The Yukon remains one of the least populated parts of North America. Those who live here are true sourdoughs, capable of surviving the cabin fever that comes from six months of below freezing temperatures and just a handful of daylight hours. It is said the Yukon attracts artists, adventurers, poets and drinkers. It’s also a great place to experience dog mushing…
Evidence of human settlement in the Yukon dates back some 25,000 – 40,000 years, with coastal Tlingits trading with the interior First Nations people. European settlers came in the early 1900s in search of the lucrative fur trade. One of just three Canadian territories, it became a separate territory in 1898. The Klondike Gold Rush also peaked in 1998 after the discovery of gold by Skookum Jim Mason in Bonanza Creek, encouraging a rag tag army of miners, thieves, prostitutes and would-be entrepreneurs to make their way north, through wild, mountainous and snowy terrain in search of fast fortunes.
A turbulent and treacherous stretch of water, the Yukon River, is the lifeblood of the territory and major route between its two largest cities of Whitehorse and Dawson City.
Yet today, as we board our riverboat, the Shakat, the Yukon looks peaceful and serene. We are on the first day of a five-day great river journey to Lake Labarge. We settle in for the short and scenic trip up river and pass many locals canoeing close to shore, a precaution against sudden wind changes and the very real chance of being upended in the icy depths of the lake.
We make just one stop on the way to our accomodation at Upper Labarge Lodge, a visit to watch local First Nations elders teaching younger ones the finer points of making a canoe.
We arrive at the lodge mid afternoon and after a quick break, head for the canoes. Our trusty guide, Christian, offers a safety and paddling briefing and then we’re off, gliding across the silky waters of Lake Labarge in the golden afternoon light, disturbing ducks and plover as we shout with laughter when our canoes do crazy circles due to our poor paddling skills.
Later that night, after a meal of local produce and fresh caught fish, we sit on the deck and listen to the sounds of silence, occasionally punctuated by vague and distant crashing in the woods – is that a bear? The more adventurous are in and out of the hot tub followed by a quick dip in the icy waters of the lake. The rest of us are content to simply be.
Our next day is a treat for young and old as we head back down the lake to Cathers Wilderness Adventures where Ned, Ma and daughter Jennine share their decades of knowledge of the fine art of dog mushing. Both Ned and Jeninne are veterans of the 1000-mile Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race.
The Cathers’ log cabin can only be reached by water. They’ve lived here for 26 years, along with about 30 huskies. Jeninne takes us down the meet the dogs, then we are instructed how to attach their leads and back packs in preparation for a mountain hike and picnic. Today’s walk is relatively easy and offers a hint of the attractions the five or seven-day rides that the Cathers offer to those keen to try a longer dog-sledding adventure. I make a mental note to return in winter and experience this unique form of travel through remote and icy terrain.