Total Distance: 12 km
Return Time: 6 hours
Elevation Gain: 888 m
Difficulty: Very Difficult
This circuit route takes you off the beaten track of the popular Auriol Trail, taking you across a moraine, up to a mountain saddle, down a glacier and across a beautiful alpine plateau. This hike is best suited to setting up a base camp at the Auriol Trail backcountry campground or somewhere higher in the alpine.
The first part of this route is straightforward and follows the well-maintained Auriol Trail to the mid-way point at the top end of the trail. There is an old bridge approximately 500 m from the backcountry campground.
From the bridge, follow Auriol Creek upstream as it veers away from the main trail and leads west towards the alpine. There are multiple braided trails and open gravel bar areas along the creek which will allow you to avoid the majority of the bushwacking. Keep in mind you'll likely have to jump or hop across the creek several times to keep out of the tangle of brush. The aim is to head towards the right side of the tongue of the moraine. When you get close to the moraine you have two options either to continue following the creek up through a gully along the right side of the moraine, or to gain higher ground and get up on top of the moraine. The moraine edges can be quite tall and steep with loose rocks, so feel free to continue up the creek until you find an easy spot to climb up. Note at this elevation the creek can often end up going under ground or snow, appearing periodically on the surface.
Now, if you've climbed up onto the moraine, follow along it's right side (above the creek) until you reach the back of the mountain cirque or bowl. If you chose to follow the creek, just continue following it and it will also end towards the back, right side of the bowl. At this point there should be a relatively steep snow or talus slope leading up to a low saddle towards the west. The climb up the snow or talus slope is approximately 350 m elevation gain, where it then levels out slightly onto a large open alpine plateau between two mountains. The true saddle between the two mountains is another 760 m away to the southwest, however you will have to hike up onto another small moraine and follow along it's ridge to the saddle. There is a stunning blue glacial lake that you'll pass by on the left.
At the main saddle you'll get a beautiful view of Mount Martha Black (west) with her snowy, glacial cap as well as the glacial valley directly below, which is where you'll need to go to continue on this circuit route. But before you drop down from the saddle to the valley below, it is well worth the little bit of extra effort and time to climb up to Auriol Peak, which offers amazing views of Martha Black and Quill Peak as well as distant peaks and glacial valleys in the St. Elias Icefield.
Leaving the saddle, drop down the scree slope to the glacier below (200 m elevation). Much of the glacier is covered in gravel with glacial melt channels flowing on top of the ice. The glacier is uncrevassed aside from a small ice fall midway down on the left. This ice fall provides a unique opportunity to play around and climb some grade 1 ice if you happen to have crampons and ice tools. Or just enjoy the ice fall by taking some photos.
The circuit route continues down the glacier, following along the right side of the creek. Keep following along the right side of the creek northwest and north in the direction of Haines Junction. The creek at one point will dissapear under the ice and gravel only to re-emerge a few hundred meters downstream. Keep following the creek, staying safely on the rocky talus benches above, contouring along the side of a large mountain. Do not go too low as you will need to stay somewhat high to gain the alpine plateau which eventually leaves the creek and the rocky, glacial outwash valley, and instead circles northeast and east around the large mountain. On the alpine plateau the rock and ice of the glacier are now replaced with green slopes blanketed in wildflowers.
Continue along the plateau heading east. Eventually you will reach a small creek gully which you'll have to descend to and then head back up to reach the next section of plateau. It is another 1.6 km to the southeast with a gradual uphill and then downhill, to the next creek gully, which is the same creek (Auriol Creek) that you started at originally. A GPS wold be very useful to help you pick up your original trail. Once you meet up with Auriol Creek, you can now return the way you came heading back out along the creek or up on the moraine to pick up the Auriol Trail once again.
Jo September 5, 2016
Wanted to attach a photo of that subpeak viewed from the first saddle
Jo September 5, 2016
Hiked the Auriol-Martha Black Circuit on Sat Sept 3rd. Lots of snow up high in Kluane, up to 30cm new snow with a hard breakable crust. Went up too far towards the base of Auriol in the bowl and started working my way up steep chimneys before changing my ming and losing at least 100m elevation to gain some obvious ledges 50m down and 50m right of an obvious waterfall. Looking back at my original route, I think it would've gone but with some exposure avoided on the proper route. The snow was so deep that I tried to gain elevation and stay high in the shallower but more supportive snowpack and ended up shoepacking up a subpeak of Auriol from the first saddle thinking it would connect with the main summit. It didn't under current conditions. Two short 5m section near the top were probably 45 degrees. Got clouded in at the summit and quickly worked my way back down towards the real saddle. The slope down to the rock glacier was steep with lots of snow and signs of recent snowballing and even avalanches up to size 1.5. It was still early, overcast and chilly when I was there but something to keep in mind. I had to downclimb the top part of the slope and then follow wolverine tracks (mother and young I think) to snowline. Stayed high in the moraines at about 1350m and worked my way back to my morning junction. Great trip!
Nicola July 14, 2016
We've done this hike twice - most recently July 8-9. Hiked into the campsite on Friday night after work and did the circuit and out on Saturday.
Lots of flow in the camp creek despite what we were told at the visitor centre. Getting up to the saddle was a bit tough - we took the route straight up the snowfield, then bailed to the right near the top and scrambled up the red rocks. The view from the alpine plateau was lovely and the route across is obvious. Once you descend the scree slope onto the glacier, I would recommend staying on the glacier longer than the GPS route reads - this avoids hiking along a steep talus sidehill. You'll have to cross the river eventually, but there was an ice bridge more than 20m wide when we were there, allowing for safe crossing.
We saw a moose in the meadows from the moraine :)
Overall a good trip - great views from the saddle and fun walking on the glacier - made the tedious navigating of the talus slopes worthwhile.