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It is already late in the afternoon when we start stacking a huge amount of equipment into our small canoe in a little bay near Whitehorse. Impressively fast the Yukon River rushes by and rain drops dance in small rings on the water's surface. We could not have chosen a day less suited for the start of our tour. It is pretty cold and wet for the beginning of June in Canada's Yukon Territory. When we have finally packed the boat halfway sensibly it sits menacingly low in the water. The first paddle strokes are awkward and unfamiliar: a canoe so heavily laden is clumsy to steer. We have taken a good two and a half month's time to reach our goal on the west coast of Alaska. Will we really make it to the estuary of the Yukon into the Bering Sea? After a few hundred metres some First Nation people call a warning across from the bank. "Be careful on Lake Laberge! Always stick to the right bank… and should there be waves get off the lake at once!"
Only a short while later we set up our first camp on Egg Island. The sounds of civilisation are still around us. A few kilometres away the Klondike Highway runs parallel to the river and for now drives away any feeling of really being in the wilderness. The beaver we watch on the other side of the river building his dam does not seem to be in any way put out.A few kilometers beyond Whitehorse the Yukon flows into a large lake: Lake Laberge. When at the time of the Gold Rush about a hundred years ago paddle steamers were the main means of transport for passengers and cargo, the skippers had a hard time in this estuary with sand banks and shallows. By ramming wooden poles deep into the bottom an attempt was made to conquer the river and direct the flow so that by itself it would erode a reliable shipping passage. It was not very successful for any shipping. But to this day wooden poles can be seen jutting out of the water. Among canoeists the nearly fifty kilometres pose a challenge to any Yukon paddle tour. In strong wind high waves build up here which can become a considerable danger for our small boat. And whoever is unfortunate enough to have to paddle against a strong north wind might lose all his courage right at the beginning of his Yukon adventure. We experience the lake as smooth as a mill pond and with a slight wind from behind. Now at the beginning of summer the higher mountains around the lake are still covered with snow which adds to the distinctive charm of the landscape.
At Upper Laberge Indian Village on the eastern lakeshore we have a break and explore the tumbledown log huts of the small abandoned settlement. Today the buildings still in better shape are used occasionally by trappers in winter.
"Come on, let's try using a sail!" I try to inspire Claudia when we return to the boat. Within a few minutes we have made a small sail using a tarp and some drift wood. Wind from the south blowing across the lake: alternative energy that should be exploited! But we soon realize that our small sail doesn't pay off. We paddle much quicker than the wind can propel us forward. The many sea-gulls and artic terns nesting on the banks of Lake Laberge make far better use of the wind. Without any effort they glide through the air, surge on the ascent and charge on us with loud shrieks whenever we come too close to their nests.
At the northern lakeshore the Yukon River leaves Lake Laberge again. The effluent is hardly noticeable from the lake but our GPS reliably shows us the right direction. Here also in Lower Laberge Village there are some abandoned log huts from the times of the Gold Rush. However here some of the huts have been restored. An old truck brought here in the fifties and used for transporting timber for the last paddle steamer is still standing there among the log huts. On the river bank there are the remains of an old paddle steamer. The Casca #1 sank a few miles further downstream in 1910 and after salvaging was taken to the bank near Lower Laberge Village. There she was used as a landing stage.
The section of the Yukon from the end of Lake Labarge and the estuary of Teslin River at Hootalinqua entered North American history as "Thirty Mile River". These thirty miles of river were feared by the skippers of the great paddle steamers. Numerous bends, sand banks, islands and rocks demanded a lot of experience and great skill from the helmsman at the wheel. Thanks to the overwhelming natural beauty and the significance for the cultural heritage of Canada this part of the Yukon River is listed as a "Canadian Heritage River". Among the many canoeists who travel this stretch between Whitehorse and Dawson every year Thirty Miles River is considered the most beautiful part of the journey. We also relished the clear water and I took advantage of the good fishing grounds to enhance our bill of fair by a few fresh graylings.
With the confluence of Teslin River and the Yukon just before Hootalinqua the Yukon changes abruptly. The river becomes double the width and the clear water changes to a muddy brown brew due to the sediments transported by Teslin River. You can even hear the phenomenon: from now on a grinding, scraping sound accompanies us, created by the fine particles in the water rubbing along our boat.
In the 1890s Hootalinqua was an important supply base for the gold mines in the vicinity. Here members of the Canadian Mounted Police were stationed and a telegraph office allowed a fast means of communication with the rest of the world. Today the settlement is abandoned, but a few old shacks and a cemetery can be visited. A short climb offers a magnificent view of the estuary of Teslin River. Not far from Hoootalinqua on Shipyard Island "Evelyn" is docked. The old steamer was dry-docked in the 1930s and she has not been in service since. Now the old ship gives off some of the flair of the Gold Rush to passing canoeists. Before Davis Point we enter a quiet branch of Yukon River in search of moose. The further we get from the main stream the clearer the water becomes. Suddenly a big fish splashes the water directly next to Claudia's paddle and bunks away from us. So we turn our attention to the underwater world and discover big pike waiting for their prey, well camouflaged among the water plants. A few kilometres further downstream the clear Big Salmon River meets the Yukon. Here we meet the first canoeists since we set off in Whitehorse. The small party of a tour company came down the Big Salmon River and is now camping among the abandoned log huts of Big Salmon Village. They tell us a bit about their adventure on the river before we set off again.
Apart from the many old log huts there are numerous "wood yards" along the Yukon. For the old paddle steamers they were something like "service stations". There the wood fuel supplies for the running of the steam engines were taken on board. You can still see the remains of the lodgings and of the tools.
We can already feel the elbow grease from a week's canoeing when we reach Carmacks. The town takes its name from George Carmack who was one of the discoverers of the gold deposits on Klondike River. We camp at Peter and Anna Gerasch' s place who lent canoes and offer adventure trips in the Yukon Territory. Encircled by their many dogs they give us some hints for our further trip, mark some good campsites on our map and explain how to safely get through the Five Finger Rapids coming shortly after Carmacks. The most famous rapids on the Yukon are named after five channels formed by some basalt stones in the river. Some rocks lying here in the navigable channels and creating a serious threat for the big steamers, especially in the low water season, were blasted away. We keep to the middle in the channel furthest right: A few standing waves and a strong current from the left all of a sudden, then a mighty eddy on the right … a few seconds and a bit of tossing later and it's all over.
Only a few kilometres after the rapids the next obstacle awaits us: the Rink Rapids. Due to some rocks under the water's surface there are some mighty standing waves. We are too shy to risk anything and so we stick to the right bank. And so the Rink Rapids are passed without any difficulties.
At Yukon Crossing we set up camp under a double rainbow. Here the travellers using the old road from Whitehorse to Dawson had to cross the Yukon. In summer ferries were employed and in winter dog sleds and horse teams could run across the ice. In our canoe we explore the lower reaches of Crossing Creek, a brook that meets the Yukon here. A big beaver gets really excited about our visit and splashes his broad tail on the water to warn his fellow beavers. After a few minutes he has realized that we are not dangerous. Now his nosiness gets the better of him and he comes closer and closer to the boat to get a better look. Finally he is bored with us and returns to his feeding. On the bank he looks for succulent willow trees which he peels the bark off noisily. When a stem is in his way the beaver stands on his hind legs and like a weight lifter balances the little tree up and tosses it behind himself. Despite the comical performance we are quite impressed by his enormous arm muscles!
The Yukon has changed considerably since our setting off in Whitehorse. From a narrow clear stream it has become a wide river. Innumerable sand islets are washed by the brown water. Many of these islets are used by moose cows for calving in the early summer. There they are at least half-way safe from predators such as bears, wolves and wolverines.
Shortly after the estuary of Pelly Rivers we come to Fort Selkirk. Robert Campbell, a trader of the Hudson Bay Company, founded a station here in the year 1848 to explore this wild countryside and further the trade in this area. During the Gold Rush Fort Selkirk was an important supply base, had several hotels, a church and a mission. Also two hundred soldiers were stationed here who were to do service as law keeping officers. With the end of steamships on the Yukon in the 1950s Fort Selkirk lost its significance and most of its inhabitants packed their goods and shackles and moved to other settlements. In the mean time the tourist authority of Yukon Territory in cooperation with the Indians of the region have started to refurbish the buildings of Fort Selkirk and salvage archaeological artefacts of the First Nation peoples of the region.
On Selwyn River we try our luck once again as anglers. Whilst my bait is completely ignored, the "no fish for me, please" gourmet Claudia pulls one pike after the other towards our boat. Unfortunately they are too big for me alone and so we return them back into the water.
Along White River we secure our boat and walk into the hills opposite. From there we have a magnificent view of its merging into the Yukon. White River has its source in the glaciated heights of Wrangel Mountains. It gets its name from the tons and tons of glacier pulp and volcanic ashes which give the water its cloudy milky colour and forms the numerous islets in the river.
Two days later we let ourselves drift in the boat whilst taking a break in glorious sunshine. The current turns our boat in the narrow branch and so we drift backwards until Claudia turns around to me and says in absolute dismay: "Fabian, there is a bear right behind you!" "Oh yes, for sure!" I think to myself. But something in her voice makes me turn round. And there, only a few metres away, there really is a big black bear peacefully grazing on the river bank. He doesn't seem to know what to make of us and remains standing there until we have drifted past.
After fifteen days on the Yukon we arrive at Dawson City. The small town which became world-famous as the gold digger town at the mouth of Klondike River has in the meantime become an important tourist centre in the north of Canada. Parties of senior citizens in summer dress, horse drawn carts, back packers, canoeists and huge mobile homes make their way through the dusty streets of Dawson past the historic buildings. And one thing doesn't seem to have changed since the Great Gold Rush: the fat cats of Dawson are not those who have come here in search of fortune and adventure, but those who know how to wheedle money out of others at the gambling table, the bar, or in the grocery.
Our way along the Yukon is cobbled with corpses. The hundreds of small midges and sand flies we have killed by now are stuck on the walls of our tent. Mind you, we also had to pay our toll! Hardly have we docked at the water’s edge, when the tiny blood suckers come upon us like thirsty vampires. We can only escape the pests by dabbing ourselves with a repellent or by pulling a mosquito net over our head. I wonder, if anyone has ever worked out the average of just how many gallons of tourist blood are drawn along the Yukon River every year?
Below Dawson City the Yukon River initially narrows a little, the mountains rise taller and from our small canoe we enjoy the splendid view of a magnificent landscape. At the mouth of Forty Mile River we pitch our tent among the log cabins of an historic settlement. A young couple from Dawson out canoeing for a few days has also settled here and we meet David Small, a senior citizen from Eagle, Alaska. Dressed in a camouflage suit he comes towards us on a narrow path armed with a rifle. No, he tells us, he has not been out hunting. But this was bear territory and you had better be on the safe side and protected accordingly. Before going on the trip we had decided against a gun. Our lack of experience with a large calibre gun would have made its transport in our luggage more dangerous than all the bears in North America. Instead we both have a bear spray, a highly concentrated type of pepper spray, fixed to our belts in order to fend off potentially aggressive bears. What definitely seems more important to us is to take all the precautionary measures possible so that the bears aren’t even attracted to the camp.
When David hears of our plan to canoe up to the Bering Sea he becomes really chatty. He has completed this trip a few years earlier in an inflatable rowing boat and is soon giving us a few tips for our onward journey. He makes it a special point to warn us of the strong winds on the lower reaches of the Yukon River, which can become a serious hazard for small canoes. “As soon as a wind builds up you have to leave the river and wait for better weather.”
A few kilometers before getting to Eagles we cross the border between Canada and the USA. No heavily armed barbed-wire fence nor grim-faced border officials, but merely both ensigns fluttering between a few trees to mark this strange human invention of national borders. But even here we can’t enter the country without going through formalities. In the next place, Eagle, we register with the border official Teela. His spotlessly clean uniform can’t hide the contrasting rather relaxed specimen of the US administration on the other side of the desk. The security of his country seems to be far less troubling to him than the cloud formation over the little village on the Yukon River, spoiling the reception on his television set. He had so looked forward to watching the European Soccer Championship Match Germany vs. Spain and now there had to be the weather interference. It is because of his German forefathers whose name had been Thiele before they immigrated to America, that he keeps his fingers crossed for the German team.
In Eagle we also catch up on information at the local ranger station on the Yukon Charley Rivers National Preserve which we are to pass during the next few days. About 185 km of the Yukon River has been claimed as a preserve. Furthermore this reservation also covers the Charley River considered an outstandingly beautiful river by white water canoeists. The park authority offers a number of refurbished cabins for tourists to stay overnight for free. The young ranger at the desk also asks us to register for our stay in the reservation. Should we not be able to make it to Circle in the time estimated the rangers will start a search operation. About 60 km further on Claudia and I turn our canoe into the mouth of Nation River. Here clear water flows into Yukon River and we are hoping for good fishing grounds. The many water plants should offer a good habitat to pike. But our attempts are in vain and so we slowly drift along the bank. “It looks as if someone is lying over there!” I hear Claudia say. I am gazing at the water but when I look up I also see an inanimate body. And this time it is not a dead midge or any other animal. There on the bank only a few meters away from us is a dead person, a corpse. We are not in the least prepared for such a situation and it certainly grabs us. Shortly afterwards we meet up with a motor boat on the river and both occupants raise the alarm with the rangers by satellite phone. Later we learn that the young man has capsized some weeks earlier with his canoe near Dawson..
In Slaven's Roadhouse, a ranger station in the reservation, we exchange our insulation mats for a real bed for two nights. And instead of the camp fire we make use of the luxury of a real gas cooker to prepare our meals. After the terrible find on Nation River we decide to take a rest in order to recover. On a hike into the hinterland we explore the Coal Creek Dredge, a vintage conveyor system, used to mine for gold here in a tributary valley of the Yukon River. A small brochure guides us through some impressive machinery where the excavated rock was processed and the precious metal was separated from the worthless rubble. Tools and parts of machinery are lying about as if the workers have only gone for lunch. On the stove in the cab you can still see a coffee pot. Only the fire that once kept the miners and their drink warm has long gone cold. In the 1970s the mining was closed down.
Park Ranger Carl and a biologist who is in charge of a research project on invasive plant species tell us more about this fascinating region and the history of indigenous and invasive animal and plant species. The park is famous for its population of peregrine falcons which successfully nest in the many rock faces along the rivers and creeks. We had already been able to watch several of these fascinating birds on our hike. They feed mainly on smaller birds which they catch in flight. A day after leaving Slaven’s Roadhouse we decide to take a short walk on one of the spectacular rocks along the river. We also want to have a bird’s eye view of “our“ Yukon River. But when we pull in on the river bank I discover a huge Black Bear climbing on to a boulder and finally getting on to his hind legs as if to have a better view of us. We soon agreed not to risk meeting the potentially dangerous bear, when suddenly something black comes charging down the slope. Quite convinced that it is another bear I draw the pepper spray from my gun holster. Only then do I realize that this fluffy ball is a lot smaller than the impressive bear on the bolder. About fifty meters away we watch a bear cub jump from the shrubs into the Yukon River. The young one takes a refreshing dip before it returns to the bank to shake itself dry before running back to its mother. We also decide to make a dash. In Circle we sort out a few phone calls home and stock up our provisions with a bit of cheese and some fruit from a small grocery store. We also meet up with Lythia and Per from Fairbanks who we got to know at Slaven’s Roadhouse. They had to abandon their boat trip early due to an engine fault and find us to be grateful consumers of their remaining broccoli, some cheese and a package of really superb chocolate cookies.
The small town of Circle marks the beginning of yet another stretch of our river cruise: The Yukon Flats. Over a distance of about 450 km the mighty Yukon River meanders through vast lowland in numerous passages and side streams. Thousands of sand and gravel banks which change every year by the sedimentation and the erosion of the river let the passage of this region pose quite a challenge. Again and again we check our position on our maps and with the GPS device to make sure that we take the right branch. For several days there are no mountains on the horizon and so we have an open view of a sky that has never appeared so vast and fascinating with its everlasting blue and its white fluffy clouds.
The Yukon Flats is an important nesting ground for numerous types of water fowl. We watch Canada geese, harlequin ducks, merganser, seagulls, and Artic terns tending their hatchlings. The Yukon Flats also offer the moose and the black bear an excellent habitat. The biodiversity and the singularity of this landscape has led to the USA claiming the region as a protected National Wildlife Preserve.
In the Yukon Flats we chance to meet Horst, Gertrud, Heini and Marlies from Germany, who are also paddling to the Yukon Delta. We spend the night on an island sharing our adventures and eexperiences. Whilst we have stacked our canoe with a mass of provisions, they stock up at the small grocery stores along the river. Instead they make us dumbfounded with a variety of camping appliances. In their boats they have stored a kitchen tent, foldable chairs and a convertible table. Just like us, they love bread-making and so we talk shop about the different ways to bake the much desired bakery product over a camp-fire.
After three days of sunshine and a slight tail wind the wind turns and gains some remarkable wind speed. We have to apply ourselves a lot more to be able to cover the scheduled daily stretch. With the freshening wind the waves heighten. Every now and then a few waves splash over the edge of the boat and soak our feet. When the cargo boat which delivers provisions to a few of the settlements along the Yukon passes by on her way upstream, the waves increase even more. Within seconds we are taking a dangerous load of water and are listing badly. Every rising wave makes our canoe list more and seriously increases the risk of taking more water than we can handle. We can’t scoop fast enough to achieve what we want and so we concentrate on bringing the nearly half-filled boat to the nearest bank. A feeling of relief rises as we hang our soaking wet clobber to dry in the wind. Here, in the waves of the Yukon River, we get to know our boats limitations.
Only a few kilometers beyond the Yukon Flats Nature Preserve we are reminded that also here in Alaska, for many a synonym for unspoilt wilderness, nature is an endangered commodity. There the Trans Alaska Pipeline crosses the Yukon. In 1977 this construction was completed in order to transport the crude oil found right up in the north near Prudhoe Bay across Alaska to Valdez. In the eyes of many conservationists and worried inhabitants the pipeline poses a severe risk to the sensitive arctic and sub-artic natural heritage. And just to prove their point and show that the installation is not as secure as the staff make us believe, there was a leakage in 2006 spilling at least 267,000 gallons of oil and polluting the environment.
In order to be able to supply the oil fields on the coast Dalton Highway from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay was built. The pipeline shares the bridge across the Yukon. For us Dalton Highway means we have come halfway. We have completed half of our tour to the Bering Sea. We celebrate hump day with some hamburgers and fries from a road house. Here we also meet our friend Ralf from Fairbanks who has tours to offer along Dalton Highway to tourists who want to see the Arctic tundra and the pipeline close-up. One attraction in Ralf’s program is a visit to Dorothy and John’s sales booth. The couple live with their family near the bridge in their log cabin and in winter make their living as trappers. They do without snowmobiles and work with snowshoes and dog sleds to check their traps. In summer they sell genuine outback art work they have made during the long winter nights in their warm cabin: miniature birch-bark canoes, picture frames, boxes made of bark, necklaces, bracelets and ear rings. Add to that Dorothy and John’s wild stories of forest fires, bears, giant waves and mighty sheets of ice on the Yukon. fs
At the bridge we meet June from Fairbanks who wants to paddle a few miles along the river to visit some friends. Chuck and Carrie run a fish camp in the summer months between Rampart and Rampart Rapids. We assist June using our canoe as a transport ship and two days later deliver a bag of flour and some vegetables to Chuck and Carrie who ask us to spend a few days in their fish camp to have a look over their shoulders and watch their salmon fishing.
"Salmon are truly fascinating creatures", Chuck exaltedly tells me. They spawn in the clear tributaries of the Yukon and spend the first phase of their lives in sweet water. Then they go on the long journey to the Pacific Ocean where they live as predatory fish for some years. When they are sexually mature they gather in early summer at the estuaries and feed their plenty. When the right time has come the salmon start their voyage back upstream to their spawning grounds. On this strenuous journey some of them cover several thousand kilometers without eating a bite. When they arrive at the spawning grounds they have nearly spent their energy. The female salmon spawns for the milter to spray his milky semen on the redd. Then the salmon die and as their final task in the ecosystem they serve as food for bears, foxes and birds along the river.
There are three types of salmon in the Yukon River: the Chinook or king salmon, the chum or dog salmon and the Coho salmon. Fishermen favour the Chinook salmon from the river, because it offers prime quality to the consumer. The chum salmon is traditionally fed to the dogs. The Coho salmon doesn’t travel so far upstream and has chosen its spawning grounds in the lower reaches. The three types of salmon start their journeys at different times and so keep the fishermen active nearly the whole of summer. They catch their salmon with nets and fish-wheels. Fish-wheels are paddle wheels powered by the stream and scooping through the water for the sought-after fish.
Chuck and Carrie only ever use nets for fishing in the Yukon River. Right in front of their camp a huge rock has formed an enormous eddy. An ideal spot for salmon fishing! Chuck takes Claudia and me in a motor boat onto the river to check the net. Nine big Chinooks and chum salmon are trapped in the mesh.
In the camp the salmon is filleted and then hung in the rookery. There, they are dried in the smoke and thereby preserved. Chuck and Carrie bottle part of the catch.
The chum salmon which Carrie preserves as additional winter feed for the dogs also has to be filleted. They dry in the fresh air and don’t need to be smoked. While curing they take on a slightly sour taste which the dogs prefer to the taste of fresh fish. With her Alaskan huskies Carrie offers tourists sled tours in the vicinity of Fairbanks in winter. Some years ago she also repeatedly participated successfully in the Yukon Quest Race between Fairbanks and Whitehorse. Here the musher covers a thousand miles through taxing terrain with his dog team.
On our second day at the fish camp Chuck and Carrie take us on a walk to an old mine. We travel a few miles downstream on a motorboat to a disused fish camp where the path into the mountains begins.
Wrapped in our rain gear we set off in the wet, cold, dismal weather through the woods until we get to a bolder field where Chuck looks for rock specimen. When he is not fishing for salmon in summer he teaches at a school in Nenana. Now he is on the look-out for a few visuals for his geography lessons. Impressed with his find he shows us the clast. “Just feel how heavy it is! It is called galenite. It was mined right here.“ Galenite or galena is a lead-II-sulphide that also contains small amounts of silver and so was rather sought after. While Chuck goes looking for some more rock specimen for his students, we decide to climb up another bit to enjoy the view of the mountains and the Yukon River valley. Our vista is somewhat blurred by the billowing swathes of clouds, heavy with rain, but every so often we are afforded a glance at the gorgeous scenery.
On our way back to the fish camp we drop in to see a friend of Chuck and Carrie’s. Linda also runs a fish camp on the Yukon River: Since the work load would be too much for her to handle on her own, she has invited several friends to help her fishing, smoking and preserving the salmon. We also meet Antje and Heiko there from Germany. As pensioners they decided to spend their free time, or at least some of it, in Alaska. For the past few years they have been living in Fairbanks for six months and in Germany for the other half of the year.
The next morning we pack our belongings back into the canoe and continue on our way to the Bering Sea. A few kilometers further along we meet up with the rapids. Thanks to Chuck and Carrie’s information we don’t meet any problems this time. We keep hard left near the bank, where the water flows rapidly but shows no turbulences.
In Tanana, a community of 275 inhabitants at the meeting of the Yukon and the Tanana Rivers we make use of our chance to do some shopping and fill up our stock with some fruit and vegetables and some cheese. We also happen to find some postcards to send greetings home. The friendly cashier allows us to use her computer, so that we can check on our e-mails via satellite internet.
When we reach the mouth of Totzitna River we decide to branch off from the Yukon River so that we can explore this little tributary. Unfortunately it starts raining heavily pretty soon and we decide to call off the excursion. We set up camp and improve our miserable weather mood by frying some potatoes, fresh fish and fried eggs. For our dessert Claudia prepares some popcorn over the fire. The bad weather seems to want to stay and accompany u a little. The column in our thermometer is constantly dropping, heavy clouds cover the sky and a strong wind makes menacing waves on the river. Our boat dances about and we frequently pull up on the bank because it appears too dangerous to go on. With a spot of soup from our thermos flask we try to warm ourselves up. We hardly make any progress and only cover a few kilometers a day. The moment we stop paddling the counter flow pushes us back upstream.
Our good spirit wanes by the hour and eventually someone states the obvious and says: “Let’s give up!” We discuss the consequences and alternatives and are quite certain that we can find better things to do than to allow an ever widening Yukon River to vex us by constant wind and rain. Our decision is certain! We will sell the boat in Ruby and ask to be flown out. Satisfied and glad that we have taken the decision we settle down for the night.
When we open up our small tent the next morning we are greeted by dazzling sunlight. For the first time in days we can see the mountains. Kokrines Hills, a small mountain range, creates a magnificent picture book scenery and our plan to give up the tour goes up in the haze. And so we make use of our short stay in Ruby to call in on Wolf. He immigrated to Alaska from Germany in the 1970s and has lived in this small community on the Yukon River ever since. When I enter his workshop I am met by a strange decoration of historic European crests, swords and sabres, painted moose antlers and wood carvings. And in all of that a huge wolf cross-breed bounding with energy leaps about enjoying the visitor’s company. We stroll along to the jetty in Ruby where Claudia is waiting with our boat. Wolf tells us a few tales of his life in the wilderness and how Ruby has changed over the years. We used to have petrol lamps in the past as our only source of light in the cabin.” Today even the most remote settlement has a generator hut for electricity and Wolf’s laptop allows him to be in contact with the world via satellite internet. When we set off a short while late, Wolf seems a bit disappointed and we would also like to spend more time with him. But after all the bad weather we have the feeling that it is wiser to use the sunshine and the calm to carry on paddling.
At long last we are moving and two days later we reach Galena.In former times the US military had an airbase here. Now the infra-structure is hardly ever used by the military. The buildings on the river banks show a higher material prosperity than the buildings in most of the other places along the river. As we don’t need any more provisions we decide to pass by when suddenly the sirens in the small village go off. Surprised we wonder if someone wants to greet us or if we are being suspected of espionage and soon two inceptor planes will force us to land. But nothing happens and we drift on unhindered towards the ocean.
The fair weather doesn’t last and again a dark bank of clouds and a strong gusty wind drives away all the good humour in our boat. Whilst we are filling up on drinking water in Nulato, a lady comes up and tells us that our parcel has already arrived and the village teacher has taken it in store. We are somewhat perplexed. We don’t know anything of a parcel. Finally, the whole story turns out to be a misunderstanding. But that is how we learn of another paddler who is coming up a few days behind us on the Yukon River and also heading for the Bering Sea. Will he catch up on us, we wonder, before we get there? We’ll look out for him in the next few days!
“Wow, look at those footprints!“ Claudia calls me across. Just as we are about to camp for the night we discover giant grizzly foot prints. They are the biggest we have ever seen. The awe-inspiring imprints clearly show the mighty claws embedded in the clay on the river bank. The thought of coming up eye to eye with this enormous animal sends a shiver down my spine. A trained scout would most likely have been able to tell what Brother Bear had eaten for breakfast and that the toothache in his left molar was causing him a bit of a headache. As complete novices we aren’t even sure whether or not it is a fresh or an old trail. To be on the safe side we choose a different camp site a few kilometers further on and completely exhausted, but feeling secure we drop into our sleeping bags.
When we arrive in Kaltag the number of motorboats at the landing stage tells us that there is something special going on here. The ball-game teams of the surrounding villages have assembled at the local sports field for a softball contest. The kids dash about coltishly in the dusty streets of Kaltag. When I ask an elderly man in a small ATV, how to get to the grocery store, I am told to eat my fill at the buffet rather than spend my money on groceries. When I see the selection in the shop his suggestion seems to have been good advice. The grocer behind the small counter shrugs his shoulders apologetically, ”They have bought me out all my fresh stuff for the buffet” My eyes happen to see the freezer and I tentatively enquire for ice-cream. He starts to laugh and explains that his order of ice-cream, wisely placed in the winter last, sadly had only arrived the following summer. And when the supply plane had come the ice cream had all melted. So the whole of Kaltag will have to wait for the next winter before they can enjoy any more ice-cream. All he can let me have that day is a small bag of carrots.
The strong afternoon wind and the prospect of interesting encounters with wild animals in the twilight hours make us change our plans for the day. We decide to leave late that afternoon and paddle into the night. On our first night, besides getting to see a few beavers, we have the chance already to watch a black bear with her two cubs looking for food on the river’s edge. Unfortunately at night the temperatures drop to just above freezing level and when we decide to pitch our tent at two in the morning we are both freezing cold. An improvised hot water bottle finally helps to warm up the sleeping bags comfortably. After two nights of perishing cold and several black bears we return to canoeing in the warmer hours of the day.
At Blackburn Creek we want to fill our water cans. When doing so Claudia discovers some salmon in the clear creek. When we take a closer look we see them almost everywhere. In the murky Yukon River the draught of salmon was invisible to us. Fishing nets, fish wheels, and frames with fish drying in the fresh air is proof of the abundant life under water. But here in a clear mountain stream we have the chance to watch this wonder of nature with our own eyes. Reasonably “fit and relaxed” salmon, not yet spawned, swim upstream in search of their breeding ground. Having completed their task of spawning, the completely spent and exhausted fish float downstream half dead and lay down on the banks to perish. Turning a bend in the creek we meet up with an unsurpassable gravel bank and some rocks. We can’t go any further. Only a few meters away we discover fresh grizzly tracks and some left-over from a grand bear meal. There is still some blood dripping from the fish cadaver. We seem to have disturbed the bears only minutes before, while they were happily enjoying their teddy bears’ picnic. The many fish remains in the water make us take our drinking water somewhere else and return to the Yukon River.
It is not only us struggling against the severe wind. The excited cries of young peregrine falcons attract our attention and we turn the canoe closer to the bank. The two squabs can’t have left their nest long ago. They are sitting on a rock toying with their wings in the wind. The strong gusts grab their spread-out wings and they both have a lot of trouble to keep their balance on their precarious look-out. When I finally come too close for them with my camera, they take to the skies and fly away unsteadily.
Shortly before Grayling we set up camp on the bank and are preparing our dinner over the fire when a few men stop their motor boat. The four first nation people/ Indians had just been checking their nets when they happened to see our camp. So they have come over for a little chat and to offer us a freshly caught salmon. Unfortunately the fish is too big for me alone, as Claudia eats no fish, I have to refuse, thanking them for their kind offer. Instead we all grumble about the awful weather. They grouse that they have never experienced such rainy, windy, and cold weather at this time of the year as they are going through this year. We seem to be really happy campers, now that we have decided to do this long tour now.
Again and again we watch black bears from our boat, looking for ripe berries at the water’s edge. Such encounters with wild life prove to be the highlights on days like these, when we make little progress due to the strong wind. One day we cover as little as 27 km in eight hours of paddling despite the flow of the Yukon River. Claudia’s comment in her diary on this impossible achievement reads: “What a fucked-up idea to paddle down the Yukon River!“ Our mood changes with the weather. When the sun shines a few days later, all is right with the world. In the meantime the Artic summer is nearly spent. The gaggles of geese are gathering already with their goslings in flocks ready for their flight to the warm south in some weeks’ time.
At a fish camp near Tabernacle Mountain we ask the people there if we can fill up on fresh water from their source. They want to know where we are from and are more than mildly surprised when we tell them of our trip from Whitehorse. One of the natives seems to feel sorry for us. “That must be really bad,” he says laughingly “to have only one person to talk to!” Wasn’t that awfully boring, he enquires. Not yet, we answer, but then we haven’t completed our tour yet. In Russian Mission Claudia goes looking for a possibility to send her mum birthday greetings via e-mail. She asks some youngsters who are playing amidst an unbelievable lot of junk between dilapidated wooden shacks if a computer with an internet access might be available. But unfortunately all the teachers who normally have internet access don’t seem to be around at that time. Instead the youngsters ask Claudia for alcoholic drink. In those communities that don’t sell alcohol legally. Every bottle of booze is a precious commodity and the black market prices are staggering. They move off disappointed when we tell them that we have no alcohol aboard our canoe.
When lying in our tent on a little sandy islet just beyond Pilot Station Claudia suddenly hears strange sounds. We are quite certain that a bear is rummaging around in our food stuff, which we have stored in several plastic containers at a safe distance from the tent. Quite clearly we can tell the bear trying to get at the tasty content. Carefully, Claudia peers out of the tent. I grab the pepper spray so that we can defend ourselves when the bear attacks. But our containers are untouched in their place. Again we hear the sound, but they seem to be coming from a different direction. “That’s not a bear,” Claudia laughs. “It’s somebody in a kayak! “ She has seen a paddle on the other side of the sandy islet behind our canoe. Although it is in the middle of the night I decide to go across and welcome the kayaker to the island. When I appear so unexpectedly, the poor chap nearly dies of heart failure. When he landed a few minutes earlier he certainly did not reckon on having visitors that night. He could not see our small tent on the other side of the islet. Michael from Boston has also started off in Whitehorse and is also heading for the Yukon estuary. He is the paddler we heard about in Nulato because of a parcel. We agree to have a hearty wilderness breakfast together in the morning.
The day rising from the early morning mist over the river promises to be exceptionally good. Claudia and I heat up some water over the fire to have a wash. When Michael crawls out of his tent a short while later, a few pancakes are already sizzling in our frying pan. Over breakfast we talk about our adventures along the river and listen to his stories from the past few weeks. We decide to paddle together for the remaining journey.
As much as we have all enjoyed our journey – despite the sometimes adverse weather conditions –we are looking forward to getting to the open sea at long last. More and more our backs ache and our arms stiffen from the constant paddling. Our legs, not really in action for some weeks, have pins and needles due to the lack of blood circulation when we sit down or kneel in the boat.
At the lower reaches of Yukon River we pass quite a few settlements. And the Inuit who live here near the coast are a rather inquisitive and open-minded singular breed. Some bring their boats alongside for a bit of small talk. They want to know who we are, where we come from and above all why in the world are we canoeing down the whole of Yukon River! We enjoy the company of these chatty people but if we keep up the frequent little chats we will certainly not make it to the open sea- so nearby already- this side of summer.
Mountain Village is the last village before the Yukon estuary. There are no real mountains here. But with the terrain here being so flat further downstream, the hillocks beyond the village nearly seem mountainous. We are stopping at Mountain Village because we have an important mission to complete. Since our visit to the fish camp we have a letter from Chuck. He has no forwarding address of his former student. But he knows that Jarrett is working in a supermarket in Mountain Village and we were just the ones to be mail carriers. When Michael and I enter the shop and ask for Jarrett, he is at a loss and his suspicion is written all over his face. But when we hand him the letter from his former teacher he beams all over his face. We don’t leave the store until we have filled up on an enormous amount of tropical fruit from the fruit and vegetable department. Tonight there will be fruit salad for the added vitamin boost! In the meantime Claudia has been minding our boats and building up a friendship with some of the children from Mountain Village. The ten-year-old Kevin and his five-year-old nephew Devon are driving Claudia crazy with their questions, but are equally obliging when it comes to Claudia’s curiosity.
The next day we are passed again by some motor vessels. Whole families have left Mountain Village in order to gather the well-liked salmon berry we also gather some of these berries when we are held up by high waves. We stew some of the fruit with a bit of sugar and enjoy the delicacy with a few freshly made pan-cakes. Although we are not far off the coast line we have to attend to some serious repair of our kit. Michael’s canoe has some rips under the seat which he keeps patching up with duct tape and our tent needs another replacement for the slide on the zip fastener. The constant sand and dust in the fastener causes a lot of wear and tear. And so we don’t start off until late for our last day but one of paddling. While the sun shines benignly from a friendly sky there is a sentiment of unease in both our boats. For the past two months now we have been paddling along the Yukon River and now our tour is finally coming to an end. It is already early evening by the time we moor in Emmonack. It is the very last settlement before the Bering Sea. It is here that we have to organise our return from the sea and our flight to Anchorage. As the airport is already closed for the day we camp on a small island just outside the settlement and try our luck the following morning. The tickets are quickly booked and the return trip from the coast seems to be no bother. John, who works at the small fishing plant in Emmonack, offers his service as a motor-vessel skipper. In return we offer our old canoe which he can make use of when hunting moose in the narrow channels of the Yukon Delta. We spend the evening in the only restaurant in Emmonack, a quaint mixture of completely run-down yet charmingly cosy interior, tucking in to a few hamburgers and chips while we listen to the Rolling Stones and the awful eighties music from an antique juke box.
We have deposited our luggage on a small island as we go on our final bout in remarkably light weight boats. From Emmonak it is only about 20 kilometers to the mouth of Yukon River. We pass some islets and some cranes take off as we pass by. And then the last island in the Yukon River appears before us. With mixed feelings we tie our boats down and go for a walk about the island. We have completed an adventurous trip through an impressive wilderness on a river charged in history. In front of us the Bering Sea. What about canoeing there???… fs
In March 1989 the news casters around the world reported on the Exxon Valdez oil tanker disaster. Around 40,000 tons of crude oil that had been pumped through the 1,285 km long Alaska Pipeline from the Arctic Prudhoe Bay right across the most northern state of the USA to Valdez and loaded into the vessel poured from the damaged tanker into the sea causing an ecological catastrophe in Prince William Sound, a bay in the gulf of Alaska. For weeks conservationists tried to save birds and sea mammals caked in oil and to clean the coast of crude oil. Despite all attempts many hundreds of thousands of animals perished in agony. To this day the sensitive ecosystem is suffering the consequences.
When Claudia, Stefan, Cynthia and I arrive in Valdez, the little town shows itself at its best in bright sunshine. Kenny from Pangaea Adventures, a local kayak hire, welcomes us in his office at the port. He maps out especially worthwhile camp grounds, shows us where to find secluded bays and gives us hints on currents and prevailing wind directions in the many anabranches of Prince William Sound. Apart from both the double kayaks, paddles, life jackets and sky rockets he gives us a radio set with which we can listen to the weather forecast and call for help in an emergency.
The following day we load our equipment and the boats on a ferry for Whittier in the west of Prince William Sound. From there we will paddle the kayaks back to Valdez in the coming fortnight and explore Prince William Sound with its many coves, bays, branches and islands.
A few hours later hundreds of sea gulls circle about our heads. We have approached their colony a few kilometers off Whittier and are now being closely inspected. In all the nooks and crannies of the steep rock face they have settled to build their nests. I can hardly believe that we have survived this encounter without bird droppings on all our gear. Normally I strike luck easier…
The next morning, after stacking our tents, sleeping bags and cooking gear back into the boats we paddle into Blackstone Bay. From the mountains numerous glacier tongues feed into this 20 km long bay down into the sea. Carefully we approach Beloit Glacier, impressive with its steep ice face. In our boats we carefully pick our way through the little ice-bergs which the glacier has spat into the sea, when with an almighty crash quite a piece of ice breaks from the front and thunders into the sea. These dropouts and the enormous waves which they can create make it especially dangerous for small vessels to move nearer the glacier. And so we follow the spectacle at a safe distance.
The long passages when having to cross large bays and anabranches are a further security risk on our trip. Here you are cut off, sometimes for many kilometers, from the nearest coast line. In strong winds and high waves it becomes pretty uncomfortable in the tossing boat. We were quite worried about crossing Cochrane Bay since this part of Prince William Sound is comparatively unsheltered and in the prevailing northern winds extremely high waves can build up. But when we risk the crossing early in the morning the sea is as smooth as a duck pond. In bright sunshine crossing the bay to Culross Island is a sheer delight.
Culross Island is said to be one of the most attractive islands in Prince William Sound and we are quite taken in by the narrow Culross Passsage between the island and the headland. Numerous coves and islands lie in hiding here and offer an excellent environment to ducks, sea gulls and bald eagles. During a longer break Stefan and I tempt our luck fishing. When we finally find a good spot it doesn't take us long to catch our evening meal.
After we have rounded Culross Island, the sun takes his leave for a while. Thick rain-drops splash on to the tent as we camp in a cove north of the islands. Despite the bad weather we risk a crossing to Esther Island the following day. But due to the strong headwinds and the mighty waves we decide to wait for better weather. However the crossing also seems too risky in the afternoon and so we set up camp again not having achieved anything.
It is worth while waiting. The wind and waves have died down sufficiently the following day so that we make it to Eagle Bay. However, the sun seems to have decided to keep in hiding. And that although we could really do with his support to dry our wet clothes!
But as soon as the following day the local weather gods are pacified and radiant sunlight sheds its warm light on the scene. However, wind and waves again make the crossing quite a challenge. In the end we have to beat the wind even in our kayaks to prevent the waves crashing sidelong against the boats. When we pitch camp near a little brook in Fairmount Bay we immediately hang up a few washing lines in the trees and dry our wet clobber, tents and sleeping bags in the afternoon sun.
The next morning we decide to stay another day in this enchanting cove. Under a blue sky in glorious sunshine we read, see to our washing and explore the vicinity of our camp on short walks. We fill our water bags with warm water and use them as comfortable out door showers.
Another highlight in Prince William Sound is Glacier Island. The large island is immediately opposite Columbia Bay with its majestic Columbia Glacier offering good opportunities to sight sea mammals and birds. Soon after we cross over to the island we notice a humpback whale at some distance blowing near the surface of the water. In the end the whale turns and comes closer and closer in our direction until finally he dives about 30 m behind us swimming away under our kayaks.
A few kilometers further on a colony of sea lions is waiting for us on the beach of Glacier Island. We had occasionally seen individual animals or small groups of sea lions before. Here now there are hundreds of these massive animals lying on the beach sun-bathing or cavorting in the water. The big, strong males in these colonies fight for the best-favoured places to establish their harem. From a good distance away you can detect the colony by the fishy smell and the noisy behaviour of the animals. We can also watch some playful sea otters around Glacier Island.
Next on our agenda we have the vast Columbia Bay with its majestic Columbia Glacier. However, wind and tides have driven so many chunks of the glacier into the bay that we cannot safely enter the bay paddling in our small boats. Again and again ice-bergs fall apart or topple over and rotate suddenly when their balance point shifts due to the persistent melting process. And so we have to work our way to the glacier through the ice free Heather Bay until any further progress is finally halted by islands, sand banks and grounded glaciers. Instead we can marvel at more bird colonies where different kinds of sea gulls, terns and geese are breeding.
The next morning Claudia "decides" to go and watch a few whales again. All the greater is the surprise when she comes rushing back to our tent really excited to report a humpback whale swimming right across our bay! A short time later we discover it in the next bay swimming to and for stuffing his paunch. Again and again it swims past us open-jawed just below the surface in order to feed on small fry and shift them from the water with its baleen.
Since we can't really see Columbia Glacier from a close range we take a detour on our way to Valdez to the smaller Shoup Glacier hidden in a cove behind a barrier of islands and sandbanks. In order to get to the glacier without strenuous paddling against the tide you have to find the exact point in time in the changing tide. Then you are carried in on the flow and out again on the ebb through one of the many narrow waterways.
The closer we get to the small town of Valdez again, the denser the shipping traffic becomes on the waterway. We pass fishing vessels, pleasure cruisers and of course giant oil tankers to be loaded there. Just as the Exxon Valdez nearly twenty years ago! It is to be hoped that a catastrophe like that is not repeated in this paradise. fs
With a scraping sound the sharp drill eats its way deeper and deeper into the ice covering Fox Lake while my arms tire more and more turning the crank handle. After about ten minutes it's done: the layer of ice on the lake is nearly one meter thick. As bait I attach a piece of squid to the weighted hook and line which I sink into the dark water of my hole in the ice.
Together with Stefan and Cynthia, her cousin and his girl friend, Claudia and I once again try our luck at ice fishing. Wendy and her two dogs have also come. Wrapped up warmly in our winter clothing we all sit more or less patiently near our ice holes occasionally tugging at the lines in great expectation of a tasty dinner. All in all, we count a catch of three samlets which Stephan cures the following day in his smoke house.
At night a real wonder of nature keeps us awake. Together with Stefan we leave the town to watch the northern lights (aurora borealis). In search of the best vantage point to photograph this atmospheric phenomenon Stefan drags us through the shrubs and woods around Whitehorse. Northern lights are created by electrically charged particles of the solar wind hitting the top layers of the earth's atmosphere, thereby inciting the air molecules to glow. This spectacle is best watched in the dark winter months in the arctic and sub-arctic latitudes.
Friends of Stefan and Cynthia share the news that they are visited daily by a lynx chasing mice on a grass patch in front of their cabin. Equipped with binoculars and cameras we set off to watch the predatory cat on her prowl. Claudia who has wanted to watch a lynx in the great outdoors for a long while now is over the top at the prospect. When we arrive the lynx is already on the grass patch secretly watching the newcomers. After a few minutes her main concern is hunting for food. Carefully she sneaks over to a promising spot and waits for her next victim. When some minutes later she hears a mouse under the blanket of snow she plunges head-on into the snow and catches the small rodent. Doing that, she has her tail end up in the air and her bob tail is wagging excitedly. Everywhere on the patch we find prints of her oversized paws, nearly as big as the impression of my hand. With this over-sized support the lynx effectively prevents sinking too deeply into the high snow.
Also the preparations for our Yukon expedition are moving on successfully. In Carmacks we find a second-hand canoe at Peter Gerasch's place, the tour operator of Canadian Wilderness Travel. Peter and his wife Anna invite us to a cup of tea and give us a few valuable hints for our trip before we make our way back to Whitehorse with the boat. In the meantime we have continued to complete our equipment and have bought provisions. Cases upon cases of food stuff, life jackets, paddles, fishing tackle, maps etc are stacked in our small room. fs
"What will it be like when we have to say farewell to "our" huskies at the end of the winter season?" This question bothered us when our trip to Canada was still in the planning stages. Now we know: it is awfully sad to have to leave all these dogs we have grown so attached to. Especially the trying handfuls like Kavik, Gus, or Sinner who wanted to be won over before they showed trust in us really cut us up. We stroked Cheyanne's thick pelt, chucked Eddi's and Nisku's chin and cuddled Kelly's puppies. Unfortunately there is no space in our back packs for al the dogs we would love to take with us.
Tom's parents, Tibor and Hilde, finally take us to the Greyhound Bus Station at 100 Mile House. Originally we wanted to hitch-hike to Whitehorse in Yukon Territory. But when we leave our little shack with all our luggage - laden like mules - and lumber it to the car our plan is changed in a flash and we decide to take the bus. For about forty hours we try to find a comfortable sleeping position in an uncomfortable seat and kill time at different bus stations. Luckily we did not attempt to hitch-hike because the temperature dropped to -20°C and a strong wind drove the snow horizontally. The traffic volume of about one car an hour would also not have speeded up our journey as hitch-hikers. At about 4.30 in the morning our bus finally rolled into Whitehorse.
Our friends Stefan and Cynthia with whom we will be staying for the coming weeks are there to pick us up looking slightly sleepy. Quickly the baggage is stuffed into their car and we arrive at their home where at long last we can sink into a comfortable bed. But quite early in the day Stefan and Cynthia wake us up out of our dreams. They wanted to make use of their day off and take us on a snow-shoe hike in the near-by Kluane National Park. Wendy, a neighbour and her two dogs Wilson and Irie also come along as we set off. After adjusting to spring coming in the more southern British Columbia we find Yukon Territory to be in the middle of winter. At -15°C and in bright sun-light we work our way uphill and enjoy the magnificent view of the mountains surrounding us. We are not sure whether it is the exertion or the scenery that makes us catch our breath.
Back in Whitehorse we spend the following days applying for jobs with various employers. To make our plans for any summer tours come true we desperately need a small financial boost. It's only a few days later that Claudia is working as a waitress in a small cafe downtown, whilst I now refill shelves in a supermarket.
At the weekend we go on a trip with Stefan to Sheep Mountain in Kluane National Park. We discover several groups of wild sheep which have given the mountain its name. On the slopes already free of snow these snowy white ruminants are already busily munching away their vegetarian fare whilst the surrounding mountains are still hiding under a wintry blanket of snow.
Besides, our preparations for our summer adventure are keeping us busy. As from the beginning of June we will be canoeing the complete Yukon River to its estuary in the Arctic Bering Sea. It will take us some two to three months to cover the 3,200 km stretch. And of course a journey of that dimension calls for careful planning. And so we are poring over mile long lists of equipment and foodstuffs, compare prices in the supermarkets and look for a suitable canoe. fs
I would love to pull off even my last pullover. Relentlessly the sun beats down. The white snow reflects the bright light whilst melting away in the midday heat. Sweat pours off my forehead whilst I push the sled with my customer uphill. The dogs, too, pant their life and soul out in these temperatures. And no small wonder! It is summerly ...+5°C!
For the last few days the weather has been vexing us with such unpleasant degrees above freezing. We can really watch the snow slowly disappearing.The first patches without snow have started appearing. During the night the column of mercury drops below freezing point again. Our trail is so ice-bound in the morning that we find it somewhat tricky to slow the sled down. And so the winter season is passing over far sooner than we had expected.
With the warm weather coming on Kelly's puppies which first saw the light of the world about five weeks ago at last are becoming more lively. Clumsily the five small furry bundles stumble through the snow and explore the world of their kennel.
We are using the warm days to spend more time with the very young dogs. This is vitally important for the socialization of the pups but unfortunately had less priority during the past weeks when we were guiding sled excursions. Now we take Kitkat's young ones on walks and start the first trials in front of the sled with the nine month old dogs. Playfully we are leading the six young rascals to their new tasks. First we do a few shorter circuits around the house with a children's sled. Finally we try to match an experienced dog with a young dog before a real sled. We are impressed indeed by the new blood. The young ones race as though they had been waiting during the past few months to get going! fs
Cars and planes are out! The Canadian Postal Service has also realized that and - for three days at least - has returned to the more traditional means of transport: North of Quesnel on the 24th January of this year the 16th Gold Rush Trail Mail Run takes place. All in all 55 teams and mushers set off to transport 5000 letters of the Royal Canadian Mail Service. In doing so they follow the historic route into the Cariboo mountains used by the adventurous gold diggers in the 1860s.
Claudia arranges the harnesses for our dogs, while I lash the luggage to my sled. In my most secret dreams I have always wanted to follow the career of a post-man and was more than happy when I was offered the chance to take on this responsible task in Canada. Together with Paul, Mona and Elena we started off to transport two bags of mail each for a stretch of 100 kilometers through the wilderness during the following three days.
At the starting line my dogs are at least as excited as I am. Nishka and Ultra, my lead dogs, are jumping about impatiently in front of the sled. They definitely want to go. I have not quite finished the starting command and they are off... to a flying start! For the first few kilometers our route follows a wide and completely icebound forest road. Suddenly the sled starts fishtailing from side to side and only with the help of the snow hook cast at full speed into the ice I finally succeed in slowing down and re-gaining control of the sled. I feel happy again when the dogs finally turn into a less icy track in the forest.
Our first night we spend at the checkpoint Cottonwood. We stretch a tarp between our sleds and with our sleeping bags and mats set camp for the night. At the balmy temperature of -5°C we enjoy a reasonably relaxing sleep. Only every now and then a few loads of snow are blown under our roof.
If only I had eaten the pan cakes offered for breakfast, I think as I take on a steep climb under the runners of my sled. I am really puffing as my tired limbs push the sled uphill with. The musher on the sled is part of the team. And that means that work, especially going uphill, is shared. Whoever should forget that is soon reminded of his own responsibility by the evil eyes thrown by the protesting pack. The teams have to battle several hundred meters of height uphill today. Luckily the ascents are not quite as steep as expected. We are more than recompensated when we finally have reached Pinegrove Mountain and enjoy the view of the mountains around us. On the descent to Troll Ski Resort, our day's finish we can really let the dogs go. Ahead of the sled they frolic into the valley. For the colorfully dressed visitors of the skiing resort thundering down the slope on their skis the dog teams arriving are a rare attraction. Can we stroke the dogs? several children approach us and even some of the adults can't hide their enthusiasm. When our dogs start rolling around the snow appreciatively whilst our visitors are cuddling them the prejudice is dismantled that huskies are aggressive by nature.
In Troll the organisers have a special contest lined up for the dog teams. At the mushers' triathlon contestants have to prove themselves in typical wild life trials. A moose's cry has to be imitated and a spring trap has to be set. Besides fire wood has to be chopped, a fire made, water boiled for tea and bannock baked, the golddiggers' loaf. The main object is to have a lot of fun and enjoy the numerous attempts at cheating.
The third day to me is the high-light of the Gold Rush Trail Mail Run. The narrow path, really a hiking path in summer, takes us through a thick forest, along snow-covered slopes and across little creeks. Gorgeous 25 kms of ups and downs until we finally reach the deserted gold-digger town of Barkerville. On the way I give a lift to a hiker. She wants to experience the final lap of the Mail Runs on snow shoes.
From Barkerville to Wells, the destination of the Mail Run, the contest takes on yet another character. After a short breather for the dogs and the mushers the signal goes for a short race of the final nine kilometers. The mass start causes some confusion amongst the dog teams and daring overtaking manoeuvres let the adrenalin rush in the mushers. I decide to take things easy and to simply enjoy the final stretch of the trail while faster teams race by.
In Wells the officials of the Royal Canadian Mail await us to take over the sacks of letters again. From now on their transport is continued by car and plane. What a pity! fs
The countdown is on: "…three, two, one and go!" counts Irvin Wiens, sled builder and race marshal. The start helpers jump to the side and my team is off as if I had promised them an extra ration of dog food. This weekend Claudia and I with one team of dogs each are taking part in a sprint race in Hundred Mile House. While Claudia is taking part in the Purebred-6-Dog-Class I am starting in the Purebred-8-Dog-Class of the "Cariboo Challenge - Home of the Jack Gawthorn Memorial Sled Dog Race".
When I went to test the snow conditions I was quite happy about the fantastic state of the track. This earns me quizzical looks and head shaking from experienced race mushers. While our dogs normally run on much softer and less well packed trails the real racing teams have never seen such a soft track.
All through winter Claudia has had a watchful eye on our dogs and has tried to find the best combinations for our racing teams. This earned her the unofficial title of "Nakitsilik Outdoors Adventures Dog Manager". Unfortunately we had to make some changes to the positioning of the dogs during the last few days so that we did not have the time to test the final racing teams, but shortly after the start I was sure that Claudia had put together the absolute winner team for me. On the fantastic trail with the borrowed racing sled from a befriended musher we are simply flying around the bends. When I cross the finishing line I am totally overwhelmed by our success. With our dogs I have managed to build up a 12 minute advantage on the follower on the eight mile course. The second race on the next day is also highly successful. On this colder day the track conditions are more in favour of the racing teams. All the same, again I am ahead of the other teams, cross the finish line a few minutes earlier than the follower and quite surprisingly win the race. On the first day Claudia is even faster than I was, but in her class competition is considerably fiercer. She manages to come second in her first race and is so seriously infected by racing fever that she is now dreaming of her own racing kennel by day and by night.
Even putting our racing achievement aside the weekend is an absolute success for us. We get to know other mushers, exchange experiences, help other teams at the starting line and can also rely on the help of others. Also it is a fantastic opportunity to meet up with some people we have already met. Paul whom we got to know in the fall at Laurie's fun run weekend has come over from Alberta for two weeks to see his "old" dogs which are now staying over with us and to take part in the race. Daryle who also was there in the fall has come over with some of his kids from the social work project and two dog teams from Vancouver Island to start in the novice class. Also Dana and Don have come for the race with their team and Tracey has bundled her family into the car to give her son Brandon the chance to start as a junior. fs
Thick snow flakes are driving from a heavy sky and dance to the ground in the cone of light from my head lamp. It is still dark when Claudia and I climb into the pick-up to go to the starting point of today's trips. For the last few days we have been in Pemberton, quite near to the skiing resort of Whistler where some of the skiing events of the winter Olympics of Vancouver in 2010 will take place. Bob, the man in charge of Whistler Dog Sledding had arranged with Laurie that we should support him during the festive season of Christmas and the New Year with 26 dogs. So we have the chance to look over the shoulders of other guides at work. Around 330 Alaskan huskies and 25 guides perform their task day by day. Four to five times a day they start with their sleds for short runs of about an hour at most. Since our Siberian huskies are trained for a totally different task (longer distances at a slower pace and at a lower temperature) the cooperation does not work out as well as we had expected. Claudia, me and the dogs work like mad to push a party of up to three up a hill in our sleds halfway within the set time limit. On some nights we are so exhausted we are too tired to eat and drop to bed completely jaded. Shortly after Christmas Claudia has a very bad flu and some of the dogs obviously aren't feeling too well either under the working conditions in Whistler. Finally I go down with a severe tummy bug and have to stay in bed for a few days with a high temperature and the unpleasant things that go along with such a bug. Thanks to some persistent bacteria that have settled snugly into my gastrointestinal tract I can tick off my New Year's resolution to lose a bit of weight shortly after the coming of the New Year. In those few days I lose about ten kilograms in weight. Together with Laurie and Bob we decide to terminate work in Whistler earlier and to return the dogs to Bridge Lake.
With the help of modern antibiotics I am back on my feet again shortly after returning to Bridge Lake and can go on a two day tour with Carsten, Claudia and a few dogs. We pack a tarp, sleeping bags, a cooker, some food and dog food into the sleds and start off for Young Lake with three teams. It is really great to finally explore what it looks like beyond our "home made" track system. We set up camp at the water front and enjoy the afternoon sun while our noodle soup is boiling on the petrol stove. At -5°C the night is relatively warm so that we have a rather relaxing sleep. The dogs, too, seem to be enjoying the short change of scenery and behave fairly quietly on their chain which we have fixed between two trees. Only once during the night when some animal approaches the camp they all jump up at once and start their wild howling and barking.
A few days later we start off for another winter adventure. Rigged out with a line, some hooks and bait, we set off for Sharpe Lake, one of the lakes in the vicinity and try our luck at ice fishing. I am not sure if it is our lack of luck or experience, but on that day not one fish is interested in our bait. Instead we are able to watch a moose which is running across the frozen lake at some distance and finally disappears into the woods. fs
Kitty's puppies have opened their eyes in the meantime and on shaky legs are carefully exploring their immediate vicinity. Since the temperatures have risen slightly (about 0 to -5 degrees Celsius) they were able to move from their warm place in Laurie's office to the kennel outside. There they spend most of the time sleeping in their nest of straw and have Kitty warm them. But occasionally one or the other of them dare take a few steps outside.
The small puppies also gave great joy to our guests from Australia and England. About two weeks ago Daryl, Ruth, Kathryn, Steve and Phil came for a five day visit. We really wanted to rock the neighbourhood on our sleds, but unfortunately the weather upset our plans. Immediately on their arrival the temperatures rose from -20°C to an autumnal +10°C. A balmy breeze crossed the hills and forests of the Cariboo region and we were left watching the snow melt before our very eyes. Nothing was left but slush and ice. And so our unfortunate guests had to make do with a few hikes and some trips on our all terrain vehicles. On the frozen Sharp Lake we even built a snowman with the wet snow. He survived a complete twenty minutes before he was knocked out by the force of the warming sun.
In the meantime it has turned cold again and luckily it has also snowed a little. It can't be called a mass of snow but it is about enough to use the sled. We took our chance and went with Laurie to Moose Valley Provincial Park. That is where we will be doing some of our tours this season. Our friend Carsten who came over from Germany a few days ago was also able to master his first dog sled miles. Unfortunately, not everything went according to plan. One of the bitches was injured and couldn't run properly. Also Shawnee, one of the lead dogs, decided that as from now he regarded sledding as a stupid idea so that Carsten and Claudia had to take it in turns to run behind their decimated team. My team however was excellent and without any trouble gave me a first class ride through the woods of Moose Valley.
Today we set out again with some of the teams to do our training circuits with the sleds at last. And not only the dogs worked up a sweat! On the rise it means pushing and on the decline it means breaking at full force. What was child's play in autumn with the all terrain vehicles has suddenly turned to serious work, especially since the route offers quite a few tricky spots. Beside the continuous undulation (ups and downs) there are some passages on which the slopes have to be traversed and narrow bends have to be navigated. fs
Working the dogs does not only mean fun and pleasure as we experienced when one of the dogs died the other day. Kavik was a huge Malamute dog who rose on his hind legs and put his paws on our shoulders so that we could cuddle him whenever we entered his kennel. Since he was not only of impressive size but also extremely strong despite his age we had the feeling as though we were going through a round of comfortable mud wrestling with a bear. But from one day to another he stopped feeding and became frighteningly thin within a few days. Not only did his ribs protrude, but we could also feel the cancerous growths in his abdomen. Although we were awfully sad when he died we were glad for him that he did not have to suffer any longer.
Only a few days later Kitty (her real name is Kitkat) showed us the bright side of our job. In the course of the morning she delivered seven puppies into this world. Squealing in a lively way, the small tuffs of fur lie with their mother in a large dog box in the office and search for the teats noisily smacking their lips. They are growing so quickly you can almost watch them doing it. Within a few days they have doubled in size. During the first ten days the puppies are deaf and blind. Claudia and I can hardly wait for them to open their eyes. For the first few days Kitty considers all sorts of things to be her puppies and so she drags the toys of Tom's golden retriever and pits them with her puppies. The small toy bear she even places near her tits. A few days later however she has realized that Teddy is not one of hers…and rips him to bits whilst playing around with him.
Not only the puppies are new arrivals at Nakitsilik. Musher friends gave Laurie four new dogs. Although their arrival was not such a pleasant experience for me (they managed to squeeze out of the door of the car far quicker than I could react… and explored the close proximity on their own) we have become well acquainted by now. Nik, Capone, Meadow and Truth showed their best behaviour on their first training rounds.
Also the fleet of Nakitsilik Outdoors Adventures has "grown". Since last week Laurie is the proud owner of a new truck. With this gigantic vehicle we roll to Kelowna to take a trailer to Laurie's friend Mona. Together with her husband Cliff, Mona wants to construct two large dog transport boxes to be fitted on the truck. We can transport 56 dogs in them. For Claudia and me it is a great chance to see a few more areas of British Columbia: For five hours we travel south through the hills and forests. But the stay in Kelowna is shorter by far. We have one hour to chat and have a cup of tea before starting back - about one hundred dogs are waiting to be fed!
Also we had visitors from the USA. Vicky and her husband Tom have come for a workshop with their five Samoyed dogs. This breed of dog originally comes from Siberia and was used there as a shepherd dog and a sled dog. Now under Laurie's coaching the dogs are to learn to pull a sled. And so the two adult dogs pull a cart with Tom inside up and down the road under the animating cries from Laurie and Vicky. Afterwards the three puppies are completely engulfed in dragging one old tyre each behind them. Since their car had a breakdown on the way coming and the two have to wait for a new engine to arrive the three day workshop was extended to a whole week. So they both had a chance to accompany us on our training circuits with our Siberian huskies. fs
On Friday we went on a jaunt to town. The town is 100 Mile House and is a useful assembly of some shops and small service companies, such as hair dressers, laundrettes, banks etc. There are no sights, but you can get all you need… but not much more. We indulged in some sewing and darning kit (the puppies had a go on our trousers and also a pair of socks needed darning) and I indulged in a pair of lined work glove. We also had to pick up a pallet of dog food.
The one and a half hour trip to 100 Mile House was an experience in itself. Hilde and Tibor, Tom’s parents, gave us a lift. They both emigrated from Germany and came to Canada in 1957 and 1959 respectively. Since then they have not been back to Germany. And so naturally their image of Germany is totally different to ours. They have well preserved that Germany in their memories and tell us about “the good old days”. Add to that, blaring Bavarian folk music from a cassette in the background. For both of them it obviously means a bit of home, for us it meant a serious challenge. In 100 Mile House they are going to pick up their new vehicle. A giant pick-up is awaiting the proud new owners at the Ford dealer. Tibor beams all over his face on seeing the luxury equipment: electronic window levers, electronic seat adjustment, numeric code locks (should the key be lost) etc. The only thing missing is a cassette recorder. And so we do without the taped national identity on the return ride.
On Saturday we were able to give vent to our pyromaniac feelings. After Tom and Laurie had cleared some of the trees from their land and sold them to the saw mill, all the brush wood and the unsalable remains were pushed together to a mighty pile to be gradually burnt. The result of this playing with fire was most likely –and hopefully- the largest bonfire of my life. In the best boy-scout and girl-guide tradition Claudia and Tom start a real hell-fire with one match and a bit of paper and cardboard and no gas (!) at all. After the wind has nicely blown the fire from the edges to the centre of the huge pile flames start leaping up several metres into the sky. Even two days later flames flare up from the smouldering remains. A week later smoke is still belching from the ashes.
A day after our great fire a strong wind blows over the Cariboo Region. Although it was not a full-sized storm several trees snap like matches and does not stop at power lines and telephone cables. For almost five days we are without electric power. It takes even a day longer to get telephones and internet working again. If you have a wood stove and a paraffin lamp you can live quite well without electricity. Of course, a failing telephone and internet connection is a problem for a company like Nakitsilik Outdoors Adventures especially at this time of year when several bookings are coming in. The largest problem, however, was the completely loaded freezer which slowly started to thaw. So Tom and Laurie organized a diesel generator which alternatingly ran here and at Tom’s parents place.
Since the dogs are doing quite well when training we have decided to extend the training track by a few kilometers. Now that the dogs have to take different bends and turns at some points than the ones they have got used to we can tell quite well which dog only follows the old pattern and which leader dog obeys our commands. It must be said that hardly any of the dogs follow our commands when one of the many kamikaze squirrels cross our path right in front of the leader dogs, seemingly in suicidal intention. One could assume that the small rodents are having a contest, daring each other as to who will come closest to the dogs. Obviously this game madly infuriates the huskies. Every cheeky squirrel is chased in true predatory fashion. If Claudia and I don’t brake quick enough half the dog team disappears into the shrubbery where we have to untangle it first of all. fs
Last weekend Laurie and Tom robbed us of our romantic notion that food grows on the shelves of our supermarkets wrapped in sterile packaging. It was butchering day and two of the turkeys found their way into the freezer. Not a very nice but an important experience for us. After all, up to now we were always able to hide comfortably from this part of the food production.
In the meantime the preparations for winter are in full swing. All the equipment, tools etc. that are lying about in front of the house and in the kennel compound have to be collected and stored tidily. Once the snow has covered everything it will not be found until the following spring run-off. Unfortunately, the little snow we had so far has melted again. The weather doesn't seem to be able to decide what to do within the range of serious degrees below and about 10°C. Meanwhile the largest part of the fire wood supply for the main building is cut, chopped and stacked. All the same, Claudia and I will spend another few days preparing a wood fuel supply for our small cabin.
Our training the dogs is making progress. Every day on our training track through the woods we run four teams, each consisting of eight to ten huskies. Whereas our first run of the season lasted two and a half hours (with a number of breaks in the warm weather) it now takes us about one hour to get back home. All the teams now run at a steady speed of 14 to 18 km/h and sprint from the yard brimming with enthusiasm at about 20 to 25 km/h. If we didn't rein them in, they'd most likely be even a little faster.
One of our dogs, Mica, somehow gets out of line. On a short stretch of road which we have to use on our way to the training course he is very afraid of running down-hill. If the speed is too much for him, he simply stops and so halts the whole team. So Claudia and I are trying a special training with him. We put him in front of a race cart, run along side and so try to reduce his fear of the road track. Unfortunately with little success so far and so Mica's team runs the few hundred meters along the road in slow motion. Suppose some things just take their time...
A problem of quite a different nature appeared in Skor the other day. The nice fluffy five year old dog showed digestion troubles all of a sudden. And so Laurie took him to the vet at Hundred Mile House (the nearest slightly larger assembly of houses and shops). Luckily the vet gave the all-clear. It is merely a fairly harmless bowel infection. A few days of diet and a few doses of antibiotics and Skor should be back on his feet again.fs
Once a year Laurie and Tom run the "Fun Run". For this event about 25 people trundled in here last weekend. For three days the topic was sled dogs. In the party was a sled maker, a dog food vendor, producers of equipment and loads of mushers. First hand experience was exchanged, the maddest (and most neck breaking) carriages were tried behind a team of dogs, puppies were exchanged for dish washers and new sleds ordered. And of course everyone wanted to use the excellent training conditions on site to run their own dogs. In the evening I was sitting with a gang of girls listening with amusement to the stories about their hubbies. Among others was the talk of the husband who in a state of drunkenness tried to move with a dredge a completely equipped tool shed - which of course collapsed. That was followed by stories of extensive blazes in the garden because the barbeque would not really light up without gas and one on the father whose technical skill totally wrecked the neighbour's chain saw within a few attempts.
Also there that weekend was Darryle, a hulk of a man from Vancouver Island. He, too, brought along some of his Siberian huskies. Some months ago he launched a project for socially challenged teenagers. Here they learn how to care for the dogs and how to train them. In working with the dogs the kids defuse their aggressions and discover a thrilling change to watching television and playing video games.
A few visitors spoke of a black bear they had seen close by near the road on a meadow. With Paul, a wildlife biologist from Alberta, we go looking for the bear on the following Tuesday. And sure enough we find our first bear peacefully grazing on the meadow. At this time of year bears put on weight for the coming winter. With our binoculars we can watch at a safe distance from the road side. A short while later we discover a bald eagle rising over the banks of Eagan Lake.
Last night it really snowed for the first time. Temperatures dropped several degrees below freezing point and when we got up this morning the world was white. The buckets in the kennels are thickly coated with ice and the frozen carabiners on the doors and the chains for the dogs can only be opened after a few blows with a hammer. This gives us a slight taste of the coming winter. Unfortunately the snow is not enough for our first ride on the dog sled and so Claudia and I have to train using the all-terrain vehicles again. However the ground is frozen solid. That prevents the otherwise daily mud wrestling on the muddy forest tracks. But by the afternoon the snow has disappeared and the autumn brown is back again. What remains for Claudia and me is the joyful anticipation of the coming winter. Meanwhile working the dog teams is improving all the time. Slowly we are finding out which pairs run together well. Also the leaders follow our commands better: hike = start, gee = right, haw = left, wow = stop. fs
Last week we started training the dogs. On the first morning we had a real mess-up. Several dogs were fighting through the fencing. Luckily there were only small injuries. Now that it's getting colder the dogs are more active, full of energy and don't know where to employ it. Laurie commented laughingly: "When the blood starts running it is time to start training!" Despite the chaotic start to the morning the training goes off excellently. Drayton, the leader, has his team in superb control, and it is good to watch the dogs at work. Since there is no snow yet, we put the dogs to work in front of the two all terrain vehicles. Thanks to slight engine support the dogs didn't have to pull so much for a start. They are to get used to running in a team again and in a harness. And so we trot at a leisurely 10 to 15 km/h through the woods. Eight to ten dogs per vehicle are trained in one go. Up front are the lead dogs, they are followed by the point dogs, then the team dogs, and right in front of the vehicle (the sled) in the last position the wheel dogs. That makes eight to ten pairs of ears that constantly adjust to any sound from the woods like little satellite dishes.
With the training beginning we gain yet another different approach and a different relation to the dogs. Up to now we only knew the dogs from their kennels and a few short walks on the leash. Now in a team some dogs surprise us with a totally different behavior. For me little Mocha is the greatest surprise. She is so shy and timid that she crawls back into her hut shaking whenever I approach her kennel to clean it or feed her. Meanwhile I have made such progress at great effort that she half leaves her hut whilst I stroke her. As soon as she is put to work in her harness before the vehicle she becomes the best leader among Laurie's dogs. She obeys every command and pulls the whole team in the right direction employing all the strength she can with her small body.
The fact that we are getting to know all the dogs better now causes grave problems for Claudia. Every few hours she will come through the door and explain with a smiling face that she has found another favourite dog. By now about half of the local dogs must have been accepted into the illustrious circle of darlings.
On a day off Frida, Claudia, and I set off for Spectacle Lake. The small lake is some 20 km away in the woods and will be one of our destinations on our sled tours. The shallow lake is gorgeous and we also were able to watch some buffleheads, some merganser and a muskrat.
Before winter finally closes in we have to cut a large pile of fuel wood. After Laurie has showed me how to use her "girlie saw", the small chain saw, Claudia and I cut a few trees. Numerous dead and totally dry pine trees are standing here in the woods seemingly waiting to be cut down for fuel. They are witness to the great ecological catastrophe which has afflicted British Columbia. Laurie and Tom report of a beetle which has attacked all the pine trees and by now also the spruce trees killing them within a few years. About ten years ago this problem became known, but the official bodies appeased when something could have been done. Meanwhile it is certain that large forest areas of British Columbia will disappear within the next few years. The only thing that could help decimate the beetle are severe winters with frost setting in early. But global warming makes that more and more unlikely... fs
For four days now we have been with Laurie and Tom Niedermayer near Bridge Lake in British Columbia. During the coming winter we are going to work as guides for their company "Nakitsilik Outdoors Adventures" and accompany guests on their sled tours. The landscape here is a dream. It is slightly hilly and on a clear day you can even see the first snow-covered tops of the Rocky Mountains. Fall has already coloured the leaves brightly and among the hills the water of Lake Eagan glistens in the sun.
Another highlight here is the compound with the puppies. Claudia is standing among a huddle of little dogs all tugging at her madly and chewing anything that is dangling from her jacket, trousers and shoes. No lace, no string is safe from that teeming pack. One of the small balls of wool finally muzzles his way into Claudia's jacket pocket and pulls out one of her gloves. However the joy of that bootie doesn't last long, all his mates at once charge at the glove barking wildly.
Luckily it is not as wild in all the kennels as with the puppies. If the larger dogs were so playful they would be dragging us around the dirt rather than a glove. Here the dogs are kept in kennels in groups of two to eight animals. Only the really difficult characters and the bitches on heat are kept individually. By keeping them in small groups a genuine social structure is developed and serious fighting among the dogs is mainly avoided. Laurie gave us a list of all the dogs and a short description of every individual one. And still we stand confused in the kennels and try to attribute the names correctly whilst the dogs yap around us excitedly. For feeding all the dogs have to be chained in the right order of sequence. Not an easy task with 95 Siberian huskies: but Laurie reckons in a few days we will know how it all works.
Laurie and Tom are slowly introducing us to working with the dogs: the provision of feed and water, clipping the dog's nails, poop scooping etc. During the next few days the training for the coming winter is to begin.
Also other work needs to be done. And so Tom and I roof a new building. All the dog equipment is to be stored here for the coming winter. So we must put a move on because it should not be long before winter sets in. The first night frost has already fallen and also the first falls of snow before our arrival. However, unfortunately none of it stayed on the ground.
On our first day here Tom and Laurie showed us some of the landscape and the tracks on which we will be taking our guests during winter. Today we will be setting out again with the chain saw to clear some of the tracks from the trees that were blown over during the latest storms. Frida who arrived yesterday will be accompanying us. She is from Sweden and wants to do a practical course on dog care here for a few weeks. fs