Photography in the Yukon at -37 Degrees

This has been a very dreary winter so far in the southern Yukon, with very little sun and lots of snow. Our winters used to be clear and cold – invigorating rather than dreary.

When I saw this weather forecast yesterday morning, however, my world brightened up considerably – this is the Winter I love! And, of course, my reaction to sunshine is… Road Trip! 🙂

Whitehorse weather forecast - clear and very cold

I’d planned on getting away early, well before the sunrise at 10:08, but I got delayed by having to fire up the compressor to pump up a couple of low tires. It was only -12°C (+10°F) in the garage but the compressor still wasn’t happy about being asked to work.

This first shot was taken at 9:51, looking back up our street towards the house (which is hidden in the trees). The temperature was -37°C (-35°F).

Fireweed Drive, Whitehorse, Yukon
I had to drive towards Whitehorse for a few miles to get gas, then stopped to get some sunrise photos from a high spot above the Alaska Highway. This was taken at 10:03.

The Alaska Highway at sunrise
I had some stuff to pick up in Skagway so that was the obvious choice for a destination, but I decided to take the long way there, via the Alaska Highway and Tagish Road. The first photo stop was the Lewes Dam, which controls the water levels for the Whitehorse power dam.

Lewes Dam, Yukon River
There’s still plenty of water flowing through the dam (more properly called a “control structure” apparently), causing fog that fills the valley.

Lewes Dam, Yukon River
The Yukon River Bridge and Alaska Highway, looking upriver towards Marsh Lake.

Yukon River Bridge and Alaska Highway
Little patches of open water steaming on Marsh Lake, at 10:43. If you are into photography at all, you’ve no doubt seen “Photography Rule #1” many times: “Never shoot directly into the sun”. Like the Pirate’s Code, it should be taken more as a guideline 🙂

Sunrise on Marsh Lake, Yukon at -37 degrees
Turning south onto the Tagish Road at Jake’s Corner, I thought about going to Atlin instead of Skagway (Atlin is about 100km down the valley ahead), but decided to see Atlin another day.

The Atlin valley
One of the reasons for taking this route is the potential to see caribou, and less likely, moose. Although I saw lots of tracks, no animals appeared.

Carcross caribou herd sign on the Tagish Road
Nearing Tagish.

On the Tagish Road in the winter
Crossing the Tagish or Six Mile Bridge, photo ops were everywhere, so I stopped to go for a walk. The dogs quickly decided that it was too cold, and waited for me in the car. Sissy huskies!

Tagish or Six Mile Bridge, Yukon
Open water upriver from the bridge.

Open water on the Tagish River at -35 degrees.

Open water on the Tagish River at -35 degrees
I love the Tagish Volunteer Fire Department’s logo.

Tagish Volunteer Fire Department logo
I turned onto the South Klondike Highway at Carcross a few minutes after noon, stopping to take a few shots of the high country on Nares Mountain.

Nares Mountain, Carcross Yukon
The view ahead south of Tutshi Lake, BC, at 12:43pm.

South Klondike Highway in the winter
The view back to the north from the same spot as the photo above.

South Klondike Highway in the winter
The WP&YR railway crossing at Log Cabin, looking north (the trains don’t run in the winter).

WP&YR railway crossing at Log Cabin
Fraser, British Columbia, the highway maintenance camp and Customs crossing when you enter Canada from Skagway. That’s the railway grade curving at the bottom.

Fraser, British Columbia
The combined glare of the sun, and the sun reflected off the ice on the road, was blinding at times.

Blinding sun on the South Klondike Highway in the winter
To say that I was surprised to see this guy a few seconds after taking the blinding-sun photo is an understatement! Cycling the White Pass at -30+ with a strong headwind on a very icy highway – wow, that must be fun!

Cycling South Klondike Highway in the winter
The strong north wind was creating drifts across the highway. When I shot this, I had just passed a snowplow dealing with them.

Snow drifts across the South Klondike Highway in the winter
Entering Alaska.

South Klondike Highway in the winter
Any wind gets funneled through these narrow passes, and the venturi effect increases its speed dramatically.

Blowing snow on the South Klondike Highway in the winter
Driving through the ground blizzard.

South Klondike Highway in the winter
I love the shapes that the wind creates with the snow.

South Klondike Highway in the winter
Looking down Broadway in Skagway. It was -13°C (+9°F), but the wind made the wind chill temperature much lower.

Skagway, Alaska in the winter
The White Pass’ historic rotary snow plow. I posted a video of the plow in action last Spring – it’s a very impressive old beast.

The White Pass' historic rotary snow plow
Another shot of Broadway, from the National Park Service headquarters.

Skagway, Alaska in the winter
Cute decorating 🙂

Skagway, Alaska in the winter
Locomotives resting for the winter.

WP&YR locomotives resting for the winter at Skagway, Alaska
Heading home, looking back towards Skagway at 2:43pm.

The White Pass in the winter
Here’s a couple of minutes of video to show you exactly what the drive was like near the White Pass summit. Meeting an Alaska Highways rotary plow was just luck 🙂 And I don’t know what that was playing on my iPod!

Looking north across Summit Lake.

Summit Lake, BC
What a day to be flying over this country – the visibility looking back up at them was amazing!

Airliner flying over the White Pass
The Thompson River.

White Pass, BC
Approaching Canada Customs at Fraser. The square building to the right is the historic WP&YR water tower from their steam-engine days (still used for their two remaining operable steam locomotives)

Fraser, BC
Wonderful evening light at 3:24, 23 minutes before sunset.

A winter evening on the South Klondike Highway
Still chugging along, at Tutshi Lake. It took me a while to get my head wrapped around why he’d do this. I do difficult, dangerous, and even painful things when that’s what it takes to accomplish certain things, but I always take an easier way if it’s available. Some people just need to do things that nobody else does, though – whether it’s taking a dog sled to the summit of Mt. McKinley or kayaking the Northwest Passage. Good luck, where ever you’re going!

Edit: the cyclist is Brek Boughton, and he’s headed for Tuktoyaktuk! You can follow his adventure at Cyclingintothedark.com (the site is now dead).


Cycling the South Klondike Highway in the winter
There are some lovely ice-waterfalls along the highway.

Ice waterfall along the South Klondike Highway
I could hear a lot of water running behind this curtain of ice.

Ice waterfall along the South Klondike Highway
Tutshi Lake, 2 minutes after sunset.

Tutshi Lake, 2 minutes after sunset in mid-winter
Nanook says “good night” from the shore of Tutshi Lake – thanks for joining us on our little adventure 🙂

Nanook says good night from the shore of Tutshi Lake, BC

Comments

Photography in the Yukon at -37 Degrees — 17 Comments

  1. Great photos. Any chance you can send me the two of me. Since I am riding alone it is not often that I can get pictures of me riding the bike. Thanks.

  2. Wow, gorgeous shots Murray, thank you for sharing! The rotary plow is wild stuff. Brek and I are acquaintances, it’s wonderful to see your “3rd-person” shots of a stranger/friend doing what he’s doing.

  3. Wow again. 🙂 So many beautiful photos. However, some of those make me shiver even though I am in a nice warm house. 🙂

  4. Hi I am Brek’s dad.
    I also do some oil and water color painting. Your pictures are like being there, I might use one as a “model” for a painting. Did you stop and talk to him?

  5. Not much to say except you can get us all hooked on your winters! Thanks for sharing.

  6. Another round of absolutely beautiful photographs…Murray you never disappoint. Its almost like I’m there, except in mind only. I sure wished I could have made it to Skagway, as your shots give the town a colourful and historical atmosphere that is easily addicting.
    As you mentioned before about keeping the dream alive, well once again I was the passenger in your video, thanks for the lift!

  7. Hi Murray,

    Our granddaughter is doing a school project about that bridge near the Lewes dam – you’re calling it the Yukon River Bridge. Are you certain on that name? We lived in Whitehorse for over twenty years – you’d think we’d know its name!

    Please advise – thanks, dude!

    • Hi Alan,

      It actually doesn’t have a name – it’s just the bridge over the Yukon River, or the Yukon River bridge (I shouldn’t capitalize Bridge but often do – bad habit) the same as the one at Carmacks. The one over the Yukon River in Alaska, though, has a name – it’s the E. L. Patton Bridge.

      Murray

  8. Thanks very much, Murray…

    I drove that highway a million times and thought for certain it was the Lewes River bridge (knowing full well it’s the Yukon river running under it). I even thought I’d seen a ‘Lewes River bridge’ sign on it many times, but after driving it numerous times today (using Google Earth and Google Maps), I see no such sign. I did, however, see a Lewes River sign north of the bridge heading toward Whitehorse, so I was not entirely wrong.

    In the end, our granddaughter just needs the specifications of the bridge in order to replicate it using newspapers. That kind of information is tough to come by, especially without a proper name! Perhaps the construction company would know? I left there in Sept. 2008 – have they built a new bridge beside the old one?

    Thanks again!

    Alan

  9. Well, Alan, you’re sort of right – that was the Lewes River from 1898 until 1949 (see http://www.explorenorth.com/articles/hookey/lewes.html for the whole story). Yukon Energy still calls their “dam” downriver the Lewes River Control Structure. The Lewes River sign you see along the highway north of the bridge is for Lewes River Farms. I would suggest that the Department of Highways will have the bridge specs within fairly easy reach. There’s no new bridge – they built a new one beside the old at the Donjek River in recent years, though.

  10. Great picture, Murray – thank you.

    The link below is what made me think they had built a new bridge near the Lewes dam area, but now I see it’s actually in Nanaimo.
    Although I had done a search for Yukon bridges, this link came up because it was the same company that had done the deck work on the Lewes bridge.

    http://www.copcan.ca/index.php?page=11

    Thanks again, Murray…

    Cheers!

  11. Hi! My name is Maggie Schneider and I’m a National Assignment Editor at the Weather Channel. We would like to use your photo of glare ice online and on air. Please call 770-226-2119 or email newsdesk@weather.com to discuss the details. Thanks!