Flight to Yukon History

As much as I enjoy hiking into some of the fascinating historic sites we have in the Whitehorse-Skagway area backcountry, there are times when I think that it would be great to have some mechanical assist, whether that be an ATV, a boat, a helicopter or a float plane. A few days ago, I got a call from friends to join them on Saturday for a day exploring an old logging camp that they were going to get near in their float plane and then hike to. Yes, I’d love to!

I was able to give them a basic history of the camp, which is located at the south end of Windy Arm of Tagish Lake, with a sawmill at Wynton (at the mouth of Dail Creek). Run by brothers Al and Eugene LaRose, it initially supported the operations of the Conrad and other silver mining companies in the area starting in 1906, and when the mines died, they tried to supply Whitehorse with wood. On June 20, 1908, however, while testing the waters of Miles Canyon and Whitehorse Rapids in a canoe to see if a raft of logs would make it through, the canoe upset and both men were drowned. I’d been to the sawmill site and had been up the main logging road a ways, but had never seen the stable or other camp sites that Kyle and Casey had found.

I met them at Schwatka Lake at 10:00 on Saturday morning, and within half an hour we were on our way southeast. Even while we were getting ready, the feeling that I knew would come, did – I would sure like to have my own airplane again. I love flying, and being around other pilots.

It wasn’t clear what the weather was going to bring – there was certainly some ugly stuff up the Wheaton River valley. One of the things that makes floatplanes safer to fly up here is that there are lots of rivers and lakes where you can land if the weather shuts down or you have other problems – for aircraft on wheels, there are only a handful of emergency strips.
Rain storm in the Wheaton River valley, Yukon
That’s the Wheaton River where it empties into Lake Bennett, with Millhaven Bay at the top. Just out of the bottom of the photo is the site of the Klondike-era camp of the Bennett Lake & Klondyke Navigation camp, where the small sternwheelers Ora, Nora and Flora were built. Not much remains, but enough to intrigue anyone with an interest in history, and enough for me to identify it many years ago.
The mouth of the Wheaton River, Yukon
The BC/Yukon border runs across Lake Bennett right at the little island partially hidden by the wing strut.
Aerial view of Lake Bennett, Yukon
We cut across to Tutshi Lake through a valley that gave us a look at Paddy Peak, where all 3 of us spent some time by truck and on foot in recent days.
Aerial view of Paddy Peak, BC
An aerial view gives the opportunity to spot trails and ruins that are easily missed on ground searches. This is the main Venus silver mine property, with the South Klondike Highway running along Windy Arm. I also got a shot looking up Pooley Canyon to the Vault silver mine that confirms my memory of the final bit of the hiking route into that one.
Aerial view of the Venus silver mine property
Before landing at the south end of Windy Arm, we spotted, and I photographed, the location of the logging-camp stables that were our first target. The photo showing its position in relation to a small aspen forest area was very useful in actually finding it.
Aerial view of the south end of Windy Arm, BC
The gravel beach, sheltered from the south winds that were blowing, offered a perfect parking spot for the plane. I initially met Kyle because because he’d found a photo of his plane, a 1957 Cessna 180A, on my Yukon Aircraft Photos page, and we soon realized that we have much more in common than a love of aviation, Yukon history being a major point.
Cessna 180 floatplane moored on Windy Arm
Our first stop was at a small cemetery where the only marked grave is that of Jonas Fred Whitcomb Jr. of New Hampshire, who died near here in May 1898 while en route to the Klondike to seek his fortune.
The wilderness grave of Jonas Fred Whitcomb Jr.
It only took us a few minutes to find the logging stables, though our route to it was far from straight 🙂 I was surprised by the size and quality of the structure, which appears to be stables joined to a cabin that was built first.
Logging camp stables from 1905-1906
Some of the construction details. The angled piece sticking out was probably to hang a saddle or tack on.
Logging camp stables from 1905-1906
To save building one wall of the stable, it was built against the cabin, with vertical logs on the cabin holding the two connecting stable walls in place. That was eventually the weak point that allowed one of the stable walls to collapse.
Logging camp stables from 1905-1906
After inspecting what we assume to be the main camp site, we headed for the logging road that we’d all been on before. Getting there was rather tough, with fallen trees, brush, and a thigh-deep slough to get through – the slough was clearly not there a century ago, or the logging and camp areas wouldn’t have been built on opposite sides of it. The road is still wide open, and well used by animals (although it looks like a hiking trail, very few people come here). The very old stumps of trees, some very large by local standards, are all along it and other trails branching off it, attesting to its original use.
A century-old logging road on the BC/Yukon border
It took a bit of searching to find the can midden that Kyle and Casey had found, but I’d never seen. Very impressive, as they’d said 🙂 We spent quite a while in the area, looking for related sites – there are several dump sites, this one being quite large, indicating an operation much larger than I had thought.
Garbage dump at a century-old logging camp on the BC/Yukon border
This appears to be the support for a tool-sharpening wheel – certainly one of the most unique old tools I’ve ever seen in the bush.
Tool-sharpening wheel at a century-old logging camp on the BC/Yukon border
Another of the garbage-dump gems, an olive oil can with a map centred on Italy. To answer the question that I know some of you are asking, nothing was removed from any of the sites we visited.
An olive oil can at a century-old logging camp on the BC/Yukon border
Along the main trail, an old trap set for small animals – there was a trap in it, but it had been triggered many years ago by a branch.
A very old trap set for small animals
On the way back to the plane, we detoured to the remains of a sleigh. Although there may be much more of it buried in the deep forest litter there, only this runner is visible.
An old sleigh runner in the BC wilderness
Well satisfied with what we’d seen, it was time for lunch, and we departed for a beach that Kyle and Casey had been to before.
Bush plane ready for takeoff from Windy Arm, Yukon
Oh yeah, that works!
A remote beach on Tutshi Lake, BC
This picnic was as perfect as I hope this photo makes it look. I haven’t mentioned Wednesday before, but she is a sweetie, and a wonderful adventure-dog 🙂
Picnic on  a remote beach along Tutshi Lake, BC
Me in heaven. Thanks for taking this photo, Kyle – the mood I see in it is precisely the way I was feeling.
Murray Lundberg on a remote beach on Tutshi Lake, BC
Time to head home – “okay, Lundberg, get up there and pretend to be doing something useful” 🙂
Murray Lundberg on the float of a bush plane on a remote beach on Tutshi Lake, BC
What can you say about a view like that one to the northeast?
Aeial view of the Yukon's Southern Lakes region
Looking down on Striker Lake. The only cabin on this fly-in lake southeast of Carcross can be seen at the upper right of the beach.
Striker Lake, Yukon
The view towards Tagish, over Choutla and Crag Lakes.
Aerial view towards Tagish, over Choutla and Crag Lakes
At this point, we were directly over Spirit Lake. I had no idea that the top of the craggy cliffs overlooking the lake looked like this! I tried to hike up here twice quite a few years ago, but both times a bear we called the “Dry Creek grizzly” asserted control of the trail and I didn’t argue his claim. Seeing this, however, I am getting up there this year! (I did, a few days later – see Hiking to Caribou Ridge)
Caribou Ridge, Yukon
That scrap metal on the western slopes of Mount Lorne was a DC-3 that crashed in the 1950s. Some people might think that it’s odd for pilots to look at crash sites, but seeing and talking about crashes keeps you aware of what making mistakes, even little ones, can result in.
DC-3 crash remains in the Yukon
The Alaska Highway stretches towards Marsh Lake in the distance, with Shaddow Lake below.
Aerial view of the Alaska Highway east of Whitehorse
A look at Air North’s base of operations as we were on final approach. It doesn’t seem that long ago that it was just that little hangar that the 2 planes (Hawker Siddeley HS 748s) are sitting in front of.
Air North's Whitehorse base
In just a minute we’d be back on the water.
Landing on Schwatka Lake, Yukon

The day had turned out to be as perfect as I’d imagined it could be. And there is so much more to see! But no, I’m not shopping for a float plane – well, not yet at least 🙂

Comments

Flight to Yukon History — 8 Comments

  1. Re the DC3 crash site. I was under the impression that site was from a C119 Boxcar. Maybe I am thinking of a different site.

    “23 November 1961: Seven men died 30 miles south of Whitehorse Yukon (Canada). Three men parachuted to safety with minor injuries. A seized brake drum had caught fire and flight crew was informed by control tower of danger. Witnesses working for WP and Yukon Route railway watched as C119 slammed into the ground near mile 79.5. “

  2. Thanks for the note..I do enjoy reading you blog. I was at this site 30 years ago…I think I saw a dot on a top map and I was interested…didn’t know the history though. Hike Pooley Canyon years ago too.
    Keep providing great photos and history lesson.

    Cheers

  3. Get so much pleasure reading of your travels and “experiencing” your respectable knowledge Murray, thank you.
    Have been following explorenorth for some years now, and it is always so interesting when I “click in” after a short absence and immediately become immersed in more of your wanderings.

    I have only been to Canada once in 1971, visiting family, where I travelled across BC by car. I remember it still and have quite a bit of super8 movie (which reminds me I must have it copied to disc)….the beauty of the country hasn’t diminished…..
    John
    Sydney Aus.

  4. Thanks for your comments, David and John.

    David, we’re very lucky that site deterioration here is slow because of the weather and the fact that few people visit most of these sites, but I’m starting to notice changes from what I saw 20-odd years ago, so slowly but surely we are losing them.

    John, I hope that my wanders help encourage you to return for a look further north. Although Cathy and I travel overseas as well, I could probably spend the rest of my life just wandering around BC, Alaska and the Yukon and be perfectly happy – there’s such an incredible variety of places to experience.

  5. Spent an enjoyable hour + ‘visiting’ your site again to read (and be jealous of!) your latest adventures…hearing of freezing temps overnight by a friend in Fairbanks AK got the mind to thinking of all things NORTH… had not gotten around to look at your site since late spring. My son was just up in Haines area last two weeks time w the AMG guys doing mtnrng, kayaking, etc and we are headed back to the Kenai of AK in September, first non prime summer time visit in at least 15 years…

    There is something to your area of exploration that ‘talks’ to me on a wonderful level, as I grew up in the Sierra Mtns of central CA exploring w my dad in the 1960-1980s…wonderful trips (how I forget the heat, no AC in the car, dust, no ice, no fresh food, my dad- the iron man…).

    Can’t wait to see your next updates!

  6. Wow….another exciting adventure…..I am jealous. 🙂 I love to explore places like that where humans haven’t overrun it. Makes me feel kind of like imagine Daniel Boone felt when he went places.

  7. Murray,
    I hiked into that area before the Skagway road was in. Waded across the stream on the highway side, picked up the logging road (trail) and followed it all the way to Tutish Lake. The old sawmill (saw) at the east side of Windy Arm is no longer there. This is a lot of old slab wood left though and an old cabin that is burnt down. The remains suggest that it may be the managers cabin.
    It’s great that someone like you, Casey and Kyle have that interest in Yukon.
    Cheers,
    Gary