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.


Looking at Life at the Yukon Quest Dawson City Checkpoint — 6 Comments

  1. Wonderful pictures Murray and nice to get these close up of the dogs in their tents. Can’t believe how cold it must be ! Peanut is growing up to be a beautiful handsome dog.

  2. Loved those Yukon River ice road pics… how long does that get used?

    What becomes of any through or commercial traffic while the ferry is down?

    • The ice road use gets more challenging every year it seems, but the 100 or so people who live on the “other” side of the river get pretty creative about how and when to use it. As a government-certified road, it lasts for about 3 months. The Top of the World Highway is closed in the winter, so there is no commercial traffic. Further north, though, the ice roads are all certified for B-train semis.

  3. Just after reading this I re-visted your other site for addt’l info on the “top of the world”… I need to get a map out at the same time.
    We’ve done the road into Chicken and then to Eagle several times (flew off the of the road in a charter plane to go floating in the 40 mile gold country (!)…a great adventure.) and hoping to drag a friend along on a van or RV adventure early fall this year…

    Q. once you are past the folks on the ‘other side’, there are no other residents, etc on that road for all those miles (or they have to make the decision to leave or be shut in once the snow starts)??? Interesting details.

    • Haha – sometimes my wanders are easier to understand with a map or atlas handy! Once you get past the main turnoff for residences on the West side of the Yukon River, there are no homes along the highway until you reach Chicken 107 miles later. There was a home/lodge at Boundary but it burned a few years ago. There are some mining camps far off the highway at several points, and they do need to decide when to get their vehicles or other equipment out, or it’s there until late Spring.