A new type of Yukon winter, as seen on a drive to Skagway

This has been an extremely unusual winter in the southern Yukon, with temperatures much warmer than normal, and very little snow. A drive to Skagway yesterday showed just how unusual it is.

Because the large lakes and even much of the Yukon River haven’t frozen yet, we’ve had a lot of fog and low cloud around Whitehorse for weeks. This “steam fog” is caused when cold air meets the warmer air layer just above the open water – that drops the warm air below the dew point and fog results. Yesterday, it once again looked like sunshine wasn’t far away, with Golden Horn peeking out from under the fog layer.

Golden Horn peeking out from under a layer of steam fog

At 1:00 I decided on the spur of the moment to go to Skagway. I loaded all my photography gear, a bit of emergency gear, and fired up up inReach. Bella and Tucker were excited to get out on a little adventure as well. The temperature was -21°C (-6°F) as we left Mary Lake – the first day of normal winter temperatures in a long while.

The next photo was shot just north of the Robinson subdivision on the South Klondike Highway. It felt so good to be out on the highway!

Winter on the South Klondike Highway, Yukon
The next two photos were shot on a section of the highway that I often stop along. With Montana Mountain in the background, I love these views.

Winter on the South Klondike Highway, Yukon

Winter on the South Klondike Highway, Yukon

At Carcross, the world closed in, with the fog from Lake Bennett and Nares Lake quite thick. At Bove Island, I got enough of a glimpse through the fog to see that much of Windy Arm far below was still open as well.

A couple of miles of Windy Arm at Conrad were frozen, though the ice was clearly not very thick.

Winter on the South Klondike Highway, Yukon
At the Pooley Creek alluvial fan, the lake opened up again. The highway very quiet – I hadn’t seen a singe vehicle south of Carcross, and only a half a dozen north of Carcross.

The Venus silver mill on Windy Arm, Yukon
The south end of Windy Arm – the Yukon/BC border runs across the open water in the next photo. Tutshi Lake was completely open, and the fog was thick.

Windy Arm, Yukon, in the winter
Climbing into the White Pass, the lakes were all frozen, and the visibility improved greatly, but now clouds from Skagway hid the sun.

Mountains in the White Pass, BC
Looking back to the north, with the fog from Tutshi and Tagish lakes filling the valley. Through the White Pass summit area, the cloud/fog was so thick that if not for the poles along the highway, it would have been pretty much undriveable, as they were all that could be seen.

Mountains along the South Klondike Highway, BC
Dropping down towards Skagway, the temperature climbed rapidly, but a heavy dump of snow had just happened – overnight, I assume, but maybe even that morning. The temperature when I shot the next photo just north of Skagway was -2°C (+28°F), and it rose to 0°C in town.

Fresh snow at Skagway, Alaska
I stopped at the post office to pick up a small package that had been in my box for weeks, then did my usual loop around town. There’s no problem dealing with Christmas shopping crowds in Skagway, though there were 3 vehicles parked at the hardware! 🙂

Broadway in Skagway in the winter
The museum and old City Hall looked wonderful with fresh snow. Skagway snow removal crews always impress me with their efficiency – they have the whole community cleared very quickly after a dump. I don’t recall ever seeing more snow in Skagway than in Whitehorse, but that’s sure the case now.

The old Skagway City Hall with a load of fresh snow
Built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in February 1943 and brought to Skagway to assist with the Alaska Highway and Canol projects, the WP&YR’s 2-8-2 locomotive #195 has been getting a bit of love in recent years, but needs much more.

The WP&YR's 2-8-2 locomotive #195
Despite being 0 with no wind, it felt very cold at the Small Boat Harbor.

Small Boat Harbor at Skagway, Alaska
The last stop was the airport, for a look at Yakutania Point. There were a couple of harbor seals at the mouth of the Skagway River.

Winter at Yakutania Point in Skagway, Alaska
Not inspired by the photography potential and with sunset happening somewhere above the clouds, I started back up the hill at 3:45 Yukon time.

The South Klondike Highway at Skagway in the winter
The highway is in good shape and the snowplow was just doing some fine-tuning of the edges, so I went by him as soon as the highway straightened out.

A snowplow on the South Klondike Highway at Skagway

With darkness closing in, I didn’t take any more photos on the way home. We stopped at the summit so Bella and Tucker could have a good run, and we were home just after 5:30. Only 4½ hours but a wonderful break, and an interesting look at this new type of Yukon winter.


A new type of Yukon winter, as seen on a drive to Skagway — 14 Comments

  1. Sometimes a nice little road trip is the cure all to the shut in blues… too bad the weather wasn’t more cooperative for you.
    At least the roads seemed to be in good shape (how much commercial traffic is there during the winter time?) – having the satellite device is sure a good idea with the lack of road traffic and your penchant for exploring.

    Would the road to Dyea be plowed out year round?

    Happy Holidays to you all. I hope Cathy’s recovery goes well.

    • I only saw a couple of semis all day, though this was a particularly light day. Having the inReach is a big comfort – I was going to just activate it during the summer, but although I don’t use it as often in the winter, it’s even more comforting in the winter (and I’m using again today for a hike).

      The main road to Dyea is well maintained, and although at a lower level, even the road out to the historic site is kept open.

      Cathy’s coming along very well. I hope that you have a wonderful holiday as well.

  2. We too are having a super mild winter thus far, here in Kamloops. It was a record high of 12C the other day! No snow here at all.

    I was wondering if you would mind if I picked your brain about camera suggestions? I kind of alluded to my dilemma on your last blog post where I left a comment. I know you have a canon and it seems that what you like do and to photograph is similar to what I do as well. Am wondering how you ended up choosing the model that you did? I see you put a FB link on your last blog post. Would you be ok if I sent you a friend request on Facebook and communicated with you that way?
    Enjoyed the puppy photos 🙂
    Hope Cathy’s knee is recovering well
    Cheers and best of the holiday season to you both!

    • That’s incredible weather for Kamloops – there’s just no “normal” anymore.

      Even after about 7 years with it, the Canon EOS 7D is still the right camera for me, and I’ve recently added some more lenses to the system. I had used Canon Rebels for a few years previously. Although I really liked the Rebels, they just weren’t up to the hard life I give cameras, so the 7D was, at that time, the professional-level step-up.

      There will probably be more rescue puppies coming in January.

      Cathy is healing very well and is almost back to normal now.

      And I’d be happy to be Facebook friends with you. Merry Christmas 🙂

  3. Totally enjoy your blogs! We were up in the Yukon in 2017 for the first time. It was awesome and would like to go again. Merry Christmas to you all, and happy travelling in 2019!!

    • Thanks. I hope you get to return to see more of this place.

      The RV 2019 season will be a Yukon/NWT focus, though perhaps into northern BC a bit as well.

  4. Wonderful photos! The drive looked quite different in the snow, thanks for sharing…

  5. Really enjoy your photo travelogues, especially your trips along Hwy. 2. I spent a few exploration seasons on Montana Mtn. , circa 1964. Are the stone buildings still standing at the Conrad mine site? If they are, the site is well worth a hike, but a bit arduous. The buildings are or were double walled stone, built by Scandinavian miners, and the mining crew stashed various old bottles between the walls. I had a full pack full of samples, so I hoisted one, and stashed about five in a hard place to find. I’d really love to get back and retrieve the rest for a local museum, preferably in Carcross. At my age, the climb would kill me, so if you know a local helicopter pilot who loves old mining sites, please pass on my email.

  6. Your pictures are wonderful Murray, the scenery just keeps getting better and better. Surely, if possible at all, we from Quebec could send you some of our over 100cm of snow fall since mid november. We are experiencing a very early winter as never seen before…..but enjoying every cm of it.