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It's easy to be cool when you are hanging with huskies in the Yukon
Posted on the 14th Nov 2018 in the category travel



Spreadeagled in the Canadian snow whilst staring up at one of the natural wonders of world, I had never felt further away from civilisation.

It was 1am in the Yukon and the Northern Lights had come out to play.

The black sky suddenly had green and pink shapes which could morph into anything the imagination could create, a giant astronaut playing cricket, a bear waving at bigger bear with huge ears and an old school car stereo’s graphic equaliser hypnotically flashing, it was all there if I stared hard enough.

Tribesmen from the south would travel to the Yukon to be guests of the local tribe, set up trading links and marvel at the Aurora borealis. They, like me, must have been amazed.

My mind meandered through the intricacies of the first nation Indians life for thousands of years before the white man arrived.

And then like a lightning bolt from another world the silence of the night was pierced by London accent which could have announced world war three had started and still have made it sound boring: ‘This is the Canon 550D, I had thought about the standard 550 but the increased shutter speed and special offer at Dixons meant I got the 550D.’

In the North Canadian wilderness witnessing Mother Earth’s most awe-inspiring picture show my at-one-with-nature setting had been interrupted by a camera bore. You know the type, using incredible SLR technology (which is available to millions of people) he has discovered his gift – photography.

Distraught at spending 30 years creating financial spreadsheets about the cost-based analysis of sprockets in the East Midlands instead of capturing endangered species of possums in a rain forest canopy he wants to tell everyone and anyone about his prowess with a mass-produced Japanese electronics.



What was more annoying is that I had heard him talking about his camera purchase decision before but a Mexican member of our international band of sky-watchers had split from her friends to get some hot chocolate and roasted marshmellows in the tepee provided by Artic Range Adventures.

Now, she was being bored to death in another language by a man who was s-p-e-a-k-i-n-g slow-ley and loud-er-lay to get across his eye-wateringly dull point about not downloading the Northern Lights photography app when he was somewhere that had civilisation speed wifi.

The kind of rookie mistake a real photographer would never make.

I pulled my balaclava up and my snood down and told her friends were and once again enjoyed the dancing coloured shapes in silence, remembering it in my mind’s eye instead of looking through a tiny viewfinder of a contraption which could never capture the epic night sky.

Thankfully, camera bore did not ruin my once-in-a-lifetime viewing of the Northern Lights because as they came out to play most nights I was there.

 

There were also incredible sights to see during the day in the Yukon.

After an hour of flying above snow-capped mountains and crystal-clear glaciers I realised I had not seen a trace of human life since a few minutes after take off.

We were in a six seater propeller plane which our pilot Daniel called ‘a flying piece of tin’ above one of earth’s last true wildernesses – Kluane National Park. 

The mountain range is the natural border between Canada’s Yukon territory and America’s Alaska and Daniel told us humans had not stepped foot on many of the mountains were flying over. The peaks we saw included Canada’s tallest Logan (19,000 feet), King George, Mary, Hubbard, and Lowell but there are so many mountains several have not even been named.

Below us was some of the most inhospitable terrains in earth, and seeing somewhere humans had not defaced was wonderful.

For two hours we flew a 300km loop with Rocking Star Adventures into American airspace and then back again, seeing mountain tops so close was mind-blowing, it was not for the faint-hearted, a few of my fellow passengers were a visible shade of green but I loved it.

We plummeted 10,000km down to what seemed like touching distance from the glaciers which stretched out before us like frozen super highways, seeing the genesis of these majestic natural phenomenons begin brought those junior school geography lessons vividly to life.

Rocking Star Adventures fly out of Haines Junction, which is basically a glorified crossroads with a hotel and a couple of shops, but an important staging post between Whitehorse and Dawson City which is an abandoned gold rush town.


The Yukon is only two hours away by plane from one of North America’s most modern metropolises, Vancouver, but is a world away.

The giant wedge of northern Canada is bigger than Germany and breeds or attracts the type of person who wants to pit their wits against nature.

Whitehorse is the capital of The Yukon, its tiny airport, and main street give it the feel of a frontier town. Fly posters across town boasted hip-hop challenges, battle of the bands and the most remote Pride in the world.

There are more breweries (Winterlong Brewing Co and Yukon Brewery were outstanding) per person than most Canadian cities. The bars and pubs were lively, my favourite was the rough and ready Dirty Northern Bastard which has a dead petrified cat encased in the wall and the kind of patrons who had tales to tell from a life lived.

Terry was a 68-year-old Northerner who mentioned he was from Lake Superior, so I asked "were you there the night the Edmund Fitzgerald went down?" He was and went on the lash with Gordon Lightfoot!

If you find a petrified cat in your hotel walls then encase the little fella and make him an attraction!

The people who have decided to live in Whitehorse do so knowing temperatures will regularly dip below -30C but the upside being so close to the Arctic circle is the Northern Lights are so regular locals are blase about them.

The wildlife of the Yukon is a big draw for tourists and every Canadian I spoke to had a story about encounters with bears, unfortunately I did not glimpse one.

The majority of the North Canada’s animals can be seen in one place, at Yukon Wildlife Reserve where caribou roam across fields, vultures spy on you from trees, mountain goats stare into the distance as wolves watch in packs and arctic foxes play.

But the animal that encapsulates the Yukon is the huskie, they really are man’s best friend in this most unforgivable of environments.



It was wonderful seeing the dogs where they belong instead of seeing a solitary pack animal in a Sainsbury’s car park staring out of a 4x4 window.

As we walked on the frozen lake we could hear their yelps of delight and excitement at the prospect of a four hour mush across ice and through forest.

We were staying at the Southern Lakes Resort, which is so remote the hotel’s entrance was a 30 minute drive, where we stayed in log cabins on the edge of a giant frozen lake where our dog sledders met us.

Our sledders are part of Winter Olympic star Michelle Phillips team who every year competes in the endurance Iditarod race.

Two of us stood and one laid down while being pulled by Takoma, Twix, Floyd, Reiss, Stevie and Renee. It was not just a fun mush for our benefit, Vincent needed to know which dogs were good enough to contest the cross country Iditarod.

I was lying down for the ride out, just inches above the ice as we reached speeds of MPH on the lake and our hotel, which nestled on the shore, quickly was enveloped in vast whiteness.

It was fascinating listening to Vincent shout, cajoul, encourage and direct the dogs and seeing how they responded. After an hour of racing across the lake one right turn and a 45 incline we were in the forest and whizzing past trees with millimetres to spare.

Before stopping at a clearing for lunch we experienced traffic – Yukon style. Another sled from the same kennels passed us and the dogs went crazy with excitement seeing their friends.

When it was my time standing up, with the reins in hand and dogs ready to race again I thought the only preparation I had for this experience was watching Ewok race in Return of the Jedi.

The exhilaration being in control of the sled was breath-taking, however, when the dogs took a sharp turn I went flying through the air and landed in the soft snow to the laughter of the sled team behind me. But that is the fun of snow, before I landed I knew it would not hurt.

Two hours later we said goodbye to our dogs and played a quick game of ice hockey on the lake before heading to our cabins, which had no wifi to ensure our digital detox held firm.

Our evening meals were what the chef had prepared, a choice of two dishes including caribou and salmon which added to feeling of being away from the modern world and all its choices.

After experiencing the age old four-legged Yukon method of transport a few days later we got the chance to try our hand at the 21st Century way – snowmobiles.

We were staying at the Inn on the Lake, in Whitehorse, and snowmobiled for 40 minutes to another frozen lake, Lake Caribou, again with no sign of human life, to go ice-fishing.

Our guide was a French survivalist Patrick who had the women in our group swooning and loved nothing more than spending three months alone in the wildnerness, and was very happy to tell us a certain TV star could not make it past eight weeks.

Snowmobiling across the frozen lakes and trails was an adrenaline pumping experience (especially as I was listening to P Diddy's Bad Boys Fo Life) totally opposite to the solitary relaxation of ice-fishing. We screwed our metal screwy thing down into the ice, tied the bait to the wire and dangled it down the hole, and waited. And waited.

We were trying to catch char, which can live for 60 years and swim underneath the various frozen interconnected lakes for upto 120km, we left without troubling any of them.

The Whitehorse outdoor lido has been doing a roaring trade since it opened in the 1960s, an outdoor pool in one of the coldest places on the planet might sound strange but the water is warm and atmosphere is great.

Pictures displayed entrants to the annual frozen hair contest. Smiling faces stared at the camera surrounded by incredible bright white creations of frozen follicles.

My dislike of even being a little bit chilly meant I went to the Yukon with trepidation, thinking can you actually have a good time when you’re cold?

But despite the temperatures often way below freezing and being outdoors for hours on end I have felt colder in Birmingham on a November evening, if I remembered to wear my thermals I never once felt uncomfortably cold.

Canada’s first nation community are now finally getting a piece of the tourism pie, and seeing how tribes coped with the cold and lived off the land was another fascinating part of the trip.

At the Long Ago People’s Place village our guide Harold vividly brought to life how his predecessors trapped, fished and hunted while ensuring they could do the same the next year. Describing the cultural traditions of the local wolf and raven tribes he demonstrated how various ingenious contraptions and traps would catch prey.

We were all treated to a traditional Indian dinner, which the elder women had spent the day preparing, of stew, bread and rare roe’s eggs on toast.

At Carcross we visited world famous totem pole artist Keith Wolf Smarch who also waxed lyrical about his people’s love for their environment whilst chiselling away at another ornate wood creation. He explained how he turned his heritage into a globally recognised art.

The historic town of Carcross is brightened up by his colourful sculptures, the town is a tourist draw because its frontier feel and the world’s smallest desert is on its outskirts.  

Technically it might not actually be a desert as it is a geological anomaly after an ice age lake receded and left a unique, strange and eirie landscpe..

Desert or not desert, either way it was cool to roll down the sand-like dunes and shout across an entire desert.

The place lends itself to great photos but you cn never find a camera bore when you need one.

Wanna go? Visit Travel Yukon and Explore Canada for travel ideas.




 

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