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Breakup on the Yukon River, 2006

Aug 21, 2018
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Preeceville, Saskatchewan Canada

Fort Reliance, Yukon River, 2006

In 1993, Kathleen and I sold our suburban home in North Vancouver and moved to a one-acre, ocean-side retreat on Pender Island, approximately halfway between Vancouver and Victoria. Here we intended to live a rural life-style, with days devoted to ocean paddling, walks on forest trails to coffee shops, gardening and ‘doing as we pleased.’

At first Kathleen and I were very happy. We both believed that we would never leave Pender Island, a place considered by most of our friends and family to be among the best locations one could live in Canada. But during summer, tourists sped along the narrow, winding island roads, while sea-doos and power boats roared past our bucolic home. During winter, rain and grey skies blotted out the sun, seemingly for weeks at a time.

By January of 2006 we could no longer ignore the irresistible call of Canada’s peaceful North. We longed to walk on frozen rivers beneath the winter sun. We wished to know once again the exhilaration of seeing the ice finally release its grip on the frozen landscape. Breakup at the outlet of Colville Lake, north of the Arctic Circle, where we wintered from January 31 to mid-June in 1999, had been tremendously exciting. Butour original plan back then had been to witness breakup on a large river, such as the Yukon. Dawson City had always been a favourite place for us to visit during summer. Could we possibly find a winter cabin to rent on the Yukon River near the historic gold rush town of Dawson?

During a conference call in January of 2006 with my fellow executive members of Paddle Canada, Trevor Braun, in Whitehorse, gave me the phone number of Tommy Taylor, who owned a cabin on the right bank of the Yukon River, 13 km (eight miles) downriver from Dawson City. I called the next day.

“How much to rent your cabin from approximately April first to breakup?” I asked.

“How ’bout we make a deal?” Tommy replied.

This didn’t sound promising to me. By ‘a deal,’ I assumed that Tommy wanted me to do something useful, like build a cabin. I didn’t, and still don’t, have those kinds of skills. My deal would be to pay Tommy some money while we stayed at his place.

“What kind of deal do you have in mind?” I asked.

“You look after my 29 sled dogs, and you can stay for free. There’s no roads to my place at Fort Reliance, where I keep the dogs. During the winter I can go down there by ski-doo. During summer I can go down there by boat. But during breakup, I can’t get down there to feed the dogs. I work in town, so I need to have someone there.”

“That sounds good to me, Tommy, but I’ll have to talk to my wife, Kathleen.”

Kathleen was not very enthusiastic. “We don’t know very much at all about taking care of
dogs, Michael. I know that we helped out for three weeks when we visited Marilyn and Alan in Inuvik in January of 1999. But we were just helpers. Maybe taking care of 29 dogs would be too much for us. Why don’t you call Alan, and see what he says?”

So I called Alan, who was very enthusiastic. “It’s a great opportunity, Mike. It will be an adventure.”

So I called Tommy back, and said that we planned to arrive in Dawson City on approximately March 30. On the way up, we spent our last night on the road at a motel in Whitehorse. I dialled Tommy’s phone number in Dawson City, and his wife, Dawn Kisoun, answered the phone. “I was wondering, Dawn, if there’s anything you would like us to bring up from Whitehorse?”

“Yep. There’s some dog food that we have ordered that you can pick up for us. And also, I would love it if you could bring me a large double double from Tim Hortons.” (Note: For those of you who might not know, a ‘double double’ is a coffee with two creams and two sugars. It is somewhat of an iconic drink in Canada.)

The next day, we picked up the dog food, bought the large double double, and headed up the North Klondike Highway, 533 km (330 miles) to Dawson City. About half way there, just north of Carmacks, we stopped at the Five Finger Rapids Recreation Site. There was more open water in the rapids than I expected to see. “This is not good Kathleen. I hope that breakup is not coming quickly this year. I hope it hasn’t already begun.” (Note: I don’t know if some open water always remains in Five Finger Rapids, even during winter. I think it is likely, though.)

We arrived in Dawson City on March 30, at -25 C (-13 F). That seemed cold enough to discourage a quick breakup. We called Tommy for directions to his house. He lived only a few blocks away. We drove over and parked our van behind his house in the early evening.

We knocked on the door, and were warmly welcomed by Tommy and Dawn. We lugged some of our gear into the spare bedroom, and then joined Tommy and Dawn at the kitchen table. We handed Dawn her large double-double from Tim Hortons, just as someone else knocked at the front door. A next door neighbour joined us at the kitchen table. Almost immediately her eyes riveted on Dawn’s large double double. “Where did you get that double double, Dawn? I am so envious!” Apparently we should have brought at least two large double doubles from Whitehorse.

Kathleen and I spent the next couple of hours chatting with Tommy and Dawn about our upcoming adventure. Tomorrow we will travel by ski-doo down to Tommy’s cabin and dog yard at Fort Reliance, where we will live until breakup, whenever that might be.

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The following information is from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Reliance

Fort Reliance is an abandoned trading post in the Yukon Territory of Canada. It stands on the east bank of the Yukon River 13 kilometres (8.1 mi) downstream of the town of Dawson City. The fort was established in 1874 by François Mercier, Jack McQuesten and Francis Barnfield for the Alaska Commercial Company to accommodate fur trading with the native Hän people.

Trading at Fort Reliance continued uninterrupted until 1877. During this time, the post became a major landmark for traders. The Fortymile River, Sixtymile River and Seventymile River were named for their distance from the fort. In 1877, traders abandoned the fort after natives stole their goods.Traders returned in 1879 and operated the fort until 1886, when it was abandoned due to a gold strike on the Stewart River. The gold strike diverted traders' attention from fur trapping, and thus the fort assumed less importance.

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Jack London Grill at the Downtown Hotel. Image from https://downtownhotel.ca

Friday, March 31. Kathleen and I woke early, and walked two or three blocks over to the Downtown Hotel for breakfast. Still reassuringly cold at -25 C (-13 F). Nails popped loudly beneath our feet as we strolled along the wooden sidewalks. We seemed to be the only people out and about. We were headed for the Jack London Grill, which had been recommended by Tommy and Dawn.

We both ordered the breakfast special, a large meal served with unending cups of hot coffee. Other than the staff, Kathleen and I were the only ones there. We sat at the table in the front left of the room. It became ‘our table.’ We have sat at that table every time since then. Well, almost every time. During our last visit to Dawson City in July 2019, two other couples occupied our table. We had to move over to the table in front of the second column in the centre of the room. Very disconcerting.

The Downtown Hotel is probably most well known for its Sourtoe Cocktail, a beverage that contains a mummified human toe. Those wishing to be initiated into ‘The Club’ in the Sourdough Saloon are advised that “You can drink it fast. You can drink it slow. But your lips must touch the toe.” Neither Kathleen nor I have ever desired to caress that mummified human toe with our lips.

After breakfast we returned home, where Tommy was preparing two ski-doos to haul our gear and supplies to Fort Reliance. “So, Mike, do you want Kathleen to ride with you or with me?”

“Well, Tommy, I haven’t driven a ski-doo since January of 1999. And then only for one day. I’m not all that experienced. And you know the river better than me. We saw open water in Five Finger Rapids. If I happen to go through some thin ice between here and Fort Reliance, it’s best that Kathleen be riding with you.”

With that, Kathleen climbed onto the back of Tommy’s skidoo, and they roared off the short distance down to the Yukon River. I climbed onto my ski-doo, tentatively opened the throttle, and crept slowly out of Tommy’s yard. A few seconds later, I reached an intersection with a stop sign. I obey traffic laws. I stopped, even though there was no one else out and about in Dawson City. I looked both ways. No traffic. Safe to proceed. I opened the throttle, but the skidoo didn’t move. I gave more gas, but the tracks simply spun. dang. I told Tommy I didn’t know what I was doing. (Note: What I have learned since that morning is that in intersections, where vehicles stop and start, the snow generally becomes compacted enough to form ice. I was also pulling a load. The ski-doo stubbornly refused to even budge.)

What to do? I got off the ski-doo, and yanked it back and forth to pull it onto the gravel at the side of the road. I climbed back on and somewhat aggressively drove down to the river where Tommy was sitting crosslegged, with his arms folded, on his ski-doo. “So, Mike,” he said. “There’s a reason they call it a snow mobile, and not an ice mobile.” That made sense to me.

Anyway, off we went to Fort Reliance, down the Yukon River, without any more problems. We dropped off our first load, and then headed back to Dawson City along the bush trail. Tommy wanted to show us as much as possible about our new home. After about 3.5 km (2 miles) we reached Fourth Creek, where Tommy slowed and stopped. Overflow had turned the surface of Fourth Creek into a somewhat steeply rising sheet of ice. Not my forté. At least not yet. Tommy drove both ski-doos across Fourth Creek.

When we reached Clear Creek after another couple of kilometres, Tommy stopped to tell us that Peter and Marion lived here, a short distance below the bush trail. “They’re great people. If you should have any trouble, just come here, and Peter and Marion will help you.”

When we reached the First Nation’s village of Moosehide, we drove down onto the Yukon River, to bypass the the steep cliffs leading up to Moosehide Slide. Back in town, we parked in front of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Community Hall for a lunch. We sat down at a long table next to two older men. One of them turned to me and asked, in that characteristic cadence and accent of first nations speakers: “So. You da guy who got stuck in town this morning?”

Yeah, that would be me. I didn’t see anyone else getting stuck in town this morning. I don’t know how he knew. As I have said before. No one else was out and about.

The following information is from http://www.yukoncommunities.yk.ca/da...first-nations: The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in have been a self-governing Yukon First Nation since 1998. Descendants of the Hän-speaking people have lived throughout Yukon and along the Yukon River for millennia, and comprise a diverse mix of families descended from Gwich’in, Northern Tutchone and other language groups.

Anyway, after a pleasant lunch of caribou stew and bannock, we headed back to Tommy’s place to get our second load of gear and supplies. Dawn joined us on this trip to Fort Reliance. Kathleen rode with me this time. I didn’t stop at the stop sign. I’m a quick learner.

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Back at Fort Reliance, Dawn introduced us, by name, to each of the 29 dogs.

Next, Tommy explained, and demonstrated, how we were supposed to feed the dogs. Each morning we would be cooking a mixture of rice, kibble, meat and frozen salmon in four large pots over an open fire. When we had first arrived at the cabin, Kathleen noted a fairly strong smell of meat. Tommy explained. “I have slabs of meat stored in a shed. Each day you gotta bring enough meat into the cabin to thaw to cut up into smaller pieces. Every once in a while I will bring out more meat. People are clearing out their freezers now, and I often get road kill.”

Kathleen asked, “How do we know when the food is done?”

“Easy,” Tommy said. “When the fish eyes float to the top. Then you carry the pots through the dog yard and ladle out one scoop for each dog.”

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Kathleen cutting up meat for the dogs. Image taken April 5.

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Kathleen cooking dog food until the fish eyes float to the top. Image taken May 4.

“Twenty-nine dogs make a lot of poop, Tommy. What do we do with all the dog poop?”

“You go through the yard each day, and collect the poop in this toboggan. Then you drag it down that trail over there, and dump it in the poop hole.”

So that’s what I did. I shovelled poop into the toboggan, and trundled down the trail to the poop hole. When I arrived, however, there was no poop hole. More like a poop mountain. But hey, no need to quibble over semantics.

Next, we were shown where to get water, not only for ourselves, but also for cooking the dog food. Each day I would be sliding a toboggan down the hill to where there was an open lead of water. Tommy said that I was free to use the ski-doo to drag the water back up the hill. You know me and ski-doos, though. Most of the time I dragged the toboggan back up the hill by hand. Not only was it good exercise, but man-hauling also avoided the risk of plunging the ski-doo into the river.

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Me getting water for the dogs.

Our cabin was heated with a large wood stove. Tommy wanted to see if I was capable of splitting wood. “OK, Mike. Now we’re going to have a wood-splitting contest. Select any of those tools over there that you prefer.”

The rounds were pretty big. I had done a fair amount of wood-splitting since we moved to Pender Island in 2003. But generally I split smaller rounds. I had seen a woman neighbour of ours, Sandy, splitting large rounds with a sledge hammer and a splitting wedge. I looked over, and saw a splitting wedge and a sledge hammer. I said, “I’ll use those, Tommy.”

Tommy shook his head and said, “No. Those are a woman’s tools.”

So I selected an axe, and the contest began. Tommy split his round on the first swing. I eyed my round, and hit a glancing blow. The round remained intact. Tommy shook his head again, and said, “Mike, accuracy is the key.” (Note: Since moving to Preeceville in 2008, I have split, by hand, about six cords a year. I think I’m pretty good at it. Every once in a while, though, I still strike a glancing blow. I then mutter to myself, “Mike, accuracy is the key.”)

Tommy then showed me the chainsaw, and the jerry can with the gas/oil mixture. “Can you use a chainsaw Mike? You will need to be cutting more wood to cook the dog food.”

“I’ve been using one for the last two years, Tommy. I think I’m OK with it.”

All four of us then went into the cabin, and climbed the stairs to the large open-plan sleeping area. We spread out our sleeping bags and went back down for supper. “Say, Tommy. I noticed that there’s no outside stairs to get out of the cabin if there’s a fire at night. What do you do if there’s a fire?”

“Don’t have a fire.”

That made sense to me.

The night featured a vibrant display of Northern Lights. It had been a very good first day at Fort Reliance. Kathleen and I were situated in a comfortable, roomy cabin. We were ready to take care of the dogs. We looked forward to witnessing winter progressing to spring. We looked forward to seeing breakup on the Yukon River.

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Tommy and Dawn in front of their Fort Reliance cabin. Image taken May 21, our last day at the cabin.
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Love reading your stuff and seeing your photos. The dialog and humor are much appreciated.
Thanks Boreal and Mike. I haven’t seen these images since we came home in 2006. They were the last slides we ever took before going to digital. It took me a while to scan them to get “clean” digital copies. Also, I took only brief notes, and did not begin fleshing them out until about two weeks ago. It’s revealing how much one forgets with the passage of time.

”Kathleen. What did I mean by this?”

”I don’t know, Michael. You’re the one who wrote it.”

We have never before shared these images or stories. I’m glad of this opportunity. There was a serious mistake in my posting last night, where I told Tommy that I hadn’t driven a ski-doo since 2009. I have corrected it to read 1999.

I intend to post chapters of the story, so that each segment is not too long. Speaking for myself, at my age, I tend to not read articles that are long, even when I’m interested in the article. As I have recently learned, the acronym TLDR stands for Too Long. Didn’t Read.
Speaking for myself, at my age, I tend to not read articles that are long, even when I’m interested in the article. As I have recently learned, the acronym TLDR stands for Too Long. Didn’t Read.

TLDR - I am claiming the mantel of Kings of Canoe Tripping Too-Long Posts.

No excuses, I like to write. Maybe one or two excuses; I enjoy writing, and my office is adjacent to (inside) my shop. I am often at some wait time period, like now, twiddling my thumbs as some epoxy, paint, contact cement coats, etc to set up.

With one way fresh air flow through the exterior and interior office windows the office is the place to be. Gawd bless the Louie DePalma interior office window.

P2260575 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr


Having the distraction of writing (or at least typing. . . .having a beer. . . . .maybe a pipe. . . .) helps keep me from impatience, and from moving on to next-steps too quickly. (To wit, here I pause to go roll out some Dynel epoxy saturation test sleeves)

I can read things long and wordy, even technical articles and thick-spined non-fiction books. What I have trouble with, in any written form, are over-long paragraphs.

I am a very fast sight reader and a loonnggg paragraph allows me no break to digest what I just read. I will pick up an interesting topic book in the library, open it at random to a few pages, and if the paragraphs are all too long and dense, put it back on the shelf.

Of course I am also of an age when I will pick up an interesting topic book in the library, open it once and exclaim “dang, this is a really small font” and put it back on the shelf.

Any book(s) I take tripping better have a font size that is readable in less than ideal light, even with cheaters on. 1.5X readers at home, but 2X readers when tripping
Well, I was working in the shed getting an old trusty canoe back together again when I thought I might post a trip report from a few years ago but I get on the fence about posting much. I was happy to see your new addition as I always enjoy your write ups! As usual I'll look forward to the next installment!

Saturday, April 1. We spent most of the morning getting organized to care for and feed the dogs. Dawn and I collected firewood, which I dragged to the cook shack with the ski-doo. You might notice in the image below that I am actually driving a Yamaha, not a ski-doo, which is manufactured by Bombardier. In my experience with the snowmobile world, everyone refers to their machines as ski-doos, irrespective of the manufacturer.

Dawn also helped Kathleen and me collect more water from the open lead in the river. At one point, Kathleen accidentally dropped a plastic bucket lid into the water, and it floated away beneath the ice. We needed that lid to prevent the water from spilling when we dragged the buckets back up the hill. Well, Dawn sprang to her feet, ran downriver and kicked a hole through a section of thin ice. A few moments later the plastic lid popped up in the newly-created hole so that Dawn could grab it. Must have had something to do with differential pressure below and above the ice.

I remember reading about a similar, although less happy situation on the Stikine River. I think the incident was described in R. M. Patterson’s book Trail to the Interior. I could be wrong about my source, but not about the story itself. A party of three men were headed

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Dawn and me collecting firewood for cooking the dog food.


Hauling firewood to the cook shack.

up the Stikine River on their way to Dawson City during the gold rush. One night an argument broke out, and two of the men killed their partner. They logically decided that a great way to dispose of the body would be to drop it into their watering hole in the ice.

At that time, there were many small groups of gold seekers travelling up the Stikine River. Well, the murdered man’s body reacted a lot like the plastic lid. The victim drifted beneath the ice until he popped up in a watering hole a little farther downriver. The surprised recipients of the body recognized the man, and knew who he had been travelling with. The murderers were eventually captured and taken into custody. If only they had seen Dawn’s performance with the plastic lid, they might have contrived a better way to dispose of their former partner’s body.

After collecting firewood and water, Tommy showed me an old chest freezer near the cook shack. He lifted the lid to reveal what seemed like hundreds of salmon packed together like the proverbial sardines in a can. They were laid out lengthwise, and frozen solidly together.

“I’ll show you how to get them out, Mike.”

Tommy picked up the nearby hatchet, and swung it sideways between two of the fish. Like magic, the upper fish popped out, completely whole and undamaged.

“Now you try it,” Tommy said.

I probably don’t need to tell you the results. After a few swings I had been able to hack out a few mangled bits and pieces. But no fish popped out completely whole and undamaged. No one needed to say, “Mike, accuracy is the key.” It was obvious. I would probably get better with practice.

Just before lunch, Tommy showed me how to use the generator to provide power for the cabin. “We’re not going to need power, Tommy. And besides, generators make a lot of noise. Kathleen and I prefer for things to be quiet.”

“You’re going to need the generator, Mike. You have to vacuum the rugs every couple of days, as you’ll be tracking in a lot of debris.”

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.

The dogs looked on approvingly as we hauled firewood to the cook shack.

dawson 013.jpg Dawn and me hauling water.

Monday, April 2. We enjoyed our first day of being solely responsible for feeding the dogs. We cooked the four pots of food over the fire until the fish eyes floated to the top. We then both walked through the dog yard with a pot of food to ladle the once-daily meal into each dog’s bowl. This, though, was not as straightforward as you might think. The dog houses were not arranged in a grid of neat rows. Rather, houses were distributed wherever they best fit in terms of site conditions and proximity to other dogs.

As Kathleen and I snaked and crisscrossed through the yard, all the dogs barked out their request to be fed. We didn’t pay sufficient attention to what dog we had fed last. Was that bowl right behind us empty because the dog had already eaten its food? Or was the bowl empty because we hadn’t filled it?

“Hey dog. Did I already feed you?”

“Hey new, hopefully-gullible person, I don’t think you did feed me. I would certainly remember if I had just eaten. Just to be safe, why don’t you ladle in some more food?”

I’m sure that during our stay at Fort Reliance, there must have been a time or two when a lucky dog received double portions, while its unfortunate neighbour went unfed. We did our best to keep track, and the dogs seemed satisfied. At the end of feeding time, when we put the four pots away, and closed down the cook shack, all the dogs stopped barking and settled in for the day.

We then shovelled dog poop into the toboggan to haul it to Dog Poop Mountain. Kathleen then usually spent a minute or so with each dog, all of whom wanted attention and affection. Feeding and petting the dogs, hauling more fresh water, collecting and organizing more firewood, and cutting up more meat consumed a lot of time—about four hours. This left enough time each day for Kathleen and me to explore and enjoy our new environment.

That afternoon we decided to walk down the Yukon River to the point that you can see on river right in the image above where Dawn and I are hauling water. We discovered snowmobile tracks at the point. Obviously we were not alone, although we had no idea where the tracks led, or who made them.

I wrote only nine words in my diary for April 2. “Snow fleas emerge to head uphill toward the bank.” According to a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation story, snow fleas are not truly fleas. In fact, they are not even insects, but are actually springtails. As explained by entomologist Suzanne Blatt, “While snow fleas can be found all across North America in all seasons, they tend to be most noticeable in the late winter when they climb up from the dirt in the direction of the sun. Their nickname comes from their ability to withstand temperatures as low as zero degrees (32 F). They’ve got this really neat glycine-rich anti-freeze proteins floating around in their bodies. Once the snow flea senses things are beginning to thaw, it moves from its mud-bound home to feed on algae and fungi in the snow.”

So. breakup has begun!

Me at the bluff point below Fort Reliance.

Looking back toward Fort Reliance from the bluff point.

Monday, April 3. Tommy arrived with more meat just before noon. We all gathered in the cabin at the kitchen table, where Tommy said, “I’m going to make lunch for us. A special delicacy. Caribou tongue soup.”

This surprised Kathleen and me. We had not requested caribou tongue soup. We had never heard of caribou tongue soup. But now we were going to dine on caribou tongue soup.

Tommy heated up the soup, and placed the bowls in front of us. Chunks of caribou tongue floated about, looking very much like bits of hot dog. In my mouth, they even felt like bits of hot dog. I can’t tell you if the caribou tongue chunks tasted like bits of hot dog, though. I pretty much just slid them down my throat as quickly as possible.

“Would you like a second helping?” Tommy asked.

“No thanks. I’m pretty full.”

After lunch we chatted about how things were going. “We like it here, Tommy. And the dogs seems to like us.”

“That’s good, Mike. But you guys also need to take breaks. I want you to come to town on Friday. Stay with Dawn and me. Have a shower. Get a restaurant meal.”

“Thanks Tommy. I don’t think we need breaks, though. Besides, who will feed the dogs?”

“Dogs don’t gotta eat every day. Wolves don’t eat every day. There’s a bunch of dried salmon in that shed. Just toss one to each dog before you leave. And when you come I want you to bring that second ski-doo back.”

“But we are happy to walk both ways, Tommy. We’re not completely comfortable with the ski-doo on the river.”

“No,” Tommy said. “I want you to bring the ski-doo.”

Tommy was the boss. Kathleen and I would be driving the ski-doo to town on Friday morning. Hope we don’t go through the ice.

Tommy spent the night with us. During the evening he fired up the generator to watch television. For me, the noise and intrusive commercials obliterated my sense of ‘place’ at Fort Reliance. Television just didn’t seem to belong in this place.

Tuesday, April 4. Tommy left in the morning, and Kathleen and I were happy to be back on our own. After an uneventful day, we were sleeping in the cabin, when we heard a commotion outside. I glanced at the clock: 10:00 p.m. The commotion continued. Someone was definitely out there. Who could it be? And why would they be out there at ten o’clock at night? We dressed quickly, scurried downstairs and opened the cabin door.

There stood a very large man—dressed in furs—nearly completely filling the entry way. The man held out his hand. “Hi. I’m Trevor Braun. I’m here with my wife Jane.” (Note: You probably remember Trevor as the guy who put us in touch with Tommy when we were looking for a place to witness breakup on the Yukon River. Well, here he was. In person!)

Trevor and Jane sat down at the kitchen table, where Trevor announced that “We have brought supper. Sausages and ciders. I hope you’re hungry.”

I wasn’t real hungry. After all, we had already eaten our supper. But who could pass up surprise sausages and ciders? Not me. Not Kathleen. We enjoyed a very pleasant meal with our new friends, Trevor and Jane. Trevor had driven his dog team down from Dawson City. Jane had skijored down with her dog, while towing their baby behind her in a pulk.

“You know, guys, there’s still spots with open water out there on the river.”

“Yeah, we know. We got our headlamps. We’re OK.”

After the meal, we walked out with Trevor and Jane to where Trevor had parked his dog team on the side of our house near the trail that led down to the dog yard. “So, Trevor. That trail to the right goes down to the dog yard. There’s no exit, and our dogs would get real excited if you went down there. You should circle around in front of the cabin, and then head back down to the river on the trail to your left.”

“No problem.”

So Trevor stepped onto the sled, and gave the command to “hike.” The dogs began pulling in unison, with the lead pair beginning to turn right. “Oh, no.” I thought. “This is going to be bad.”

But then Trevor called out a one-word command, and the entire team turned to circle in front of the house to head left back down the hill toward the Yukon River. It was amazing to see. But probably quite commonplace and uneventful for skilled mushers. Since then I have learned that Trevor likely called out “haw,” which is the command to go left.

Seconds later Trevor and Jane disappeared into the darkness. We hoped that they would safely reach their destination 10 km (6 miles) downriver at “Ron’s place.”

Wednesday, April 5. Our day began the normal way, by getting more water for us and the dogs. I drove the ski-doo down to the open lead to haul the water back up the hill. Even without Tommy leading the way, I should be able to drive the ski-doo to town without going through the ice.

A ski-doo roared up to the cabin in mid-morning. It was Ron telling us that Trevor and Jane had made it safely to his place last night. Good to hear.

In mid-afternoon we walked south down the bush trail and saw that water was running over the ice on Reliance Creek. Snow fleas three days ago, and now running water. Breakup proceeds. (Note: The small creek just south of our cabin is not named on the topographic map. I don’t remember if Tommy told us that it was Reliance Creek. Perhaps Kathleen and I just decided on our own to name it Reliance Creek.)

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Every day starts the same way—get more water.

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Driving the ski-doo on the river to town might not be so bad after all.

Thursday, April 6. No diary entries today. In fact, I made only sparse notes in my diary for most of our time at Fort Reliance. I suppose that on April 6, Kathleen and I mostly just did our daily chores, and more or less hung out at Fort Reliance.

Friday, April 7. After breakfast, Kathleen and I threw a hunk of dried salmon to each dog, fired up the ski-doo, and drove to town—probably without incident. If we had gone through the ice, or had become bogged down in deep slush or snow, I likely would have written something in my diary.

The only entry in my diary was “Breakup reasserts natural rhythms (e.g., library, bank, post office).” Let me explain, as best as I can, from my now somewhat hazy memory. I have conferred with Kathleen, and she agrees with the following presentation.

I gunned the ski-doo up out of the frozen Yukon River, and roared through town, laughing out loud at all the stop signs. Didn’t even think about slowing down, let alone stopping. I don’t remember if I even looked both ways. I doubt it, though. We screeched to a stop in Tommy’s backyard, unloaded our stuff in the spare bedroom, and wandered downtown to do some errands.

We stopped first at the post office. Kathleen asked if there was any mail for her. She was expecting something from her parents for her birthday, which was tomorrow. Fifty-four years old, and still charmingly cute. Anyway, I digress. The postmistress asked if Kathleen had a post office box. “No, my parents would have just sent it general delivery.”

“Let me check.” (Lots of rustling in the back, out of sight.) The postmistress returned and handed a letter to Kathleen. “We don’t keep general delivery mail for any longer than 30 days. Sometimes not that long. It’s best to come by once a week or so to see if we have anything for you.”

“I don’t know if I can do that,” Kathleen replied. “I’m living downriver at Tommy Taylor’s place for breakup. I don’t know for sure when I’ll be back. But that’s OK. I probably won’t get any more mail anyway.”

“You’re downriver for breakup? Well, then, that’s different. We’ll save all your mail. After breakup, just come by to get it.”

Kathleen opened the letter to find a cheque for her birthday. We headed to the bank. Kathleen’s father was an exacting accountant-type of man, both in his personal and professional life. Kathleen’s birthday was April 8. The cheque was dated April 8. Kathleen handed her birthday cheque to the teller, who looked at it way too disapprovingly. “I can’t cash this cheque until April 8. We’re closed tomorrow on April 8, but come back on Monday.”

Kathleen replied. “I’m living downriver at Tommy Taylor’s place for breakup. I won’t be in town on Monday. I don’t know for sure when I’ll be back. But that’s OK. I can cash it after breakup.”

“You’re downriver for breakup? Well, then, that’s different. I’ll go check with my manager.” She returned a few minutes later and cashed the cheque.
Kathleen wanted some reading material for the cabin, so we headed over to the library. She selected a few books, and we strolled over to the librarian’s desk to check them out. She stamped the books in all the right places, and informed us that “The books are due in two weeks.”

Kathleen replied. “I’m living downriver at Tommy Taylor’s place for breakup. I don’t know for sure when I’ll be back. I might not be back within two weeks. But that’s OK. There’s some other materials in the cabin that I can read. I’ll put these books back.”

“You’re downriver for breakup? Well, then, that’s different. Just bring the books back when you can.”

Breakup is obviously a big deal in Dawson City, even for long-time residents. Perhaps especially so for long-time residents.

In the afternoon we went shopping for birthday presents. With her parents’ money, Kathleen purchased two flower vases that were hand-painted with fireweed designs. At the jewelry store, I bought Kathleen a pair of “Genuine Klondike Gold Nugget” earrings. Late that afternoon we showered at Tommy’s place, and then went out for a restaurant meal and drinks. We were in town. Party time.

Kathleen's birthday presents.

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There is an annual contest in Dawson City to see who comes closest to predicting the exact time of breakup. Winner gets a big cash prize from the entry fees. This tripod on the ice is attached by cable to a clock. When the tripod moves, the clock stops to record the official time of breakup. Kathleen and I both entered.

"We longed to walk on frozen rivers beneath the winter sun. We wished to know once again the exhilaration of seeing the ice finally release its grip on the frozen landscape."

I'm with you every step of the way. But...

I'm not looking forward to that poop pile thawing out.
I hope there is a pic of that monumental pile of doggy doodoo! (Frank Zappa playing in the background, "Watch out where the huskies go and don't you eat that yellow snow".)
It will be interesting to see the wildlife along the banks of the Yukon as the seasons change.
I'm looking forward to that.
As winter creeps up on us here in Iowa, I'm enjoying your story, of you and Kathleen's time, on the Yukon river as it Breaks !

Thanks !

Great story. Brings back wonderful memories of my several visits tto the area. Good thing you were not there a few years later. I paddled the first run of the Yukon River 1000 mile canoe race in 2009, shortly after the record breakup flooding that spring. The village of Eagle, and many others, were virtually wiped out by ice and flooding caused by ice dams down river. We saw islands that were previously completely wooded, now stripped bare. Gravel shoals that were previously mapped had disappeared and reappeared elsewhere in unexpected locations. The shorelines looked as if a giant heese grated had ripped through. Later downeiver, in the shallows of the Yukon Flats, the dislodged trees were grounded by their root balls, all pointing downstream like weathervanes as if padding through a giant's cemetery graveyard with dead trees synchronized in direction as gravestone markers.
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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 http://trondekheritage.com/our-place...-at-moosehide/

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.
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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.

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 dang exciting when it finally happens.
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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"!