Dawson City / by Caroline Van Hemert

New photos in the gallery. After  a week and 440 miles on the Yukon River, we pulled into picturesque Dawson City yesterday evening.  The stream flow in Whitehorse was quite low when we left, but heavy rains upstream have since created high water conditions and fast travel (and several closures along the Alaska Highway).  With steady paddling and a swift current, we were able to cover up to 80 miles a day.  After chasing spring for the past 1,800 miles, we’ve finally caught up with summer, evidenced by the emergence of mosquitoes, green-up, and the abundance of breeding birds.  The ice left Lake Laberge only days before we paddled through, but temperatures in Dawson are now in the 80s—when the seasons change up here, it happens fast!

Though a more traveled route than most that we will encounter on our journey, the Yukon River corridor provides home for many species of wildlife and birds.  Moose, black and brown bears, and dall sheep cruised the shoreline and adjacent slopes.  We encountered large flocks of Surf Scoters and Long-tailed Ducks on Lake Laberge.  Flycatchers, kingfishers, and spotted sandpipers darted across the river and called from its banks.  Thousands of Bank Swallows nested in the high river cutbanks, sometimes burrowing into the visible white ash layer deposited by an Alaskan eruption some 1,300 years ago.

Passing through infamous Gold Rush country, signs of previous travelers abound.  One night we camped at “Thom’s Place,” a classic log cabin where a fellow lived briefly and then died, alone, as seems to be the story of so many during these boom and bust times.  The much longer-lived history of First Nations tribes in the area trace back thousands of years, with historic travel routes that connect the coast and the interior, some of which parallel our path from Haines.  Though the classic Gold Rush days have ended, mining is still very much a reality in this area.  Many of the small claims of the past have been replaced by industrial mining operations, with associated dredges, roads, and growing power demands.  Natural cycles of disturbance in the form of fire and flooding are evident as well, with huge burns along significant stretches of the riverbank and many old structures that have been taken by the river.

With a population of 1,800 people, Dawson is the last “big town” we’ll pass.  This town visit brought much more excitement than just ice cream and clean laundry—my parents took a road trip from Anchorage to meet us here!  We’re thoroughly enjoying our mini-vacation, complete with Rose’s fresh-baked goods and Willy’s gear hauling services.  Any of the weight we may have lost on previous legs has since been recovered (and likely surpassed!).

Our next leg will take us from Dawson into the Tombstone Mountains.  After floating down the Yukon in a canoe, this stretch of walking will whip us back into shape.  Although the Tombstones are renowned for great alpine terrain, we expect to encounter lots of brush and late-season snow en route.  High water also means frequent and challenging creek crossings.  Though only 70 miles to the Dempster Highway and our next resupply, travel here will almost certainly be slow.  However, we’re looking forward to hiking again—sitting for many hours at a time requires its own form of endurance!  From the Dempster, we’ll head into the Hart River drainage, eventually connecting to the Wind and Peel Rivers.  Hope everyone is enjoying the start of summer and, for those of you in the north, the glorious midnight sun!