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Breakup on the Yukon River, 2006

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    I think Kathleen and I considered this stay at Fort Reliance as a mere interlude. We never intended to give slide shows. Hence, we didn't take pictures every day, and I didn't write in my diary every day. No picture of Dog Poop Mountain. A real oversight!

    Saturday, April 8. Although I didn’t say so in my diary, I’m certain that Kathleen and I enjoyed breakfast at the Jack London Grill in the Downtown Hotel. The only entry in my diary was “Glorious walk back from Dawson City to Fort Reliance.” Let me illustrate with some images.

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    Looking south toward Dawson City. Breakup tripod in background on right.

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    Kathleen in the morning sun, looking south toward Dawson.

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    Kathleen prepares to head north 13 km (eight miles) back to Fort Reliance.

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    Steamboat graveyard downriver from Dawson City.

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    Open water at Moosehide.

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    Kathleen, distant far left, dragging into Moosehide village.

    The following description of Moosehide is from

    Moosehide, located five km (three miles) downriver from Dawson, is an excellent place for a settlement. It is on a high bench well above flood level. There are good views up and downriver, ideal for spotting game. Nearby Moosehide Creek provides fresh water. This site was our main home for over 50 years.

    In the spring of 1897, our grandparents and great grandparents began building cabins at Moosehide as well as a church and mission house for resident Anglican missionaries. While the settlement was their base, they also travelled on the land, spending time at fish camps, trap lines, hunting camps and favourite berry patches.

    Men took seasonal jobs with the sternwheelers, on the Dawson dock and at wood camps. Women had no trouble selling beadwork and hide clothing to Dawson residents. Children attended the day school but many were sent to the residential school at Carcross. The settlement became a lively place during festival times such as Christmas and Easter when other First Nation people came to visit. The Gwich’in, Tanana, Northern Tutchone and other Hän stayed at Moosehide while they traded at Dawson.

    The sternwheeler era ended, the school closed and in the 1950s peoplegradually moved to Dawson to be closer to jobs and schools. Moosehide remains a special place to our people.

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    Leaving Moosehide.

    Sunday, April 9. We enjoyed tea along the bush trail.

    Monday, April 10. Brownish melt-water flowed down the bank onto the river ice. The ‘Watering’ hole opened much more. A perimeter ledge broke off to reveal a shallow, swift-flowing current.

    The dogs have generally been quiet and well-behaved. They howl after eating, and when the sun rises over the ridge. Tommy had told us that sometimes they start barking and yapping for no reason. “If that happens, take my rifle here in the cabin, go down to the yard and fire off a shot. That will shut them up.”

    I was reluctant to use another man’s rifle. Besides, the dogs had always been quiet except for those two times a day when we enjoyed their satisfying howling. But tonight was different. At around nine o’clock, they started barking and yapping for no apparent reason. After about 30 minutes, Kathleen and I had heard enough. I went down to the dog yard, picked up the dog poop shovel, banged it against a tree, and yelled out, “Shut up.” Amazingly they shut up. Never heard another peep out of them. Not that night. And, in fact, almost never again, except for their twice-daily howling.

    Tuesday, April 11. Many large and small concavities in the Yukon River are now free of snow, and often pooled with meltwater. Rain and snow in the evening.

    Wednesday, April 12. For the 4th consecutive day, Kathleen and I walked 3.6 km (2.2 miles) along the bush trail to Fourth Creek, and back to Fort Reliance along the Yukon River. Boreal Chickadees flitted and glided along beside us down the trail. Despite yesterday’s snow, our tea break spot, and other bare spots in the bush have expanded. The snow has become very soft. Even on the packed ski-doo trail, we often broke through to mid-calf. Many pools of water sit on top of the Yukon River ice. The watering hole below the cabin continues to enlarge.

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    Me clearing bush trail, and collecting firewood to cook dog food.

    Thursday, April 13. Kathleen and I walked about 5.5 km (3.4 miles) to Clear Creek, to visit Peter and Marion. As Tommy had indicated, they were very welcoming, and invited us for supper on Easter Sunday. After a short visit, we returned back to Fort Reliance along the Yukon River in a snow storm. We encountered much open water and slumping ledges, so we climbed back up to the bush trail when we reached Fourth Creek.

    As we neared home, one of our dogs bounded down the trail to greet us. Somehow he had escaped. The other 28 dogs—still restrained—were complaining quite loudly about the inherent unfairness of the situation. Fortunately, the Houdini dog willingly allowed us to reattach him to his house.

    During the day we had seen a caterpillar, and perhaps the Slated-colored race of the Dark-eyed Junco, a bird that winters much farther south. Two more examples of spring approaching.

    Friday, April 14. We walked to Reliance Creek, and then climbed up 100 m (300 feet) or so onto an open, southwest-facing knoll. A carpet of Kinnikinnick covered the snow-free ground beneath leafless Trembling Aspen trees. We found fresh bear scat filled with berries, and saw several more Dark-eyed Juncos. We lay contentedly on the hill, soaking up the sun at -7 C (+19 F), as we viewed the frozen Yukon River far below.

    When we were in Dawson City last weekend, Tommy said he would be coming out on Tuesday to stay for more than a week. It’s now Friday, and no sign of Tommy. Tomorrow we head out with the chainsaw to get more wood. We have only a few days’ supply remaining for both heating the cabin and for cooking the dog food. According to the weather report on the radio, tonight is expected to dip back to -16 C (+3 F).

    Saturday, April 15. A typical day of cooking fish and meat for the dogs from 9:00-11:30 a.m. We then enjoyed a snack on the southwest-facing knoll, before cutting meat for the dogs at 3:30 p.m. We then took our hot orange drink to our river observation post at 4:30 p.m. We fed the dogs at 5:15 p.m., and they began to howl at 6:00 p.m. We spent the rest of the evening in the warmth of our cabin, relaxing over supper, and playing a a few games of cribbage before heading upstairs to bed. Still no sign of Tommy, who is now five days late.

    Something happened today while chainsawing that could have serious consequences for our wood supply. I had found a fairly large-diameter spruce tree that had fallen across a gulley. The end of the tree was off the ground, above the gulley, which was very convenient. I could just saw completely through the log, without having to worry about dulling the chain by cutting into the ground.

    But then one of the bolts landed on top of the chainsaw, which stopped. I pulled the starter cord, and the chainsaw started, but the chain wouldn’t go around. This was bad. The chainsaw doesn’t work nearly as well if the chain doesn’t go around. In fact, this was very bad. We still needed more wood. (Note: Undoubtedly, some of you reading this right now already know what “the problem” is. Please don’t tell me, though. I need to learn this lesson for myself.)

    So what to do? I took the chainsaw back to the cabin, and searched in drawers and on shelves for a manual of some sort. No manual anywhere. I wasn’t surprised. In my experience, First Nations people don’t need manuals. They just seem to intrinsically know how all machines work. First Nations people can repair any essential bush machine known to humankind.

    Maybe I can fix the chainsaw. Don’t laugh. It might be possible. I took out the four screws to remove the clutch cover. (Note: I had no idea at the time that it was called a clutch cover. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I just saw the screws and removed them.)

    Everything looked fine to me beneath the clutch cover. I didn’t actually know, though, what would look fine or what would not look fine. I poked around a bit, put the clutch cover back on, took the chainsaw outside, said a few magical words like Abra Cadabra, and yanked on the pull cord. The chainsaw started up, but the chain still wouldn’t go around. This is very bad. We are going to Peter and Marion’s for Easter Sunday supper tomorrow. I will take the chainsaw with me. Peter can probably fix it.

    Peter also worked in town, and he often travelled back and forth by ski-doo. If he couldn’t fix the chainsaw, he could take it to town to Tommy. Or, if necessary, he could buy a replacement chainsaw for me. I was very optimistic.

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    Southwest-facing knoll, looking toward bluff point below cabin on far right.

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    Relaxing in the sun on southwest-facing knoll.

    Last edited by PaddlingPitt; 12-01-2019, 09:07 PM.


      Originally posted by PaddlingPitt View Post
      After lunch, Tommy and Dawn left for town, leaving us all alone with our 29 dogs at Fort Reliance. Tommy said he would be back in a couple of days with more meat for the dogs.

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      Wait, go back, something doesn’t look quite equitable doghouse wise.

      What’s up with Snoopy and Snowcone?


        Sunday, April 16. The day began cold, at -19 C (-2 F). We heard on the radio that Old Crow, Yukon, tied a record low for the day at -28 C (-18 F). After feeding the dogs, Kathleen and I loaded up the toboggan with emergency clothing—and the chainsaw—and walked 5.5 km (3.4 miles) along the bush trail to Peter and Marion’s cabin at Clear Creek for Easter supper.

        Marion welcomed us into a very warm and cozy cabin. A few minutes later I told her the story of my chainsaw. “I was hoping you or Peter knew what the problem was, Marion.”

        “I don’t know anything about chainsaws, Michael. But Peter can probably fix it. He’s down working by the river, but should be back in about 30 minutes. If you want, just go down and see him.”

        Well, that is what I wanted. I bundled up, and dragged the chainsaw along Clear Creek down toward the river. Peter was just heading back. I told him the whole story. “And the chain just won’t go around Peter. I hope I haven’t broken the chainsaw.”

        Peter stretched out his hand. “Let me have a look at it.”

        I handed him the chainsaw, and Peter held it in both hands. He made a motion reminiscent of loading a cartridge into the chamber of a lever action rifle, and yanked the pull cord. The chainsaw started up, with the chain going around just like normal.

        “Ya know, Peter. I believed you could fix it. But I thought it take you more than eight seconds. What was the problem?”

        “It was the chain brake. When that bolt dropped on top of the chainsaw, it probably landed on the chain brake, which stops the chain automatically if something hits the bar in the kickback zone. It’s a safety mechanism so you don’t slice up your face, or perhaps even kill yourself. See. I push the brake forward, and the chain stops. I pull the brake back, and the chain goes again.”

        “Well Peter. I had no idea. I just thought it was an inconveniently-placed handle.”

        (Note: Back home on Pender Island that summer, Kathleen and I took the ferry to Vancouver Island to do some shopping in Victoria. While there, I stopped by the shop where I had bought my own chainsaw. I don’t remember why. Anyway, I had plenty of time before the return ferry to Pender Island. So the shop owner and I just sat around, like two good ol’ boys talkin’ ‘bout chainsaws. “You know,” he said, “I sold a chainsaw last week to a guy who came back two days later, telling me that the chainsaw was no good. He wanted a replacement. Said the chain wouldn’t go around. Turns out it was just the chain brake.” I snorted derisively and said, “Some guys just shouldn’t be allowed to own chainsaws.”)

        Anyway, back at Peter and Marion’s cabin, we feasted on roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and chocolate cake. Marion generously shared her brandy with Kathleen and me. which we appreciated because we hadn’t brought any alcohol with us. Peter was drinking scotch. We assumed it was a special kind of scotch, as he never offered any to us. Just as well, though. Kathleen and I didn’t know anything about scotch, other that its fans tend to be very persnickety and fussy.

        The temperature had warmed to +4 C (+39 F) by 4:00 p.m. Kathleen and I headed for home beneath a beautiful setting sun at 9:00 p.m. Still no sign of Tommy.

        Monday, April 17. The day began cold again at -17 C (+1 F). Tommy finally arrived in the morning with more meat. He stayed only long enough to unload the meat, but returned in late afternoon with Dawn, ‘Gabby’ from West Dawson, and more meat. He plans to come again tomorrow to stay until Friday. With Tommy looking after the dogs, Kathleen and I decided to go to town tomorrow. The temperature in the afternoon rose to +5 C (+41 F). The dog yard is now becoming very wet and muddy.

        Tuesday, April 18. Kathleen and I walked to Dawson City in glorious sunshine, with a pair of ‘sundogs’ overhead.

        We encountered very slippery ice at both Clear Creek and Moosehide. In the afternoon we stopped by the liquor store to buy a gift for Peter, in thanks for fixing the chainsaw. I asked the clerk if she knew what kind of scotch Peter drank. “Yeah. It’s Lagavulin. I’ll show you.”

        The Lagavulin came in its own special box. Obviously it wasn’t just another bottle of booze sitting on the shelf. “So how much is this?” I asked.

        “Ninety dollars.”

        That’s a lot of money, I thought, for only 750 ml. I didn’t want to embarrass Peter by going ‘over-the-top’ for a mere eight seconds of help. “So do you know what kind of brandy Marion drinks?”

        “Yeah. She likes Fundador.”

        I don’t remember what it cost. Must have been less than $90.00. We bought the Fundador. (Note: I have learned since then that Lagavulin is a 16-year-old single malt scotch whiskey. That does make it special. I have even bought a bottle or two for my personal enjoyment. Quite peaty. I like it.)

        After supper at Klondike Kate’s, we caroused with Dawn, first at Bombay Peggy’s, whose clientele was primarily youngish, white and well-dressed—the epitome of young, urban professionals. After our second drink, I asked Dawn, “Is everyone in Dawson City white?”

        “OK,” she said. “Let’s go over to the Pit. At this bar, the clientele was primarily First Nations people. Dawn, Kathleen and I sat at a table with a young couple from Old Crow that Dawn knew. They were down in Dawson City primarily to drink, as Old Crow was officially a dry community. I mentioned how “I admire Tommy’s success in looking after all those dogs down at Fort Reliance, while also having a full-time job here in town. That takes a lot of commitment and discipline.” The young man said, “Tommy is the only Indian I know who can have just one beer.” That ability obviously speaks of discipline, whether white or First Nations.

        Wednesday, April 19. Kathleen and I returned to Fort Reliance in a light snow. A Northern Harrier, likely only recently returned from the south, glided low over the river bank near Moosehide Slide. We left the river after the village of Moosehide to walk along the bush trail. We came across a young couple, with a baby, living in a wall tent heated with a wood stove. Somewhat surprisingly, they didn’t invite us in for tea or conversation. Perhaps we were intruding on their dream. We did, though, stop for tea at Peter and Marion’s. She seemed happy with the Fundador brandy.

        We arrived at Fort Reliance to find a very wet and muddy dog yard. Spring comes nearer every day, now. Clear Creek and Moosehide Creek both had a couple of centimetres (one inch) of overflow slush.

        Thursday, April 20. Kathleen and I spent most of the day back in our dog-care routine. The temperature peaked at +5 C (+41 F), with hail pounding down for 45 minutes in the early evening. Afterward, Kathleen and I hiked to the southwest-facing knoll above Reliance Creek, which is now flowing over the ice. The watering hole is much larger. Tommy predicts the creeks themselves will be open and flowing in a week.

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        Kathleen heading down the bush trail toward the southwest-facing knoll.

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        Kathleen on the southwest-facing knoll.

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        Looking toward Dawson City from the southwest-facing knoll.

        Friday, April 21. We spent a very relaxing day—with lunch in the sun—dozing and sleeping on the southwest-facing knoll. Before supper, we took hot orange drinks to sip on the deck looking over the Yukon River. We listened to the snow collapsing, as the crystals melted and separated. The temperature reached a high of +7 C (+45 F). Yet last night remained below freezing at -9 C (+16 F). It seemed like the Yukon would never break.

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        Kathleen relaxing on the southwest-facing knoll.

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        View south from the southwest-facing knoll.

        Saturday, April 22. A very windy (40 km/hour; 27 miles/hour), grey day, with our first double-digit temperature at +10 C (+50 F). Most of the snow on the still frozen Yukon River has melted into pools of water. Large areas out in river centre are slumping downward. Shelves of ice—hollow below—hang precariously over the river bank. Travel on the river might not be safe anymore.

        Tommy arrived in the afternoon with more meat. He said large chunks of ice were moving at Clear Creek. Some ducks had also arrived. Tommy also told us that “I probably won’t be coming back until after breakup. If you come to town on the bush trail, don’t go across Moosehide Slide. It’s too dangerous unless you know the way. Take the trail that goes up, over and around the top.”

        “Where does that trail start, Tommy?”

        “It just comes off the bush trail after Moosehide. At Suicide Point. You can’t miss it.”

        Sunday, April 23. Minus 2 C (+28 F) at 6:30 a.m. Kathleen and I walked to Clear Creek for Sunday supper with Peter and Marion. There was a lot of open water on the Yukon River near Clear Creek, with pressure ridges and large rafts of broken ice. Clear Creek itself was flowing briskly. All four of us sat outside in the sun at +12 C (+54 F). Two unidentified ducks flew off in the distance. We headed for home at 9:00 p.m. Several rivulets of water poured over bank into the Yukon River. Breakup was certainly getting closer.


          Monday, April 24. Plus 1 C (+34 F) at 4:00 a.m. Perhaps the temperature had remained above freezing overnight. Sandhill Cranes and Canada Geese flew overhead while we were cooking the dog food. The various watering holes below the cabin merged into a narrow watering creek, bordered by banks of ice.

          A strong wind last summer brought down a lot of trees at Fort Reliance. Tommy had already limbed and bucked up to a desired length much of the downed wood, which he planned to use for building. He had instructed us to drag and stack the logs when the site became dry enough. So we spent much of the day riding around on the quad, and dragging logs to where Tommy indicated they should be stacked.

          I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to finally use the Timber Hitch, which I first learned about as a Boy Scout so very many years ago. Felt like I was a real logger.

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          Me dragging short logs.

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          Unloading at the short log stack.

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          Me dragging long logs.

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          Unloading at the long log stack.

          Tuesday, April 25. A day that felt like summer, with a 10-degree high (+50 F). The bush trail was very soft, which made for difficult walking. The Yukon River was mostly free of snow, with wide banks. Pussy willow burst forth four days ago, and Prickly Rose budded out today. Some of the wetter areas in the dog yard began to dry. Many flies arrived today, as well as three orange-red butterflies, one of which spread its wings toward the sun. We continued hauling and stacking logs.

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          Me on southwest-facing knoll, April 25. View north to Fort Reliance.

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          Me on Yukon River below cabin, April 25.

          Wednesday, April 26. After our morning chores, we walked 1.5 km (1 mile) north, down to the bluff point. As soon as we arrived, we heard our dogs barking wildly. Something must be wrong. We hurried back to camp, and headed down the trail leading to the dog yard. And there was Mishka, crawling toward us on her belly, with her tongue dragging along the ground. She stopped at our feet, and looked up mournfully, with fatigue in her eyes. She seemed to be saying, “Where have you been. Somehow I got off, and all the other dogs have been yelling at me. I’m all worn out quarrelling with them. Please put me back.”

          I don’t know how Mishka escaped. It happens. We’re just glad she didn’t run away, or suffer any injuries.

          In the afternoon, we again walked north down the Yukon River, which occasionally groaned beneath its shifting ice. An unknown hawk soared above the bluff. The Myrtle race of the Yellow-rumped Warbler flitted about camp just before supper.

          The sun is now rising a little after six in the morning, and remains up until nearly ten-thirty. During the last two nights, the temperature remained relatively balmy, at -6 C (+21 F) . Our sleeping area on the upper floor heated easily to +30 C (+84 F). I kinda liked feeling so warm, but Kathleen didn’t. “Don’t put so much wood in the stove, Michael. It’s too hot to sleep.”

          Thursday, April 27. Kathleen and I again walked north to the bluff point, where we spent a great afternoon lying in the sun. Heat radiated toward us from the rocks now exposed on the lower banks of the Yukon River. We lingered over tea prepared with our Kelly Kettle. Herring Gulls and warblers added their spring voices to the winter chorus of Ravens. A Northern Harrier hunted low along the river banks. A wolf casually trotted across the river.

          The Yukon River has risen to overflow the ice shelves of our ‘watering creek,’ which has widened to become a full-fledged ‘watering stream.’ We heard on the weather report that the temperature tonight is predicted to fall only to zero (+32 F) in Dawson City. Thaw should now accelerate. Just before 9:00 p.m., we stood on the ice, listening to the Yukon River creak and groan as it began to wake from hibernation. Swallows swooped and darted above our camp.

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          Me making tea with the Kelly Kettle.

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          Our ‘watering stream’ below camp.

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          Listening to the Yukon River creak and groan; 8:45 p.m.

          Friday, April 28. Snow began to fall last night. Still snowing when we woke at 8:00 a.m. Snow continued until around 4:30 p.m , bringing a total of approximately 5 cm (two inches). The dog yard became very wet again, when the temperature rose to +2 C (+57 F). Kathleen and I walked to Reliance Creek, and back along the Yukon River, which now looked so pure beneath the newly-fallen snow. We struggled into a strong north wind, feeling cold with our ‘summer’ clothes. Back in the cabin, we felt somewhat disappointed. Unlike yesterday, summer—and breakup—now seemed far away.

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          Kathleen at Fort Reliance.

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          Dog yard becoming wet again.

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          Shiver (that was his name) thinking about warmer days.

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          Kathleen thinking about warmer days.

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          Breakup now seemed far away.

          Saturday, April 29. Minus 8 C (+17 F) at 8:00 a.m. Sunny all day, with a high of +2 C (+57 F). Saw a bear ambling along the hills near the south-facing knoll. Twelve Northern Pintails landed on the watering stream. One Three-toed Woodpecker searched for food in the bark crevices of a spruce tree.

          For the past several evenings, I had been having some trouble starting the nightly fires in the wood stove. The fires seemed reluctant to develop quickly, with some smoke drifting out into the living room. Tonight was even worse. I tried several times, but the fire just kept going out. What the heck was going on here? The wood stove didn’t seem to be drawing properly. In fact, more smoke seemed to be coming out of the wood stove, than was going up the chimney. This wasn’t right.

          I went outside to look up at the chimney. No smoke was coming out. This definitely was not right. The rain cap and and spark arrestor must be clogged with creosote. I had to do something, and that something was obvious. I had to go up on the roof, bring the cap down, and clean it. There was no other alternative. A ladder lay next to the house. I tilted it up to the roof. Kathleen held it steady, while I climbed up to meet a home-made wooden ladder that lay secured to the somewhat steeply inclined roof. I crawled upward along this ladder, which had several broken rungs, to the rain cap. I pulled it out of the stove pipe, crawled backward down the roof ladder, felt for the top rung of the ground ladder with my right foot, and soon stood on the ground.

          I looked up to see that smoke was already coming out of the chimney. This was good. Inside the rain cap, the spark arrestor was indeed completely clogged with creosote. It took only a few minutes to clean the arrestor, and then it was time to insert the rain cap back in the stove pipe.

          The main problem I now faced, though, was that I am very uneasy with heights. Not to the point that I could be called afraid of heights. But I am definitely very uneasy with heights. Tommy’s cabin was two stories. That’s pretty high. I was quite reluctant to go back up on the roof. Oh sure, I hear you saying, “Michael, you just went up there a few minutes ago. What’s the problem now.”

          You’re right. I did go up there a few minutes ago. But that was when I had no choice. There was now no imperative to drive me back up onto that roof. Maybe I could just wait for Tommy to put the rain cap back when he returned after breakup. I quickly dismissed that idea as way too helpless, and very detrimental to my reputation, which was already tarnished enough as “da guy who get stuck in town” that first morning. And don’t forget, I was also the guy who didn’t know what a chain brake was. No doubt about it. I had to go back up there on the roof. Besides, rain or sleet or snow could now get into the open stove pipe.

          And so...One more time...All together, now...I had to go back up on that roof. I’m not too proud to admit that it took me several deep breaths—and a couple of aborted attempts—to actually force myself onto that roof ladder with the broken rungs. But I got the rain cap back into the stove pipe. Just where it belonged.

          Yesterday’s snow disappeared from the hills by evening. The weather report predicted a low tonight of -13 C (+9 F). We have planned this trip well. We’ve been here long enough that I’m starting to feeling trapped. I’m really looking forward to breakup. It’s gonna be so damn exciting when it finally happens.

          Last edited by PaddlingPitt; 12-06-2019, 08:40 AM.


            Another good chapter! I feel your pain about ladders. After I fell off one and broke my back I am loath to go up on one again although I do. In the past no spotter but now I need someone at the bottom in the event I take another dive. Hitting the ground from high up hurts a lot! Looking forward to "breakup"!


              I'm enjoying the sense of being close to the land. Thanks for this exciting glimpse of a Yukon spring.


                Sunday, April 30. Minus 11 C (+12 F) at 8:00 a.m. Breakup usually occurs in May, which begins tomorrow. American Robins sang to me as I strolled to the outhouse. The weather report predicts +14 C (+57 F) for Wednesday. Seven Mallards landed in the watering stream at noon.

                In the late afternoon, Kathleen and I headed down the bush trail to Peter and Marion’s for Sunday supper. About half way there, we saw a black bear with two cubs. I suddenly felt vulnerable, and picked up a large tree branch to use as a club. Now I felt primal. Must have scared the bears, as they headed out across the Yukon River. Canada Geese honked loudly the rest of the way to Peter and Marion’s, where American Tree Sparrows greeted us.

                Peter answered when we knocked on the cabin door. “I got the fire going in the sauna,” he said. “There’s a bowl of water in there. And towels and soap. Feel free to enjoy a sponge bath.”

                So that’s what we did. Me first, and then Kathleen. It was a smallish sauna. Not really large enough for two people to comfortably enjoy the experience. The word “enjoy” does not adequately describe the sheer luxuriance of that sauna. I stepped in, closed the door, and removed my clothes. I sat there for about 10 seconds, and then said, “Oh, baby.” And I don’t use those words. They just came out, all on their own. I actually said it a second time, lingering on all three syllables. “Oooh, Bay-Bee.” It was a very sensual experience.

                Ruffed Grouse drummed in the bush as we left Peter and Marion’s to head home. Many tracks of moose and bear heading out onto Yukon River. The ice obviously remains plenty thick. We arrived home at 11:00 p.m., in beautiful twilight.

                Monday, May 1. Still cold at -8 C (+17 F) at 6:00 a.m. April was unusually cold. We recorded only two days reaching +10 C (+50 F) or higher, whereas an average of 10 days are warmer than +10 C in April. The weather report predicts -10 C (+14 F) for tonight, compared to an extreme low of -8.2 C (17.2 F) for the last 30 years for the month of May in Dawson City.

                We walked down to the bluff in the afternoon, where it was sunny and warm (+9 C; +48 F), until the clouds moved in. Much of the snow on the Yukon River has either melted, or taken on a very ‘sooty’ appearance.

                Tuesday, May 2. Minus 2 C (+28 F) at 6:00 a.m. There was so much bare ground on the bush trail toward Reliance Creek, that several sections would be more suited to a quad than a ski-doo. Reliance Creek itself was running low, well below the level of ice on its banks. Sediment now discoloured open sections of the Yukon River. American Widgeons joined Northern Pintails along the watering stream. Both species fled when an immature Bald Eagle soared overhead. A Rusty Blackbird wandered among riverside willows. Swallows again swooped and darted over our camp.

                Wednesday, May 3. We woke at a 7:00 a.m. to -1 C (+30 F). The temperature soared to +12 C (+54 F) in the afternoon. Kathleen and I basked in the heat, as we watched ice dams form in the watering stream, when blocks of ice broke away and floated down, before becoming wedged in a corner or narrow constriction. Moments, or minutes later, the current washed them away. Breakup really does seem to be happening. Even so, the main portion of the Yukon River remains frozen. A fox easily crossed over to the opposite bank from our side of the river.

                Tommy had instructed us to clean up all the woody debris from the windstorms last summer. So we spent the early evening gathering downed branches and limbs, and then burning them in a giant bonfire. As the fire burned down, we enjoyed supper outside, while admiring our work. Lots of fun today. Summer really is on the way!

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                Everyone loves a bonfire!

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                Admiring our work.

                Thursday, May 4. We woke at 6:00 a.m. to +5 C (+41 F). And although the temperature eventually reached +13 C (+55 F), it seemed like winter had returned. Grey skies prevailed throughout the day, and snow still dominated the dog yard because of its protective cover of trees. The east-facing hills across the Yukon River also still showed snow on the ground.

                Even so, we could see open water on the opposite bank in the morning, and then in river-centre by evening. Very large mud/cobble flats appeared between Fort Reliance and Reliance Creek in sections of the bush trail that were snow-covered only last Sunday. We again sat on the bank to watch ice dams wash away in our watering stream. Northern Shovelers and a shorebird arrived to join the American Widgeons and Northern Pintails loafing about in the open water. All were sent scattering by what was likely a hunting Peregrine Falcon. Around 8:30 p.m., a fox crossed back to our side of the river. He purposefully sought out white ice, and avoided sooty-looking ice, which he tested with his paws. He eventually had to leap across an open lead of water to reach the river bank.

                These were all good signs that breakup approaches. Yet the weather forecast on the radio said that breakup won’t occur for at least another week. We’ll see.

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                Rocca relaxing in the still snow-covered dog yard.

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                Kathleen looking south toward Dawson City.

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                We enjoyed watching ice dams wash away in our watering stream.

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                Me waiting and watching for breakup.

                The following information is from

                Fort Reliance consisted of several buildings of various types of construction. All that remains of these buildings are ground features such as pits or post holes. After it was abandoned, many of its buildings were used as fuel by the steamboats that sailed the Yukon River. The main buildings consisted of three or four log cabins built for the traders. The largest of these cabins was described by François Mercier to be roughly 25 feet (7.6 m) long by 30 feet (9.1 m) wide. The remains of five pit houses are found at the site. These pits were roughly 4.5 to 5 meters square and four of the five had dug out entryways leading into them that were between 2.5 and 5 meters long. The pit houses were likely inhabited by the Han Indians that traded at the site.

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                Kathleen with Fort Reliance Sign, May 4.

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                Kathleen standing in the remains of a Fort Reliance pit house, May 4.

                Friday, May 5. Plus 2 C (+36 F) at 6:00 a.m. It seems that we now have continuous thaw. How much longer until breakup? Overnight a river sprang up between the cabin and the dog yard, more or less slipping beneath the low bridge before winding its way to, and down our access to the Yukon River. By 6:00 p.m. our original watering hole had essentially become an open river, 1.5 km (one mile) all the way down to the bluff point.

                The open water near river centre is now nearly 1 km (0.5 miles) long, with a steady progression of large ice floes. We heard a Northern Flicker, and saw two American Widgeons riding downriver on a pan of ice. Ruffed Grouse drummed their courtship ritual throughout the day. We again enjoyed supper at the campfire. Scads of miniature white ‘moths’ emerged in the evening sun. I think they were moths, anyway.

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                Looking south toward Dawson City.

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                Our original watering hole now flowed all the way down to the bluff point.

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                Me wondering how much longer can it be to breakup.

                Saturday, May 6. For the fourth day in a row, more ‘breakup’ occurred than on the previous day. Ice floes six by three metres and 15-20 cm thick (20 x 10 feet and 6-8 inches thick) piled into each other, like vehicles on an icy road. “Trains’ of ice plowed channels through, and beyond, increasingly widening leads. The positive feedback mechanism was definitely gaining momentum. Saw a Bald Eagle scavenging for food while standing on the ice. Canada Geese rested on the ice in mid-river.

                Tommy had told us that we would probably have to move some dogs when their spot became too muddy. Well, the snow in the dog yard had melted, which created very muddy conditions for six of the dogs. They needed to be moved to higher ground, and chained to trees.

                We had seen the bedlam that resulted when dogs had previously escaped. We wanted to conduct the move calmly, without creating a ruckus. We had strolled through the dog yard many times in the last five weeks. Picking up poop. Scooping out food. Petting and giving affection. The dogs had become very accustomed to the routine, and generally paid very little attention to us.

                But, as you know, dogs are very attentive. They could tell by our slightly altered body language that something was afoot. They all stared intently at us. “What are those humans up to?” they seemed to ask. “They’re not acting normal. Something different is gonna happen!”

                Pandemonium erupted as soon as we unchained the first dog. “Take me. Take me. Take me. I wanna go too. Where are you going? I don’t care, though. I just wanna go too. Take me!”

                After we moved the sixth dog, Kathleen and I immediately headed back up the trail toward the cabin. All the dogs instantly settled back into their usual routines. The excitement was over. The six moved dogs seemed very content to have escaped the mud. They would probably enjoy sleeping under the stars—without their houses—on dry ground.

                Kathleen and I enjoyed a pizza supper at the campfire, even though a swirling wind forced us to keep changing locations.

                Sunday, May 7. We heard on the radio that the community of Rock Creek, about 17 km (10 miles) up the Klondike River from the confluence with the Yukon, was evacuated due to an ice jam and rising water. Reliance Creek is now truly flowing, although over the top, and within channels of the ice. The bush trail, which drains muskeg, is mostly a river, except when it’s a lake. The Yukon River is brown, from the many tributaries of tea-coloured, peat-stained, brackish water.

                We sat on the bank until 4:00 p.m, watching a succession of large ice blocks add their bodies to the ice jam. Green-winged Teal rested on the moving ice. We left to feed the dogs, and returned at 5:00 p.m, only to discover that we had missed a major shift of the entire river of ice over to our bank, crushing the ice jam in the process. No truly open water remained.

                Thirty minutes later the entire river groaned and headed down. Spectacular for five minutes, as breakup seemed to be happening. Then it all stopped. The powerful force had somehow been resisted. Nevertheless, if we had a tripod attached to a clock, ‘breakup’ at Fort Reliance might have been official. After supper, we strolled down to the beach to sit on blocks of ice. I guess it could be a couple more days before the ice finally flushes downriver.

                We saw moose browsing in the evening on Nuclacco Island, the former site of a Hän fishing village, just opposite Fort Reliance. Two mosquitoes arrived. Yep. Spring seems to be here!

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                After first ice movement, 5:30 p.m.

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                Me sitting on blocks of ice in the evening of May 7.

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                Kathleen sitting on blocks of ice in the evening of May 7.


                  Just five more months of waiting until breakup here on the Tanana River (a tributary of the Yukon).
                  You have captured on film and prose the essence of spring in the far north.
                  "All I had were a few flies tucked into the band of my hat and an a old beaten-up Heddon rod, that had been on many trips." Sigurd F. Olson


                    Monday, May 8. Overnight the ice snugged up tighter against the shore. Other than that, not much change. Still no truly open water. Blocks of ice lay strewn across the beach, cutting off our river-side walks.

                    We heard on the radio that three ice jams have now formed below Rock Creek on the Klondike River. The tripod on the Yukon River at Dawson City stands firm. We endured rain showers and cold wind all day. Despite the cool weather, Orange-crowned Warblers and Yellow Warblers arrived from the south. We walked back and forth to the river all day, just to check on the ice. We didn’t want to miss any movement. After all, that’s why we were here. We wanted to see the ice go out.

                    We headed back to the river after supper, slightly before 7:00 p.m. As we neared the bank, we heard the ice begin to move, and ran to watch. The ice seemed to be picking up speed. “There’s no stopping it this time,” I yelled. “It’s going out, Kathleen!”

                    But I was wrong. There was more movement today than yesterday, but the ice eventually jammed up, and came to a halt, downriver at the bluff point. We could see completely open water, though, above the island to our south. Blocks of broken and shattered ice lay about in disarray. The river began rising. This is why we came. Damned exciting. We stayed watching the ice until late in the evening.

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                    Completely open water above the island to our south.

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                    Late evening, May 8.

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                    Broken and shattered ice lay about in disarray.

                    Tuesday, May 9. According to data we saw regarding breakup in Dawson City, today marks the “average day” of break-up. Below our camp, ablation needles collapsed, and tired ice slumped throughout the morning. By noon, broken ice had replaced most of the solid sheets. We could see only open water upriver.

                    After a quick lunch, Kathleen and I returned to the river, only a few seconds after the final flow began. The moving ice picked up speed, with the river flowing in behind. An hour later, it was all over, and the Yukon River finally ran free. An unveiling of the now bawdy, eager, virginal bride. A transformation from winter to summer. A metamorphosis from icy silence to flowing life. Two gulls, riding residual ice down the river, appeared proud, smug and content.

                    We walked down the bush trail, which had dried out somewhat, but was still 20 cm (8 inches) deep in many spots. Reliance Creek flowed stronger than on our last visit two days ago. Up on the southwest-facing knoll, Prairie Crocuses treated us to a carpet of spring blooms. In the distance, though, through binoculars, we could see that ice still encased the river above Dog Island, likely all the way up to Dawson City.

                    As kid in the 1950s, I was crazy-infatuated with the Walt Disney series featuring Fess Parker playing Davy Crockett. I read all the Davy Crockett books in our school library. I saw all the Davy Crockett movies that came to town. Like most boys on my suburban block, I proudly wore my own Davy Crockett coonskin cap.

                    Why am I telling you all this about Davy and me? Well, in my diary, up on that southwest-facing knoll, I wrote that I imagined the Dawson City tripod to be standing tall and defiant, as a resolute defender of winter, just like Davy Crockett defending the Alamo. (Note: I intend no political or moral judgements regarding Crockett and the Alamo. I merely wrote what I imagined, from the perspective of an eight-year-old boy.)

                    That evening, we hung out with the ice that remained strewn along the riverbank. Although the Yukon was now running free, access to Fort Reliance by Tommy and his boat would not be possible for probably at least another week. Kathleen and I had seen our breakup. We decided to head to Dawson City tomorrow. Maybe we could see breakup a second time.

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                    Kathleen with the ice, 9:00 a.m., May 9.

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                    After the ice went out, May 9.

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                    Ice still blocked easy access to Fort Reliance from the river.

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                    The Dawson City Tripod and Davy Crockett both stood tall and defiant until the last moment.

                    Wednesday, May 10. Kathleen and I distributed hunks of dried salmon to our 29 dogs, and left for Dawson City at 9:00 a.m. The bush trail was very wet, and Reliance, Fourth and Clear Creeks were swollen rivers.

                    When we reached the village of Moosehide we met Benjamin. At the time, no one lived permanently at Moosehide, which served primarily as a traditional Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in centre for special occasions and celebrations. Periodically, however, individuals go to Moosehide, or are sent to Moosehide, to reflect on aspects of their life. We talked briefly with Benjamin, and told him that we were on our way to Dawson City.

                    “Be careful,” he advised. “Don’t try to go across Moosehide Slide. Too dangerous. There is a trail that goes up and around the top. Trail starts at a flat rock, at Suicide Point, just before the slide.”

                    “Thanks, Benjamin. We’ll be careful.”

                    A few minutes later we stood before Moosehide Creek, wider and deeper than all the other creeks we had crossed this morning. A bridge with a handrail on one side was submerged about waist deep.

                    “I’ll see if I can get across on the bridge, Kathleen. You wait until I get to the other side.”

                    I took off my gum boots and wool socks, and stepped onto the bridge. I couldn’t make it even half way. That water was so bleepin’ cold. I instantly went numb, and turned back after only a few steps. I sat on the grass, towelling off.

                    “I’ve never been so cold, Kathleen. We gotta make our own bridge above the water.”

                    We searched around for logs to toss across the 2-m wide (6 feet) Moosehide Creek. It’s not easy to find poles exactly the right diameter to support your weight, and just the right length to extend to the opposite shore. It took us about an hour to create a bridge at the narrowest spot we could find. We eventually installed the bridge beneath some overhanging branches that we could cling to while crossing over. We certainly didn’t want to be swept away down into the Yukon River itself.

                    Anyway, Kathleen and I made it across, one at a time, and headed on down the bush trail. We soon reached a spot that provided a splendid view of Dawson City next to the frozen Yukon River

                    We agreed that we were likely at Suicide Point. After all, it was a point. A point with a flat rock. The trail had been mostly dry since leaving Moosehide Creek. We sat on the flat rock to change out of our gum boots into our hiking boots, and then looked for the trail.

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                    View of Dawson City from Suicide Point.

                    We searched above the rock in several directions. We couldn’t find any trail. We went back a bit, in case we had missed it. No trail. We agreed that we must not have reached the turnoff yet, and continued along the bush trail.

                    We soon found ourselves out on Moosehide Slide, pretty much where Tommy and Benjamin told us not to be. But we continued on, looking for the trail that led upward. We were both starting to feel vulnerable. You probably remember from the clogged stove pipe episode that I am uneasy with heights. I am particularly uneasy with heights when clinging to the side of a cliff high above the Yukon River.

                    Nevertheless, we pushed on, sidling across the slide, crouching low, leaning in against Moosehide Slide. Left arms outstretched to hold onto rocks, more for balance than support, trusting that they wouldn’t pull away. We sometimes straddled narrow chutes of loose talus that slid and cascaded away below us. But the farther we went, the more precarious our position seemed to become. I don’t know how far we went across Moosehide Slide. I’m thinking almost halfway before we turned back.

                    A few minutes later we saw Benjamin coming across the slide to get us. “You missed the turnoff. I’ll show you.”

                    It turns out that we had changed our boots at Suicide Point. We had sat on the flat rock that marked the beginning of the trail that went up and over the top of Moosehide Slide. Benjamin led us a fair distance to where a very indistinct trail began. It was obviously not a well-travelled route above and around Moosehide Slide. Benjamin escorted Kathleen and me all the way to town. The descent on the other side down to Dawson City seemed long and steep. At the end of the hike I was leg-weary and foot-sore. I am not the man I used to be. Certainly not the man that likely existed primarily in my imagination.

                    We stopped in at Tommy’s house, went for supper and a glass or two of wine, and turned in early. We were both tired. At 12:55 in the morning of May 11, the Fire Department sounded their sirens to indicate that the tripod had moved, and that breakup in Dawson City had begun. Upon hearing the sirens, the entire population of Dawson City heads off to the river to view the victory of spring. Kathleen joined them. I stayed snugged and warm in bed. I was tired. I was not the man I used to be. And anyway, I had already seen breakup art Fort Reliance.

                    I don’t know who won the lottery for coming closest to guessing the exact time of breakup. Kathleen guessed May 8 at 7:52 p.m., exactly one month after her birthday. She lost. I don’t remember what time I guessed. I think a few days before ‘average’ breakup, believing that global warming would be on my side. I lost.

                    (Note: Since 1896, the earliest date of breakup was April 23, in both 2019 and 2016. The latest date of breakup, in 1964, was May 28.)

                    If you haven’t seen Moosehide Slide, I have provided an image below taken on May 20, our penultimate day in Dawson City. As you can see, it is quite steep. Not a good place to be for people somewhat uneasy with heights, and also unfamiliar with the best route. I think we were making our way across about halfway up, level with Suicide Point, which is quite high, as illustrated by the image on the previous page.

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                    Moosehide Slide, May 20, 2006.

                    The following information about Moosehide Slide is taken from

                    Trail access to (The Village of) Moosehide is important, particularly when the river is impassable or unsafe. There are two overland trail options between Moosehide and Dawson City. Both trails share the same route from the village to the lookout point (sometimes known as ‘Suicide Point’) where the trails split before rejoining to cross Moosehide Slide.

                    The first bridge crossing immediately after leaving the village was replaced in 2015. This is only a temporary structure but there are no immediate plans to replace it. The trail is in good condition for the most part, with the exception of the lower option that crosses below the bluff. This has deteriorated and become dangerous and should be decommissioned. Improved signage is required to direct walkers to the upper trail and advise of the dangers. Fallen trees and debris block the trails in some places, but not to the extent to make them impassible. Small portions are suffering from erosion or are swampy underfoot. Crossing the Moosehide Slide can be hazardous. Trail signage is limited and better directional signage would increase use and improve safety. Improvements to signs should be restricted to directional and advisory signs only, if tourists are not to be encouraged beyond current levels. There may be a need to research how trails signage affects liability.

                    Thursday, May 11. Dawn insisted that we stay over an extra day in Dawson City. “But what about the dogs?” we asked. “We’re worried about the dogs. Two days is a long time without food.”

                    “It’s good to fast them every once in a while,” Dawn replied. “You need to stay another day.” We acquiesced, and accomplished a lot of business and personal tasks in the afternoon.

                    We finished the day at Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Gambling Hall, where I lost $20.00 playing Blackjack. I don’t think that my dealer, Sylvie, had a lower up-card than 9 all night. Because I was gambling, though, I successfully avoided being ensnared by the stage girls. Kathleen doesn’t gamble, and eventually found herself singing And The Band Played On, as the stage girls encircled her front row table.

                    Friday, May 12. We took only a slight wrong turn going back over the top of Moosehide Slide. As I mentioned before, the trail was indistinct. We stopped briefly to take pictures at Suicide Point, and then fairly flew across Moosehide Creek. We arrived in Fort Reliance at 12:45. The bush trails were wet and muddy.

                    The dogs were very excited to see us, and had lost no energy despite having gone 52 hours without food or water. We thought they must be thirsty, and started to give each dog a bowl of clear, fresh water. They showed no interest at all. Pretty much looked at the water quite disdainfully. Tommy had told us that the dogs would not drink clear water. I don’t know why that would be, but Tommy was right. Of course, they were his dogs. He would know.

                    Kathleen and I sat on the bank of the river for lunch. We dozed in the sun, listening to the rolling drum of Ruffed Grouse, the squeaking of American Widgeons, and the calving of bergs from the multitude of shoreline ice. We heard a motor, and then saw a boat heading upriver toward town. It was most likely “Crazy Rob.” During one of Tommy’s visits, we told him that we had heard a dog barking, seemingly pretty much directly across the Yukon River from Fort Reliance. Tommy said, “Crazy Rob lives over there. You shouldn’t have anything to do with him.” Tommy didn’t elaborate on Rob’s craziness, and we never met him, so can’t offer any more clarification. Just as well, I suppose. We hadn’t come to Fort Reliance to meet crazy neighbours.

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                    Toward Dawson City from Suicide Point, May 12.

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                    Looking downriver from Suicide Point, May 12.

                    Saturday, May 13. Kathleen and I spent most of the day sawing, hauling and stacking wood. We also mopped and vacuumed the cabin in preparation for leaving.

                    We built a bonfire of brush debris in the afternoon, followed by supper around the campfire. During the day, very little ice floated by on the Yukon River. By early evening, though, the progression of ice increased. Interesting to speculate that some of the pieces may have travelled more than 100 km (60 miles) in the last 24 hours. By early evening the temperature had reached +17 C (+63 F). The once angular blocks of shore ice had dripped, shifted, slumped and settled into a rounded, congealed mass. Our 29 dogs seemed very content in the warmth and sun. They remained calm and at ease, even when we returned from extended walks away from camp.

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                    Our 29 dogs seem content in the warmth and sun.

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                    Shiver, flashing those beautiful, blue eyes.

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                    Sunday, May 14. Since breakup, the Yukon River has carried a very heavy sediment load. Very unappealing for drinking. So in the morning, Kathleen and I carried up fresh pure block ice in a pot, and candled ice in a garbage bag. More than a day’s worth of excellent drinking water.

                    Today was hot at +20 C (+68 F). We enjoyed ice-cold orange drinks while sitting on the river bank, watching small pieces of ice floating down the river. After lunch we searched, without success, for the small lake that Tommy indicated was behind the camp. It would have been good to find a convenient, steady supply of fresh water.

                    We did, though, discover the grave that Tommy said was “McLeod’s Baby.” I recently did some internet searches, and found the following article:


                    Mary McLeod was born about 1893 in Eagle Alaska. By arrangement, she married Simon McLeod from Dawson, from the Moosehide people. In an interview for the above article, Mary said, “Little Dave told my husband to look after woodcamp at Eight Mile Creek (Quebec Creek on the topographic maps), below Moosehide. It was maybe 1940s. We were there nine years. Lots of good berries there – blueberries, raspberries, cranberries, highbush berries, black currants. We have fish trap just up creek from wood camp. Lots of moose, caribou near there.”

                    The article says that Mary had four children, and an adopted son. The article indicates that another child died at a young age. That child must have been Baby McLeod.

                    I don’t know how the child came to be buried at Fort Reliance, but Peggy Kormendy says in the article that:

                    “When I was little ... I used to go trapping after, go trapping with Grandma McLeod all the way down to Fort Reliance, there’s cat trail there, we use that, we walk down and she get some furs and we bring it back, we get back around dark.”

                    Obviously Mary McLeod knew the area well, and likely camped and stayed wherever she pleased. It would be interesting to how how Baby McLeod died, and at what age.

                    In the afternoon more Mew Gulls arrived, and a Red Squirrel tried to move into Tommy’s storage shed. Periodically throughout the day, I did some more dragging and stacking of logs.

                    Kathleen and I enjoyed supper around the campfire, although Kathleen did get bitten twice by mosquitos. We wondered how much longer it would be before Tommy came to get us. We were ready to go home.

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                    Baby McLeod’s grave at Fort Reliance.

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                    Me collecting fresh, clear water from ice blocks.

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                    We watched small pieces of ice floating down the river.

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                    Chum, May 14.

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                    Kanga, white, with blue eyes, just like Shiver. May 14.

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                    Rocca watching me haul logs.

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                    Kathleen enjoying supper around the campfire.

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                    Kathleen wondering how much longer before Tommy comes to get us.

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                      Such a good narrator and the story is great