Category Archives: Yukon

North of the Arctic Circle

 

I realized that we don’t talk much about our northern adventures and for those that haven’t been here – you should come. Everyone should visit the north at least once. The views are breathtaking and the people are resilient, creative and fun.


Last week I headed up north of the Arctic Circle to spend 3 days in Inuvik, NWT for work. Flying in the north is an adventure in itself. My flight from Whitehorse stopped in Dawson City and Old Crow before hitting Inuvik – the milk run approach makes flying affordable, which is really important when you live so far away from most things.

One of the neat things about this flight path is how low you fly and how you really get to see the terrain change. The Whitehorse to Dawson City leg is fairly mountainous, with a few rivers and lakes splattered about.

Flying into Dawson is tricky at certain times of year due to high levels of fog that gather in the river valley and the need to flight between two mountains to get to the airport. On the left you can see the frozen Yukon River and the rows of white on the right are all the frozen tailing piles from placer mining.

Flying further north you continue to see mountains until all of a sudden they just stop and you see a landscape full of lakes and rivers with a little land in between.

Old Crow is a fly in community of approximately 245 people – that means there is no road access and the only way in or out is by airplane. Every few years there is an ice road built in the winter time to allow them to bring in heavy machinery and goods for construction projects.

This is their access in and out of the community… and the airport is a place of community gatherings – sending people off with celebration and welcoming people home with just as much joy.

How many airports do you know where you can pick up a passenger with your snowmobile and throw their bags in your toboggan?

Between Old Crow and Inuvik you continue to see the delta come to life – water every where and little land bridges connecting it. In the winter time the rivers become major roads for people to actually drive on to get out to fishing and hunting camps.

Inuvik is a town of approximately 3,500 people. It has been through many boom/bust cycles with oil and gas development and is currently in one of it’s lows. It has a great spirit and the sense of community is impressive – many people come for a job and then stay for the lifestyle.

Because of all of the permafrost, Inuvik has above ground utility corridors which are especially odd to see in the summer time. They look like a whole matrix of round and square pipes running through the town.

Similar to housing on the east coast, Inuvik has incorporate colour to help keep things cheery during the very dark winter – they go months without full daylight!

There are many interesting buildings in Inuvik but the most popular is definitely the local Catholic Church – also known as the Igloo Church.

Most Northern towns in the NWT and Nunavut have a Northmart – it is really the central hub for the town and provides groceries, take out food (pizza hut & KFC), clothing, electronics, toys, and of course bikes and snowmobiles! I can’t imagine all of this under one roof in any southern town or city.

Similar to Old Crow, the Inuvik airport is a social place – the flights are all turn arounds (i.e. the people flying out are waiting for the plane to arrive so they can depart) and the arrivals all mingle with the departures. Oh – I guess I didn’t mention that there is no security clearance on this flight, no luggage X-ray, just show up 30 minutes before to get your boarding pass and then hang out and talk to people until it’s time to go. You can even chat with people that have just arrived until the boarding agent walks around the airport checking with each person to see if they are heading out. They will even go outside the terminal to round up everyone that’s out for a smoke to tell them they need to board!

I’ve been to Inuvik a number of times. I definitely prefer summer over winter as when the wind gets blowing it is COLD… If you go, be sure to check out the craft store at the Inuvialuit building – amazing pieces straight from the artists with much lower mark ups!

This adventure brought to you by Desperate for Whitewater in the Yukon…

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Our return to the Yukon has been a fairly abrupt transition. Hunter was out the door within an hour of arriving home to see friends leaving Tim and I a few days to unpack everything and spend a lot of time staring at each other and the “stuff” we were surrounded by. It wasn’t helped by the fact that we were coming off of five weeks of fabulous kayaking and the water wasn’t really running in the Yukon yet!

We spent the month of May practicing in the eddy’s and on the eddy lines of the very cold Yukon river. By early June we were all desperate enough that we organized a one day family trip to get out on some whitewater.

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The O’Donnell River is located just outside of Atlin, B.C., which is a 2.5 hour drive south from Whitehorse. It has a class 3 upper section and a class 2 lower section and is located near the end of a set of unmaintained placer mine roads and fairly remote which makes shuttling more interesting. Overall this adventure took 13 hours (door to door) and broke down as 5 hours of road driving, 3 hours on the water (2 laps of the upper section) and 5 hours of ATV shuttling.

 

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While the road is unmaintained and doable with a 4×4 truck we opted to use 2 ATV’s for the shuttle as this limits the risk of getting the truck stuck and having a very long walk to Atlin to get help…

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Tim jury rigged a very creative rack for one of the ATV’s (because he’s so great at that) and then Hunter and I drove the second ATV.

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As much as Hunter enjoyed the creeking style of the river, I think he enjoyed getting to be the ATV shuttle driver even more…

The put in is right beside an old Placer Mine, which makes for some pretty neat scenery.

DSCN3994 The first few kilometres of the upper section are class II with small riffles you can try to surf. It’s fairly windy and the water is glacier/mountain snow fed so is definitely northern cold.

Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 11.48.30 PMAs always, we had fun playing bumper boats on any little surf waves we could find…

Screen Shot 2016-06-11 at 12.00.55 AMOnce you hit the canyon section there are a lot of blind corners so we practiced eddy hopping to work our way around and through the features. Tim did a great job as trip leader explaining the nuances of the upcoming sections.

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Overall it’s a beautiful wilderness area and it was a great day out on the water, even with it as long as it was. We managed to catch treats at one of the places in Atlin even though it had closed (the town shuts down at 7pm even on weekends so plan accordingly) and that fuelled us through the drive home.

IMG_4380It’s been a long time since we had a kid falling asleep in the back of the truck after a day out so it must of been quite a day!

 

2550 km and 29 hours – the LONG road home…

sunsetThe Yukon is a beautiful, majestic place to call home. It is home to  36,000 people and has a bountiful population of wildlife (bears, moose and caribou being the most popular). What it isn’t is close – to ANYTHING… This makes driving home an epic adventure in itself. Many people google the distance and do the usual math of the distance divided by their average speed (usually around 120 km/hr). This makes it look like a somewhat reasonable 2 day drive. To be clear – it’s not. When you travel north you need to account for forest fires, animal traffic, road construction and windy windy roads. Gas planning is also critical as there are long distances without any gas stations and many aren’t open late at night. We traditionally fuel up in Dawson Creek, Fort Nelson, Muncho Lake (if needed) and Watson Lake.

bass pro trucksOur week in Calgary/Kananaskis was an expensive one. We took advantage of being in a large city that has selection as well as discounted prices due to the depressed economy at the moment. The final tally was 3 Jackson Rockstar kayaks (2 of 2015 vintage and 1 2013), the usual splurge at Mountain Equipment Co-op and a 2015 F350 truck to provide the towing power that we really do need. We were late heading out on departure day as we had issues picking up the truck. This lead to us making a pit stop at the Bass Pro Shop just north of Calgary to take advantage of their large parking lot to switch up the towing situation.

caravanOur little caravan up the highway was comprised of Fordo (Green F250 with Camper), new shiny Ford F350 towing the trailer and our nephew from Saskatchewan in his ancient Toyota.

road to grande prairieThe Alberta leg took us north of Calgary towards Edmonton then north west to Grande Prairie. We had good roads and very little traffic, which made driving easy. We pushed sunlight and drove until an hour after dark to get to Dawson Creek (** note – think Northern sunshine – dark was from 9:30 – 10:30 pm). The timing of this wasn’t great as the road goes from a nice divided four lane highway to undivided two lane just west of Grande Prairie. I definitely recommend trying to do this whole stretch in the light for safety.

After a night boondocking at the Dawson Creek Walmart we grabbed a quick pit stop at the visitors centre to get our photos with the Mile 0 sign – a must do for anyone travelling this highway! The visitors centre is easy to find and right on highway 97 – just look for the large grain elevator.

We got really lucky with our travel timing as the road north from Fort St. John had been closed due to forest fires the day before and just opened up for pilot cars at 8am on our second day. We were up and out from Dawson Creek early to ensure that we could get through while this window was open. The fire activity was definitely easy to see. At one point we were stopped waiting for the pilot car and could watch the helicopters dumping fire retardant on a number of hot spots. When driving through the fire you could see where the fire had jumped across the road the day before.

Day two was great for wildlife sightings. By the end of the day we had seen every major animal (bear, moose, mountain sheep, bison, fox, and caribou).  Many of them were standing on the road or just beside the road which is a great reason to watch your speed as you drive north. Missing a sighting is disappointing. Hitting an animal will put a major dent in your schedule and your pocket book – especially if it happens in an area without cell service (there are many).

northern BC 1The drive through Northern BC takes you through some beautiful and changing geography. The region around Fort. St. John and Fort Nelson is best known for it’s oil and gas resources but it also has very rich farming and ranching land.

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The hills then start to show up and things start to get windier and more rugged. You also find a lot of lakes and great fishing!

northern bc 3North of Muncho Lake you end up in very steep, mountainous and rocky terrain set in between lake basins that are full of fishermen come summer time.

northern bc 2Then you settle into more traditional mountain like terrain with mixed trees and undulating roads.

We always spend night #2 of the drive at Liard Hot Springs. It is a reasonable break point and is such a wonderful treat after a long day of driving. Due to our size, we just overnight in the day use parking lot although there is a very nice campground on site as well. Be sure to still pay the camping fee if you overnight in the day use lot. The hot spring is natural and the source is right at the top of the springs, flowing into a rustic river. The lower down you go the cooler it is, with kids usually playing below the “waterfall” and hanging off the many logs that cross the river. We grab a morning soak as well before embarking on day three of the drive. This makes it a very reasonable 7 hours to Whitehorse – great to end on the shortest drive day.

yukon 1The highway between Liard Hot Springs and Watson Lake hopscotches between BC and the Yukon a few times and the views of the mountains change along with each of these bends, going from clear and present to distant and remote.

WL SignforestWatson Lake is a fun pitstop to stretch your legs and grab gas for the last 4 hours of the drive. Be sure to check out the sign post forest and try to find a post from your home city/state/province/country. If you are creative and plan ahead you can actually bring your own!

yukon snowThe mountains are now a regular part of the scenery and still snow covered in early May.

yukon rainAfter two and a half days of fabulous driving weather we ran into an hour of heavy rain coming out of Teslin. Luckily it eased up as we approached Whitehorse and we were greeted by sunshine and clear skies as we pulled in the lane way.

homeHome…a sight that has brought a lot of mixed emotions across the family. More on that later.

Making our way south – yet again…

lee's travels 1 - 009As I think I’ve said many times before, it takes a LONG time to get out of the North! Two full days of driving gets you to mile zero of the Alaska Highway in Northern BC, also known as the town of Dawson Creek, what is considered “northern” by most people…

Our first pause to stretch was the Watson Lake Sign Forest in the southern Yukon along the Alaska Highway. We usually hit this every time we come north or south as it’s a great place to take a break and about 5 hours from Whitehorse. One of these days we will actually put up our own sign. Kids have a great time checking out the old machines and old and young can enjoy the wide variety of signs throughout the forest (over 72,000 of them!).

lee's travels 1 - 014We managed to see lots of wildlife over the two days (bears, moose, elk, foxes etc.) but the Bison herd was definitely the biggest hit, with Hunter leaning out the window trying to get pictures while telling Tim to slow down. Stopping is a moment by moment decision based on which way the big males are facing and gauging their mood… The majority of them cluster north and south of Liard Hotsprings – another must stop destination on the drive north or south!

This year we drove the extra distance to reach Mile Zero of the Alaska Highway at Hunter’s request. He did most of our trip planning for the first two weeks as part of his last school assignment and found key things he wanted to experience while also calculating mileage, fuel costs and travel distance each day.

lee's travels 1 - 025Night two found us parked in an empty parking lot in downtown Chetwynd, home of a large annual international chainsaw carving competition. The best part is that all of the carvers work is displayed throughout town so it makes for a wonderful scenic walk through what would otherwise be a pretty standard northern forestry town along the highway.

Night three and we made it to Prince George – land of cell service, grocery stores and other amenities. A great place to stock up before we continued west to Burns Lake for five days of Mountain Biking.

Roadschooling through the Yukon

midnight with a Yukon River backdrop

midnight with a Yukon River backdrop

The Yukon tourism tagline is “Larger than Life” and it certainly lives up to that. While  not very populous in terms of humans, it is full of breath taking scenery, abundant wildlife and living stories of the Klondike Gold Rush. We firmly believe that coming to the Yukon (summer or winter) is a must do for all Canadians! With summer just around the corner we thought we’d start to plant some seeds out there…

We recommend the following adventures to make the most of any visit:

Drive the Alaska Highway:

The Alaska Highway is a historic monument in itself. Also referred to as the Alcan Highway, it was completed in 1942 to create a connection between Alaska and mainland USA for World War II, and is a partnership between the Canadian and US governments. Be sure to pick up the Milepost Guide Book which gives you mile by mile information for the entire highway.

Be sure to stop at the Liard HotSprings in Northern B.C. (between Fort Nelson and Watson Lake) for a soak or two in a natural hot spring. You can camp or stay at the lodge across the road.

There are plenty of provincial/territorial campgrounds along the Alaska Highway and you don’t have to worry about them being full other than on long weekends.

Skagway, Alaska – start at the beginning:

Recognizing the critical role that the Gold Rush played in Yukon’s history, it is best to take a side trip to Skagway, Alaska as this is where most miners started their Yukon adventure. Skagway is a historic town that is quiet 8 months of the year and plumb full 4 months of the year thanks to the cruise ships that show up every day.

Be sure to check out both the Skagway Museum & Klondike Gold Rush National Park centre to get yourself oriented to the region. They are both open year round.

There are a number of hiking options in the area, from and hour or so all the way up to the multi-day Chilkoot Trail (a national historic site). Another fun activity is to ride the historic White Pass & Yukon Narrow Gauge Railroad.

Carcross:

In order to get to and from Skagway, Alaska you have to pass through Carcross. Be sure to take an hour (or a day) to explore the area. It is located on the shores of Bennett Lake and has a nice beach for swimming, world class mountain biking trails, fishing off the town bridge and yummy eats, all surrounded by beautiful first nation’s art & carvings.

Whitehorse – the hub of the Yukon

Whitehorse is the capital city of the Yukon and where the majority of the services and people are located. It has many hotels and campgrounds (both territorial & commercial) to meet a broad range of budgets.

For the more active minded, the best way to see the area is by bike and canoe. We recommend Boreale Explorers for guided bike, canoe and hiking tours of the Whitehorse area. If you want to rent equipment yourself then stop by Icycle Sports for bikes and UpNorth Adventures for canoes/kayaks. Whitehorse was recognized as the top mountain biking destination by Outside Magazine in 2013.

Other fun stops on the living history tour are the S.S. Klondike National Historic Site and Canyon City Historic Site.

Haines Junction/Kluane National Park:

Haines Junction is the entry point to Kluane National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), which is home of Mount Logan – Canada’s highest peak. The visitors centre is very educational and well worth the stop for all ages. Kluane can be enjoyed from the ground but is best appreciated on foot through one of the many trails in the park.

Dawson City:

The heart of the gold rush, Dawson City comes alive in the summer time (June 1st – end of August). There are numerous festivals and a plethora of historic sites to be toured. From the dirt streets and wooden sidewalks, you can’t help but be transported back in time. If you have time, take a side trip up the Demster Highway to Tombstone Territorial Park for some rustic wandering.

Going above and beyond:

Epic trips that really allow you to experience the splendour of the Yukon are:

  • Canoe the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Dawson City (7-10 days)
  • Explore any river in the Peel Watershed and see some of the most pristine wilderness in the world (10-15 days)
  • Drive the Dempster Highway up to Inuvik (or Tuktoyaktuk when the road is finished) and then head to the Arctic Ocean
  • Raft the Tatshenshini-Alsek River and be in awe of the glaciers & landscape

Home Schooling connections:

The Yukon was home to a number of key historic figures over the past 100 years. They provide a lot of pre and post learning opportunities:

At 483,450 square kilometres (186,661 square miles), the Yukon is larger than California and covers more area than Belgium, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands combined. It represents 4.8% of Canada’s total land area. That’s a lot to explore so be sure to give yourself lots of time!