Final tour day – Yukon Wildlife Preserve, and musher Frank Turner

Yesterday was our last day of activities on the 12-day Yukon Quest tour. We spent the morning at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve, and the afternoon with legendary musher Frank Turner at his dog sledding operation.

We had driven from Dawson City back to Whitehorse on Friday, but there’s not really anything to tell you about from that day.

The Yukon Wildlife Preserve opens at 10:30 in the winter, so our final day started with a nice easy morning. We were at the gate a few minutes before it opened, with the temperature a relatively balmy -8°C (+18°F).

Yukon Wildlife Preserve
The guides at the Preserve can always be counted on to be extremely knowledgeable, and Jake Paleczny was no exception. We began the tour with an introduction at a viewing platform beside the elk habitat. Despite the reasonable temperature, a strong wind was bitterly cold.

Jake Paleczny, our guide at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve
Elk (Cervus canadensis) seen from the viewing platform. We then left to tour the property in our van (see a map of it).

Elk (Cervus canadensis) at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve
Our next stop was at the habitat for Wood bison (Bison bison athabascae), where this female was close to the fence. Classified as a threatened species in Canada, Wood bison were once common in the Yukon, but died out. An attempt to reintroduce the species in 1951 failed – they all seem to have died by 1973. Another 170 bison were released between 1988 and 1992 in the Nisling River valley, 160 km west of Whitehorse, however, and that herd (the Aishihik herd) has grown to about 1,200.

Wood Bison (Bison bison athabascae) at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve
Sightings of Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) in the Yukon date back to the 1920s, and they’ve become much more common in recent years as our climate changes. Mule deer have been known to break into the Yukon Wildlife Preserve and never leave – a muley resort, with good food and no predators, it seems!

Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus) at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve
It was great to see all 3 of the Preserve’s moose (Alces alces) right at the fence and happy to receive visitors. The moose in the next photo is “JB”, who was abandoned as a calf near Haines Junction in 2015 – there’s a wonderful video about her on Youtube.

Moose (Alces alces) at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve

Moose (Alces alces) at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve
It’s not common to see any of the Muskox (Ovibos moschatus) close to the fence, but we got lucky there as well. While these ones displayed their defensive positioning upon our approach, others were very animated.

Muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus) at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve
The Mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus) are often very sociable to visitors, and a couple who had been up on the cliffs came down and joined several others close to the fence.

Mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus) at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve

Mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus) at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve
When even 2 of the Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) were near the fence, I was beginning to be quite incredulous at our luck. Lynx are really curious, and although they can often see you, they’re generally very difficult to spot – that’s true both at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve, and along Yukon highways.

Canada Lynx (Lynx canadensis) at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve
Next, a young Red fox (Vulpes vulpes) who was found abandoned when he was only days old – it was a month before he was positively identified as a fox and not a dog as was initially thought. CBC has an article with video about that process. He’s very cute, but his actions make him totally adorable – I’m certain that he would like to be somebody’s snuggle-puppy.

Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve

Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve
Right across the road from the Red fox are 2 Arctic foxes (Alopex lagopus). In the Spring, their white winter coats change to brown or greyish.

Arctic fox at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve

Arctic fox at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve
We had been spending so much time at each habitat that our time ran short, and our visits with the sheep and caribou were short. About 90 minutes after we left the visitor centre, we were back at the elk habitat.

Elk at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve
For our final lunch together, we went to the dog camp of Muktuk Adventures. There, we feasted on bison burgers, and the stories told by legendary musher Frank Turner. As many times as I’ve been there over the past 27 years, I never get tired of listening to him. When he grabs a chair and uses it as his sled to show us how steep the climb/descent at American Summit is, it’s pretty tough to not get caught up in his passion for mushing. Frank started the Yukon Quest 24 times in 25 years, crossed the finish line 17 times, placed in the top six 10 times, and won the 1,000-mile race once.

Lunch with Frank Turner at Muktuk Adventures

Lunch with Frank Turner at Muktuk Adventures

At 04:00 this morning, I picked my new friends (and my old friend Jeremy) up at the Westmark Whitehorse for the final time, and took them to the airport for their returns to Alberta and Ontario. It was an exceptionally good tour, and I think that the people who hadn’t been to the Yukon before understand now why some of us are so passionate about this little corner of the world.

The Dempster Highway, more Dawson City, and more Yukon Quest

After a very busy day on Wednesday, yesterday had lots of free time to explore Dawson City, but we also went up the Dempster Highway about 30 km, and over the ice road to the Yukon Quest dog camp again.

The weather at 10:00 was iffy, but it can change so quickly over time and area that I decided to go up the Dempster Highway for a look. I was hoping to get to North Fork Pass, but with limited visibility and a rough road, this is as far as we went. The road surface felt like it must have melted sometime recently – normally the road is like good pavement this time of year.

Dempster Highway in February
On the way back to Dawson, we made a stop at Mile 0 of the Dempster Highway, which offers a few good photo ops.

Dempster Highway in February

Dempster Highway sign in February
We got back to Dawson City for lunch, then had free time to wander before going to see the next Yukon Quest musher at the restart. This view of the Red Feather Saloon complex was shot from the front door of our hotel, the Eldorado.

The Red Feather Saloon complex in Dawson City, Yukon
This is the Masonic Lodge, originally a Carnegie Library, that we went through on Wednesday. The Carnegie Library, which opened in August 1904, was called the most elaborate building in Dawson. It didn’t survive the sharp decline in Dawson’s population, and closed in 1921. The abandoned building was bought by the Masonic Lodge (Yukon Lodge No. 45) in 1932 for $400.

The Masonic Lodge, originally a Carnegie Library, in Dawson City
Up on Eight Avenue is one of the two YOOP (Yukon Order of Pioneers) cemeteries in Dawson. A high percentage of the most prominent pioneers are buried here.

YOOP cemetery in Dawson City

Yukon Order of Pioneers cemetery in Dawson City, Yukon
The last remaining Westmark Hotel in the Yukon is in Dawson. Once a dominant player in Dawson’s tourist industry, Holland America, owner of the Westmark, now brings few people in. The hotel got so large that it’s now pretty much a white elephant, open for about 4 months a year.

The last remaining Westmark Hotel in the Yukon, in Dawson City
While there are some lovely building restorations in Dawson City, there are also some that are beyond restoration, The saddest of those is St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, built in 1901. It’s considered to be “a very good example of High Victorian Gothic architecture interpreted in wood.”

St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, Dawson City

At 2:00, we drove the ice road across the Yukon River to the dog camp where Yukon Quest musher Katherine Keith would soon start the next leg of her 1,000-mile trek to Fairbanks. The restart line as at the far, downriver, end of the Yukon River Campground, so we got to have a look at each of the camps of the mushers who are still here.

Looking into most of the dog tents, it’s hard or impossible to tell that there are dogs under the straw, blankets, or other insulators.

A Yukon Quest team resting in Dawson City
This is the camp of Rob Cooke, who was the first person to sign up for Yukon Quest 2017.

Musher Rob Cooke's camp in Dawson City
During the 36-hour mandatory layover, the handlers need to take each of the dogs for regular walks.

A Yukon Quest dog being taken for a walk
The earliest that Katherine Keith could leave was 3:44, and we had lots of time to get a good spot to watch her departure.

The restart line in Dawson City
I suggested that we go down onto the Yukon River and continue on to the Sternwheeler Graveyard to get photos of Katherine in front of the steamboat wreckage.

Sternwheeler Graveyard in Dawson City
Photos like this 🙂

Sternwheeler Graveyard in Dawson City
Katherine Keith, departing in 6th place, with 12 dogs. Although she’s a Yukon Quest rookie, she’s completed the Iditarod twice.

Katherine Keith, Yukon Quest 2017
Next stop, Eagle, Alaska. We heard that temperatures of -50 are ahead for her. Brrrr!

Katherine Keith leaves Dawson City in Yukon Quest 2017
We got back to the van just before 4:30. This beautiful husky/collie cross was at the truck beside the van.

A husky at Dawson City, Yukon

I had planned to meet the final musher Hank DeBruin when he arrived in Dawson, but my 11:00 alarm didn’t go off, and when I woke up just before midnight, he was just arriving. He came in with only 8 of his 14 dogs left, so I think the race is over for them.

In less than 3 hours, at 08:00, we’re heading back to Whitehorse.

Looking at Life at the Yukon Quest Dawson City Checkpoint

Yesterday was one of our main Yukon Quest days. We met more mushers as they arrived in Dawson City, and drove the ice road across the Yukon River to the dog camp.

On the walk over to the checkpoint at 08:30, I made a detour to get a photo of the Commissioner’s Residence, which was designed by Thomas Fuller, and built in 1901.

Commissioner's Residence, Dawson City, Yukon
At 09:03 (32 minutes before sunrise), Torsten Kohnert arrived. He was in 8th place, with 12 dogs in harness of the 14 he started the race with.

Torsten Kohnert arrives at the Dawson City checkpoint of the Yukon Quest
After the check of his equipment by race officials, Torsten went inside the race headquarters for a couple of minutes. Within seconds of his arrival, handlers were caring for the dogs, giving them love and treats.

Torsten Kohnert at the Dawson City checkpoint of the Yukon Quest
Some of the dogs quickly settled down.

One of Torsten Kohnert's huskies at the Dawson City checkpoint of the Yukon Quest
Torsten’s team heads for the Yukon River Campground on the other side of the river, to settle in for the mandatory 36-hour layover.

Torsten Kohnert leaves the Dawson City checkpoint of the Yukon Quest, heading for the Yukon River Campground
At 10:00, I took the group on a tour around Dawson City, and then up Bonanza Creek Road into the goldfields. We don’t usually get very far due to snow and/or ice conditions, but we made it to Dredge No. 4, just before 11:00. Seeing the world’s largest wooden-hulled bucket-line gold dredge covered with snow was something not often seen. It was very much a one-lane road by that point, but a couple of other vehicles had turned around there and their tracks made it easier for me to get turned.

Dredge No. 4, Dawson City, Yukon
Back in town, getting to the dog camp in West Dawson was high priority. Usually, an ice road is plowed directly across the Yukon River between the two ferry landings, but a couple of kilometers of open water has made that impossible this year. A lengthy, winding road had been plowed going far up the river and then across, but it’s not certified by the government engineers. We found one of the entrances to it, had a look on foot at the narrow and icy road, and down we went. Once down on the river, the ice road was much better.

Ice road across the Yukon River at Dawson City, Yukon
This ice road is actually a great deal more fun and interesting than the usual one. This view is looking downriver on the west side of the river.

Ice road across the Yukon River at Dawson City, Yukon
Now that’s a fine view on an ice road!

Ice road across the Yukon River at Dawson City, Yukon
This is the home of “Caveman Bill” Donaldson, in the cliff just above the river. “Caveman Bill” has become one of the most well-known of Dawson’s characters because of his housing choice. I’d only seen it through the telephoto lens of my camera until taking this drive. In 2014, Lisa Jackson did an interview with Bill, which you can see on her blog, Eat Drink Travel.

The riverside home of 'Caveman Bill' Donaldson at Dawson City, Yukon
From up on shore, looking back across the open water to Dawson City, with the bonus of a sun dog (the rainbow in the sky to the left).

The Yukon River at Dawson City in the winter
The Yukon River Campground, home of the dog camp.

The Yukon River Campground in the winter

The Yukon River Campground in the winter
One of Ed Hopkins’ dogs getting a well-earned rest in the team tent.

Ed Hopkins' Yukon Quest dog camp at Dawson City
Michelle Phillips taking care of Ed’s dogs. Michelle and Ed have been friends of mine for many years, so I take liberties at their camps (getting this close to the dogs) that I’d never do at another musher’s camp.

Ed Hopkins' Yukon Quest dog camp at Dawson City
More of Ed’s dogs looking particularly cozy.

Ed Hopkins' Yukon Quest dog camp at Dawson City
We spent a long time at Matt Hall’s camp, watching his handlers feed the dogs. They’re extremely well organized, and it was great to be able to watch the process.

Matt Hall's dog camp at Dawson City
Hank DeBruin hasn’t reached Dawson City yet, but his camp was being set up. This is one of the 4 dogs he’d dropped so far. I expect that Hank will scratch at Dawson – the trail ahead is too hard to start with 10 dogs (in my opinion).

One of Hank DeBruin's Yukon Quest Siberian huskies
As we reached the Dawson City side of the river again, Ryne Olson was just heading over to the dog camp. She’s currently in 9th place in the race, with 12 dogs.

Ryne Olson in Dawson City during Yukon Quest 2017

Ryne Olson in Dawson City during Yukon Quest 2017
At 2:00, we got a tour of the Masonic Lodge, which was built as the Carnegie Library. This is the upper-floor room that’s used for special ceremonies – the meeting room on the lower floor is much more plain.

Masonic Lodge in Dawson City, Yukon
The tin ceiling and upper walls, especially the curved top corners, are quite remarkable. The tinwork is all original, sandblasted during the Masonic Lodge’s restoration of the building.

Tin ceiling and walls in the Masonic Lodge in Dawson City, Yukon
I find the light bulbs with Masonic-emblem filaments fascinating.

Light bulb in the Masonic Lodge in Dawson City, Yukon
A potrait of Queen Victoria hangs on a wall.

Masonic Lodge in Dawson City, Yukon
I went for a wander at 4:00, killing time before meeting the woman who adopted the foster puppy that I called Peanut. The Yukon River dyke always has a great vibe, in any season.

The frozen Yukon River at Dawson City
The Yukon Quest checkpoint was quite – the next musher due in was about 3 hours out.

Yukon Quest checkpoint at Dawson City
Looking down the Yukon River along the steaming open water.

The frozen Yukon River at Dawson City
This fellow was feeding ravens on the dyke, and they obviously know him.

Feeding ravens on the dyke at Dawson City
At 4:30 Karli arrived with Peanut (whose name is now Zhurpee). It was a joyous reunion for both Peanut and I. Well, not completely – I still regret not being able to keep that very special boy.

But, he has a great life now with a family who loves him, and that was the point of helping him for a few weeks.

For dinner, we all went to what many people consider to be the best restaurant in Dawson City, the Drunken Goat Taverna. The lamb in particular truly is superb.

The Drunken Goat Taverna, Dawson City, Yukon
What’s Dawson City without giving people a chance to experience the world-famous Sourtoe Cocktail. Three brave members of our group let a real severed human toe touch their lips!! And, writing this the next day, nobody is showing any signs of Toemane poisoning, so I guess soaking it in Yukon Jack works 🙂

Drinking a Sourtoe Cocktail in Dawson City, Yukon

Preparing to drink a Sourtoe Cocktail in Dawson City, Yukon

In an hour, I’ll be taking the group for a look at the Dempster Highway, then when we get back, we’ll be going over to the Yukon Quest dog camp again, and watching a few mushers leave for Fairbanks.

Driving to Dawson City, back to the Yukon Quest

Having spent a couple of days driving to Skagway and Haines while the Yukon Quest mushers made their way to Dawson, we followed them yesterday. The plan was to get to Dawson as the first mushers arrive, and then spend 3 nights there during the race’s mandatory 24-hour layover.

We pulled away from Whitehorse at 08:00, and our first stop was Braeburn Lodge, where the temperature was -34°C (-29°F). Braeburn is a checkpoint on the trail of the Yukon Quest (The World’s Toughest Sled Dog Race), but it’s also a stop on the Yukon Arctic Ultra, “The World’s Coldest and Toughest Ultra”. The Ultra can be run by mountain bike, xc-skis, or on foot, as a marathon, or 100, 200, 300, or 430 mile race.

Braeburn Lodge, Yukon, during the Yukon Arctic Ultra
An Ultra contestant was heading off into the wilderness as we arrived.

Yukon Arctic Ultra contestant
All 21 Yukon Quest teams had passed through Braeburn, and only 3 dogs out of the 294 (14 in each team) were dropped there.

Yukon Quest status board at Braeburn Lodge
We got a couple of tables among the Ultra contestants and supporters, and enjoyed coffees and some of Steve Watson’s famous cinnamon buns. They’re huge, so 2 buns fed the 8 of us nicely 🙂

Braeburn Lodge, Yukon, during the Yukon Arctic Ultra
An Ultra contestant arrived as I went out to warm to van up. He could be the poster boy for the race to confirm the “coldest” part of their slogan!

Yukon Arctic Ultra contestant
A few miles north of Carmacks, we made a brief stop at Five Finger Rapids. It was the toughest spot on the Yukon River between Whitehorse and Dawson for the steamboats of days past, and is still the toughest for modern canoeists.

Five Finger Rapids, Yukon River
Just before 2:00 pm, we reached Moose Creek Lodge, one of the best of the few remaining highway lodges. It’s always a great spot to stop for coffee and one of Maja’s wonderful pastries.

Moose Creek Lodge, Yukon
When the weather is good, the Tintina Trench viewpoint is a must-stop. One of the interpretive signs explains: “Beneath the Tintina Trench is a fault line along which the bedrock has shifted a minimum of 450 km laterally. Some 65 million years ago, the rocks presently beneath Dawson City were adjacent to those of Ross River! About 8 million years ago, the earth’s crust separated along the fault, creating a wide valley or trench.”

Tintina Trench viewpoint

Tintina Trench viewpoint
We reached Dawson City a few minutes before 4:00, and checked in to the Eldorado Hotel. Lead Yukon Quest musher Brent Sass arrived at 4:23, but nobody from our group had made it to the checkpoint to welcome him. By arriving first at Dawson City, Brent won 4 ounces of gold, as long as he reaches the finish line in Fairbanks.

Eldorado Hotel, Dawson City
After getting settled in my comfortable room (probably about my 30th stay at “the Eldo”), I went over to the lounge. Two of my guests were already there, and within a few minutes, the other 4 arrived, and we had a great chat before dinner.

Room 245 at the Eldorado Hotel, Dawson City
I love Dawson City, and never get tired of wandering around taking pictures. A block south of the hotel, across from the liquor store, a coffee shop was built in recent years beside the famous leaning buildings of the Third Avenue Hotel Complex (a.k.a. “the tiltin’ Hilton” 🙂 ).

Third Avenue Hotel Complex (a.k.a. 'the tiltin' Hilton') in Dawson City
After dinner, some of the group went over to the Yukon Quest checkpoint to have a look, but I waited until 9:30, when 3 mushers were expected to arrive within a couple of hours. Across from the Eldorado is the historic Westminster Hotel, the oldest operating hotel in the Yukon.

Westminster Hotel, Dawson City
The checkpoint was very quiet when I arrived. I went inside for a few minutes, but was dressed for -40 degrees, not +20, so was soon back outside.

At 10:08, Matt Hall and his team came tearing past the sternwheeler Keno and down off the dyke towards the checkpoint.

Yukon Quest musher Matt Hall arrives at Dawson City
As soon as the checkpoint is reached, race officials quickly check the sled over to make sure that everything is still legal. While that’s being done, handlers give the dogs all a treat.

Yukon Quest musher Matt Hall arrives at Dawson City
A special moment as Matt thanks one of his huskies. Seeing the relationships that every musher has with their dogs is probably the thing I like the most about the Quest, and the sport in general. The contrast to the lives that many “pet” dogs have is striking. One of Matt’s handlers posted a short report early this morning about the treatment the dogs get once they get across the river to camp – you can read it here.

Yukon Quest musher Matt Hall thanks one of his huskies
Ten minutes after Matt arrived, Allen Moore reached the checkpoint.

As I finish writing this at 05:45, there are 7 mushers in. Ed Hopkins arrived just before midnight, rookie Katherine Keith at 03:44, and Paige Drobny 20 minutes ago.

Starting at 10:00, we have a busy day ahead of us, exploring Dawson and the area as well as watching more Yukon Quest mushers arrive. We’ve lost the sunshine that’s been so wonderful the few days, but it warmed up overnight (it’s -27°C/-17°F at the moment), so it’s all good. Sunrise today will be at 09:35, and the sun will set at 17:29.

Driving the Golden Circle, Haines to Whitehorse

Yesterday was the second our of 2-day drive around “The Golden Circle”, although we added a couple of hundred kilometers with a side-trip out to Kluane Lake.

Click on the map to open an interactive version in a new window.

Map, Haines to Whitehorse
The view from my room at the Captain’s Choice Motel at 07:15 as I headed upstairs for a coffee and muffin.

The view from the Captain's Choice Motel in Haines, Alaska
Downtown Haines, looking north from in front of the motel.

Downtown Haines, Alaska
Our first 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, the Dalton Transfers Stage Line building to the far right is only 2 feet deep.

Dalton City movie set in Haines, Alaska
I stopped along the Haines Highway for a minute to watch Trumpeter swans on the Chilkat River.

Swans on the Chilkat River, Alaska, in the winter
We stopped at the main viewing and information area for the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, but there were no eagles. We did see 3 not far up the highway, but November is when the big bald eagle gathering and festival happens.

Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve in the winter
After a quick and pleasant crossing back into Canada at Pleasant Camp, we experienced an interesting temperature inversion. The temperature in Haines was -13°C (+9°F), but as we climbed up towards the summit, instead of dropping as it normally does, the temperature rose to -9°C (+16°F).
The wind was screaming up on the Haines Summit, though, so as beautiful as it was, watching it from inside a warm van was good. Every Easter weekend, a small city forms here when snowmobilers from all over the Yukon, Alaska, and even BC and Alberta, arrive and set up camp in RVs and tents for one final blast of wilderness snowmobiling. See my Destination BC article, “Spring Snowmobiling in Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park” for a look at that weekend.

The Haines Summit, BC, in the winter
We stopped at Kathleen Lake in Kluane National Park to eat the lunches that The Bamboo Room had made for us. I lit a fire in the stove in the shelter, but we were ready to go before it developed much heat.

Kathleen Lake, Yukon, in the winter

The miles were going by much faster than we’d planned on, so I suggested a side trip out to Kluane Lake, where there are a few things to see, including the possibility of Dall sheep on the highway. The sheep didn’t make their appearance, but it was superb day to just enjoy the sunshine and the mountains. We got back to the Westmark Hotel in Whitehorse just before 5:00, so everyone could have a good rest before our long day going to Dawson today.

Driving the Golden Circle, Whitehorse-Skagway-Haines

Yesterday was the first our of 2-day drive around “The Golden Circle”. Although it deserves much more time, we’re basically just killing time while the Yukon Quest mushers get to Dawson where we’ll meet them again.

We were away from Whitehorse at 08:00, with the temperature sitting at -24°C (-11°F). We made a few stops before reaching the Yukon/BC border on the South Klondike Highway at Windy Arm. It’s getting to be quite shocking to see how little snow there is here.

Nearly-bare Yukon peaks in February
The Welcome to the Yukon sign offers a great place for a group photo. In the summer there are often lineups to do that – in February, not so much 🙂

Welcome to the Yukon sign
Another photo stop at what’s called “Outhouse Hill”, near the White Pass summit.

Any thoughts of “stopping for a cool one” quickly melted away!

We checked in at the Alaska ferry terminal, got our tickets and vehicle tags, and then went exploring.

After looking around Skagway, we drove over to Dyea. There’s not much left now, but during the Klondike Gold Rush, Dyea was Skagway’s rival. A very thick layer of ice, on everything including the road, eliminated any thoughts of walking through the old townsite, but the wharf pilings still hint at the town’s past.

120-year-old wharf pilings at Dyea, Alaska
Although the thermometer read -4°C, the sun was wonderfully warm on the beach.

Dyea, Alaska
A stop at Nahku Bay to enjoy the stunning view, and to read new signs about the recently-identified wreck of the bark “Canada” which can be seen in the bay at low tide.

Nahku Bay, Alaska
At a viewpoint overlooking Skagway, we saw our ferry approaching the dock.

A ferry approaching Skagway
In Skagway, even the garbage cans are friendly 🙂

A friendly greeting on a garbage can at Skagway
We were back at the ferry dock, staged just before the requested 1:15 time. Vehicles started to drive off the little ferry MV LeConte shortly after that. She’s 235 feet long, and carries 235 passengers and about 33 cars.

Alaska ferry MV LeConte
There weren’t many people or vehicles on board.

Vehicles on the Alaska ferry MV LeConte
At 2:00, we pulled away from Skagway for the one-hour cruise down Taiya Inlet to Haines.

Skagway from the Alaska ferry MV LeConte
I went up to the solarium for a few minutes. In the summer this is a wonderful place to both enjoy the view and meet people (and on longer voyages, even to set your tent up), but I was the only one there. My guests were probably the only tourists on board.

Solarium on the Alaska ferry MV LeConte
This day got a 10 – quite a difference from our tour in 2015, which might have rated high as well, but for adventure, not beauty!

Just after I shot this photo, I spotted a pod of orca in the distance.

Sailing down Taiya Inlet, Alaska in the winter
And shortly after, we got a pretty good look at the whales, as fleeting as it was.

A pod of orca in Taiya Inlet, Alaska
It’s quite incredible to be able to go from mid-winter in Whitehorse to this in a day. Even in the winter – perhaps especially in the winter – The Golden Circle is a wonderful trip.

Taiya Inlet, Alaska in the winter
Our first look at Haines, with historic Fort William H. Seward the main feature.

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.

An artisan at Alaska Indian Arts
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 🙂

Lee Heinmiller at Alaska Indian Arts
The main workshop, which usually has a totem pole in the process of being carved or repaired.

Alaska Indian Arts, in Haines
The amount of really high-quality pieces stashed and stacked in various rooms is quite astounding.

Alaska Indian Arts, in Haines
Before going to our motel, we also paid a visit to the Sheldon Museum & Cultural Center, to get a broader look at the area’s history.

From Native art to a huge lighthouse lens and an entire room of material from the 1990 filming of the movie “White Fang”, the little museum has quite a collection.

We got to the Captain’s Choice Motel just after 5:30. It’s not fancy, but always provides clean and comfortable rooms. And the view across Chilkat Inlet from every room is stunning.

Captain's Choice Motel in Haines, Alaska

Captain's Choice Motel in Haines, Alaska
After a short break, we all walked down the street to The Bamboo Room for their famous halibut and chips and some excellent local beer. It was the perfect ending to a spectacular day.

The Bamboo Room in Haines, Alaska

In just over an hour, we head back to Whitehorse via the Haines Highway and Alaska Highway, with the weather forecast one again calling for clear skies.

The Start of the Yukon Quest 2017 Sled Dog Race

Yesterday was the start of Yukon Quest 2017. It was a long, exciting day, and I’m posting some photos from the hundreds I shot, with few captions. It was a short night and we’ll be off to Skagway and Haines early this morning, so at this point there’s no time, but I’ll fill in more information when I have time.

I took the group over the Shipyards Park early so they got a chance to wander among the teams and rigs, and meet some dogs and mushers if they choose to.

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1
This rig belongs to Brian Wilmshurst. Hailing from Dawson City, he’s running his fifth Yukon Quest this year.

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1
Hank DeBruin, a 54-year-old Yukon Quest veteran, has come all the way from Haliburton, Ontario, with his gorgeous team of Siberian huskies.

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon
Race veterinarians seem to be everywhere, checking on the dogs.

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon
This is the 11th Yukon Quest for Brent Sass (4th from the left) of Eureka, Alaska.

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon
For those people who are really into mushing, this is a great opportunity to check out new ideas in equipment (like this sled from Dog Paddle Designs), or new ideas about how to use old equipment.

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon
At 10:15, it was time to go and find a good spot to watch the start. As I generally do, I went to a bit of a curve and hill where the track goes down onto the Yukon River ice.

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon
Looking back to the start line at 10:25…

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon

The bib/starting numbers for the race are:
1 – Jessie Royer
2 – Yuka Honda
3 – Ben Good
4 – Rob Cooke
5 – Sebastien Dos Santos Borges
6 – Jason Campeau
7 – Paige Drobny
8 – Allen Moore
9 – Hugh Neff
10 – Gaetan Pierrard
11 – Laura Neese
12 – Ed Stielstra
13 – Dave Dalton
14 – Brent Sass
15 – Ryne Olson
16 – Brian Wilmshurst
17 – Hank DeBruin
18 – Ed Hopkins
19 – Katherine Keith
20 – Matt Hall
21 – Torsten Kohnert

Mushers start 3 minutes apart. At 11:03, here comes #2, 44-year-old Yuka Honda from Japan, running her third Yukon Quest.

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon
At 11:06, #3 is Ben Good, a 37-year-old Yukon Quest rookie from North Pole, Alaska.

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon
This is Sebastien Dos Santos Borges’ leaders – as of Sunday morning at 06:10, he’s at Braeburn Lodge, in 19th place.

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon
It’s all about the love. Michelle Philips and Ed Hopkins at the Yukon Quest 1000 start. Michelle is now running the Yukon Quest 300, and will meet Ed in Dawson. And my group and I will be there to see both of them 🙂

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon
After a leisurely lunch, we all went out to a cabin belonging to a friend of Jeremy’s, overlooking the Takhini River about half an hour hour (by van) west of Whitehorse. This is always a great place to go down onto the river ice to watch the race’s progress, and relax around a big fire with some beer and wine.

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon
Ryne Olson is always beaming when she’s with her dogs.

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon
Heather and Vi taking the really easy way back up to the cabin! 🙂

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon
A final look at the wonderful view before we drove back into Whitehorse. We’d finish off the day with dinner at one of the top restaurants in Whitehorse, Antoinette’s.

Yukon Quest 2017 - Day 1, Whitehorse, Yukon

A day of dog sledding – a superb Yukon adventure

Today was our day for what is always the highlight for most if not all of our guests – a day of dog sledding on Lake Laberge with Ned and Jeninne Cathers of Cathers Wilderness Adventures.

The temperature was about -24° (-11°F) when we arrived, with a very slight north wind. That’s pretty much a perfect day for good snow conditions and comfortable dogs. There was a bit of confusion at our end about where we were to meet the Cathers, but we got it sorted out fairly quickly, and when we arrived, the four teams of huskies were ready to go, and being very vocal about what they’d like to see happen as soon as possible.

Our sled dog team awaits us in the Yukon
Ned tried to give the group some instructions, but his choir made that really difficult, so they moved down onto the lake where Ned could be heard 🙂

Ned Cathers giving instructions for a day of dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
Seeing most of the people walking away did nothing to calm the dogs down!

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon, with Cathers Wilderness Adventures
Two snowmobiles were used to bring the dogs and sleds across the lake from the Cathers’ home, and then down onto the lake once we were all ready. Keeping them up in the trees until needed provides shelter and a bit of confinement.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
It takes a while to get everybody organized and ready to go.

Getting ready to go dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
This is the team that Jeremy and I would take, with Cirrus and her mother Storm in lead.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
Next in line in our team was Pipe, a handsome, powerful, and independent boy. Exactly the sort of husky that I’m particularly drawn to.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
All set to be off on the adventure!

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
Oh no, a flat tire!! But it was okay – they self-heal quickly 🙂

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
And the first team is off headed east towards the south end of Richthofen Island, which we’d circle.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
How “Yukon” is that scene? The vibe was as wonderful as the scenery – good company and wonderful dogs on an adventure amid stunning scenery.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
Team number four on the way, with me in the sled so I can take photos more easily. Snowmobiles are okay, but given a choice, I’ll pick a dog sled every time. As soon as you start moving, huskies go dead quiet. You can yell like hell that you want to get going, but once the humans listen to you, work is the focus. Like snowmobiles, though, their exhaust is quite foul!

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
Ned, Jennine, and handler Bob were always nearby on the snowmobiles when any advice or assistance was needed by any of the rookie mushers.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon

Snow machine on Lake Laberge, Yukon
Some conversation, some encouragement to the dogs, and a whole lot of just listening to the sound of the runners on the hard snow, and marvelling at the experience.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
I don’t recall ever being around to the east side of Richthofen Island, where the ruins of the Middle Laberge Roadhouse can still be seen.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
Back on the west side of the island, heading south.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
When the trail split, the call “GEE!” would get Smoke and Cirrus to lead the team to the right. Often, Cirrus would glance back to make sure that she made the right choice, and always got “good work!” or “good job!” in response. This is the relationship that I love most about this sport.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
We took a bit of a shortcut, which took us past this team.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
Pulling into the bay where we’d make a lengthy stop for lunch.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
I didn’t see any dogs who looked like they needed, or even particularly wanted, to stop 🙂

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
But, the sun was warm, and everyone soon settled down. This is my boy Pipe again.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
I quickly discovered that my beautiful little lead dog, Cirrus, is as soft and cuddly at break time as she is smart and hard-working when it’s time to get the sled going.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
A fire was soon going…

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
..the hot chocolate and apple cider was poured…

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
…and hot dogs were cooking. Everything tastes better over and around a campfire, doesn’t it?

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
While some of the kids stayed alert to what was going on around the camp…

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
…others couldn’t have cared less.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
In 1989, Jeninne decided to run the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest race, and at 18, became the youngest person to ever finish the race. That also made Ned and Jeninne the first father-daughter team to run the race. She went on to run the race 5 more times, and has plenty of stories from the trails to keep people entertained, as well as being a very efficient hostess as well.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
Ned first ran the Quest the year before Jeninne, and ran it a total of 10 times. In 1997, he won the award that impresses me the most, the Vet’s Choice Award for the best dog care during the race.

Ned Cathers, our mushing guide in the Yukon
The dogs were the first ones to start hinting that it might be about time to break camp and get going again.

Husky sled dogs on Lake Laberge, Yukon
Cirrus completed her “Most Adorable Husky” package with the most wonderful voice a husky can have. It wasn’t a bark, it wasn’t a howl, she was talking, encouraging us to get our stuff together and hit the trail.

Husky sled dog on Lake Laberge, Yukon
It really takes a video to show you the sounds and the feel of mushing, so here’s a bit of the preparations for, and the start of, the return trip.

I only shot a few photos on the way back to the truck.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
We spent a lot time talking back in the forest. It had been an absolutely perfect day, and it felt like nobody wanted it to end. But, end it did.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon

Tomorrow, the Yukon Quest begins, and that will be our focus for the day, in the dog yard, at the start line, and then out along the Takhini River.

Seeing Whitehorse, and the Yukon Quest Start Banquet

Yesterday was a long day, starting with a tour of Whitehorse at 09:00, and I got home from the Yukon Quest Start Banquet at about 10:00.

There’s a lot see to get a good impression of what life in Whitehorse is like, and 4 hours never turns out to be enough time. One of our early stops was at the Visitor Information Centre in Whitehorse to see the film “As the Crow Flies”. It’s getting awfully dated from a local’s perspective (it was made in about 1992), but gives an excellent look at the Yukon and the people who choose to call it home. The scene below is from a Tatshenshini rafting trip.

Tatshenshini rafting trip
Our longest stop was at the Yukon Transportation Museum, where we spent an hour (and it could easily have been much longer). On their Web page, I shot the video of “The World’s Biggest Wind Vane” that forms the background of the home page.

Yukon Transportation Museum

The group got about 4 hours free time to have lunch and explore, and at 5:30 I drove them over to the banquet, which appeared to me to have the largest attendance yet.

This video is from the formal introduction of the 21 mushers in this year’s 1,000-mile “World’s Toughest Sled Dog Race”, led by some of the Canadian Rangers who build the trail on the Canadian side.

Those are the people who get people so excited about what they’re doing that they travel from all over the world to watch.

Yukon Quest 2017 mushers
The introductory speeches were all keep fairly short. This is our newly-elected Minister of Tourism and Culture, Jeanie Dendys.

Yukon Minister of Tourism and Culture, Jeanie Dendys
Entertainment at the event is always good, but when Grant Simpson came onstage, I knew that it was going to be extra special. He’s been the force driving the Frantic Follies vaudeville show for the past few decades. Audience participation is always part of the show, and “Cathy from Edmonton” got swept off her feet by a romantic Mountie in this skit. 🙂

Grant Simpson in a Yukon Quest skit
The Mountie’s huskies weren’t too eager to take the sled anywhere – when they laid down, the Mountie said that they must be Frank Turner’s dogs (Frank, now retired from racing, is a legendary Yukon Quest musher).

Huskies in a Yukon Quest skit
Dale Cooper, best known for her work with the Frantic Follies.

Seeing Grant Simpson, Dale Cooper, and Hank Karr perform together was amazing. The lady in pink, whose name I don’t know, ended up on my knee for a minute as part of the show! 🙂 Jeremy got a photo that I’ll add here when I get a copy.

Hank Karr is one of the Yukon’s gems, and his “Yukon-style” songs are often heard around the territory, especially as background music in tourist operations. He closed with “After Yukon”, which you can hear on Youtube.

Hank Karr

The main reason for the banquet is for the mushers to pull their starting positions for Saturday’s race. I don’t often get so wrapped up in what’s going on that I forget to take photos, but that’s what happened – the photo of Hank was the last one of the night 🙂 The Yukon Quest Facebook page has a good album from last night.

In just over an hour, I’ll be heading into town to meet the group, and we’ll be spending the day mushing out on Lake Laberge. Two years ago, we had a wind chill of -42°C for this event, but the forecast for today is much better!

Last puppy, cemetery research, and starting a Yukon Quest tour

It’s been 3 weeks since I’ve talked to you, but it’s not because I’ve just been sitting around watching TV and drinking beer.

When I wrote back on December 17th, that our puppy-fostering had reached a happy conclusion with everyone having found a forever-home, I was a bit ahead of myself as it turned out. Two weeks later, on December 30, I got a call saying that another of Blue’s puppies needed a better home. He’d been adopted before YARN and I got involved, and it hadn’t worked out – a foster was needed until a new home was found. We of course agreed to take him.

The boy we called Peanut turned out to be my favourite of all 8, and he was with us for 22 wonderful days. Letting him go was extremely difficult and I tried many times to rationalize keeping him, but he has a great home in Dawson now.

My foster puppy Peanut
Once I got de-puppied, my attention turned back to history. A discussion on Facebook led me to discovering that in my collection I have about 700 photos of graves and cemeteries, most of them in the Yukon, Alaska, the NWT, and northern BC. So, I started building Northern Cemeteries and Graves pages on ExploreNorth. I got about 1/3 of the way through them when the date to begin guiding a Yukon Quest tour arrived.

Yukon cemeteries Web pages
The tour I’m guiding is organized by Jerry Van Dyke Travel, a company I’ve been working with for many years. There’s a long list of reasons that this is the only tour I still guide for. Yesterday, February 1st, I picked up my tour van from Driving Force and to keep things comfortable in the van, a trailer for our suitcases and the extra winter gear that’s supplied for our guests. I drove down to the SS Klondike to get this “start-of-the-tour” photo, and then went home to await the 3:30pm flight.

Jerry Van Dyke Travel van at the SS Klondike
The temperature was sitting at -24°C (-11°F) by the time I got everything together. That’s pretty much the perfect temperature for the Yukon Quest sled dog race, and to get a great “Yukon” experience. This was the Yukon River in front of the SS Klondike.

The Yukon River at Whitehorse in February
Lots of papers and other important stuff to keep track of.

Murphy’s Law – the longer your day has been, the more likely that your last flight of the day will be delayed.

Late flight

The group is staying at the Westmark Whitehorse. We normally allow for a rest before dinner, but the delayed flight eliminated that. A small group (6 people) makes the initial meeting much easier, and a good dinner put the Yukon part of the trip off to a fine start.

At 7:30, we drove up to the Meet the Mushers event, always a fun event that sets the stage well for the main event. Each of our guests sponsors a mile on the race route, thus joining the Thousand Mile Club and getting a very nice jacket, and also sponsors a musher. This event allows them to meet the musher they’ve sponsored.

There was cake, too! 🙂

With clear skies and a very good aurora forecast, I offered to take anyone who was interested out on an aurora hunt at 01:00. On the way back to the hotel, I stopped at the SS Klondike to set my camera up and make sure everything was working okay.

I drove about 20 km west on the Alaska Highway, far from the lights of the city, and we spent about an hour waiting, and watching a fairly faint aurora trying to make a good show. This was about as good as it got, but it was still a good experience (I think).

Day 2 begins as soon as I post this – a city tour this morning, and the Yukon Quest start banquet tonight.