March 26, 2018
Welcome to the Alaska Highway, where you’re more likely to see wildlife than people. Local photographer Ryan Dickie shows us his favourite places to photograph…
By Murray Lundberg March 8, 2016 #php comments_number('0 Comment', '1 Comment', '% Comments'); ?> #php echo wpb_get_post_views(get_the_ID()); ?>
Winter road trips take extra preparation to be safe, but can offer a very different look at the country, as well as give visitors a chance to experience communities at their most laid back. In late February, it felt like a return to Atlin in Northern BC was in order.
Atlin is a very quiet place in the winter, but although it’s a wonderful place to just relax and enjoy the history and scenery, there’s also plenty to do for those who want to be active. I mostly just wanted a change, though photography in spectacular surroundings was guaranteed to keep me fairly busy.
I left Whitehorse when it was barely light, with the temperature at -13°C (9°F). By the time the sun rose at 8:35 am, I had turned south off the Alaska Highway 45 minutes east of my home outside Whitehorse and was on the Atlin Road. From that point, it’s 96 kilometres (60 miles) to Atlin. Reconstruction in recent years has made a huge difference in the road, and it’s well maintained year round. The first photo shows the road as it goes by Little Atlin Lake at Km 3.8.
My lengthy post about Atlin in the summer offered many suggestions for things to do, and some of them are applicable in any season. One of those is sightseeing, and Pearl Avenue is almost always my first stop in town. With a line of historic buildings anchored by the Globe Theatre, and the famous rock glacier on the far side of Atlin Lake, this is “the” classic view in Atlin. I knew from Facebook posts by friends that Atlin Lake hadn’t frozen yet, but it’s still a bit shocking to see it. This isn’t the first time that the lake has been open in February, but it is very unusual.
The historic walking tour of Atlin has 17 stops including the Moose Hall, which began life as the Arctic Brotherhood Hall in the gold-mining community of Discovery. It was moved to Atlin in the 1920s. With its back broken, its highly unlikely that it will ever be restored.
In my initial wander around town, I was extremely pleased to see that restoration work on the historic launch Atlinto is well underway. She was built by Jules Eggert in 1911, and although initially a failure, a new engine installed by Eggert’s son and grandson in 1922 solved the problem. I discovered later that day that part of the funding for the restoration is coming from the sale of a book of photographs by many locals. Titled “Atlinto: Atlin Through the Eyes of Atlinites.” It has sold very well judging by the fact that my copy is from the 7th edition.
Before leaving town to explore the surrounding area, I have to tell you about the cross-country ski trail network that the Atlin Ski Club has built and maintains. There are almost 18 kilometres (11.2 miles) of trails on mostly flat of rolling terrain – see the trail map for more details.
Warm Bay Road is one of the two main access roads to the back country. About 27 kilometres (16.8 miles) up that road, you will find the cave known as The Grotto, seen in the next photo. This is the start of Grotto Creek, whose water is cold (about 9°C / 48°F), but never freezes, and watercress (Nasturtium officinale) is abundant year-round. Grotto Creek is where the road ends in the winter, but is the start of the adventure for those with snowmobiles, and the parking lot is well used. A pickup with a very large enclosed snowmobile trailer was the only other vehicle when I was there. For those who would like to experience that sort of outing, everything you need – the truck, trailer, and snowmobiles – can be rented in Whitehorse.
Atlin Warm Springs is one of the most popular destinations in the Atlin area in any season. It’s even a popular camping spot year-round judging by the very recent tent clearing and campfire remains. The campers had driven in, but obviously had a very different vehicle than mine – I parked on the road and walked the 100 metres (328 feet) in.
The water in the warm springs pool is neither deep enough nor warm enough to spend any time in – about 29°C (84°F) – but going for a dip in the middle of winter is silly enough to be a must-do. The warm waters bubble up from the middle of this pool.
From the warm springs pool, a creek flows down into Warm Bay, but the water quickly cools off enough to freeze in the calm bay. It was actually quite funny to find that the only spot on Atlin Lake that was frozen was a place called Warm Bay. The parking lot at the Warm Bay Recreation Site, just to the right (north) was plowed and campable.
Warm Bay was a wonderful place to go for a long walk, and it occurred to me that the ice-edge would be a perfect place to get some aerial shots. I went back to the car and got my new quadcopter, went back to the shore and launched it to get some video – clicking on the photo below will open the video in a new window.
Ready for a late lunch, I went to the only place to eat in Atlin, the Pine Tree Restaurant. Nothing fancy, but they offer good food (Western, Thai, and Filipino styles) at reasonable prices. This is also one of the two gas stations in town, with regular gas at $1.299.
Surprise Lake Road is the other main sightseeing road. In the winter, it ends at a recreation site just above the Surprise Lake Dam. The historic wooden dam is seen in the middle of the next photo, but the road goes across the top of a new concrete one. The Surprise Lake Recreation Site is another very popular snowmobile-unloading site; trails from there lead very quickly to incredible views far above treeline.
On the way back to town from Surprise Lake, I stopped for a while to look around the ghost town of Discovery which is another of the 7 Provincial Recreation Sites around Atlin. This is an excellent location to go snowshoeing around the buildings and machinery and down into the placer gold mining fields.
There are several places to stay in or close to Atlin, including cabins, a bed and breakfast, a motel, and a hotel. The Atlin Mountain Inn has been my most common place to stay over the past 26 years, and with a major renovation just finished, it’s now perfect for my needs. Room #4 seen in the next photo is typical. I went at the quietest time of the winter. The hotel’s lounge opened on March 1st, and it will get much busier once heli-skiing begins in mid-March.
I like everything about the Atlin Mountain Inn, but the next photo shows you why room #10 is the one I get whenever it’s available. For someone with a passion for old boats, this view of the historic excursion boat Tarahne is priceless – and the impressive peaks in the background are an amazing bonus. I took dozens of photos of the boat and mountains through the window that night and the next morning, in the changing light and then in the light of a nearly-full moon.
The final photograph shows the view across the lake, into a storm that never reached town. Atlin is a wonderful place for photographers to try new subjects and methods, and this one, processed in black-and-white, makes me think that Ansel Adams would have loved this little town.
Things to do in Atlin, British Columbia
Did you know that British Columbia, Canada, has the longest lift-serviced vertical in North America? Or that you can go cat-skiing for $10? Or that…
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