Summit Sheep Mountain (Tachäl Dhäl) in the Kluane Ranges
Rate this Adventure Canada › Sheep Mountain Trail (Alaska Hwy)
Added by Sophie Burling
The wilderness of the Yukon is unlike any other and the Kluane Ranges is no exception. Imposing mountains for miles just waiting to be explored and conquered. Sheep mountain is a tough mountain but accessible to a fit scrambler, rewarding you with breathtaking, otherworldly views of the snowcapped Kluane Range, Ä’äy Chù Valley and lake Kluane.
You will rarely see another person if you hike early in the season like me, and even in season the Yukon is a remote destination. Covering 480,000 square kilometers, only 34,000 people call the Yukon home. Compare that to the territory's 70,000 moose and you get an idea of it's untouched wilderness. The Kluane Ranges is home to Mt Logan, the second highest peak in North America after Denali at 19,551ft, and the world's largest non-polar icefield.
The track to Sheep Mountain, or Tachäl Dhäl, summit is accessed from the Alaska Highway. From Haines junction you drive about another 70km north, passing the Sheep Mountain Visitor Center and continuing a further 2.5km past this (approximately). The trail parking is on the left side of the road and is labelled for Soldier's Summit. Continue up the trail towards Soldier's Summit before turning right off this track at the park bench and moving onto the old WWII Alaska Highway. About 600m down this old road is the beginning of the route up to the summit on your left. It is not marked but it is well worn and at this point you will be directly below the mountain, so just keep watching for it and it is not hard to spot. After making your way up towards a small section of trees you emerge below a scree ridge. This scree ridge is hard work and I took close to an hour. The normal route sees you scrambling up this slope before continuing up the left hand side of the ridgeline to the summit. However, I decided to follow the other side of the valley (see map in pictures - I followed left line). Upon reaching the highest point on that side you can then follow the skyline ridge over to the depicted summit of Sheep Mountain if you want too. On my descent I avoided the scree slope altogether so I imagine this would also be possible on the way up if you chose to follow the left side of the valley.
The sheep mountain trail is not so much of a trail but more of a route and requires a lot of scrambling on exposed slopes. Essentially just keep going upwards to the highest point! There are no technical parts it's just physically very demanding. The going is steep and tough so only suited to fit individuals. Due to the exposure the views are fantastic throughout the entire climb, which is a great excuse to stop for a breather! The view from the summit itself is astounding and otherworldly, like you are looking through the earth's atmosphere; I swear you can almost see the curvature to the horizon! Snowy mountain ranges stretch as far as the eye can see and the wide expanse of the Lake Kluane below glows a brilliant blue from below a haze of dust blowing off the dirt plains further up the valley, half sheathed in it's thick cap of ice. Rivers and streams snake and wind through the dirt plains, cutting a path from the mountain ranges to feed the vast lake. The Alaska Highway can be seen bridging the plains and curving under the mountain at your feet. A silence wraps around you so loud that all you can do is immerse yourself in its strong embrace. Perched among the rocks at 1922m (6300ft), the cool bite of a light breeze coming off snow ruddying your cheeks, is a perfect place to tuck into your lunch as your eyes hungrily soak up the smorgasbord of wonder laid out before your aching feet.
Keep a constant eye out for Grizzly bears as they are often spotted meandering through the rocky slopes. Herds of white Dall sheep graze the lower slopes and spot the ridgelines, a picture of mountain wilderness with their powerful curling horns. I also spotted a couple of red foxes close to the trail. Seeing as I hiked in Spring, I was lucky enough to see the young lambs frolicking and playing in the sheltered valleys. All up (up and down + lunch) took me 6-7 hours. I left the carpark just before midday but I imagine this would be a spectacular early morning hike.
It is possible to do a circle route and follow the Sheep Creek trail, which descends into the valley behind sheep mountain and follows the creek back out to the Sheep Creek parking lot. It is then about 2.5km up a dirt road to reach the Alaska Highway, then a further 2.5km up the road to reunite with your vehicle at the Soldier's Summit trailhead. I did a mountain summit and back down following the same route I took up so can't comment on this loop trail. It is also a great drive along the lake shore and continuing to drive north will bring you to the community at Destruction Bay with a population of only 35 people.
Although the trail is virtually snow free all year around, allowing for year round hiking, snowstorms and adverse weather can strike this remote and wild area at any time so be prepared. When I hiked in May there was a little snow at the summit but the trail was snow free.
- Drinking water
- Sturdy hiking shoes as it's rough going
- Warm clothing for the summit
- Waterproof coat for unexpected weather
- Hiking pole is useful for the descent although much of it is hands, knees and bums!
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