Disloyal Subjects

Grand entrance to King's Throne Trail. We made it as far as the ridge at the upper left
Grand entrance to King's Throne Trail. We made it as far as the ridge at the upper left

“Flush it out of the park.”

Harsh words in my diary written after Magellan and I hiked the King’s Throne Trail in Yukon’s Kluane National Park. Followed by this: “A dump of a hike.”

The hike reminded me of a book by a husband-and-wife team, our favourite authors on hiking trails, called Don’t Waste Your Time in the BC Coast Mountains. If Kathy and Craig Copeland were to write a version of this book for Yukon hiking, the King’s Throne Trail would land in the “Don’t Do” section, signified by the imprint of a single hiking boot encircled with a line cutting diagonally through it.

Magellan and I have been lucky. At least 80% of the trails we’ve chosen to hike over fifty years have invigorated us with spectacular scenery, delicate wildflowers, thrilling experiences and good stories. Choosing our Top Ten is a favourite on-the-road past time—and no easy task.

Maybe the hike’s sovereign name fooled us. Or its one-page description we picked up at the ranger station:

The King’s Throne is truly a majestic site when viewed from the shores of Kathleen Lake. It is one of the more popular day hikes in Kluane National Park, with breathtaking views of the surrounding valleys and Kathleen Lake below. The route described goes to the summit, though many people opt to save their knees and stop once they reach the seat of the throne (at the top of the rock glacier, about two thirds up).

There are two parts to this torture: the King’s Throne Trail is 10 kilometres round-trip estimated to take four-to-six hours to reach an elevation of 1,280 metres; and the King’s Summit Route is 16 kilometres round-trip, six-to-ten hours hiking time and tops out at 1,990 metres. If you stop at the Throne, large enough for Henry VIII and all the king’s men to have a royal sit-down, you will have hiked up 548 metres.

The directions tell you to follow an old mining road, neglecting to mention how boring two kilometres of that is. Then “a steady climb in the trees,” mostly flat and dull, and then…

You will reach the treeline and will be following the rest of the path through loose rocks. Here you will get your first view of Kathleen Lake and the surrounding valley. The path switchbacks up the rock glacier and should be clearly visible if there is no snow on the trail.

You’ve now hiked three kilometres with no views.

Do the math: you have two kilometres left and the Throne is still at least 500 metres above—a 25% slope!

Who was the King’s architect? Maybe the same guy who designed the John Hancock Tower. After 500-pound glass windowpanes began falling during high winds and were temporarily replaced with plywood, the building was called “Plywood Palace.”

On a happy note, our hiking boots had no snow on which to imprint their soles, it being the day before the Summer Solstice.

Step, slide, up. Step, slide, up. All the while I was imagining (with no ACL in my right leg, a birth defect in the other foot) how much more difficult this slippery glacial rock was going to be coming down. (I was right.)

Seated on the rocky, dull-grey Throne (in the event there are young impressionable readers I will not repeat the bawdy description in my diary except to say that I wrote, “it could leave you with a bad outlook on life”), we disloyal subjects ate our lunch. The view, fit for a king, extended over all the land, Kathleen Lake a lapis-lazuli royal blue, mountain glaciers sporting snow collars white as ermine.

Contemplating whether to continue on to the King’s Summit Route, we re-read the route description.

The steep scree and rock slopes encountered on this trail and route can be unstable, slippery and can present some difficult hiking. Weather is another factor to consider on this route. Strong wind gusts can be a hazard on the exposed ridges. Clouds can descend rapidly and make finding the trail or route difficult. The rocks can be slippery when descending, even when dry. If it starts to rain, the descent can become even more slippery. Please use caution.

David, a ranger in his second season at Thechàl Dhâl Visitor Centre, had told us he’d attempted King’s Summit twice but quit because of bad weather, mostly wind.

Did I mention the brochure says, “Bear sightings are common in the area?”

Frequent readers of this blog know Magellan and I are well aware of our tenacious nature, our persistence toward completion of all and any tasks undertaken. (Some of you may substitute other words: dogged, unrelenting, heedless.) So, it may come as a surprise to you that after about 200 metres straight uphill toward the King’s Summit, we turned back never to reach the hike’s crown.

I hated giving up—until I found myself on all fours for a minute or two attempting to get back down to the Throne. Soon two other couples who had started up while we were eating lunch came back down. “Too windy,” they said.

Then of course, one wonders, what did we miss?

Here’s the experience I found “written” by Lupe, a “Carolina Dog” and his/her? master “SPHP:”

The NE ridge was hard going. The route was either loose rocks or very hard packed soil difficult to maintain traction on. Hiking poles would have been an enormous help, but SPHP had none. Even some of the bigger rocks Lupe passed by at certain points were often crumbly, loose and rotten. Everything had to be tested…As Lupe gained elevation, it (the wind) swirled more and more violently around the ridgeline. SPHP joined Lupe on all fours, and virtually crawled up the mountain.  Just trying to stand up and maintain balance was scary. The wind attacked first from one direction, then suddenly reversed and blew just as strongly from a completely different one…Going down the NE ridge, the wind was still strong and unpredictable. The terrain was so steep, the footing so unreliable, and the swirling wind so unnerving that SPHP became extraordinarily slow and cautious. SPHP crawled, slid, and took baby steps down the mountain.  Lupe became so impatient with SPHP, the were-puppy attacked repeatedly to encourage some movement.

Although devoid of the rigid contours and careful plantings of a royal garden, flowers ran wild along the trail, unreigned as a rogue princess.

And though a far cry from a claw-footed bubble bath drawn by a chamberlain, Magellan’s cigarette-lighter shower oozed away the sweat from our plebian skin.

And while dinner was not marched in by tuxedoed footmen shouldering silver-domed truncheons, bison spaghetti and a foraged salad fashioned of wild carrots and dandelions tossed with Caesar dressing was kingly enough for we commoners.

And, as Ed Viesturs, a famous climber who seven times reached the top of Everest, said,

Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory.


To read Lupe’s entire story of the hike (and see great photos), go to the Adventures of Lupe website.


4 Responses

  1. Well I think I shall regret not being able to raft the Kluane River, the Kings Throne sounds like a trail less travelled by myself and family.

    Sounds like solid advice and for that “I Thank You kindly”

    1. Not knowing about a rafting option I checked out the gov’t website: “The Alsek is a large volume, glacial river. The water is extremely cold, swift, and wide in many sections. The river also contains a number of rapids that must be negotiated. A number of injuries and deaths have occurred due to travellers underestimating the powerful flow and cold temperature of the water. Hypothermia and drowning are the two most common causes of death on the river.” Not for a king’s ransom would I attempt it.

  2. The flowers were a royal treat, too so it wasn’t all disappointing. We foraged on another hike, one we did the previous day—another hiking story to watch for.

  3. Loved this adventure for many reasons. Number 1, you two never give up! But heading back down assured many more hikes in the future for you. Number 2, I love the prairies but I love your photos of the mountains, lake and sky. And did you forage for your salad on your hike?

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