Coghlan Lake, Yukon Territory, August 2006
[Click on thumbnails to view fullsize.]
The real trip began at the Whitehorse floatplane dock. Our pilot was a German fellow named Gerd, who has flown Hal several times before. His plane is a Bush Hawk--one of the few newly made floatplanes to be found in the North (most are old DeHavilland Beavers from the 1950s, still flying).
The floatplane takes us to Coghlan Lake. Even though it took some persuading to get Chris to come on another trip to Northern Canada, she really does like floatplane rides. You wear a headset so the pilot can talk to you.
Our floatplane headed northwest from Whitehorse, passing over the Yukon River. This was the main route for the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897-1907. The river is a stunning very fast-moving ribbon of turquoise winding through the wilderness for hundreds of miles. You can see why the place seemed magical to the Gold Rush people at first... until they got to Dawson and found that all the worthwhile gold claims had already been staked... and then winter came.
We also flew over Lake LaBerge, the subject of the most famous poem ever written about the North (The Cremation of Sam McGee, by Robert Service). It has turquoise water and is surrounded by strange low mountains.
To a first approximation, the Yukon is uninhabited (15% larger than California, it has ~30,000 human inhabitants--far fewer than it had in 1905, and much lower population density than Alaska). So from an airplane you rarely see any sign of human activity. As we arrived at "our" lake (Coghlan Lake) we were pleased to see that it too had turquoise water.
Our cabin was very comfortable, with solar panels driving water and lights, and propane powering a stove, water-heater, and refrigerator. There was no other human dwelling on the lake, or any other nearby lake for that matter:
Here's the inside of the cabin (Chris is seen writing in her journal--admitting that it is pretty nice up in the North after all):
The 8-mile-long Lake did have some nonhuman dwellings, though: down the lake we found this tiny island with a large eagle's nest on it, with two eaglets. We never saw their parents, but the eaglets seemed well fed (the parents were apparently off hunting all the time to feed them).
We went out to toast the sunset at 11:00 PM but we were still a little early for that:
The cabin stood about 75 feet above the lake.
The forest in the Yukon is very agreeable, with dry mossy ground, separation between the trees, and few bugs (at least in late summer). Quite different from Labrador and Northern Quebec, where the forest is usually moist and buzzing with clouds of mosquitoes and black flies throughout the summer. Though there are few trails in the Yukon, it is a nice place to walk in the woods.
We didn't spend too much time fishing, because as soon as we threw a line in, an arctic grayling practically threw itself into our boat (or sometimes a lake trout). We ate fish for dinner on three days, but we could have eaten nothing but arctic grayling. They are a delicious fish with a strangely large dorsal fin.
Why no pictures of these arctic grayling? We didn't take any, in order to avoid getting fish slime on Hal's new digital camera, and because we were usually rushing to release them without injury. You'll just have to believe us that we really caught lots. But here is what arctic grayling look like in case you are curious.
Kluane/Atlin, Yukon Territory, September 2006
Hal being perhaps slightly off his rocker, he returned to the Yukon just 3 weeks later, with his friend Seth Roberts. Rather than going to a lake, we rented a jeep in Whitehorse and drove around, mostly spending our time going on day hikes.
We began by driving south of Whitehorse into the Southern Lakes area of the Yukon.
We stayed at Little Atlin Lodge on Little Atlin Lake. The Lodge is really just two nice cabins built by a Swiss couple, separated by several hundred yards from each other and from their own house. These are the only dwellings on a 30-mile long lake. They keep everything very ship shape and we liked the place a lot. Here is their lake viewed from the East:
The characteristic landscape of the Southern Lakes area consists in great plains of black-spruce taiga with large domelike mountains widely scattered around, many topped with small glaciers.
This picture was taken as we were approaching the town of Atlin, the site of the very last great gold rush in North America (1898).
Some say Atlin is the most stunning townsite in North America, with overwhelming views in all directions. Its population of 400 includes quite a few Swiss people, attracted by the fact the area looks much like the alps but with far lower population density. Here is the view of Mt. Atlin from the town.
And another view nearby from a snapshot Hal took last summer (2005).
One of the old steamships from the Gold Rush period is still there, along with quite a few pretty Victorian houses from that era (here's one you can buy). Atlin is beautiful, but there is still something a bit sad about the village, at least in early September; its sheer remoteness means it gets only a tiny trickle of visitors for a few months of the year, and the people working in the few establishments catering to tourists seemed somber as fall set in.
While the gold rush ended long ago, a few people continue to live off the gold in surrounding streams. In the middle of Atlin we spied in someone's trailer this Recirculating Sluice. Seth is examining this device, which basically allows power-assisted gold panning (click twice to see detail in picture).
From Atlin we drove back through Whitehorse and about 150 miles west to the Kluane--the region of the Yukon that encompasses the St. Elias Mountains, containing the highest mountains in Canada (Mt. Logan) and over the border into Alaska, the US (Mt. Denali). The highway that runs from Kluane southward to Haines, Alaska provides a series of panoramic views of the Front Range of the St Elias Mountains, such as the one shown here. However, the biggest peaks are not visible, lying further west into the wilderness.
On our final day we drove back to Whitehorse and went for a hike north of the town, near Lake LaBerge (see third slide from the top). We hiked up to a destination called Mud Lake, which is actually a crystal clear gem of a lake in the cliffs overlooking Lake LaBerge. The trail was rather vague, and we were very glad we brought along a GPS, or we might still be wandering around this area.
The walk back down to the Klondike Highway provided some great views of Lake LaBerge, and allowed us to inspect some of the weird granite formations that were visible from the plane in the third picture from the top of this webpage.
T H E E N D
[panoramic pictures assembled using Autostitch]