Directly behind our Yukon Outpost is the terminus of a steep ridge. We call the lightly poppled prow, “Pulpit Hill.” It commands an amazing view and always provokes utterances of awe.

Immediately below the tip of the ridge is the serpentine, hissing river. Lift your gaze from the dancing water and you encounter spires of spruce trees that Yukon poet, Robert Service, christened “sentinels of silence.” For 180° in front of us their dark expansive breadth gives rise to a serrated silhouette.

Above the forest are distant mountain peaks. To the west, we enjoy picking out the summits of Goat, Twin, Red Ridge, Perkins, Needle and Grizzly. Directly behind us is the namesake for our hamlet, Mount Lorne.

While this mountainous, boreal covered and river riddled countryside wears the colors of wilderness well, much of it is only an illusion of wilderness. We could argue over definitions of wilderness but I am going to refer to the U.S. 1964 Wilderness Act definition:

A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

The Pulpit Hill image I have painted for you appears to be untrammeled. However, I purposely omitted the graveled Annie Lake Road that runs through the spruce and pine forest. Nor did I include the abandoned mining roads that stitch the sides of many of these mountains.Mining is one of the engines that drives the Yukon economy. This territory is rich in copper, lead, zinc and of course, gold. It was here that the famous gold rush of 1897-98 lured tens of thousands of men and women north to stake claims for their own treasure of gold. Only a small percentage cashed in any sort of profit.

After those early years, mining took off and it wasn’t long before the first bulldozers began easily doing the work of many horses and men. Gashing their way up the mountains, those crawling bulldozers gnawed switchback roads to prospect for minerals or access mining sites.

Miners take the richest ore first. When the mine is no longer financially profitable, it closes. Most mines up here last less than ten years. Yet the evidence of this machine trammeling lasts scores of years and likely even centuries.Old wooden timbers frame ominous mine entrances. Rusted mining detritus can still be found scattered about. While the scars of “progress” are an eyesore, the old mining roads provide recreationists an easier means to access some of the nearby mountains.

After less than a half hour drive down the Annie Lake Road, Nancy and I unload our mountain bikes, check our backpacks for rain gear, bear spray, water bottles, lunch and extra clothes for chilly summits. Then we begin the slow, heart-thumping pedal up the old mining road. We ford a creek, then get off our bikes to ascend a steep pitch littered with all sized stones and boulders.

The old dozer trail stops part way up the mountain. We leave our bikes and begin to bushwhack through thick buck brush, willow and spruce. Eventually we wend our way through small copses of alpine fir. We face a stretch of steep scree. These layers of loose, mostly flat rocks can easily slide over each other and give the hiker an unexpected, dangerous ride. We find a Dall sheep trail crossing the scree. Some of these narrow paths have been used by generations of sheep and we have learned to use them to gain elevation. Finally we reach the alpine tundra, textured in miniature flowers, boulders and exposed bedrock and we relish a 360 degree view.

As I age I have more frequent bouts of nihilism. I grumble about the onslaught of civilization on the natural world and the lack of leadership to recognize that without healthy natural systems our ideas of progress are dead. I love the idea of “untrammeled” but wonder if that is just what it is, an idea.

My grumpiness can be intolerable to Nancy and my family. One way to muzzle it, or at least lessen it, is to simply remind me that a carbon spewing truck and an old mining bulldozer have made it possible for me to gain this summit where the view and untainted air put me to my knees unlike anything else.

And to add to the conundrum, I will shoot some summit photos from an amazing small camera built with elements mined from somewhere that was once untrammeled.

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