Sunday, May 30, 2010

Rendezvous at Kilo Hot Springs

Soaking in one of the pools at Kilo Hot Springs

We were about four miles from the springs when my ear captured the muted buzz of a plane as it skirted over a distant ridge. The small aircraft passed just overhead and continued west before disappearing between the building cumulus clouds. I felt a sudden pulse of excitement and relief surge through my body. And as I glanced over at Dan and Ann I could see that they shared the same sensation. We knew within a few hours we would be lounging in the hot springs, sipping the bitter sweet combination of gin and tonic, satiated from a warm meal, all in the company of our friends.

At this point, we had been moving almost constantly across the rugged terrain of the Ray Mountains for the past two days with only a few hours of sleep. The plane was our quick exit back to civilization. It would carry us effortlessly over the deep and thickly vegetated valleys, rocky scree slopes, ankle twisting tussocks, and endless stretches of mosquitoes. There were a number of reasons that could have prevented our aerial transport from reaching our prearranged rendezvous point though; foul weather, mechanical problems, illness...and these thoughts lingered silently in the back of my mind for the duration of our trip.

Kilo Hot Springs is situated in a broad valley on the marge of a crystal clear stream that drains north from the Ray Mountains. The nearest road or community is more than 40 miles away. Access to the area is difficult since there is no airstrip or trails. A well drained tundra ridge about 5 miles from the springs serves as makeshift landing spot. We began our journey to Kilo from the Yukon River bridge along the Dalton Hwy. Paddling 20 miles down the mighty Yukon to an undefined ridge, we packed up our boats and climbed steeply into the high country of the Ray Mountains, traversing about 45 miles on foot to reach the springs.

Smoke from early season wildfires settles into the Yukon River valley as we paddled 20 miles to our take-out point. The Yukon River narrows considerably below the Dalton Highway as it approaches a pinch point know as the Rampart Canyon. This narrow neck was once considered a feasible site for the hydroelectric producing Rampart Dam, which was estimated to flood an area the size of Lake Erie.

We pulled our packrafts out of the Yukon at an unassuming ridge that would provide us with direct access the treeless high country.

The steep ascent quickly provided us with a panoramic view of the Yukon River far below.

Crossing sweeping carpets of tundra pockmarked with treacherous, ankle twisting tussocks en route to Kilo Hot Springs.

The muggy heat forced us to dip for water in even the slimiest of tundra ponds.

Furry willow catkin's and new spring leaves absorb the late evening sunlight.

Some of the granite tors jutting from the tundra resembled giant prehistoric creatures grazing on the distant hillsides.

Our friends flew in from the Dalton Highway, hiked five miles down from the plane, and met us for a night of soaking in Kilo Hot Springs.

Dea and Ben sit around the campfire and listen to our stories about the exhausting trek to the springs from the highway -- a grizzly bear encounter, cracks of thunder and strong winds on the Yukon, torn up feet, falling rocks, never-ending ascents and descents, spongy tundra, expansive views, untouched wilderness...

The springs are home to an abandoned homestead. Three cabins remain just upstream from the main hot springs. At least one of these cabins was situated adjacent to the springs but was relocated to it's present location a few years back.

The closest place to land a small plane is on a firm ridge about five miles from the springs. It was a 30 minute flight back to the highway.

Above is a video account from the trip to Kilo Hot Springs.


Unknown said...

Great place, wonderful video!

Greetings from Uruguay! :)

yeske said...

great post ed!! love the vid.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ed,

My name is Megan Smith. I'm with a production company in Los Angeles, California. I would love to speak with you about using one of your videos for a television show. Please contact me

Thank you,
Megan Smith

Cheri Sundae Productions

alpine endeavors said...

My name is Megan Smith. I'm with a production company in Los Angeles, California. I would love to speak with you about using one of your videos for a television show.