by Krista Rossato –
It was barely winter in Victoria and already the days felt short, the air cool and the dampness permeated to our core. We complained because we were still another two months away before the first signs of spring would start to pop through the soil. As we started to think about a brief escape to cure our winter blues, we jokingly asked: “Why go south when we can go north?” After all, adventure awaits in every direction. Within a few days we booked our trip for January 31, to Whitehorse, Yukon.
Packing for a trip to Northern Canada in Winter, when you’ve lived in Victoria all your life, is an adventure all on its own. We called upon our friends. Ski pants were replaced by thermal snow pants, Gore-Tex was changed to down parkas, rubber boots became snow boots, and gloves were swapped out for mittens. We concluded that there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.
Our first adventure was a day of ice fishing and snowmobiling. At -18°C, and travelling with kids, our guides replaced any gear to ensure we would be comfortable. We set out onto Fish Lake to a warming hut. The sun sat low on the horizon and had a halo of light around it known as a “sundog.” We never expected to catch any fish, but the experience of being out on a lake learning to drill holes, in the company of no one, made it all perfect.
The following day was the start of the Yukon Quest. At 1,600 kilometres, it is the world’s longest dogsled race which goes between Whitehorse and Fairbanks, Alaska. The crowd cheered as each team disappeared into the wild for the next 10 to 16 days. Inspired by the race, we too went dog-sledding. With a team of only five dogs each we were acutely aware of their strength and excitement as they pulled us along the frozen river.
A few days into our trip, we drove north of the city to a cabin in the woods near Lake Laberge. The stage was set, so we packed our copy of The Cremation of Sam McGee, illustrated by Ted Harrison, who is famous for his colourful paintings of the North. Our trip was planned to coincide with the new moon, so the sky would be at its darkest for the best viewing of the Aurora Borealis. Around 11 p.m., the horizon appeared illuminated and soon ribbons of light moved and danced rhythmically high up into the dark night sky.
Other activities included glass blowing, Takhini Hot Springs, Wildlife Preserve, Transportation Museum, and the Beringia Interpretive Centre where we learned more about climate evolution in the North.
A few things we discovered from our northern adventure: the Visitor Centre is remarkable and it is clear that the Yukon welcomes you; granola bars stored in your coat pocket are inedible until defrosted; the key to comfort is warm mittens and quality footwear (one pair of warm socks is better than several pairs worn at the same time); don’t touch metal with bare hands; -43°C is really impressive; camera batteries lose their power quickly in the extreme cold; and finally, you don’t need a bikini body for this type of adventure – a little extra body padding will only make this trip more enjoyable.