Storm-Chasing in a Yukon Winter

I needed some excitement yesterday, and the weather forecast for the South Klondike Highway called for snow and wind, so I figured I’d go down to do some extreme-weather photography. My daughter posted on my Facebook page last night: “Only you would take off down the highway HOPING for awful weather :p ” – yup! That decision was to some degree triggered by a truly silly segment on the TV series Gold Rush the previous night, in which they describe moving mining equipment from Portland to Dawson City “on some of the most dangerous roads in the world”. The “dead man’s curve” they talk about on Steamboat Mountain was removed about 15 years ago – I used to hate driving Steamboat in the winter, but now you hardly notice that you’re on it. Most accidents on the Alaska Highway now are caused by people going to sleep behind the wheel. I quit watching “Dangerous Drives” for the same reason – theatre became more important than facts.

Anyway, I got away just after 10:00am, as I had to go into town on some errands first thing. When I left, the temperature was -14°C (+7°F) with a bit of wind. The visibility down at Km 124 was still quite good.

A snowy day on the Yukon's South Klondike Highway

A summer day at Emerald Lake is much better 🙂

A snowy day at Emerald Lake, Yukon

At Carcross, this sign lets drivers know whether the highway is open or not.

The South Klondike Highway is open on this snowy day

The gate that actually closes the highway is 8km further south.

The South Klondike Highway is open on this snowy day

Before I reached the gate, though, I spent a few minutes with this bull caribou, who just didn’t want to get off the road. The road was so icy that he actually slipped and went down on one knee – giving you an idea of what the odds of a heavy truck being able to avoid him are 🙁

Bull caribou on the Yukon's South Klondike Highway

The wind got much stronger as I drove along Windy Arm, offering pretty much a straight shot for the northeast wind.

Blowing snow on the South Klondike Highway

Somewhere up in that snow-dust-cloud is a snowplow. There’s no way I could get near him, but he eventually saw my lights and slowed right down so I could get by(I was doing about 90kmh, he was doing 75-80). The plow drivers are always very courteous.

Traffic on the snowy South Klondike Highway

A winter wonderland – but not what I was looking for.

A winter wonderland on the snowy South Klondike Highway

Log Cabin can be quite busy, winter or summer, but there was nobody around yesterday.

Log Cabin, on the snowy South Klondike Highway

The outhouses at Log Cabin – “stopping for a cool one”, Yukon style 🙂

The outhouses at Log Cabin

The wind was churning up the snow quite well at Fraser, but it still took a telephoto to make it look impressive.

Blizzard at Fraser, BC

Passing through Fraser.

Blizzard at Fraser, BC

Dropping down towards Skagway from the Summit, where the “good” conditions I was hoping for didn’t materialize.

A snowy day on Alaska's South Klondike Highway

I had a good lunch in Skagway, where the temperature was -1°C (+30°F), didn’t find any good photo ops, and was headed North again just after 2:00pm.

One of the challenges of winter driving is warning signs that are covered in snow. Although it’s nowhere near the problem it was 20 years ago when there really were a lot of dangerous corners, unless you really know the road well, it would be nice to know whether that sign says “Slow to 45” or “Slow to 20”.

Snow-covered warning signs on the South Klondike Highway

Clearing Customs at Fraser was quick and simple as always. The officer told me that everybody has to be logged in now – license plate and passport numbers. Fraser is a way down the list to get the fancy equipment that will do it almost automatically, so it’s a manual process now – that will certainly slow down summer crossings if the crossing doesn’t have the automation yet.

Getting back to Carcross, I saw the first commercial vehicle of the day, an ore truck. It was odd to see none, as normally commercial vehicles comprise most of the traffic. In total, I saw 6 private vehicles and this truck during the day.

So that was as extreme as the day got – it was actually a fairly normal winter drive. If I worked for a TV show, though, could I have made a story out of that nightmare blizzard that I barely survived!!!! 🙂

If any of you do think about driving to the Yukon or Alaska in the winter, see my article How to Drive to Alaska in the Winter as a start, and questions are always welcome.


Storm-Chasing in a Yukon Winter — 9 Comments

  1. Great pictures, even though I hate snow, and even if it wasn’t really a nightmare blizzard! My husband is a big Gold Rush fan – I’m so happy to be able to give him some true facts about the show! LOL!! Keep your stories coming Murray.

  2. What I like about is all the update material that you produced in order to keep it from becoming stagnant or boring. I delivered trucks up to Norcan rentals in Whitehorse from Edmonton from 1996 to 98 and I always loved the Yukon and I had intentions of traveling here to show my wife how beautiful the country was, but unfortunately I developed health issues that made it impossible.
    This is the only site that keeps that dream alive.
    Thanks for everything you do to keep this so interesting.

  3. Wow…a lot of beautiful pictures and a very interesting post. Even if is an outhouse I thought that photo was gorgeous.

  4. One addition comment…. I had to chuckle when I read you “nightmare blizzard” comment. No long ago I was arguing with a friend who believes all the “Ice Road Truckers” and that type of show stuff. I am sure there are elements of truth to them but I’ve always argued that in no way do they represent reality.

  5. Thanks, Neal. I’ve pretty much given up watching driving “reality” shows because so much of what they say is just silly – though “Ice Road Truckers” is the most accurate of them (though it’s too bad they moved it off the NWT’s real ice roads to Alaska snow roads). For some reason the flying ones like “Ice Pilots NWT” and “Flying Wild” haven’t fallen to that level (yes, I do have enough flying hours to know the truth).

  6. As a retired DOT employee in Virginia, thanks for the kind words on the snowplow operator, I can also say from experience, there are always people driving during snows/snowstorms that make the snowplow operators clench their teeth.

    Enjoying your winter foray’s.