Monday, February 9, 2015
Memories of Yukon
I was moping around the house thinking I should write a post but not really feeling like it when I remembered that I hadn't got round to writing about the various trips we took last summer. A cold, February day seemed as good a day as any to reminisce about my brief visit to Yukon last June.
I'd been wanting to head up north for years but had never gotten further than northern Ontario so was thrilled when I learned I would be going to Whitehorse on a business trip. Over the years, many friends who lived or traveled in Yukon told wonderful stories of stunning landscape, impressive wildlife and warm, hospitable people. My few days in Whitehorse confirmed all the good things I'd heard and made me wish I had far more time there.
As it happens, one of my oldest friends, Pippa, lives in Whitehorse so I flew in a few days before my meetings to visit her and her husband and do some hiking and sightseeing. After a long day of traveling, I arrived mid-afternoon on Friday and almost immediately headed out for an energetic walk along the Yukon River with Pippa and her beautiful dog Tira.
The first thing that struck me was the colour of the water, a clear, bright blue-green that underscored the relatively pristine condition of the local environment.
The second thing that impressed me was how much green space there is in Whitehorse. I knew the city was surrounded by thousands of kilometres of wilderness but, even within city limits, there were huge swaths of forest, criss-crossed by well-used trails.
The other thing I noticed that first day was how little darkness there was that time of year. I took this photo from Pippa's dining room window about 10:00 pm. Pippa assured me it got "sort of dark" around midnight. Needless to say, I was grateful for the blackout curtains that made it possible for me to get some sleep while I was there.
After some exercise, a delicious supper and good night's sleep, I was ready for more ambitious adventures Saturday morning but the weather was unsettled so Pippa suggested we postpone our planned hike and visit the Yukon Wildlife Preserve instead - a terrific idea since it provided excellent opportunities to learn about local flora and fauna and break out my zoom lens to take portraits of some of the preserve's residents.
En route back from the preserve, we stopped for mouth-watering coffee and snacks at Bean North Cafe. At first glance, the cafe appears to be plunked in the middle of nowhere but in fact it's a popular destination for hikers, cyclists and sightseers travelling through the area. Bean North roasts a wide selection of organic and fair trade coffees and (as I discovered when I looked it up just now) ships its coffee worldwide. I enjoyed the coffee enough to bring home several packages as a gift for Husband so would certainly recommend it to anyone interested in ordering some.
By Sunday the weather had improved enough that Pippa and I made arrangements to join a couple of friends for what she assured me would be a moderately difficult day hike up Caribou Mountain. Our plan was to hike to the top, and stop for a leisurely lunch before hiking back down. Being an experienced distance runner, it didn't occur to me I wouldn't be able to keep up - at least, until Pippa's friends arrived and began swapping stories about their latest hiking and mountain-biking adventures. Those gals were seriously fit and 10-15 years younger than me.
As it turned out, there was good reason to be nervous. I'm not entirely comfortable with (read "scared to death of") heights and the trail was a steep and rocky, often barely clinging to the side of the mountain with sharp inclines mere feet (occasionally inches) away. As my legs tired, I became increasingly aware that I'd tumble hundreds of meters if I lost my footing and pitched off the trail. Given how tired and shaky my legs felt, I also wondered how on earth I was going to descend the mountain without falling.
600 metres up - around halfway to the summit - I stopped and encouraged Pippa and her friends to go on without me while I ate lunch and regained my strength. Pippa opted to stay with me while the others finished the climb, and we spent a pleasant hour savouring the stunning views, eating lunch and chatting with other hikers out for a Sunday stroll.
That's when I learned something else about Yukoners. They're a tough, fearless crowd who hike and cycle in the mountains so regularly that even the least fit of them can run circles around southerners like me. I made it down the mountain after lunch but my legs were sore for two days afterwards. Needless to say, I was seriously humbled by the experience.
Given that we'd cut the hike short, we had some time on our hands when we arrived back at the car so decided to drive into Carcross (formerly, Caribou Crossing), a charming and interesting community nestled between two lakes, for coffee and a bit of sightseeing. Carcross is home to the Carcross/Tagish First Nation and has a year round population of about 300. Although its economy is largely based on tourism now, Carcross was an important stopover point en route to Dawson City during the Klondike Gold Rush. In its present incarnation, the community has much to recommend it - stunning views of majestic mountains, a long white sandy beach, some terrific eateries, a few shops selling local crafts, and quaint cottages begging to be photographed.
We stopped for coffee, then wandered round the community for a bit and along the beach as Pippa regaled me with tales of hiking the Chilkoot Trail (which begins in Carcross). After a last stop for icecream, we headed back to Whitehorse, stopping briefly at Carcross Desert - a square mile of misplaced sand dunes just up the road. It was strange seeing dunes so far from the ocean but apparently they were deposited there in the last glacial period and have been replenished ever since by sand blowing in from nearby Bennett Lake.
The rest of my time in Whitehorse was consumed with meetings so I wasn't able to do much more sightseeing beyond checking out the myriad of well-stocked shops selling outdoor gear and local arts and crafts (which are wonderful). On my last day, I spent a very pleasant hour or so exploring the MacBride Museum, which offers fascinating glimpses into Yukon's history, together with an impressive collection of stuffed and mounted animals - bears, wolves, you name it - that give a good sense of just how terrifying such creatures would be if one encountered them in their natural habitats. The next time I'm in town, I'll be sure to plan on a longer visit to the MacBride.
Before signing off, I want to add just a few words about the people I met in Yukon. Pippa's husband Lawrence put it this way: Whitehorse is 1/3 redneck, 1/3 First Nations and 1/3 hippy. My own observation was that most of the hippies had become yuppies years ago but otherwise his characterization seemed pretty accurate. It's an odd mixture that seems to work well because the people who live there are passionate about the north - because it's their home, because they make a good living, and/or because they love the scenery and active lifestyle. And, since the city is so relatively small and many of its residents originated someplace else, folks are generally happy to meet new people and share their enthusiasm for life in Yukon.
Needless to say, Husband and I will be headed back to Yukon at the first opportunity - preferably in a camper van that allows us to get off the beaten track and take our time savouring the incredible landscape. If you ever have the chance to go, I'd highly recommend it.
For selection of my photos from the trip, follow this link to my Flickr album: https://www.flickr.com/photos/27057139@N04/sets/72157649478469651/