With the Yukon Quest in Dawson City – Day 2

On Thursday, we spent another full day immersed in Yukon Quest sled dog action at the Dawson City checkpoint.

The morning dawned clear and cold, though a bit warmer at -29°C (-20°F). I got to the checkpoint just before 8:00 – after missing 3 teams by arriving minutes too late, I had stopped depending on the Live Tracker as more than an approximation.

Dawson City, Yukon, on a winter morning
Ryne Olson arrives at 08:39, in 14th position.

Ryne Olson's Yukon Quest 2015 team arrives at Dawson City, Yukon
Seconds after arriving at the checkpoint, Ryne Olson didn’t look like she’d just mushed a dog team through 500 miles of wilderness! 🙂

2015 Yukon Quest musher Ryne Olson at Dawson City, Yukon
I didn’t spend nearly as much time doing non-Yukon Quest shooting as I thought I would, but some scenes such as the Third Avenue Hotel Complex couldn’t be passed up.

Old buildings - the Third Avenue Hotel Complex - at Dawson City, Yukon
Jeremy and I moved the schedule around a bit so that the group could all see two mushers depart from the campground for Eagle. We arrived about 40 minutes early to allow lots of time, as walking in heavy gear is slow and tiring.

Yukon Quest mushers' camp at Dawson City, Yukon
Final preparations to get back on the trail were being made at Ed Hopkins’ camp as we passed by.

Yukon Quest musher Ed Hopkins' team at Dawson City, Yukon

Yukon Quest musher Ed Hopkins' team at Dawson City, Yukon
Ed’s wife, Michelle Phillips, gives lead dog Bear some love. Michelle had won the Yukon Quest 300 just 2 days before.

Michelle Phillips with Yukon Quest musher Ed Hopkins' team at Dawson City, Yukon
For spectators, part of the excitement of the race is certainly seeing and hearing the dogs’ excitement. This short video gives you a bit of that.

I got a position out on the riverbank to shoot the departures. Fifteen minutes after the schedule 10:20 departure of Ray Redington Jr., a team came down the trail, but it was Ed Hopkins, at his scheduled time.

2015 Yukon Quest musher Ed Hopkins' team leaves Dawson City, Yukon
To avoid a very large stretch of open water below Dawson, this year’s trail goes back up-river for a half mile or so before crossing to the north side.

2015 Yukon Quest musher Ed Hopkins' team leaves Dawson City, Yukon
Word was passed down to those of us along the trail that Ray Redington Jr. had scratched at the last minute, moving Ed Hopkins up into 5th place. Here, work starts on taking apart Ray’s camp for the return to Knik, Alaska.

2015 Yukon Quest musher Ray Redington Jr's camp at Dawson City, Yukon
This is Lance Mackey’s fancy sled setup, with a cooker behind the main sled and a basket sled for a possible injured dog behind that.

Lance Mackey's fancy Yukon Quest sled setup at Dawson City, Yukon
One of the race vets at work.

Yukon Quest mushers' camp at Dawson City, Yukon
Returning to town, we next went to the Dawson City Museum, which opened up for us. It does a very good job of explaining what life was life both before and after the big gold strike on August 16, 1896 that would make the name “Klondike” famous around the world.

Dawson City Museum, Yukon
Although for the majority of people, life in the Dawson City area after the strike was a basic frontier one as shown by the log cabin in the photo above, for others Dawson was “The San Francisco of the North”, with most of the amenities seen in any city of the time, including electricity, and entertainment aimed at the mostly-male population.

Dawson City Museum, Yukon
We next drove back across the river and past the “Closed” sign on the Top of the World Highway, to see if we could reach a great view over Dawson and the Klondike River. Some other people had had the same idea, so we reached it with no problem.

Top of the World Highway in the winter
Dawson and the Klondike River.

A winter view of Dawson City, Yukon, from the Top of the World Highway
The pastel colours of the Westmark Hotel are wonderful in the winter (though the hotel is only open in the summer).

A winter view of Dawson City, Yukon, from the Top of the World Highway
It was a great spot for a group portrait as well (2 people didn’t come).

A winter tour group portrait overlooking Dawson City, Yukon
Driving back to town.

Top of the World Highway in the winter
At 4:15, several of us were back at the mushers’ camp for the departure of two more teams. Up on the road, I got hugs from 3 of this fellow’s very sociable dogs 🙂

Sled dogs at Dawson City, Yukon
Normand Casavant’s team gets ready for the trail to Eagle – he would start in 7th place. Journeys by Jerry Van Dyke, the company I’m working for on this trip, sponsored his bib, #3.

Yukon Quest 2015 musher Normand Casavant's team at Dawson City, Yukon
Cody Strathe’s would be the next team out, in 6th place.

Yukon Quest 2015 musher Cody Strathe's team at Dawson City, Yukon
Love the license plate on the back of Lance Mackey’s sled – “on by” is the command for dogs to go by something that’s distracting them.

Lance Mackey's sled at Dawson City, Yukon
Mike Ellis’ Siberian huskies looked like they were ready to go, though they weren’t scheduled to depart for over 4 hours yet.

Some of the Siberian huskies in Mike Ellis' Yukon Quest 2015 team
At 4:50, exactly 24 hours after arriving in Dawson, Cody Strathe and his dogs were on their way to Eagle. I love the smile on that dog – he’s back doing what he loves to do 🙂

Cody Strathe and his dogs on the 2015 Yukon Quest trail
This British couple were hiking back down the river to an island that they live on, after coming to town for supplies.

Hiking down the Yukon River in the winter
At 5:13, Normand Casavant and his team were back on the trail.

Normand Casavant and his 2015 Yukon Quest team of dogs

Normand Casavant and his 2015 Yukon Quest team of sled dogs

That was the end of my up-close-and-personal Yukon Quest action for this year, but some of my guests were back down to the river for more that night. I’ll be watching the rest of it from my nice warm office chair 🙂

On Friday, we made the long drive back to Whitehorse, and tomorrow, Saturday, we’ll be giving the group a final look around the city before their flight out Sunday morning.

With the Yukon Quest in Dawson City – Day 1

Wednesday was our first full in-depth day surrounded by Yukon Quest action at the Dawson City checkpoint.

Official sunrise wouldn’t be until 09:24, but I was out for a walk just before 07:00. This was the view to the southwest from the front deck of the Eldorado Hotel.

Red Feather Saloon, Dawson City, Yukon
And looking to the northwest, the oldest operating hotel in the Yukon, the Westminster.

Westminster Hotel, Dawson City, Yukon
The first local I met was this beautiful cross fox (a colour variation of red foxes). He was strolling around as if he owned the town, and this car stopped for a few seconds until he decided which way to go.

Cross fox in Dawson City, Yukon
We began our tour day with a look around Dawson City in the vans. On our way up the Bonanza Creek Road to see how far we could get, we met our first up-close musher, Ray Redington Jr. He and the dogs all looked happy after almost 500 miles on the trail. We turned around then and went back into town to see them arrive at the checkpoint.

Yukon Quest musher Ray Redington Jr nears Dawson City, Yukon
Back in town, I parked my van to give a good vantage point for some of my guests who didn’t want to stand outside with wind chills way down into the -30s. Others walked a block down to the checkpoint in front of the Visitor Reception Centre.

Dawson City, Yukon
At 10:20, here comes Ray and his team running along the trail on top of the dyke!

Ray Redington Jr arrives at Dawson City, Yukon
Dawson is my favourite town in the North for many reasons, not the least of which is that it’s a photographer’s paradise.

Dawson City, Yukon
Jeremy had arranged a tour of the Masonic Temple, which was built as a Carnegie Library in in 1904, with over 5000 books. This was the northernmost Carnegie library ever built, and was considered to be the most elaborate building in Dawson City at the time. After a major fire in 1920, it was empty until 1934 when it was sold to the Freemasons, who restored it.

Masonic Temple in Dawson City, Yukon
The building is stunning inside, but it isn’t heated and was possibly even colder than it was outside!

Masonic Temple in Dawson City, Yukon
Even the light bulbs are impressive, with the filament shaped as a Masonic emblem.

Light bulb in the Masonic Temple in Dawson City, Yukon
After lunch, some of us went over to the mushers’ camp at the West Dawson Campground. To get there, we drove on an “ice bridge”, a road carved from the jumbled ice on the Yukon River. In the summer, the ferry George Black runs back and forth across the river at the same location.

Ice road at Dawson City, Yukon
The Top of the World Highway runs past the campground to Alaska, but is closed in the winter.

Top of the World Highway at Dawson City, Yukon - in the winter
It’s interesting to see the mushers’ camps. Volunteer handlers take care of most duties here.

Yukon Quest musher's camp at Dawson City, Yukon

Yukon Quest musher's camp at Dawson City, Yukon

Yukon Quest musher's camp at Dawson City, Yukon
I led 3 of my guests down the river to the “Sternwheeler Graveyard“, where 7 derelict steamboats lie rotting along the bank and in the bush. The site is in much worse shape than when I first started going there almost 25 years ago, but the names of at least 2 ships, the Julia B. and the Seattle No. 3, can still be read.

Sternwheeler Graveyard at Dawson City, Yukon

Sternwheeler Graveyard at Dawson City, Yukon
Ed Hopkins’ dogs were cozy when we peeked in on the way back to the van.

Yukon Quest sled dogs resting at Dawson City, Yukon
The tour boat Klondike Spirit, a replica paddlewheeler, sits high on the bank on the Dawson side of the river.

Klondike Spirit paddlewheeler at Dawson City, Yukon
We were halfway across the river when we saw Normand Casavant making the short run from the checkpoint to the camp.

Dawson City, Yukon
This is the George Black, the ferry that runs when the river isn’t frozen.

Ferry George Black at Dawson City, Yukon, in the winter
The sun went down at 5:41 pm, but day or night doesn’t mean much to the the Yukon Quest teams, and there were people to meet the teams whenever they arrived.

Yukon Quest team arrives at Dawson City, Yukon
About half of the group showed up for some silliness, but only 4 were brave enough for the Sourtoe Cocktail. Yes, it is a real human toe that’s dropped into your drink! Several of the race vets got their certification just before our folks did 🙂

Dawson City, Yukon

Dawson City, Yukon
The last team that I saw arrive this night was Brian Wilmshurst, at 9:50.

Yukon Quest musher Brian Wilmshurst arrives at Dawson City, Yukon

Yukon Quest musher Brian Wilmshurst arrives at Dawson City, Yukon
Several of us ended this night at The Pit, which is the nickname for the bar at the Westminster Hotel. Just seeing the paintings on the walls, by local artist Halin de Repentigny, make a visit worthwhile. With Halin’s originals selling for thousands of dollars now, the bar is virtually priceless.

Paintings by Halin de Repentigny at The Pit in Dawson City, Yukon

The Pit in Dawson City, Yukon
Soaking up the best in local flavour – both the beers and the character 🙂 We had another busy Yukon Quest day in store for Thursday!

The Pit in Dawson City, Yukon

On the Yukon Quest Trail – the North Klondike Highway

On Tuesday, we had our longest driving day, about 530 kilometers (330 miles) from Whitehorse to Dawson City on the North Klondike Highway. Then we’d spend 3 nights in Dawson City watching the Yukon Quest mushers arrive and depart, as well as seeing their camps during the mandatory 24-hour layover.

Our first stop was at Braeburn Lodge, famous for its massive cinnamon buns. It’s also a checkpoint for many races, including the Yukon Quest which passed through a couple of days ago, and the Yukon Arctic Ultra, which promotes itself as “the world’s coldest and toughest ultra”. It has several classes for mountain bikers, cross-country skiers and runners – Marathon, 100, 300 and 430 miles.

Braeburn Lodge, Yukon
Steve Watson, owner of Braeburn Lodge and creator of the massive buns 🙂

Steve Watson, owner of Braeburn Lodge
It takes 4 healthy appetites to deal with one of these buns!

Braeburn Lodge
Back outside, racers prepare to get back on the trail.

The viewpoint at Five Finger Rapids, which was the main trouble spot for steamboats on the Yukon River, is always a “must stop”. It’s a very long walk down to the lower viewpoint, with well over 100 steps to climb on the way back up – we didn’t go down!

Five Finger Rapids in the winter

We stopped at the Yukon Quest checkpoint at Pelly Crossing, but it was very quiet, as both the Yukon Quest and the 300 had passed through already. It was a handy place to eat the box lunches that we’d brought up from Whitehorse, though, sitting in our vans in the sunshine.

Our afternoon coffee stop was at Moose Creek Lodge, the other “character” lodge on the North Klondike Highway.

Moose Creek Lodge, North Klondike Highway, Yukon
The owner of Moose Creek Lodge, Maja Nafzger. She opened the lodge up for a few days for people following the Yukon Quest trail under very difficult conditions including deep snow and temperatures down to -53°C (-63°F). Huge thanks, Maja – my guests loved your place!

Maja Nafzger, owner of Moose Creek Lodge
This is our base for the next 3 nights – the Eldorado Hotel. Comfortable rooms, a large, friendly saloon and excellent food – many of the ingredients needed for a great trip.

Eldorado Hotel, Dawson City, Yukon

I’m actually a day behind on the blog now – our 2 full days in Dawson City are full of sled dogs and some looks at unique locations around Dawson. We’re heading out in half an hour to watch 2 more teams start down the trail to Eagle, Alaska, but I have lots more to show you shortly.

A Spectacular Day on the Haines Highway

After a rather challenging travel day on Sunday, I was hoping for much better yesterday, and as I was writing the blog the weather and road reports looked very promising.

The view from the deck in front of my room at 07:15 was wonderful. This is a big part of the reason that the Captain’s Choice is where I usually stay when I’m in Haines.

The winter view from the Captains Choice Motel in Haines, Alaska
There goes Jeremy to fuel up one of the vans. In the background is the Bamboo Room where the group met for dinner the previous evening, and some of us stayed a while for drinks.

The Bamboo Room in Haines, Alaska
The view down Main Street to Portage Cove and to Chilkoot Inlet (a northern extension of Lynn Canal) is wonderful in any season, but with a thick layer of fresh snow – wow!

Haines, Alaska
On the right is the Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center that most of the group went to when we arrived.

Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center, Haines, Alaska
One of my favourite locations for photography anywhere I go is the harbour, and Haines is one of the better ones 🙂 I took quite a few shots here.

Small boat harbor at Haines, Alaska

Small boat harbour at Haines, Alaska
Looking to the northwest, it was looking like we had a very good day ahead of us! This picture was processed as an HDR image to handle the extremely high contrast between the mountain and the dark street.

Haines, Alaska
Jeremy led the way to a spot I’d never been to, the Haines Fair Grounds, with its replica frontier town with false front buildings that were built for the Disney movie “White Fang”, which was filmed entirely in Haines in 1991. Some of the false fronts are so false that there’s actually no building behind them!

Fair Grounds at Haines, Alaska

Haines, Alaska
Our next stop was the main interpretive stop in the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. Although the main gathering of eagles is in November when the Alaska Bald Eagle Festival is held, we did see a couple. This stop provided a bit of exercise…

Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve in the winter
…and a good spot for some portraits 🙂

The 33 Mile Roadhouse is a must-stop, and I do on almost every trip along the Haines Highway.

33 Mile Roadhouse, Haines Highway, in the winter
White vans on snowy roads pose a big visibility problem, so Jeremy added strobe lights to the top of ours.

33 Mile Roadhouse, Haines Highway, in the winter
For both character and food (for most us, that was pie), 33 Mile is tough to beat.

33 Mile Roadhouse, Haines Highway
The highway ahead…

Haines Highway in the winter
I even got to play with a dog, who enjoyed fetching chunks of ice 🙂

The first of only 4 vehicles we saw on the highway north of 33 Mile.

Trucking the Haines Highway in the winter
Looking back down the highway. Our border crossing back into Canada wasn’t quick due to computer problems, but was friendly as always.

Haines Highway in the winter
Enjoying the sunshine. The wind got a bite to it as we climbed, but it was still wonderful.

Haines Highway in the winter
The Three Guardsmen is one of my favourite mountains anywhere, and it was certainly spectacular yesterday. A few miles later, clouds moved in, and combined with high winds, caused our planned group photo at the summit to be delayed until Dawson City.

The Three Guardsmen, Haines Highway, in the winter
We went into the campground at Kathleen Lake to meet Ron Chambers (on the right with Jeremy), who had lit a fire to take the chill off the shelter, and he told us about his life growing up in the area over the past 71 years. Ron could probably tell stories for a week steady, and I always enjoy hearing them.

Ron Chambers
The shelter is a lovely structure.

And the view isn’t too shabby either!

Our planned very-late-lunch stop in Haines Junction didn’t work out because the restaurant closed before we got there, but a stop at the new grocery store got our guests by, and we were back in Whitehorse just as the daylight disappeared.

As soon as I post this, its time to get organized – we’re off to Dawson City in 2 hours 🙂

A Winter Storm Experience on Land & Sea

Yesterday we drove from Whitehorse to Skagway, and took an Alaska Marine Highway ferry to Haines where we spent the night. The weather forecast was for a severe winter storm, and we had come up with 2 backup plans for various situations such as weather closures that might come up, so when we left Whitehorse we weren’t really sure where we’d be spending the night. We did manage to follow the itinerary, and gave our adventurous group some good stories to take back home 🙂

The drive over the White Pass to Skagway was in high winds and blowing snow, but nothing I hadn’t seen many times before. I was extremely surprised to see when we got to the U.S. Customs post at Skagway that the highway was closed! Apparently we were the last vehicles that made it through, and as I write this the next morning at 06:00, it’s still closed.

There were very few people out and about in Skagway. Although the temperature was only -17°C (+1°F), the screaming north wind (80 kmh / 50 mph, I heard) made it as nasty a storm as I’d ever seen in Skagway.

Severe winter storm in Skagway, Alaska
There were no lights visible at the Lemon Rose Bakery which had offered to make us lunch, but she was indeed there, and we picked up some excellent sandwiches and cookies and took them over to the ferry terminal to check in.

Lemon Rose Bakery, Skagway
Getting aboard an Alaska ferry takes a long time, but once the vehicle is staged an hour before sailing time (2:00 pm for us), the terminal is at least comfortable. This was the view out the front window of the van, with our HNS (Haines) destination tag in place.

Waiting for an Alaska ferry at Skagway in the winter
At 1:30, the ferry Aurora appeared out of the swirling snow and sea smoke. Sea smoke (also called frost smoke or steam fog) is fog which forms when very cold air moves over warmer water.

Alaska ferry Aurora in a winter storm
Once everyone was settled on board, I, of course, went wandering with my camera. Being a crew member on the Alaska ferries is probably a great job in the summer – yesterday, not so much! Everyone we met was friendly and cheerful, though.

Crew member on an Alaska ferry during a winter storm
Note the snow being blown off the dock below us. Brrr!

Alaska ferry dock at Skagway during a winter storm
The decks of the ferry had a thick coating of ice, so walking was a challenge and I wasn’t outside much 🙂

On an Alaska ferry during a winter storm
The wind hadn’t raised waves much, and with the wind on our stern, also allowed the one-hour sailing to be very smooth. I don’t see sea smoke very often, and love it!

Although we were in a caravan of vehicles following a grader for the 4 miles from the ferry dock to Haines, once the grader turned off the roads were a challenge, with about 5 inches of snow on every road. Jeremy had arranged for someone to meet us at Alaska Indian Arts, and Lee Heinmiller, a director at the center, had actually come in through these nasty conditions.

Alaska Indian Arts, Haines
Located in the 1904 hospital at Fort William H. Seward, Alaska Indian Arts is a fascinating facility, with all manner of tools on the tables and walls for the creation and restoration of Native art of all sorts, though mostly in wood. Lee did a wonderful job of explaining the things we saw.

Alaska Indian Arts, Haines
Lee said that it takes 50-60 hours per foot to create a totem pole, so this 9-footer would take some 500 hours. Those are octopus tentacles on the right.

Alaska Indian Arts, Haines
A broad view of the main work room.

Alaska Indian Arts, Haines

After leaving the carving shop, we went to the Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center, where staff had also shown up and shovelled a path for us. I took a few people over to our motel to start checking in rather than go into the museum. I got the van rather badly stuck on a hill, but managed to get it back on the level and parked after a half-hour or so of struggling.

Just after 6, we met for dinner and drinks at the Bamboo Room a block from the motel, and it was fun to listen to different people’s thoughts about the day.

Looking at the weather forecast and road reports, this morning, we have a great day ahead of us. The storm is gone, there is lots of blue sky coming, and the highway is open.

Start of the Yukon Quest

Today was simply an amazing day. The energy at the start of the Yukon Quest, combined with clear skies and energizing cold, makes for a superb Yukon Adventure.

Jeremy and I took our guests over to the starting area at 9:30 so they’d have lots of time to check out the team preparations before the staging area is closed to the public so final race preparations can be done in peace. It costs $2,000 to enter the Quest ($2,500 for late entries – after December 5th), but it can quickly be seen that that’s a drop in the bucket of the expenses that are incurred in running a team. This outfit belongs to Joar Leifseth Ulsom from Norway.

Joar Leifseth Ulsom's outfit at the Yukon Quest 2015 Start - Whitehorse, Yukon
It’s great to see Jeff King back this year. A true mushing legend, he’s run the Yukon Quest 7 times, but the last time was in 1990. He won the race in 1989. He’s got a great-looking outfit that attracts a lot of attention.

Jeff King's team at the Yukon Quest 2015 Start - Whitehorse, Yukon
I really like to see that the race vets are always very visible. The 13-person team, led by Dr. Nina Hansen, watches over the health of the dogs throughout the race, at all hours of the day and night.

Race vets at the Yukon Quest 2015 Start - Whitehorse, Yukon
Ed Hopkins has run the Quest 4 times since 1993, as well as many other races. His wife, Michelle Phillips, is also a professional musher who has run both the Yukon Quest and Iditarod several times. Summer visitors to Carcross, Yukon, can see and ride with their teams at Caribou Crossing.

Ed Hopkins at the Yukon Quest 2015 Start - Whitehorse, Yukon
Looks aren’t considered important by most North American mushers, but Rob Cooke’s team is beautiful!

Rob Cooke's team at the Yukon Quest 2015 Start - Whitehorse, Yukon

Yukon Quest 2015 Start - Whitehorse, Yukon
The calm before the storm.

Yukon Quest 2015 Start - Whitehorse, Yukon
Allen Moore, having drawn bib #1, started the race off at 11:00. These dogs are well aware of what’s ahead, and are so excited – I love watching them. Most people probably expect that mushing is a young person’s sport because it’s so demanding, but Allen, from Two Rivers, Alaska, is one of several mushers in this year’s race who are in their 50s.

Allen Moore, first away at the Yukon Quest 2015 Start - Whitehorse, Yukon
So my friends at Journeys by Jerry Van Dyke can see their sponsorship dollars at work, here’s Normand Casavant of Whitehorse. This is his 5th Yukon Quest – his best finish so far has been 7th in 2013.

Normand Casavant at the Yukon Quest 2015 Start - Whitehorse, Yukon
Nicolas Vanier increases the wind chill for him and his team, rushing through the mist created by thousands of people and some open water on the Yukon River. The temperature then was about -33°C (-27°F).

Nicolas Vanier at the Yukon Quest 2015 Start - Whitehorse, Yukon
With many people online commenting that anyone who goes outside in this sort of temperature is basically nuts, this was the scene at Shipyards Park! Is the craziness of it all part of the attraction? 🙂

The crowd at the Yukon Quest 2015 Start - Whitehorse, Yukon
A look from the other direction – a team about to leave for Fairbanks.

Yukon Quest 2015 Start - Whitehorse, Yukon
Torsten Kohnert from Sweden placed 6th in his rookie Quest last year.

Torsten Kohnert from Sweden at the Yukon Quest 2015 Start - Whitehorse, Yukon
Among the 10 rookies in this year’s race is Ryne Olson from Two Rivers, Alaska. She’s only been mushing for 5 years, and when asked why she entered the Quest, her response was “To show the young team how much fun a 1000 mile race can be and make sure everyone has a positive attitude when I cross the finish line.”

Ryne Olson at the Yukon Quest 2015 Start - Whitehorse, Yukon
One of Ed Hopkins’ dogs looked like he wanted to make a stop for some Timbits on the way by, but it’s a safe bet that there will be some special treats for them all in Fairbanks 🙂

Ed Hopkins at the Yukon Quest 2015 Start - Whitehorse, Yukon
Rob Cooke’s dogs look even better like this, don’t they?

Rob Cooke's team at the Yukon Quest 2015 Start - Whitehorse, Yukon
Whoops! The first mishap – there was too much goofing around on the trailer behind Rob Cooke, and they dumped going down onto the river. The recovery took less than 2 seconds, though. Several of the mushers had that sort of “celebrity rider” along for the first 1¼ miles.

Yukon Quest 2015 Start - Whitehorse, Yukon
Mike Ellis runs a gorgeous team of purebred Siberians. Sibes are often called “Slowberians” because the breeding has gone towards looks rather than performance, but although Mike has had some problems, he’s also had some good finishes, and any musher who wins the Vet’s Choice Award has my admiration.

Yukon Quest 2015 Start - Whitehorse, Yukon
The final musher, #26, Hugh Neff, was on his way at 12:15. Jeremy and I took our guests back to the Edgewater Hotel for a short break, I went and fueled my van up, and at 1:00, we drove out to see a friend of Jeremy’s who has property on the Takhini River, along the race course. We arrived just as the first team was going by.

Yukon Quest 2015 Start - Whitehorse, Yukon
Several of us hiked down the steep bank and across the river the watch the teams go by up close.

Yukon Quest 2015 team on the Takhini River
Looking back at the cabin, where some neighbours were joining the party.

Yukon Quest 2015 team on the Takhini River
Tamra Reynolds’ team was looking good as they went by. Tamra, running her first Quest, is from Mount Lorne, just south of Whitehorse.

Yukon Quest 2015 team on the Takhini River
The old and the new head up the Takhini River – the fluffy dogs and what used to be often called the “iron dog”.

Yukon Quest 2015 team on the Takhini River
Here comes Torsten Kohnert. In the 25 or so miles between the start line and this spot, there had already been a lot of changes in position. As I write this 18 hours after the start, though, Torsten is still in #14 position, where he started.

Yukon Quest 2015 team on the Takhini River
Brian Wilmshurst had Ed Hopkins close behind him. Starting in 20th position, Ed is now 2nd! Whoohoo! (Ed and I have known each other for many years 🙂 )

Yukon Quest 2015 team on the Takhini River
The smile on Ryne Olson’s face says it all. The passion that everyone involved has for this sport really is contagious. I don’t know that I’d want to do 1,000 miles, but the 300 would be a good start – if I was 20 years younger 🙂

Yukon Quest 2015 musher Ryne Olson and her team on the Takhini River
I’m going to finish today’s post with this photo of Tony Angelo’s gorgeous team of Siberians.

Yukon Quest 2015 team on the Takhini River

Starting a 12-Day Yukon Quest Tour

On Wednesday, I began a Yukon Quest tour – based around the Yukon Quest sled dog race, but with other winter activities in Whitehorse, Skagway, Haines and Dawson City. Organized by Journeys by Jerry Van Dyke, it will take a group of 16 people, mostly from Ontario, from Whitehorse to Skagway and Haines and then to Dawson City for 3 nights during the race’s mandatory 36-hour layover.

Over the past few days I’d gotten a lot of gear ready for the group, and had our 2 vans and luggage trailer at the Whitehorse airport for their arrival at 3:05 Wednesday afternoon. It was a superb day to start showing off the territory!

Winter tour vans at the Whitehorse airport
Our first outing was the Yukon Quest’s Meet the Mushers event at the Mount McIntyre Recreation Centre on Wednesday evening. There was a great turnout, and wonderful energy to start this exciting tour off on the right foot. Getting all the mushers to sign a program or poster was a big part of that event for many. All of our guests sponsored a musher of their choice, and all joined the 1,000 Mile Club, which, for $350, includes a special Yukon Quest 1,000 Mile Club jacket. This is not a superficial look at the race, we’re getting right into it 🙂

Yukon Quest's Meet the Mushers event

Yukon Quest's Meet the Mushers event
While the mushers met their fans inside, the business of taking care of the dogs continued outside in the parking lot with the temperature at -34°C (-29°F). The volunteer dog handlers are a huge part of this race.

Yukon Quest dog handlers taking care of a team on a bitterly cold night
We spent a few hours seeing Whitehorse on Thursday. Our final stop was the Yukon Transportation Museum, which opened up for us, and gave the folks a good look at how people got around the territory in days past, including seeing the importance of dogs in that.

Dog sledding artifacts at the Yukon Transportation Museum
The airplane hanging in the main exhibit hall is a replica of a Ryan B-1 monoplane called “Queen of the Yukon”. She was sister ship to the “Spirit of St. Louis” that Charles Lindbergh used for the first non-stop transatlantic flight in 1927. The original “Queen of the Yukon” was destroyed in a crash at Whitehorse on May 5, 1928.

The main hall in the Yukon Transportation Museum
On Thursday night, we joined over 400 other people at the Yukon Quest Start Banquet. This is when the starting positions and bib numbers are pulled. Of course, the dogs are close by and well taken care of.

Race huskies being cared for in the hotel parking lot at the Yukon Quest Start Banquet
This group of young fiddlers, members of Fiddleheads, entertained us with some great music before the bib draws. Journeys by Jerry Van Dyke sponsored bib #3, which was drawn by Normand Casavant, a 51-year-old Yukon Quest veteran from Whitehorse.

Fiddleheads playing at the Yukon Quest Start Banquet
On Friday, we were scheduled to go dog sledding on Lake Laberge with Cathers Adventures. That despite this weather forecast and many comments online about staying inside and keeping pets indoors!

Extreme cold warning for Whitehorse, Yukon
Arctic gear had been rented for each of our guests to make this adventure possible. Here, well-dressed Ned Cathers stands by to assist in the fairly lengthy process of getting prepared.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
Practise makes getting heavy gear on much quicker, so I had lots of time to take photos as well as assisting with boots in particular 🙂

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
While the humans got ready, 24 patient huskies waited for us. I went down and livened things up by doing my best husky howl, which almost every one of the dogs was happy to join in! 🙂

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
After the choir practice, there was time for a bit more relaxation before the excitement really started.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
The final countdown to getting out on the lake.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
The rest of the dogs and sleds arrive from Cathers’ base on the opposite side of the lake.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
Let’s go!!!! 🙂

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
The thrill of starting across the lake is incredible. The dogs were so noisy as we got ready, and as soon as they started working, there wasn’t not a sound, it was all business. We had one person driving each team and one person on the sled bundled up in sleeping bags. After our lunch stop, we’d switch places for the return. I drove the outgoing leg. I love working with the dogs, cuddling the ones who want it before and after a run, (a few don’t, and that’s okay), and talking to them as we travelled along at an easy 8-10 mph pace. We had one little guy in our team who kept looking back as if to be sure that he was doing it right, and I was happy to yell to him that he was doing “Good Work!” 🙂

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
The last mile or so before our lunch stop in a sheltered bay was bitterly cold as we were going directly into a strong northwest wind – the wind chill might have been even lower than the forecast -44. But I didn’t hear any complaints – everyone seemed to love the adventure.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
A broad shot of our camp, taken after I helped a couple of dogs who had gotten tangled in their lines so badly they couldn’t lay down.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
Jeremy Van Dyke took care of one of the first camp duties, settling up a toilet in a private spot off in the forest. How to actually use it at these temperatures was a common topic of conversation for a while 🙂

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
One of the Cathers crew started a fire…

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
…while the dogs curled up to keep warm and rest.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
A bit of foot care being taken care of by an expert.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
Frosty and happy 🙂 A few people have told me that they had family and friends tell them that they were nuts to come on this trip – nobody yet has said that their family and friends were right!

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
A gourmet kitchen, Yukon style. Hot dogs and smokies cooked over an open fire, with hot chocolate and hot apple cider to wash it down. I would like to do it again today, but there’s a race starting at 11!

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
It was the dogs who decided that it was time to get going again. Listen to them in this short video!

The teams were started out with good spacing – to me it really enhances the experience to not have anyone else really close.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
Seeing their pack-mates going got many of the others really excited.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon
By the time we got back to the parking lot, most people were really tired, but a bit of teamwork soon got everyone into our warm vans for the drive back to the city. As we pulled away, the dogs and crew were heading back across the lake to their base.

Dog sledding on Lake Laberge, Yukon

I told some of my guests that I’d post this last night but I was too tired, and just had a glass of wine with Cathy and went to bed early.

Today is the event of the tour – the start of the Yukon Quest at 11:00 at Shipyards Park in downtown Whitehorse. We’ll be at the start line by about 9:30, and it looks like it’s going to be sunny and about -31°C (-24°F) for the start – pretty much perfect.

A Spectacular Winter Drive, and Getting Ready for a Tour

I went to Skagway yesterday on a bitterly cold but 10/10 day, and today I’m getting ready to pick up a group of people from Ontario. This afternoon, we start 12 days of touring the Yukon and a bit of Alaska, with the Yukon Quest sled dog race being the primary focus.

First, though, a puppy picture 🙂 Bella may be growing up physically but she’s still just a baby in many ways. She loves having a “soother” when she wakes up, and this giraffe stuffie is one of her favourites.

The temperature was sitting at -34°C (-29°F) and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky when I left home just before 10:30 yesterday. The temperature bottomed out at Robinson (as is often the case) at -36C (-33F), and had warmed up 1 degree at Emerald Lake.

Emerald Lake, Yukon, at -35 degrees
From the fog at Bove Island, it appears that there was still open water until last night.

Fog at Bove Island, Yukon, at -34 degrees
Ptarmigan Point stopped me as it often does. This was shot and processed as an HDR image. The temperature was climbing much slower than I had expected – it was still -29C here (-20F).

Ptarmigan Point on the South Klondike Highway
I didn’t stay in Skagway for long – although it was beautiful, it was still -9°C (+16F) and windy, so a short walk was enough. Both the gulls and harbour seals seemed to be enjoying both the sunshine and some sort of dining experience at the mouth of the Skagway River.

gulls and harbour seals at Skagway
There were a lot of ore trucks on the highway – I probably met a dozen on my way north. I expect that there was a blockage at the mine (from the recent heavy snow is my guess) and they’re running hard to catch up now. The one in the distance is seen from Km 50.4.

Ore truck on the South Klondike Highway
We made our usual stop at Tutshi Lake, but it, too, was a short stop. The humidity must be very high, judging both by how cold it felt, and by the thick frost-feathers on everything.

This is the motorcycle jacket I went to Skagway to pick up. Now I’d like to get some good use out of it by having Mother Nature raise the temperature 130 degrees Fahrenheit (the forecast was for a wind chill of -62F yesterday morning). 130 degrees warmer to get comfortable – that’s a bit bizarre, isn’t it?

Murray's new motorcycle jacket
There’s a lot to do to get ready for a tour like this, both physically and mentally. Among the many jobs was buying thermos bottles for each guest and washing them. Hot liquids will be very welcome at the temperatures we’re going to be travelling in.

Getting Thermos bottles ready for a winter tour
By 10:00 this morning I had picked up one of the vans, the luggage trailer, and special Yukon Quest jackets for each of our guests. After a photo stop at the SS Klondike, it was home to load more gear, mostly in the vehicle care and emergency categories.

Journeys by Van Dyke tour van at the SS Klondike in Whitehorse at -33C

I’ve now got another van to pick up and get both to the airport for the group’s 3:05 arrival. Let the fun begin 🙂

Things I Should Have Done – Gold Mining

I’m sure that you’ve all heard some of the quotes that say that when you get older, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the things you did do. The list of things I didn’t do seems quite small, so I’m okay with that, but a couple of long-time friends have their placer gold mine down near Dawson for sale, and I’ve been thinking a lot that I should have tried that for a season or two. Hey, if Tod Hoffman can do it… 🙂

Placer gold and I have been been friends since I was just a little guy – since my Dad caught gold fever during British Columbia’s Centennial in 1958. Gold panning for me, though, was like fishing – I don’t like fishing, just catching, and the bang for the buck was just never there with gold panning other than Dad and I had some wonderful days together. In this photo, Dad is showing my brother-in-law Warren how the magic happens, on his claim on the Fraser River at Spuzzum, BC.

My father showing my brother-in-law how to pan for gold on the Fraser River at Spuzzum, BC

The proliferation of gold mining shows on TV has certainly caught the interest of a lot of people, and I’m on that list. Just from guiding tours through the Klondike gold fields for 20+ years, I know more about placer gold than some of the people in these shows seem to!

And now my friends tease with the gold mine they have for sale at Frisco Creek, 72 miles upriver from Dawson City. It’s ready to go, and look at the nuggets in that pan on their page! (Edit, Sept 2017: sorry, the Web page is gone). I certainly never saw anything like those in my pans.

Placer gold mine for sale at Frisco Creek, Yukon

But no, I think I’ll leave large-scale gold mining on the list of things I didn’t do. I have lots of other plans for the coming summer 🙂

An Icy “Spring” Day at Dyea, Alaska

We continue to have an extremely warm winter with little snow. To say that it’s been an easy winter so far is an understatement, despite a few days of deep cold that brought with it great photo ops 🙂

When I saw these forecasts yesterday, it looked like a great day to go to Skagway for an early preview of Spring, as well as to pick up a dash cam I’d ordered.

Weather reports for Whitehorse and Skagway
Okay, maybe not a great day to go down! 🙂 It was -2°C (28°F) when I left home, +2C (36F) here at Carcross, then sat at 0C (32F) for most the the drive to Skagway. This photo was shot at 10:03, which was 7 minutes after sunrise.

Highway ice warning at Carcross, Yukon
There was not only slush and black ice, there was glare ice as well. The parking area at Tutshi Lake was so slippery that I couldn’t walk on it. I pulled the car over to the snow so the dogs had something non-slippery to step out onto. It’s pretty funny that we drive in ice that’s too slippery to walk on.

Ice on the parking lot at Tutshi Lake, BC
There’s no ice on Tutshi Lake yet, and on Tagish Lake the ice is starting to break up! There’s some pretty interesting shore ice, though.

Shore ice on Tutshi Lake, BC
Bella and Monty stayed off the rocks, which were glazed with ice and very hard to walk on. The snow was on about 3 inches deep, but fun especially for the little one 🙂

Dogs playing at Tutshi Lake, BC
Wonderful fog/cloud layers at Skagway, where it was only +2C and stayed there – not nearly as good as forecast, but there was very little moisture falling from the sky so I considered that a good trade. This is the Skagway River, with the airport in the distance.

A foggy winter day at Skagway, Alaska
Skagway is one of those towns that still has some real character if you look down the side streets. This place has been under construction for about 20 years 🙂

Funky home in Skagway, Alaska
A look at the Skagway City Hall from the viewpoint on the Dyea Road. I had stopped for lunch at The Station, and was on my way to Dyea just before 1:00 om Yukon time.

Skagway city hall in a winter fog
The colour of the water in Nahku Bay is sometimes stunning in the winter. In other seasons the water isn’t clear enough to show the colour, I think. There’s been no manipulation of any kind to this image – that’s actually what it looked like!

Stunning colour of the water at Nahku Bay, Alaska
The Dyea Road was a sloppy mess! Getting out for photos didn’t do my carpets in the car any good, and the dogs weren’t allowed out.

The muddy Dyea Road, Alaska
I really do love the Taiya River estuary any time of the year. The tide was exceptionally low, so the flats would be dried out enough to walk on.

Taiya River estuary, Alaska
The ice on the road out to Dyea Flats was terrible! If another vehicle came along so we both had to move off the centre crown of the road, things could have gotten ugly. But, nobody else was crazy enough to be out there 🙂

Road to Dyea Flats, covered in thick ice
The wharf pilings from 1897 when the booming town of Dyea was battling with Skagway to be the gateway to the Klondike gold fields still leave me shaking my head at what was accomplished back then in the middle of nowhere.

Wharf pilings from the Klondike Gold Rush
This shot gives you a glimpse at what makes this one of my favourite places in Alaska.

Dyea Flats, Alaska
Bella resting after a hard play on the beach.

My sheltie Bella at Dyea, Alaska
We made it back to the main road without metting anyone on the ice road – *phew*! LOL! This is looking down the Taiya River from the bridge.

Taiya River, Alaska
Monty waiting patiently while I took a few shots from the bridge.

Before leaving the bridge, I decided to hook up the dash cam to see how it works. I love it! This 16 minutes is, in real time, the drive from the Taiya River bridge to the South Klondike Highway just north of Skagway. I didn’t set the time, and I don’t know yet what all the “8”s at the start of the time stamp are.