway. Yakutania Point is a much easier and time-friendlier alternative.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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
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.
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 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
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.
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.
“You can’t take a picture of this; it’s already gone.”
But I shot a picture of the house anyway. Multiple pictures, in fact.
I visited the ‘Six Feet Under’ (SFU) house in Los Angeles on Dec. 3, 2014. It’s located at 2302 W 25th St. According to a plaque on the property, the building is called the Auguste R. Marquis Residence (Filipino Federation of America). It was built in 1904. Its historic-cultural monument number is 602. Something was being shot inside the house at the time (a short movie, if I recall correctly). A friendly crew member let me go into the lobby.
It was known as “Fishers & Sons Funeral Home” in the show. From what I’ve gathered, the house was mainly used for exterior shots (the inside doesn’t look like the set used during shooting), as is the case in many productions.
I started watching SFU when I was in my early 10s. Even though it portrayed lots of adult situations, I think I understood most of the drama. I watched SFU before online streaming services were a thing. I used actual DVDs to watch the show (I didn’t have whichever channel SFU played on in Canada) during my summers, so the show carries a nostalgic factor for me.
It was well acted. Frances Conroy, who played Ruth, performed her role with such nuance. Approaching my teenage years, Claire’s story resonated with me the most. I understood her frustration. Her green hearse was neat, too. The series finale was the most fitting TV finale I’ve ever seen.
I have a thing for visiting TV and movie filming locations. It helps me contextualize things better. It was surreal to stand there on that porch. It felt familiar.
I stayed in Canmore, Alta., for a few days during the first half of May 2015. I was told by several people in the industry that, tourism-wise, it was an in-between period for the town and the Canadian Rockies overall. While there were deals to take advantage of (hotels, in particular), there weren’t too many tourist attractions actually open. I stumbled across Canmore Cave Tours online while searching for things to do in Canmore. At the time of this writing, it operates year-round. The uniqueness of the activity and significant online praise caught my eye, so I booked a tour. I’m glad I did because, of the tourist attractions I’ve experienced so far in the Canadian Rockies, this was the most worthwhile.
The two main tours at Rat’s Nest Cave available that day were the Explorer Tour and the Adventure Tour, priced (before tax) for adults at $125 and $155, respectively. The latter included more time exploring underground, rappelling, and a trip through a tunnel known as the Laundry Chute. I chose the Adventure Tour because I thought that the extras were worth the added cost — and they were. I felt that the tour spent the right amount of time inside the cave, rappelling in the dark was a novel experience, and the Laundry Chute was fun to pass through.
We started the day getting our provided attire (coveralls, helmets, and such) at Canmore Cave Tours’ office at 10:15 a.m. The group consisted of one guide (another guide also came along to audit the other one that day), three couples, and yours truly. Rental cameras durable for caving were available at the office.
We eventually drove (in our own cars) about five minutes away to the base of Grotto Mountain (map above). We hiked up a trail for roughly between 30 and 45 minutes, stopping every so now and then for the guide to tell us facts about the area. The hike was no Grouse Grind, but I found it to be the most physically demanding part of the entire excursion.
We put on our caving attire in a partly tented spot near the padlocked cave entrance (pictured above). People aren’t supposed to urinate inside the cave, so a few people in the group relieved their bladders in the surrounding forest. According to the guide, the cave’s temperature inside is 5 C/41 F all year. I was slightly worried that I would feel cold with only my jeans, t-shirt, and sweater-jacket under the coveralls, but I probably didn’t even need the jacket, in hindsight. That said, I get hot extremely easily, so most people should probably stick to at least a t-shirt and a sweater up top. Also, I basically do every outdoor activity wearing jeans; most people going on a trip like this would probably be better off wearing something more flexible.
To get into the cave, we had to crawl up a smooth and slippery small hill (partly pictured under the rope in the photo at the very bottom). The entrance is home to bushy-tailed woodrats, the guide said. Shortly before entering the cave, we saw one stare at us on a bar of the cage about 20 feet away and then run away. The guide said that these animals stay away from people, and I did not see any more of them after that.
What I did see were daddy longlegs — dozens, maybe hundreds of them along the upper parts of a slanted wall inside the entrance. It felt a little creepy to slide by them while leaning nearby on the opposite slanted wall, though the spiders stayed at the entrance and didn’t crawl on anyone (well, to my knowledge).
When we journeyed through steep portions of the cave where we faced a greater risk of falling off, we had to attach two ropes to a rope system along the walls. After the first major descent, the guides showed us a collection of what they said were animal bones that the woodrats brought into the cave over the years.
We completed the rappelling portion early on. The guide said that the drop was about 18 metres/60 feet. The guide connected me to two ropes: one that I controlled, another controlled by her. I don’t think I had ever rappelled before (maybe once in high school?). The wall was bumpy, and finding the proper footing was somewhat difficult, but I found the descent relatively easy to handle. Not being able to see where I was supposed to land was first worrisome before becoming quasi-liberating. From the rappel’s start-up to the last person (the guide) touching ground, the process took about an hour. I have no idea if they could have sped up the process much, but waiting for everyone to complete this part was pretty boring. I spent that time getting to know the other participants; they were all from Alberta, I learned.
The next highlight was our first trip through an extremely tight tunnel to get to a chamber. It was opened by someone years prior, the guide said. It was several feet long. So began the most nerve-racking part of the trip. At one point during the crawl through the tunnel, my posterior got stuck between the ceiling and the floor. I felt my heart rate increase and a sense of panic ready to emerge, if I let it. It took what felt like minutes in my mind (only a few seconds in reality) to wiggle free… and then I had to do it again to get back out, getting stuck again. At least one person who attempted the crawl stopped at that unforgiving point and backed out.
At the time, I was about 5’11” and 230 pounds. The guide told me that people bigger than me had been able to travel through every tunnel on the trip. This first tight tunnel and the very last one we did were challenging but not impossible for my frame. Of course, the larger you are, the more challenging these kind of tunnels will be to go through, I imagine. For me, the key was to stay calm and realize that I could always wiggle myself out backwards if need be. The tight tunnels were optional.
The ‘stuck butt’ incident made me rethink attempting the pièce de résistance: the Laundry Chute. The L-shaped tunnel was said to be an extreme squeeze. I was assured that I could do it, so I let go of my inhibitions, then wiggled down. We started at the top of the tunnel, going down feet first until we reached the bottom. Despite going straight down at parts, the tunnel was so tight that the descent was slow. (I can confirm that it did live up to its reputation of inducing wedgies.) At the bottom, I had to maneuver my legs into a crevice to straighten out my body for the horizontal crawl; a two-point turn, essentially. Oddly, I found the Laundry Chute easier to pass through than the aforementioned first tight tunnel.
Later, there was a steep, rope-assisted slide down to another room (pictured above). Near the end of the journey, we saw the grotto (pictured below). At one point, we turned off all of our lights for a few minutes to take in the utter darkness (and the sounds of dripping water).
Although you could bring a camera with you, only something small, such as a cellphone or a GoPro camera, was practical. The guide had no problem using my cellphone to take photos of me when I asked. There were several opportunities for cool photos. (All of mine in this post were shot on a Nexus 6.)
On our way out, there was another optional trip through another tight tunnel (that’s me, below, exiting it into a small chamber). This was probably the most difficult one to go through. It was so tight, I felt my sternum area press against the top of the tunnel as I wiggled onward. It wasn’t wide enough at certain points to even manage an army crawl.
Finally, I went on an optional ride down a small slide of sorts carved into a cave wall that required a challenging initial climb sans rope.
Earlier, one person in the group said she suffered a minor injury. As she was trying to sit down in a small chamber we explored, she said she sprained her thumb. It was an isolated incident, and the guide aided her. I felt safe throughout the entire trip, though scrapes and bruises were a given.
Going on this tour was another round of not listening to my brain. Caving for the first time elicited red flags in my mind akin to the ones that sprouted when I leaned off of a bungee-jump platform a few days prior. I enjoy playing with my comfort levels and seeing how far I can go, and this trip was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life.
In October, I moved from Toronto to Regina for a new job. Here’s how the drive to the city went.
I had never before attempted a drive of this length, so I was a bit worried. In the end, it turned out to be a fine experience. I saw a decent chunk of the country, and it was nice having some time to myself. There were some boring parts, but they weren’t as bad I thought they would be. Probably the best tip I could give anyone going on this journey, especially solo as I did, is to not pay attention to how many more kilometres are left; just keep going.
Based off what I read online, along with what a friend who completed the drive told me, the general route for people travelling solo is:
Toronto to Wawa, Ont. — 910 km, nine hours and 46 mins
Wawa to Dryden, Ont. — 812 km, eight hours and 50 mins
Dryden to Regina — 933 km, nine hours and 23 mins
Those times don’t include any stopping. There is a slightly quicker journey through the United States, but I wasn’t keen on having to buy health insurance, buy extra car insurance coverage, and having to pass through border security with a room’s worth of stuff crammed in a Honda CRV (I’m one of those people who always gets searched at airports, so). With those extra steps included, that journey would actually require more time than the Canadian route, I suspect.
The route I took:
Toronto to Wawa — 910 km, nine hours and 46 mins
Wawa to Brandon, Man. — 1,385 km, 14 hours and 46 mins
Brandon to Regina — 362 km, three hours and 33 mins
I find that my body generally works better in long durations for this kind of thing. I can work for 18 hours straight, but then I need 12 straight hours of sleep at some point in the week. It doesn’t work for everyone.
Toronto to Wawa — 910 km, nine hours 46 mins
The day was Oct. 17, 2013. My drive didn’t start off on a good foot because I couldn’t sleep the night before (I got about two hours). Still, I wanted to stick to my plan. The journey out of Toronto wasn’t difficult because I left after the morning rush hour. I was in the boonies (of sorts) relatively quickly after driving past Canada’s Wonderland. Once I passed Barrie, there were few buildings taller than three storyes visible for hours. Overall, the road conditions were fine. I was a bit annoyed at having to occasionally wait at bridges for up to five minutes due to one lane being closed for construction.
Before this trip, I didn’t know how gorgeous Ontario is. I struggled to keep my eyes on the road as I passed what looked like untouched lakes that perfectly reflected the surrounding trees and sky. I felt like I was driving past postcard covers for the first leg of the journey. The mountains were beautiful yet occasionally a little creepy. It got dark outside fast, and snaking around the mountains felt like the opening scene of a movie (you know, that cliché overhead shot a lone car being driven by the main character heading to some secluded mansion in a forest). I came across one car on the other lane about once every 10 minutes at night. I was a little tired once I was an hour away from Wawa.
When I was far away from cities and towns, the only times I saw lampposts and other stationary sources of light were at intersections, gas stations, and the like. Speaking of gas stations, it was a challenge to find the 24-hour variety and, when not driving in or near communities, finding any at all was difficult. Running out of gas was a big worry, so I made sure to fill up by the 50 per cent mark during the day, and even sooner at night.
I chose an externally well-lit Wawa motel in the hopes that that would deter any potential thieves. I brought my valuables inside my room, but my car was still packed with things, mainly the kind that I could replace relatively inexpensively. I was worried that someone would try to break in. I could survive without my nearly decade-old vacuum and my two bathroom mats, but I didn’t want to deal with the hassle of dealing with broken glass everywhere. I’ve read that it can sometimes be wise to leave the doors unlocked to alleviate that. I see the logic: The thief breaks in, maybe messes things up, finds nothing of value, and leaves sans breaking any windows. Then again, maybe the thief will actually be so incensed that there was nothing worthy of taking, they smash a window. Anyway, I found a cigarette butt in my non-smoking room’s toilet, and that was the extent of my issues, thankfully.
I didn’t pay attention to this too much, but I did lose cellphone reception several times (on Rogers’ network) while driving, though it generally only lasted for about five minutes at its worst. Getting a decent radio station signal was tricky in many parts of the journey, but there was generally at least one station always available. I found it quaint that so many of the stations I listened to were named after animals (The Bear, The Moose, etc.). I didn’t expect to get bored of music so fast, but I did, so I downloaded a bunch of CBC Radio’s “The Irrelevant Show” podcast episodes when I stopped at my first motel; the show got me through the rest of the journey. Also, Google Maps’ directions were accurate.
Wawa to Brandon — 1,385 km, 14 hours and 46 mins
Minus more of those occasional bridge construction waits, this leg of the journey was uneventful. As I crept closer to Manitoba, the number of scenic views got more sparse.
Before I left Toronto, I checked online for other people’s experiences completing this leg of the journey. I kept reading warnings about hitting moose and deer. I made sure to keep that in mind throughout the entire drive. The animals can come out of nowhere, and hitting a moose can kill you. There were many signs that warned drivers of particular moose/other animal hot spots. Thankfully, I did not see any large animals except for the fenced-in farm variety during the drive.
(Update: I drove back from Regina to Toronto in 2015 on the same route. I drove from Brandon to Toronto on May 31 and June 1. I saw many moose in Ontario during the day and especially during the night. They were difficult to see from a distance, even on a clear night, and they had no problem walking onto the road as my car approached. I witnessed one driver sideswipe a moose. I drove well below the speed limit during many parts of that drive. I now understand why people warn others so much about taking care not to hit a moose.)
It was dark by the time I crossed the Ontario-Manitoba border about 11 hours later, and I felt fine to continue. The further I drove, the far less tightly the trees hugged the highways; that was helpful because it let more moonlight in.
I reached Brandon by about 10 or 11 p.m., and I was still good to continue the rest of the way to Regina, about a four-hour drive away. I called my new landlord to see if he wouldn’t mind leaving the key somewhere for me to move in when I got there. Alas, he wasn’t able to accommodate that. Subsequently, I called it a night and searched for a place to stay. I was fooled into thinking that finding a place wouldn’t be difficult in Brandon because there were many motels and hotels on that stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway, but I was only able to find one place that had a room available.
Brandon to Regina — 362 km, three hours and 33 mins
It was obvious from the previous night that the rest of the journey would feature plain after plain after plain, but I guess the darkness of night masked the true extent of that. Meandering around Ontario’s mountains one day, and being able to see the tip of the CN Tower from the flatness of Saskatchewan and Manitoba the next day was a bit of a visual shock. (OK, I’m exaggerating.)
Eventually, the Trans-Canada Highway turned into Regina’s Victoria Avenue East, which is kind of the city’s equivalent to Toronto’s Bloor Street, and the traffic got significantly busier.
On Oct. 19, that was that: I made it to Regina.
I’ve lived here for more than three months now, and there are some notable differences regarding what it’s like living in Regina than in Toronto.
I found that most of Toronto’s roads that I used were cleared of snow within a day or two. Here, it feels as if the roads, including many parking lots, are completely coated starting in November — and they stay that way. There is one road that I started using in November every couple of days or so, and I’ve never not seen it coated in ice at least an inch thick. A friend of mine told me that people drive much slower in Regina than in Toronto, an observation which seems to have anecdotal merit.
When I lived in New York City, I thought that my friends there complained too much about snow and such. “Try experiencing a Toronto winter,” I, the know-it-all, told them. Having now experienced much of a Regina winter, I’ve come to realize that I knew nothing.
I still don’t think anyone truly “handles” an outdoor temperature (with windchill) of -50 C, but Saskatchewanians do. Those temperatures bring the requisite flight cancellations, water main breaks, and such, yet people here just go on with their lives. Somehow.
Subsequently, my new temperature tolerance entails:
-50 C — I’ll make my grocery run a quick affair.
-30 C — Nothing out of the ordinary.
-2 C — Practically t-shirt weather.
Many things are less expensive in Regina than in Toronto. With a few exceptions, every major store chain has a presence in the city. Also, there are a lot more things sold by the government here, including home insurance, car insurance, and cellphone, cable, and internet plans.
Lastly, it took me a while to accept that everything is nearby in Regina by car, like 10 minutes or so away pretty much anywhere you’re at. I fault the Torontonian in me for thinking that I have to leave an hour early for everything. That said, there are regularly-used train tracks that cut through the middle of the city. Trains crossing those tracks have delayed my trips by up to 30 minutes before.