Kluane is dominated by mountains and ice, which make up 82% of the surface area. Vast icefields are found in the park, up to a kilometre deep. These massive icefields meet massive mountains. The giants are: Mount Logan (5,959m, 19,545') the highest mountain in Canada and the second highest peak on the continent; Mount St. Elias (5,488m, 18,005'); Mount Lucania (5,231m, 17,162') among others. Although most of the highest mountains are not visible from any point along the highway, some of the higher peaks can be spotted in the distance from viewpoints near Kathleen Lake or the Donjek River.
St. Elias Mountains
The St. Elias Mountains, Canada's highest and most massive mountains, have two ranges separated by a narrow trough, the Duke Depression. The Kluane Ranges, a chain of mountains averaging 2500m (8,000') in height, are visible to travellers on the Haines Road or the Alaska Highway. Beyond these guardians of the interior, to the west lie the rugged Icefield Ranges, whose peaks soar into the 5000m (16,000') range.
Amid these ranges is a legacy of the last Ice Age - one of the world's largest non-polar icefields. Massive quantities of snow continue to accumulate as moist Pacific air moves over the St. Elias Mountains. Valley glaciers such as Naludi (Lowell Glacier), 65 km. long, radiate from the icefields. Glacial movements are often immense and spectacular. In the past, surges of Naludi (Lowell Glacier) have blocked the Alsek River near Goatherd Mountain with a dam of ice. The resulting glacial lakes extended well back to and over the present site of Haines Junction.
The most recent Lake Alsek is said to have drained around 1850 in two days after the ice dam broke, with a flow rate comparable to that of the Amazon River. Huge gravel current ripples from this outflow, as well as wave-cut lake benches, are visible along the Alsek trail, 10 km north of Haines Junction along the Alaska Highway. The flooding associated with the advances and retreat of Naludi (Lowell Glacier) is the subject of many Southern Tutchone native people's legends and stories.
Rising in the mountains of Kluane National Park Reserve, its braided upper reaches nestle in a broad valley, providing an oasis for mountain goats, Dall's sheep and other wildlife. Sand dunes and glacial till provide a contrasting environment for the diverse vegetation found here. Downstream, rivers of ice flow into the Alsek's silt-laden waters, calving huge icebergs into the river before it leaves the Park on its journey to the Pacific Ocean on the Alaskan Panhandle.
- Alsek - A Canadian Heritage River
Learn why the Alsek River was given this remarkable designation!