An almost-Spring night of aurora borealis photography

I hadn’t planned to go out aurora hunting on March 16th, but it turned out to be one of the best aurora displays I’ve seen in a long time.

My usual aurora-forecast starting point, the UAF Geophysical Institute, gave it a Level 0 – meaning there’d be no chance of an aurora. I’d never seen a Level 0 before. But a friend called and said that her app had a good forecast so she and a couple of overseas friends who had recently moved to Canada were going out. I decided to join them.

We decided to go out to Lake Laberge again, for the broad views. The aurora began on our way out there, when the sky was still bright, but we were also heading towards clouds.

By 10:15, we were set up at the Lake Laberge Campground. The next photo was shot at 10:26 – the nearly-full moon was washing the aurora out, and the strongest aurora appeared to be hidden by clouds.

The aurora borealis at Lake Laberge, Yukon
10:42 – a few minutes later, we decided to head back towards Whitehorse to see if we could find clearer skies. It would also be nice to get out of the wind – even though the temperature was an amazing +4°C (39°F), the wind had a bite.

The aurora borealis at Lake Laberge, Yukon
Driving back on the North Klondike Highway, a glance in the rear-view mirror prompted a stop at a pullout. When a vehicle went by, Karla was ready and got a good photo. It could have been a long wait for another vehicle to come along, so she drove her own car by so the rest of us could get a shot πŸ™‚

The aurora borealis along the North Klondike Highway, Yukon
One of the members of my Aurora Alert Yukon group had posted that there were some clear skies at the Fish Lake Road viewpoint, so that was our Whitehorse-area destination. The next photo was shot right at midnight. Interesting cloud, but no more aurora.

The Fish Lake Road viewpoint, Yukon
Five minutes later, the moon went behind that large cloud. If we got very lucky and the aurora returned, that would be a big help.

An odd cloud above the Fish Lake Road viewpoint, Yukon
Just a minute later, the aurora returned in a very cool way, looking like an aurora tornado dropping down out of the cloud!

The aurora borealis at the Fish Lake Road viewpoint in Whitehorse, Yukon
At 00:10 the real show began over the city – the next photo was shot a minute later.

The aurora borealis at the Fish Lake Road viewpoint in Whitehorse, Yukon
Now we didn’t now which way to look, with strong aurora in opposite directions.

The aurora borealis at the Fish Lake Road viewpoint in Whitehorse, Yukon

The aurora borealis at the Fish Lake Road viewpoint in Whitehorse, Yukon
Within 5 minuttes, the aurora arc had filled in overhead, and then spread to fill much of the sky.

The aurora borealis at the Fish Lake Road viewpoint in Whitehorse, Yukon
The Rokinon 10mm lens I use to shoot the aurora can be a bit frustrating when the aurora display is small, but it’s a star when the sky fills with colour!

The aurora borealis at the Fish Lake Road viewpoint in Whitehorse, Yukon
Wanting some new angles, we drove a few miles to the Jackson Lake Road. It was a good place to do some aurora-backed portraits.

The aurora borealis at Jackson Lake Road in Whitehorse, Yukon
By 00:39 when the next photo was shot, the aurora display was so strong that even having the moon come out from behind the cloud didn’t matter.

The aurora borealis at Jackson Lake Road near Whitehorse, Yukon
The cloud was hiding some aurora – maybe a lot of aurora – but there was still plenty to shoot πŸ™‚

The aurora borealis at Jackson Lake Road near Whitehorse, Yukon
I asked Karla to “paint” me with light from her headlamp to get a portrait.

Murray Lundberg and the aurora borealis at Jackson Lake Road near Whitehorse, Yukon
We decided to go up to Fish Lake, which is always the busiest aurora-viewing location in the Whitehorse area. On the way, the sky lit up in a major way again. Just to the lower right of the high tree in the next photo, a bit of red can be seen in the aurora. We hoped it would expand, but that didn’t happen.

The aurora borealis at the Fish Lake Road near Whitehorse, Yukon
At 01:02, even my 10mm lens couldn’t get it all in.

The aurora borealis at the Fish Lake Road near Whitehorse, Yukon
The aurora got dramatically smaller as we continued towards Fish Lake, but we made a stop at the entrance to Sky High Wilderness Ranch for a few photos. We didn’t think those cabins were lived in, but someone pulled a curtain back to see what we were doing. Whoops – sorry!

The aurora borealis at Sky High Ranch, Yukon
We reached Fish Lake just after 01:15, but the aurora was gone and the wind was screaming. There were only 3 other vehicles there. We sat in the car for a while and waited for the aurora to return, then walked down to an igloo for a few photos of an igloo that someone had built. I lit it up by putting my headlamp inside.

An igloo at Fish Lake, Yukon

At 01:30, we called it quits and headed home. The aurora forecasts are calling for a long calm period now, with a good aurora storm to hit on the 27th. That will probably be our next outing.



A hike to the Kluane Ice Cave

Deep among the spectacular peaks to the west of Haines Junction is an ice cave that, although known to a handful of people for some 30 years, first became public knowledge in 2016. Recently, it’s been getting an ever-increasing number of visitors. Recent warnings to stay away because it’s collapsing prompted me to post a hike on a local hiking group’s Facebook page, and on Thursday, February 28, seven of us met in Whitehorse and headed to the trailhead.

For easy reference for other hikers, here are the Kluane Ice Cave trail stats according to my Garmin inReach:

Start: Elevation: 2,502.46 ft.
Lat: 60.814380 Long: -137.718065

Ice Cave: Elevation: 4,186.15 ft.
Lat: 60.812685 Long: -137.823701

Distance (round trip): 7.66 miles (12.3 km)

I’m down to one foster rescue puppy now (Catalina), and Cathy would come home at noon to let her out for a walk, so the day was free and the weather forecast was glorious.

Foster rescue puppy Catalina
We met at 07:00 so we’d have a great view of the sunrise, which would be at 08:04 officially. The next photo, looking back towards Whitehorse, was shot at 07:39.

Sunrise along the Alaska Highway west of Whitehorse
We made a couple of stops to photograph the moon as it was setting, and at 08:02 I got the shot I was looking for. This was shot with my Canon 100-400mm lens and then cropped to about a 1000mm equivalent.

The moon setting over the Kluane peaks
As the colours got more and more beautiful, I made more and more photo stops, and soon the other hikers’ vehicles had all passed me.

Winter dawn along the Alaska Highway west of Whitehorse
I have many photos of this section of the Alaska Highway, but when the sun lit of the peaks ahead, I added a few more during several stops πŸ™‚

Winter sunrise along the Alaska Highway west of Whitehorse
I made a U-turn to get this photo at Km 1584 west of Haines Junction – it was perfect light and the perfect background for the sign dedicating the Alaska Highway to veterans.

Yukon dedicates the Alaska Highway to all veterans

We reached the trailhead, 13 km west of Haines Junction, a couple of minutes before 09:00, and were soon on our way up the very well-travelled trail. A rustic parking area has been graded along the highway shoulder – an excellent idea, as I’ve seen as many as 30 vehicles lined up along the highway on a nice weekend. Our group members were the only ones there this day, though – as I had hoped when I planned the mid-week hike.

The trail begins by wandering through a scrub forest. Snowmobiles have packed the trail nicely.

Hiking to the Kluane Ice Cave, Yukon
Within less than 10 minutes, the trail opens up onto the bed of a creek that appears to have no name. Overflow ice was common. Some members of our group had Yaktrax or similar ice cleats, but there was a path around most of the ice.

Hiking to the Kluane Ice Cave, Yukon
Overflow ice aside, the trail is superb on a day like that, with a gentle grade and broad views.

Hiking to the Kluane Ice Cave, Yukon
I tried for a while to get Tucker ahead of me in a sunny area and then get a burst of photos of him running back to me, and had my camera set to do that. It finally worked.

My little dog Tucker running on the Kluane Ice Cave trail, Yukon
“Whoohoo, I can fly, daddy!” When I need to find an incentive to go hiking, photos like this of Tucker joyfully embracing life should be all I need.

My little dog Tucker running on the Kluane Ice Cave trail, Yukon
Sun-and-wind-sculpted snow along the trail.

Sun-and-wind-sculpted snow along the trail to the Kluane Ice Cave, Yukon
It had been -23°C (-9°F) when we reached the trailhead at 09:00 and we were all suitably bundled up, but an hour and half later it was time to start shedding layers.

Hiking to the Kluane Ice Cave, Yukon
Looking back into the valley. The dominant mountain to the right of centre is Paint Mountain, which overlooks Haines Junction from the northeast.

Hiking to the Kluane Ice Cave, Yukon
Some of the overflow ice was quite extensive and couldn’t be walked around. I may invest in some cleats for future hikes of this sort.

Hiking to the Kluane Ice Cave, Yukon
Just after I shot this photo, Karla and I got a bad scare when her little dog Meeko fell into a hole in the ice crust. Karla grabbed her by the scruff of her neck as she was still dropping. We immediately put both her and Tucker on leashes. Shortly after that, the big Lab with us also fell through and needed help to get out. In many places, we could hear the creek flowing below us.

Hiking to the Kluane Ice Cave, Yukon
When we went back into the shade, it cooled off substantially, as we were gaining a surprising amount of elevation even with the fairly gentle grade of the creek.

Hiking to the Kluane Ice Cave, Yukon
Patterns in the scrub forest.

Hiking to the Kluane Ice Cave, Yukon
Just after 11:30, with the ice cave now visible in the distance, Philippe got to work, starting with an introductory monologue for the Northbeat program.

Hiking to the Kluane Ice Cave, Yukon
Interviewing Karla, who hiked to the ice cave in 2017, as we walked. She noted how dramatically different the trail is now due largely to the heavy use.

Hiking to the Kluane Ice Cave, Yukon
The first really good look at the Kluane Ice Cave. Yes, this hike had been a very good idea! πŸ™‚

The Kluane Ice Cave, Yukon
Having people in the view gives a better idea of how large the ice cave is. As many photos as I’d seen of it, I was still surprised by its size. This ice cave is, I think, at least 10,000 years old, forming as the glaciers retreated after the last ice age. I haven’t seen any reports about it by scientists yet.

The Kluane Ice Cave
The view from the Kluane Ice Cave. A few minutes before, we had met 3 members of our group heading back down to have lunch in a warm sunny spot.

The view from the Kluane Ice Cave
As we approached, I was studying the face of the roof to try to figure out where the dangerous areas were. A large chunk of ice had broken off the left side a few days previously, prompting the latest warnings to stay away.

The Kluane Ice Cave, Yukon
The next photo was shot by Isabel Menzel in October 2016. The difference is obvious. An article by Kylie Campbell from 2 years ago has other photos to compare the current situation with.

Hiking to the Kluane Ice Cave, Yukon
Karla and Philippe shooting another segment up close to the mouth of the ice cave.

The Kluane Ice Cave, Yukon
Remembering photos I’d seen, there had clearly been a lot of ice falling from the ceiling. Just 2 years ago, walking through it was easy on a low and smooth pile of snow and ice.

Hiking to the Kluane Ice Cave, Yukon
I asked Karla to use my camera to get some photos of Tucker and I.

Hiking to the Kluane Ice Cave, Yukon
Philippe then set up close to the mouth of the ice cave to do his main commentary about it. Seconds after I shot the next photo at 12:30, a huge section of the ice cave ceiling collapsed! There was no warning and it was over in a second, but hundreds of tons of ice fell. We were stunned, shocked, scared. Tucker was terrified and ran as far as his extend-a-leash would allow. The look on Philippe’s face, as it happened behind him, was funny, looking back on it. He didn’t know whether to scream, run, or just mess his pants! Then, his primary concern was “did I get that on video???” He did!! A few seconds later, a wave of icy water vapour hit us as we were still trying to get over what had just happened.

Hiking to the Kluane Ice Cave, Yukon

As I write this on Saturday morning, CBC Yukon hasn’t posted the video yet. I have no doubt that it will go viral world-wide – what we saw on the small camera screen was incredible. When it is posted, I’ll add a link here.

CBC posted several versions of it, and I’ve lost the best one. This article and video will give you an idea, but the wide-angle lens on the camera gives a very different look than what I remember, unfortunately.

There’s also a 5-minute audio on this event at Clyp, and a 4-minute fly-through by a drone in 2018 is worth seeing on Youtube.

The hike back down was uneventful. At one point both Karla and Philippe shot video of the creek a couple of feet down in the one of the holes in the ice crust.

Hiking to the Kluane Ice Cave, Yukon
At 2:00 it was wonderfully warm – when we reached the vehicles it was -3°C (+27°F).

Hiking to the Kluane Ice Cave, Yukon
At 3:30, we were ready to head home. I had to make it a quick trip, as I had some dogs being dropped off for a weekend puppy-sit πŸ™‚

Hiking to the Kluane Ice Cave, Yukon

Going through the photos of this hike as I put the blog post together, I may go up there again while this amazing weather holds. I think it’s entirely possible that the ice cave will collapse entirely this coming summer.

My last puppy has been adopted and I’ll fly her to Vancouver early Monday morning, then it’s on to one of many other projects. Yes, Cathy, including house renovations… πŸ™‚



2018 Yukon Heritage Awards

Last week, in the middle of my rescue puppy adventure, I was honoured by being presented with the Annual Yukon Heritage Award. The ceremony, held at the start of Heritage Week, was at the Yukon Archives on Monday, February 18. Most of this post is copied from the press release about the awards.

The awards are given by the Yukon Historical & Museums Association (YHMA). “These annual awards honour those who have made exceptional contributions to Yukon heritage, enriching our community for all Yukoners,” said YHMA Executive Director Lianne Maitland. “This year we are excited to present these awards to five diverse recipients, each of whom has contributed in a very different way.”

The program began with a presentation by JJ, Dustyn, and Joshua Van Bibber, celebrating the legacy of their great grandfather, JJ Van Bibber, a prominent First Nations hunter, trapper, photographer, and storyteller. It was an excellent way to begin, as JJ Van Bibber’s stories and extensive collection of photographs exemplified this year’s national theme, “Heritage: The Tie that Binds”.


JJ, Dustyn, and Joshua Van Bibber at the 2018 Yukon Heritage Awards

Photos by JJ Van Bibber, a prominent First Nations hunter, trapper, photographer, and storyteller, at the 2018 Yukon Heritage Awards

Yukon Heritage Award – Murray Lundberg

The Annual Heritage Award was presented to Murray Lundberg. Murray has traveled far and wide throughout the territory, always with camera in hand, visiting the sites of many historical features, taking pictures, and documenting them, then sharing the information with the public through a variety of resources. Murray is the author of three books featuring Yukon history; creator of the ExploreNorth website, which consists of almost 7,000 pages of information and more than 40,000 files on Yukon and Alaska History that are regularly used by countless researchers and interested people; and founder of the immensely popular Yukon History and Abandoned Places Facebook group. A dynamic forum for people interested in Yukon history to exchange information and share experiences, this group saw dramatic growth in 2018, closing the year with well over 10,000 members. Murray’s work continues to preserve and promote Yukon heritage for the enjoyment of all.


Historian Michael Gates at the 2018 Yukon Heritage Awards

Historian Michael Gates nominated me for the award, and started the presentation by describing why.

Historian Murray Lundberg at the 2018 Yukon Heritage Awards

Then I had a few minutes to talk to the people who had come to the event. As usual, there was far more I wanted to say than I had time to say it πŸ™‚ I never have a written script – I prefer to just have the important things in my head and then say whatever comes to mind. This photo was shot by Tony Gonda, who was shooting for the YHMA. Karla Scott shot an 8-minute video of Michael’s nomination speech and my acceptance – thanks, Karla!

Historians Michael Gates and Murray Lundberg  at the 2018 Yukon Heritage Awards

The award itself is a small plaque on a framed copy of an old Yukon map. Originally published in 1891 by the GSC, it shows the routes of the 1887-1888 Yukon Expedition. My map is #189 of a limited edition of 500, published by the YHMA and Association of Map Libraries in 1980. It’s now hanging above my desk.

History Maker Award – History Maker Award

A posthumous History Maker Award was presented to Jamie Toole for this father Gordon Mervin Toole, a long-time Yukoner who helped make the Yukon what it is today through his outstanding contributions to meteorology, aviation, wilderness tourism, big game outfitting, trapping, and farming. Gordon is perhaps best known for recording the lowest official temperature ever measured in North America, -81.4°F (-63°C), on February 3, 1947 at Snag, Yukon, in his role as meteorologist for the Canadian Department of Transport. He later became a founding partner and pilot for the Watson Lake Flying Service; the owner/operator of Thunderbird Fishing camp, then the only registered fly-fishing camp in the Yukon; a big game outfitter; the owner/operator of several traplines and a farm near Watson Lake; and Justice of the Peace and Coroner for Watson Lake. While he passed away on November 9, 2018, Gordon’s legacy as a History Maker remains.


Helen Couch Volunteer of the Year Award – Bruce Barrett

Bruce Barrett received the Helen Couch Volunteer of the Year Award. Bruce has dedicated many years of his life to the heritage community in Yukon, both throughout his career and by generously giving his time in a volunteer capacity, whether as a photographer, advocate, or even actor. He has acted as the unofficially official photographer for YHMA, chronicling many of the organization’s special events over the years. In addition, Bruce spent time volunteering with ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) Canada, sharing northern perspectives with the national heritage community. Bruce has also been an avid participant in the Yukon music and theatrical scenes, and in 2017 loaned his acting talents to an interactive performance fundraiser for the Old Log Church Museum. He continues to volunteer for a variety of organizations.


Bruce Barrett at the 2018 Yukon Heritage Awards

Innovation, Education, and Community Engagement Award – Association franco-yukonnaise

This year’s Innovation, Education, and Community Engagement Award was presented to Association franco-yukonnaise for “De fil en histoires: les personnages d’un territoire”/ “Stitches in Time: Yukon History Makers”. Through this project, AFY has paid tribute to the Francophones who helped shape the Yukon, connecting participants and the public with both the territory’s Francophone history and the traditional craft of dollmaking. Led by local artist Cecile Girard, 19 community members created a total of 21 handcrafted dolls representing real French-speaking Yukoners, past and present. The dolls and their stories were then highlighted through three bilingual exhibitions, in Dawson City, Haines Junction, and Whitehorse, as well as a bilingual website, video, and printed catalogue. AFY is currently working to adapt the project for use in schools. “De fil en histoires” highlights the diversity of Yukon’s history and culture, and demonstrates AFY’s commitment to raising awareness about Yukon’s Francophone heritage.


Association franco-yukonnaise at the 2018 Yukon Heritage Awards

Heritage Conservation Project of the Year Award – Yukon Church Heritage Society

The Heritage Conservation Project of the Year Award was presented to the Yukon Church Heritage Society (YCHS) for the conservation of the Old Log Church and Rectory in Whitehorse. Constructed in 1900 and 1901 respectively, these buildings are among the oldest buildings in Whitehorse and are landmarks in the community. The Old Log Church served as a place of worship in Whitehorse for 60 years before being repurposed as a museum in 1962. In 2014, the Old Log Church and Rectory were designated a Yukon Historic Site and municipal historic site. The YCHS was formed in 1982 to restore and preserve the buildings and to operate the Old Log Church Museum. They have shown great stewardship of the buildings through respectful use, care, and maintenance, and through various conservation projects. In 2018, work focused on the rectory, upgrading the heating system and replacing the roof’s cedar shingles. The YCHS undertook a similar re-roofing project in 2006 for the Old Log Church. Work completed by the YCHS has followed the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada and will ensure that the historic value and architectural integrity of the buildings are preserved. This award is sponsored by the Department of Tourism and Culture, Government of Yukon.



Award winners at the 2018 Yukon Heritage Awards

All of the award winners.


A drive to Watson Lake to get 17 rescue puppies

I was on the final days of guiding my Yukon Quest tour when a photo on the Facebook page of the Yukon Animal Rescue Network (YARN) got me thinking about fostering another litter of rescue puppies. On Tuesday, February 12th, I drove to Watson Lake and got 2 litters – 17 puppies in all!

This was the photo that started it –Β little Miss Catalina, from the Airplanes 2 litter (all the puppies are named after aircraft-related people and things).

Catalina, from YARN's Airplanes 2 litter of rescue puppies
On Monday, I got my rescue-puppy facility set up in the garage again, though with improved heating. The doghouse has a heated floor, so it’s very comfortable for them. After the photo was taken, the big door was tarped for extra insulation, too, as night-time temperatures have been dropping to near -30°C (-22°F). A door from this area opens to a 100-square-foot fenced outside play area, though it’s not getting used until it warms up (that’s forecast to happen tomorrow).

My Yukon rescue puppy fostering facility
I loaded Cathy’s Jeep with 3 kennels, and filled each of them with bundles of newspapers that the Whitehorse Star had donated to YARN for puppy use. Tucker was very intrigued by what was going on. To get the rear hatch on the Jeep closed, I had to move the front seats up much further than is best for comfort.


Finally, I invited a friend to join me on the long journey, and she agreed. At 07:00, almost 2 hours before sunrise, we headed east on the Alaska Highway.

As we approached Teslin, the sky started to hint that we were going to be treated to a colourful sunrise. At 08:26, I pulled over for a few shots overlooking Teslin Lake.

Winter sunrise at Teslin Lake, Yukon
Six minutes later, the sky exploded in colour, prompting another stop. We hoped to still have good colours when we reached the Nisutlin Bay Bridge at Teslin, but it had faded by then.

Winter sunrise on the Alaska Highway west of Teslin, Yukon
The gas tank on the Jeep wasn’t completely full when we left Whitehorse, so I stopped in Teslin to top it up.

Fueling the Jeep at Teslin in the winter.
The Nisutlin Bay Bridge, built with 7 Warren through-truss spans, is the longest bridge on the Alaska Highway at 584 meters (1,917 feet). It opened in the spring of 1956.

Nisutlin Bay Bridge
I was very surprised to see Rancheria Lodge closed. When we got back to Whitehorse I heard that both owners have died, but I haven’t found any details yet.

Rancheria Lodge - closed, 2019
I had told my friend that we had about an 80% chance of seeing caribou west of Watson Lake, and within about 20 minutes we saw about 30 of them in 4 groups.

Caribou on the Alaska Highway west of Watson Lake, Yukon, in the winter

Caribou beside the Alaska Highway west of Watson Lake, Yukon, in the winter

Caribou beside the Alaska Highway west of Watson Lake, Yukon, in the winter
Before going to YARN, we stopped for gas, lunch, and then made a quick photo stop at Watson Lake’s famous “Signpost Forest“.

Watson Lake's famous Signpost Forest in the winter
At 12:30, we got to YARN and the unloading and re-loading was soon completed. The next photo shows Joana, Cheryl, and Sylvain with 4 of the 9 puppies in the Airplanes 2 litter I’m fostering.

YARN dog rescue in Watson Lake, Yukon
Space was at a premium, but the puppies would be cozy on the 420-km (261-mile) drive back home. There was very little noise from the puppies on the trip – some of these puppy-drives are very noisy! πŸ™‚

A kennel full of rescue puppies being transported to Whitehorse, Yukon

By about 6:00 pm, the 8 puppies of the Hat litter had been picked up by another foster, and the 9 puppies from Airplanes 2 was settled in their new home. It had been a stressful day for them, so after feeding them and giving each a snuggle and talk, I left them alone for the night.

The next day was health-check day at Alpine Veterinary Medical Centre. They give us such great service – large litters at short notice? – no problem. They had a cart for me to bring in the large crate with all 9 puppies – almost 90 lbs of love! I brought a laundry basket to sort puppies with, to keep track of which puppies had been checked πŸ™‚

A kennel full of rescue puppies at Alpine Veterinary Medical Centre
Dr. Kim Friedenberg had soon given all 9 clean bills of health, and I headed home with health records to pass on to their new families.

A kennel full of rescue puppies at Alpine Veterinary Medical Centre in Whitehorse, Yukon
On the way home from the vet, I stopped for a visit with another of my puppies from a few weeks ago. This was Lentil from the Bean litter. Isn’t he a handsome dude now!?!

Lentil from YARN's Bean rescue puppy litter
Getting this greeting several times a day melts my heart. There’s no love like the love of a rescue.

Being greeted by a litter of Yukon rescue puppies
Two puppies, Bandit and Goose, were adopted the next day – down to 7 for dinner.

Dinner for a litter of Yukon rescue puppies
I managed to get portraits of the 2 adopted puppies minutes before they were picked up.

Bandit, a Yukon rescue puppy

Goose, a Yukon rescue puppy
“HEY, where did our brothers go???”

Yukon rescue puppies
When I started writing this I still had these 7 puppies. Two have been adopted but are staying with me for another week, one is leaving to his furever home today, and I’m adding the final puppy from another foster’s litter – the last one is always tough on both the puppy and the foster.


So that’s my chaotic, love-filled life now. πŸ™‚



Another wonderful day of mushing on Lake Laberge, Yukon

The final full day for my Yukon Quest tour included one of what will no doubt be one of the highlights of the trip for my guests – 4 hours of mushing their own dog sleds on Lake Laberge.

We began our day at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. Preserve guide Julie joined us in the van and took us on a very informative tour of the property.

Yukon Wildlife Preserve
Winter is the best time to see a few of the animals here. Musk oxen are at the top of that list – without snow they seem to be missing an important context.

Musk oxen at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve
From the preserve, we drove to Muktuk Kennels for a special lunch of bison burgers. There are currently 134 dogs living there, and I always want to visit each of them πŸ™‚ A group of Japanese visitors was just getting ready to head out on dog sleds as we were leaving.

Muktuk Kennels, Yukon
By 3:00 we were at Lake Laberge to meet the crew from Cathers Wilderness Adventures – Jeninne and Ned Cathers, their assistant Ruth, and four 6-dog teams of sled dogs.

Mushing on Lake Laberge, Yukon
The first few minutes are spent explaining the basic of mushing a team of sled dogs. It’s fairly simple, and the explanation always seems to calm any apprehensions people may have had about the experience.

Mushing on Lake Laberge, Yukon
My place in the group this time was on the back of Ned’s patrol snowmobile. With decades of Yukon bush experience, Ned can tell stories all day long. Despite having worked with him for a few years, I’d never had a chance to talk to him much, so I was looking forward to the day in a different way than usual.

Ned Cathers - mushing on Lake Laberge, Yukon
Patience isn’t a strong quality of huskies, but these guys know the drill. Once the teams are moved out onto the ice, though, they know that they’ll be able to start running soon, and the energy level goes up. So does the noise level! πŸ™‚

Mushing on Lake Laberge, Yukon
It takes a while to get everything organized, but once the first teams are away…

Mushing on Lake Laberge, Yukon
…the other huskies get pretty crazy! LET’S GO!!! πŸ™‚

Mushing on Lake Laberge, Yukon
One more team ready to go…

Mushing on Lake Laberge, Yukon
And there goes team #4 off into the Yukon wilderness. Once the dogs get to start running, everything goes silent – the only sound is that of the sled runners on the snow.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
The back of the snowmobile is a fine vantage point for photography, and Ned would get me into any position I wanted.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
Being a fairly warm weekend (the forecast high was -14°C), there were a few other people out on the lake.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
Lake Laberge is a fairly popular place for skijoring – we always encounter tracks on these outings.

Skijoring on Lake Laberge, Yukon
The day was about as perfect as it could be.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
Just before 4:00, the teams pulled into a beach on the west shore of Richthofen Island for a picnic.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
This is a welcome break, as well as a great way to soak up the silent Yukon wilderness, and meet the dogs.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
At 4:42, the sun dropped behind the western ridge, and we prepared to head back to our van.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
A pressure ridge at the north end of the little bay is a bit of a challenge to cross, so Jeninne and Ned were both there to assist.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
The light going back was absolutely superb. What a fine end to the day!

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon

We got back to the van at 6:00 and were back at the hotel Whitehorse just before 7:00. My guests we on their own that night, to do whatever they needed to do to get ready to fly home on Sunday.

The final day got off to a very early start, leaving the house at 03:30 to shuttle my guests to the airport. Once at the hotel, we learned that Air Canada wasn’t finished messing with them, and the plane would be 90 minutes late. *sigh* But they decided that the airport was as good a place as any to wait, so we continued on.

A 03:30 airport transfer in a Yukon winter

Once I dropped the trailer off at U-Haul and the van at Driving Force, I was free to start planning the next adventure. Within 48 hours I was off to Watson lake to pick up 17 rescue puppies! I might have some photos to show you in the next post(s) πŸ™‚



The Yukon Quest in Dawson City: Day 2

Thursday, February 7th, was the second full day in Dawson City for my Journeys by Van Dyke Yukon Quest tour group. It was a busy day, and for me, it took an odd twist.

I went down to the Dawson finish line downtown at 06:00 (3½ hours before sunrise), to find out where the trail past town would be on the race re-starts. It was down on the Yukon River.

Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
I certainly couldn’t go by the historic sternwheeler Keno without a photo.

Sternwheeler Keno in Dawson City
I found a spot on the river just as a musher was approaching – I forget now who it was, though. I had an awful time trying to get my lens to focus in the dark.

Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
I went back to the hotel to join some of my guests for breakfast, then at 09:20, a few of us drove back to the dyke above an easy access spot to walk to the river trail. A snowmobile coming down Third Avenue was a good photo op πŸ™‚

Snowmobile coming down Third Avenue in Dawson City
A directional sign on the Yukon Quest trail. Eagle is 150 miles straight ahead – for Dawson, veer right.

A directional sign on the Yukon Quest 2019 trail at Dawson City
Swedish musher Torsten Kohnert, running his fifth Yukon Quest, was the first to appear after we got down to the river. At that point he was in 8th place.

Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
Off to Eagle they go!

Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
Nathaniel Hamlyn was the next musher to approach a few minutes later, in 9th place.

Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
The Yukon Quest trail gets rough just past Dawson, with jumbled ice on the river and some extreme summits beyond. A later musher got just past Dawson, I assume saw what was ahead, then returned and scratched.

Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
We did a bit more touring of Dawson, starting with the Dawson City Museum, which is housed in the beautifully restored Territorial Administration Building.

The Dawson City Museum
The museum’s Executive Director Alex Somerville gave us an excellent introduction to the area’s mining history and then there was free time to explore the museum on our own.

The Dawson City Museum
We next went to the historic Oddfellows Hall, now the home of the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture (KIAC). They were having a show by local artists in a wide range of media. The workmanship on this full-size canoe was wonderful.

Klondike Institute of Art and Culture
This dog made from found materials attracted a lot of interest πŸ™‚

Klondike Institute of Art and Culture
By 1:30 we were back at the dog yard to watch some re-starts, and preparations for re-starts.

Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
The veterinarians were all out inspecting some of the 300 or so dogs at the camp by then.

Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
The first re-start after we arrived. I always think I can figure out later who the various teams are that I’m photographing so don’t take notes, but sometimes I can’t. This is probably Curt Perano, in 14th place leaving Dawson in his first Yukon Quest.

Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City

Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City

Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
Some teams, though, are very easy to identify. At the top of that list is Brian Wilmshurst from Dawson. He left Dawson in 15th place, in his sixth Yukon Quest.

Brian Wilmshurst in Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City

Brian Wilmshurst in Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City

Brian Wilmshurst in Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City

Brian Wilmshurst in Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
I discovered that we had just enough time to watch a re-start and then drive to a spot where we could walk down to the river to watch the teams go by. This is Brian Wilmshurst approaching.

Brian Wilmshurst in Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
When I had returned to the hotel the previous evening, I had gotten into a long discussion about the “wolf” that musher Chase Tingle had seen the previous day. Was it really a wolf, or was it perhaps a husky who had gone missing from a mining camp about 60 km south of that spot back in August? One of the key pieces of information for me was this photo of the wolf shot by a drone.

Wolf seen during Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
I had decided that the wolf was actually the missing dog. This photo of him, whose name is Link, broke my heart, and I decided to see if I could find him.

Missing dog near Dawson City
Once the group no longer needed me, at 3:00 pm, I drove back up Bonanza Road, with a somewhat vague plan.

Bonanza Road at Dawson City in the winter
I made a brief stop at the Claim 33 gold panning operation, a place I’ve spent a lot of time at with summer tours over the years, for a couple of photos.

Claim 33 gold panning operation at Dawson City in the winter
I parked at Dredge No. 4 again, and headed up the road into the wilderness on foot. I had a 100-400mm lens on my camera, a bag of wonderful-smelling people food as an attractant, and about 2½ hours until sunset. I also had a nag that a can of bear spray would be welcome in case I was wrong about it being a dog πŸ™‚

Dredge No. 4 at Dawson City in the winter
I very soon came to the tracks of the “wolf”, and was able to follow them for about 3 miles.

Bonanza Road at Dawson City in the winter
Seeing this area in the winter was pretty cool.

Bonanza Road at Dawson City in the winter
I made a short detour from tracking the wolf/dog to see the Discovery Claim.

Discovery Claim at Dawson City in the winter

When I returned, I posted this on the thread about the missing dog: I tracked whoever it is for about 3 miles from the dredge south, with very clear tracks from yesterday, and another set from 2-3 days ago. I’m assuming he went to the dredge area 2-3 days ago and back south yesterday. I initially thought it could be a small (female) wolf, but he does boy-pees. I was carrying a wonderful-smelling bag of people food with me – any animal would have been able to smell it from a substantial distance. A set of fox tracks pretty much parallel his almost the entire way to the Ridge Road junction – then the “wolf” went up the Ridge Road and the fox went toward Discovery Claim. I didn’t go very far up the Ridge Road following his tracks – there was just no hint as to when it might end. I saw no loping – it was a calm walk, occasionally sticking his head into the snowbank (mousing?). In my mind, a husky is smart enough to follow a fox to learn, scavenge and perhaps steal from him. All in all, the behaviour I saw just doesn’t look like a wolf. To follow this further, though, a snowmobile is needed, and I expect a live trap. Perhaps a CO will take this on (to be sure it’s not a menacing wolf πŸ™‚ ).

And that, so far, is where that story ends πŸ™

Then, back to our Yukon Questing! At 7:45 pm, several of us went back to the dog yard to see Rob Cooke re-start, in 18th place. His gorgeous team of Siberian huskies is best seen in good light! We went down to the river to see him go by, but I didn’t get any photos worth posting (or worth keeping, actually). His was the last team I saw leave Dawson this year.

Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City

Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City

Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
On Friday morning, when I pulled the U-Haul trailer out of the snowbank that a plow had buried it in, I discovered it had a low tire. I was unable to get air into it at a gas station, then the shop I usually go to was buried in work and unable to help. The second shop they suggested I call, though, could repair it – or try, he said. An hour later, we were finally on the road – a couple of small but razor-sharp rocks had pierced the tire. A bunch of thumbs up to Sean Aitken, shop foreman at Chief Isaac Mechanical, for great service!

Flat tire on my U-Haul trailer in Dawson City

With our schedule destroyed by the 2 hours lost to the flat tire, we had to skip our usual stop at Moose Creek Lodge, and had a box lunch in the van at a rest area along the Stewart River. Another outhouse at -18°C – memorable parts of any good Yukon adventure πŸ™‚

Just about the time we could almost feel the comfort of the Whitehorse hotel, traffic on the North Klondike came to a stop. Some vehicles turned around, but there was nowhere for us to go except straight ahead. An RCMP officer soon made it to us and let us know that a semi carrying hay had flipped, and he hoped they could have the highway open in half an hour or so. I thought that unlikely, but 35 minutes later, it did indeed open.

North Klondike Highway closed by a flipped semi
My tour manager, Roland McCaffrey, shot this photo of the overturned semi as we went by.

Truck crash on the North Klondike Highway

We were soon back at the Best Western Gold Rush Inn. The next day, our final day, the main event would be the mushing that most of the group missed when they were stranded in Vancouver by Air Canada.



The Yukon Quest in Dawson City: Day 1

On Tuesday, February 5th, I drove my Journeys by Van Dyke tour group from Whitehorse to Dawson for a 3-night stay during the mandatory 36-hour layover for Yukon Quest sled dog race teams. This is where we really get to see what goes on, both during the race and during the rest time, in a close up and personal way.

Our first stop on the 533-kilometer (331-mile) journey up the North Klondike Highway was at Braeburn Lodge. The extreme Yukon Arctic Ultra series of races was on, and the lodge was very busy. While I expected it to be busy, it was so busy that there was no place to sit and no indication that there would be any places to sit in the near future. So, we took our drinks and snacks back to the van for the break.

The Yukon Arctic Ultra at Braeburn Lodge
The drive was uneventful for most of the day – cloudy with the temperature around -25°C and what the road reports call “Normal Winter Driving Conditions” (snow-covered, with lots of icy places). About half an hour from Dawson, I pulled over to let a car by – they’d been behind me for quite a while, and I prefer to not hold anyone up. Then went by, and 5 perhaps 5 minutes later (just after 4:00 pm), they had slid off the road. I went back and told the driver I could cram them in and get them to Dawson. Then the back door of the car opened and I saw that there were 5 people in the car! That I couldn’t do, so I flagged down the next car coming by, and though his car was full of gear, he squeezed 2 in. Nobody was hurt, the car was likely not badly damaged and we soon had them at a friend’s home in Dawson. All part of the Yukon adventure πŸ™‚

Car off in a snowbank along the North Klondike Highway
By 5:00 we were settled in our rooms in the annex at the Eldorado Hotel – this was my room, #351. This was probably about the 30th time I’ve stayed at “the Eldo” – it’s always clean, with good food and great service.

The Eldorado Hotel in Dawson City, Yukon
On Wednesday, we went for a look around Dawson and the gold fields. I tried to get up the Midnight Dome, but it was too icy for a 2-wheel drive van, so I turned around. We then stopped at the network of cemeteries. Although the details were hidden by snow, the enormous size of the area could be seen.

Cemeteries in Dawson City in the winter
Our next stop was at the dog yard, in an RV park at the Bonanza Road junction. Normally it’s in the campground on the west side of the Yukon River, but the river hasn’t frozen yet (!). There were only about 5 teams in yet, so it was pretty quiet, but my guests could get a look at the level of care the canine athletes get.

Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
It’s interesting to see the wide range of accommodations that the various budgets allow for. Some are hi-tech, some very basic.

Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
The handlers were just building one of the camps.

Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
One of the more beautiful teams is Allen Moore’s. This little girl bears a stunning resemblance to my Monty.

One of Allen Moore's dogs in Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
Another look at Allen Moore’s dogs.

Two of Allen Moore's Yukon Quest 2019 dogs in Dawson City
A prime viewing spot for the race is up the Bonanza Road at Dredge #4, but sometimes the road isn’t in good enough shape to get there. We did reach it this time, and a few minutes later the first team was approaching. The musher is 78-year-old Jim Lanier, running his first Yukon Quest.

Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
The next musher to approach was Chase Tingle.

Chase Tingle in the Yukon Quest in Dawson City
Chase was brandishing an axe when he arrived, and stopped to tell my guests about a wolf who was following them just a mile back!

Chase Tingle in the Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
Chase was soon on his way again, with a good story to tell in Dawson City.

Chase Tingle in the Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
Dredge No. 4 built, in 1912 for the Canadian Klondike Mining Company, was the largest wooden hulled bucket lined dredge in North America. It worked in the Klondike Valley on the “Boyle Concession” until 1940 and then was relocated to Bonanza Creek and worked this valley until 1959.

Dredge No 4 in the Klondike gold fields at Dawson City
Next to approach was Hendrik Stachnau, from Hamburg, Germany, running his first Yukon Quest.

Hendrik Stachnau in Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
Hendrik is unique in the Yukon Quest, running a team of Greenland dogs and Alaskan Malamutes. He says he wants to show people what sled dogs used to look like.

Hendrik Stachnau in Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
Hendrik’s dogs decided it was time for a break just as he passed us. As I write this on Day 10 of the race, they are in last place, almost 200 miles behind the leaders. This is why the “Alaskan huskies” are now the racing sled dogs of choice. The big dogs are beautiful, but they don’t win races.

Hendrik Stachnau in Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
We went back to the hotel for lunch. This was the view from the upper level of the Eldorado Hotel annex, looking down Third Avenue to the Red Feather Saloon and beyond.

The view from the upper level of the Eldorado Hotel annex, looking down Third Avenue to the Red Feather Saloon and beyond, Dawson City
The historic Westminster Hotel dominates the view to the north.

The historic Westminster Hotel in Dawson City
After lunch, we toured the Masonic Lodge, which was originally the Carnegie Library. A grant of $25,000 from American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie plus city and territorial assistance enabled construction of the library, which opened in 1904. It had over 5000 books and at the time was considered the most elaborate building in Dawson City. In 1920, due to water and other damage from a major fire, the library moved out of the building, and the Carnegie Library remained empty until 1934 when it was sold to the Freemasons.

Masonic Lodge in Dawson City
Lodge membership has declined to only 5 members now, and the building is no longer heated. It always feels colder inside that outside, but the tin walls and ceilings make this is very worthwhile visit.

Tin walls and ceilings in the Masonic Lodge in Dawson City
By 4:00 pm, we were back out at the Yukon Quest dog yard to watch more of what goes on there during the mandatory 36-hour layover. Once each musher’s 36 hours is up, their race will re-start here.

Yukon Quest 2019 re-start line at Dawson City
Sled design has come a long way since the 26 teams in the first Yukon Quest left Fairbanks in 1984 (20 of those teams would finish that race).

Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
At the dog yard, I met my next-door neighbour and a friend from England, who are following the race working in support of Rob Cooke’s team. It sounded like they’re having a Most Excellent Adventure! πŸ™‚

Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
With many more teams in, the dog camp was much busier than on our previous visit.

Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
A fairly long lens enabled me to get a good look at the dogs and handlers without disturbing anyone.

Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City

Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City

It had been a busy day, and seemed to be a quiet night for everyone in my group. Many of us would have an early start the next day, though…



Driving the Yukon-BC-Alaska Golden Circle

After watching the exciting start of the Yukon Quest sled dog race on February 2, my tour group spent 2 days travelling around what’s known as the Golden Circle. That involves a drive from Whitehorse to Skagway, a ferry from Skagway to Haines, and a drive back to Whitehorse via Haines Junction.

Below is a map of the Golden Circle – 599 km, expected to take a total of almost 9 hours because of the ferry from Skagway to Haines. Click on the map to open an interactive version in a new window.

Map of the Yukon-BC-Alaska Golden Circle

It was -34°C (-29°F) in Whitehorse when we departed on Sunday morning, and half an hour down the South Klondike Highway the thermometer in the van read an even -40°C (which is also -40°F). With the wind that was blowing, the wind chill was almost certainly into the -50sC/-60sF.

Our photo stops were few and very short due to the cold. The longest stop was at the deck overlooking Lake Bennett at Carcross.

Lake Bennett at Carcross in the winter
The large viewing area pullout along Tutshi Lake was our next stop. It provides broad and spectacular views in every direction.

The large viewing area pullout along Tutshi Lake, BC
We checked in at the Skagway ferry terminal, and went for a good lunch at the Sweet Tooth Cafe. Then, with some spare time still, drove out to Dyea. The road to the townsite and beach was too icy to take a 2-wheel-drive van out, but the Dyea Road is wonderfully scenic anyway. In the next photo, the ice on the tide-influenced Taiya River was making a lot of noise as the tide changed.

Taiya River in the winter
Back in Skagway, we had a quick look at the Gold Rush Cemetery, then got into position for loading at the ferry terminal. Just before 1:00 pm, our ferry came into view, coming north at full speed.

Alaska ferry approaching Skagway in the winter
Unloading and reloading the ferry, the little MV LeConte, is a slow process, but at 2:00 pm as scheduled, we left for the 1-hour voyage to Haines. The LeConte is 235 feet long, and carries 235 passengers and about 33 cars, but there were only 3 vehicles on board, and one of them was dragged on by a pickup which then left.

Alaska ferry between Skagway and Haines
It was too cold to be on the outside decks for more than a minute, but what views! I went up to the solarium, a wonderful place to both enjoy the view and meet people (and on longer voyages, even to set your tent up), but it was a sheet of ice and roped off.

Alaska ferry between Skagway and Haines
Five minutes before our scheduled 3:00 arrival, we were inching into the dock. Once off, it’s only 4½ miles to downtown Haines.

Docking at Haines, Alaska.
Our first stop in Haines was at Alaska Indian Arts. Located in the 1904 hospital at Fort William H. Seward, it’s a fascinating facility, established for the creation and restoration of Native art of all sorts, though mostly in wood. The pole being restored in the next photo is part of the “Welcome to Haines” sign.

Alaska Indian Arts shop at Haines
Lee Heinmiller, a director at the center and the driving force behind it, gave us an excellent talk about the centre and a wide range of associated subjects. Lee is a fascinating guy, and it sometimes sounds like his head is going to explode because of all the information stored in it πŸ™‚

Lee Heinmiller at Alaska Indian Arts in Haines, Alaska
By 5:00 we were settled in our rooms at the Captain’s Choice Motel. The rooms were all redone in 1997, making my favourite accommodation in Haines even better. The view across Chilkat Inlet from every room is stunning.

The view from the Captain's Choice Motel in Haines, Alaska

At 6:00 we walked across the street to the Bamboo Room for dinner. The halibut and chips there never disappoints me. A Haines friend came for a short visit – I almost always hike solo, but Greg is my main hiking buddy when I do have company. We seldom get together in the winter, so it was nice to have this opportunity to see him.

We were in no hurry to leave on Monday morning. We had a leisurely Continental breakfast at the motel, and Mother Nature treated us to a spectacular sunrise.


Several of the folks wanted to check out an outdoors shop in Haines, so I dropped them off, and while they were shopping/browsing, I took a couple of my guests to see a bit more of Haines. In the next photo, historic Fort William H. Seward is the main feature.

Historic Fort William H. Seward at Haines, Alaska
Our next stop was at the Southeast Alaska Fairgrounds to see Dalton City, the frontier town that was built for the filming of Disney’s “White Fang” in 1990. While most of the buildings are usable for shops, some structures like the Dalton Transfers Stage Line building are only 2 feet deep.

Dalton City, the frontier town that was built for the filming of Disney's White Fang in 1990
Part of the reason for our rather late departure was so we could stop at the 33 Mile Roadhouse for coffee (and a piece of pie for most of us). The “schedule” got modified a bit when, about 20 miles out, tour manager Roland realized that we’d forgotten our box lunches and we had to go back and get them. Whoops! πŸ™‚

33 Mile Roadhouse, Haines Highway, Alaska
This old tin-roofed log cabin behind the roadhouse is a fairly common photo subject for me.

Log cabin at the 33 Mile Roadhouse, Haines Highway, Alaska
It was looking like many of the Haines Summit peaks were going to be hidden by clouds, but as we approached, the skies cleared. If we hadn’t had to return for the lunches, we may have missed this! πŸ™‚

The Haines Summit in the winter
Stops like this almost leave me speechless. On days like this, it really feels like being able to share my little piece of the world with people is a privilege. Many Yukoners – probably most Yukoners, in fact – will never see this. I think the Golden Circle should be on all of my neighbours’ lists to “to-see” routes, at least in the summer. We tow a trailer for much of the tour and a few years ago had a rock bounce off the trailer and bust a back window so now we protect them. Taping cardboard over the back windows looks cheesy but blowing a window out at -30 when you have no way to fix it for a few days really sucks.

The Haines Summit in the winter
The view north on the Haines Highway the summit. On the Easter long weekend, snowmobilers from all over the Yukon, Alaska, BC, and even Alberta converge on the Haines Summit, and a large village of campers appears. You can see what that looks like that in my Spring Snowmobiling article, originally written for Destination BC.

The Haines Highway in the winter
We stopped at Kathleen Lake to eat our box lunches. A picnic at -18°C seemed to be a new experience for most of my guests πŸ™‚

Winter at Kathleen Lake, Yukon

We were back at the Best Western Gold Rush in Whitehorse that evening, and all had preparations to make for the journey to Dawson the next day to re-join the Yukon Quest.



The start of the Yukon Quest 2019 sled dog race

Saturday, February 2nd was the main event that my tour guests had come to see – the start of the Yukon Quest 2019 sled dog race!

The race was scheduled to start at 11:00, but the dog yard where all the mushers and dogs ge ready was open to the public from 09:00 until 10:00, so I dropped my guests off there as it opened, with the temperature at -36°C (-33°F).

The dog yard is both exciting and interesting. There’s a whole lot of preparation needed to leave on a 1,000-mile race, and each of the 30 mushers in this year’s Quest has his/her own methods.

The start of the Yukon Quest 2019 sled dog race
Here are a few of the army of volunteers that help put this race together and make it run smoothly whatever Mother Nature throws at them.

Volunteers at the start of the Yukon Quest 2019 sled dog race
The dogs have widely-varying reactions to the activity in the dog yard. Some are excited, some bored.

The start of the Yukon Quest 2019 sled dog race
Once the dog yard closed, there were still good photo ops over the low fence.

The start of the Yukon Quest 2019 sled dog race
This particularly handsome team caught my eye, but I did a poor job this year of keeping track of who is who.

The start of the Yukon Quest 2019 sled dog race
By the 11:00 start time, there were over 1,000 people braving the cold to see the mushers off.

The start of the Yukon Quest 2019 sled dog race
Matt Hall, with starting position and bib #7, on his way to Fairbanks the hard way. Although the Yukon Quest no longer promotes itself as “the toughest sled dog race in the world”, every fan of the sport knows that it is.

The start of the Yukon Quest 2019 sled dog race
Olivia Webster, starting position and bib #15, starts her first Yukon Quest.

The start of the Yukon Quest 2019 sled dog race
Brian Wilmshurst, from Dawson City, has starting position and bib #16. By this point, the crowd had thinned substantially due to the cold.

The start of the Yukon Quest 2019 sled dog race
Hendrik Stachnau, starting position and bib #20, has come from Germany to run his first Yukon Quest.

The start of the Yukon Quest 2019 sled dog race
I had to leave before all the mushers had left, to move my van over to the spot where I would meet my guests. Somewhere in the start line crowd, my wife, Cathy, was still cheering on the mushers, but I couldn’t find her.

The start of the Yukon Quest 2019 sled dog race
I don’t know what this stand was selling, but there was a long line of people waiting for it. The fire sure looked good! πŸ™‚

The start of the Yukon Quest 2019 sled dog race
One of the final teams getting ready to move to the start line.

The start of the Yukon Quest 2019 sled dog race
We went for a nice warm lunch, then I drove the group out to the Takhini River to watch about a dozen teams go by. This provides a good look at the teams out in the wilderness. Cody Strathe, bib #28, appreciated the cheers.

The start of the Yukon Quest 2019 sled dog race
I’m not sure who this approaching musher is – his bib number wasn’t clear.

The start of the Yukon Quest 2019 sled dog race
Yukon Quest rookie Chase Tingle, bib #22, glides past the endless, silent forests…

The start of the Yukon Quest 2019 sled dog race
…and then into an area fogged by snow dust and the breath of previous mushers and dogs.

The start of the Yukon Quest 2019 sled dog race
Curt Perano from New Zealand, bib #29.

The start of the Yukon Quest 2019 sled dog race
A final shot of Rob Cooke, bib #30, as he heads north, and then I took the group back to Whitehorse.

The start of the Yukon Quest 2019 sled dog race

Over the next 2 days, while the mushers made their way towards Dawson where we’d meet them again, our tour would drive and ferry around “the Golden Circle” from Whitehorse to Skagway and Haines and back to Whitehorse.



A day of sled dog mushing on Lake Laberge, Yukon

The best way to understand what it’s like to run the Yukon Quest is to spend a day mushing your own team of sled dogs. So on Saturday, February 1st, that’s what we did.

I still only had one of the 9 people in my group, the rest being stranded in Vancouver by Air Canada, but Lori and I drove out to Lake Laberge, and were met by Jeninne Cathers from Cathers Wilderness Adventures, with a team of 6 huskies and a snowmobile.

After meeting the dogs, and some basic instructions for Lori, off we went across the frozen lake. I was happy to lay back in the sled and take photos while Lori drove the team. It was a gorgeous mostly-sunny day – cold at -34°C but with less wind than I had expected.

Mushing on Lake Laberge, Yukon, with Cathers Wilderness Adventures
I was quickly very happy with my choice – photographing while driving the team takes a lot of coordination! I did, though, manage to get some images I’m very happy with when we did this 2 years ago and I was the musher. πŸ™‚

Mushing on Lake Laberge, Yukon
Jeninne kept her distance and shut the snowmobile engine off a few times to give us a better wilderness feeling, but came over a couple of times when she saw the dogs get tangled.

Mushing on Lake Laberge, Yukon
I tried a few times to get a picture of Lori by shooting backwards over my head, and finally got a good one.

Mushing on Lake Laberge, Yukon, with Cathers Wilderness Adventures
For a while we were on the trail of the Yukon Quest 300 race (the YQ300) which would start the next day.

Mushing on Lake Laberge, Yukon
The stop for a picnic on the beach is always very enjoyable. I gathered wood while Jeninne took care of the dogs, then she lit the fire while I went for some husky snuggles.

Mushing on Lake Laberge, Yukon
A Yukon gourmet meal – smokies cooked over a fire in the middle on nowhere at about 30 below zero πŸ™‚

Mushing on Lake Laberge, Yukon, with Cathers Wilderness Adventures
The picnic was over much quicker than it is with a larger group, so we had time for a hike. Jeninne let the dogs off, and we climbed a hill above the beach. I really enjoyed seeing the different dynamics and interactions between the dogs compared to when they’re working as a team.

Mushing on Lake Laberge, Yukon
This was the view from the top of the hill we climbed, looking south across Lake Laberge towards Whitehorse.

Mushing on Lake Laberge, Yukon, with Cathers Wilderness Adventures
I thoroughly enjoy working with Jeninne and her dogs. She ran the Yukon Quest 6 times, starting as the youngest person to ever finish the race, but now prefers to just do the mushing and hiking-with-huskies tours.

Mushing on Lake Laberge, Yukon
When it was time to leave, each dog came to its allocated position and calmly stood while Jeninne hooked them up. With Lori now more confident driving, she was given more space and more silence to savour the experience.

Mushing on Lake Laberge, Yukon

Mushing on Lake Laberge, Yukon, with Cathers Wilderness Adventures
Happy huskies doing what they were born to do.

Mushing on Lake Laberge, Yukon

I hadn’t been able to find my glove liners that morning, so was photographing bare-handed. At one point I told Jeninne that I needed to take care of my hands, and that I had enough photos I was happy with. Then we came around Richthofen Island and the light was so wonderful I started shooting again. I frostbit the tips of 3 fingers and my little finger developed a large and very painful blister that night. That’s my worst-ever frost-bite. Dummy!

The next two photos are examples of what that light was like. It wasn’t the dumbest thing I’ve done to get a photo, but it’s close πŸ™‚ – I went out and bought new merino wool gloves liners the next morning.

Mushing on Lake Laberge, Yukon

Mushing on Lake Laberge, Yukon, with Cathers Wilderness Adventures

Jeninne’s dad, Ned Cathers, met us as we neared the beach where my van was parked, and we had a bit of a chat – I hadn’t seen him since our trip 2 years before. Among other things, he and Jeninne and I discussed possible ways to get the rest of my guests out mushing once they arrived. Then Lori and I headed back to the city. As is almost always the case, she was thrilled by the experience. The next day, she’d be able to much better imagine what the Yukon Quest mushers were doing.