The Epic Klondike

The day after our horsepacking trip, we spent a full day driving from Whitehorse to Dawson City, with a couple of scenic stops en route. We had two nights booked in Dawson, a city that first became famous as a base during the 19th-century gold rush. There, we had a pretty epic Yukon day.

Welcome to Dawson City. Pic from Nicole.

Our first and only full day in Dawson, we were up early and headed for Tombstone Territorial Park. This park was my favourite place in the Yukon, and one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

Driving around Tombstone:

We spent several hours hiking up the Grizzly Creek trail (bear spray, borrowed from the Parks Canada office, always close at hand). I was glad I had Nicole to help motivate me up these massive hills, because I definitely haven’t hiked that much in a long time.

For reference, we’d left the car from somewhere down in that valley:

But the views were so worth it:

After our hike, we drove through more of the park. We passed the Continental Divide and saw sub-Arctic tundra, with the fall colours already out:

Back in town that evening, it was time for a Dawson tradition: drinking the sourtoe cocktail.

The sourtoe cocktail is a shot of whiskey with a dehydrated toe in it. A human toe. The story is that a rum-runner lost a toe to frostbite while dogsledding through a snowstorm, and put the toe in alcohol to preserve it. The jar of alcohol with the toe in it was later discovered in a cabin, and the tradition of taking a shot with the toe in it began.

The rule is that your lips have to actually touch the toe to count. Years ago, somebody swallowed the toe. Since then, people have donated replacement toes to be used in the cocktail.

Gross? Yes. But when you travel, you gotta embrace the local traditions. And my FOMO – specifically getting home and having any regrets – was too high. So, we did the sourtoe shots.

That would have been an epic enough day on its own. But we weren’t done yet. Since getting to the Yukon, I’d been watching the aurora forecast closely. Earlier that day, someone at Parks Canada told us that watching conditions would be ideal that night – clear skies and a KP index, which measures aurora activity, at 4.

The first band of light began to appear around 11p.m. We watched it carefully for a couple of hours until it began to flicker, at which point we drove up to the Midnight Dome – a scenic overlook over Dawson and the river below, and where the Parks Canada worker had suggested we watch from.

There were quite a few people out there that night. We didn’t have to wait long before the show began:

It lasted about thirty minutes, moving gently and stretching across the sky. And seeing it made my heart so damn happy.

Some other miscellaneous Dawson highlights, from our other days there, included:

An evening at Diamond Tooth Gerties Gambling Hall, where we watched a live music show (live music!). Pics from Nicole:

Having a drink at Bombay Peggy’s, a restored brothel (pics from Nicole):

Seeing Robert Service’s cabin. Robert Service was a poet; as a kid, I remember reading “The Cremation of Sam McGee”. A good friend introduced me to his other poems, such as “The Spell of the Yukon” (which is very much worth a read if you’re not familiar with it). Service’s poems were everywhere in the Yukon – we saw excerpts from his work on beer cans, the sides of buildings, everywhere. Our Airbnb in Dawson even had a book of his selected poems by the beds. He lived in Dawson for several years, and it was so cool to stand by his cabin and imagine the view he would have had a hundred years ago, looking out over the river and reflecting on the beauty of the Klondike.

Dawson City had been full of local colour, history, and most of all, epic beauty. But our time in the Yukon was drawing to a close. We spent another full day driving back to Whitehorse, where we’d spend the last little bit of time we had in the Klondike…


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