Sunday, February 12, 2012

Of Ice Fishing and S'Mores

Snow Shake (Yukon Territory, Canada)

I am on the plane from Whitehorse to Vancouver where we will catch our connecting flight to Victoria and the next leg of our adventure.  It’s hard to believe that I’m not further along in my blogging given how much free time I had at the Inn on the Lake.  There is a languor that comes from days that flow seamlessly from one into the other.  Days where the only appointments are those you make with yourself to renew and reconnect with the world around you.   

Marsh Lake (Yukon Territory, Canada)
For some reason, Nancy B (the B) and I are not seated together (we are not sure how that happened) and so my seatmate is a young woman who moved to the Yukon Territory from Edmonton.  She had come with her boss on a work gig these past two summers and just liked it there and so she has moved.  She’s giving it a whirl for three months and then if all goes well, she’ll bring her son up and make a life for herself in Whitehorse.  I learn a little more about the housing crunch in Whitehorse – they are predicting a 4% rise in population due to the resurgence of the mining industry.  One thing the territory government is doing is building senior housing so as to free up the land for new housing.  I ask what the seniors think about that and so far, so good.  Only time, and the opening of the first complex, will tell if this is true.

Whitehorse seems to have a lot of transplants from other parts of Canada and from the world.   The Yukon Territory has a population of some 36,000 and 26,000 of those folks live in Whitehorse with the others spread throughout the territory.  And what a territory it is – the Alaska Highway cuts through here and is well traveled in the summer by Americans heading north to camp their way through Denali and the other great natural wonders of the 49th state.  Now, in the quiet of winter, it’s mostly Yukoners and the big trucks passing through.  One can easily slip across the highway and onto a trail without worrying about missing an onrushing car for those are few and far between.

White Pass & Yukon Railroad
 (from an earlier SUMMER cruise to Alaska)
In earlier days, this frontier town was the terminus for a railroad that begins in Skagway on the Alaskan coast (some 90 minutes by car these days).  The Whitehorse station is built right on the Yukon River so as to more easily disgorge passengers and cargo headed further north on the river in search of gold.  On our first day, we walked to the station but it wasn't until Carson relayed the history of the railroad that I was reminded that I’d ridden the White Pass and Yukon railroad on another trip.  We were ferried on a bus from our cruise ship in Skagway up to Frasier (or was it Carcross?) from where we embarked for a leisurely journey on an old fashioned railroad back down to Skagway.  It is one of the great narrow gauge rail train rides.  It crosses two trestle bridges, speeds through tunnels, and curves around mountains with all of the Canadian and Alaskan wilderness eye candy that one could want – viewed safely from an old-fashioned train car where the windows still open.

Christian Making Our Fire (Yukon Territory, Canada)
One of our adventures from the Inn was to go snow mobiling with Christian who is a transplant himself.  He came to the Yukon some three years ago having worked as a guide in Antarctica prior to that.   Originally from Germany, he’s settled here in the Yukon – marrying a French girl and acquiring a son and a cabin in the process.  He hasn’t quite tamed his wanderlust though nor does the Yukon quite fulfill his love for Antarctica.  It’s in his blood the way Africa is in mine.  I am sure he will go back.

He is quite charming Christian – easily entertaining the B and I while watching out for our companion – the well-traveled Japanese woman.  We are convinced that he would do well on Survivor – he has a good social game and mad survival skills.   The first order of business for our snow-mobiling adventure is to outfit ourselves for the cold and for the potential tumble off of the snowmobile should B hit a bump and lose control.  We get yellow (B) and green (me) helmets.  The B looks like she could be doing tricks at the X games – she is of the same stature as many a rider there.  We don our many layers until Christian pronounces us ready to go.  Then it’s off to the lake where our chariots await.

The B is driving and after a quick lesson, she is off for a spin on Marsh Lake in order to acquire her ski-doo legs (so to speak).  At first slow, she is soon speeding along like a little speed demon and I’m wondering if I should be driving my own ski-doo.  She has banging driving skills that one – far better than mine – so I really just need to hold on tight.  Right? 

I Better Catch a Fish after this
(Yukon Territory, Canada)
Soon we are heading up onto terra firma where we speed our way down an access road to line up to cross the Alaskan Highway.  Then it’s up a snow-tree lined path – swishing through curves and keeping up with Christian as we climb steadily up towards Caribou Lake.  Finally, we spot it – following Christian’s tracks to a spot somewhere in the center where the first order of business is to make a fire.  Two heavy logs go down on the ice and kindling is piled on top.  Christian notes that when he first got to the Yukon he would have tried to get the fire going without any artificial help but now he uses environmentally friendly lighter fluid to speed things along.  While we wait for the fire to catch, he pulls a massive auger from his bag of tricks and shows us how to make an ice-fishing hole.  We each gamely try – leaning into the auger with one shoulder while trying to turn it with the other hand.  What was a true and straight hole is a little atilt but we got some nice photos along the way.
The B Fishing
(Yukon Territory, Canada)

Now, it is time for the ice fishing with a tiny bit of corn on our hook.  We watch has Christian reels it out and then sets it to the perfect height for catching a wild lake trout – or so he says.  Best fish you’ll ever eat he tells us –but the first fish goes to the guide which is going to be a bit of a challenge for us three ladies given that none of us have ice-fished before.  We gamely try though – in between sips of barley soup and bits of everything sandwiches, which are delicious albeit an assortment of what Carl had in the refrigerator that morning.  Aah, dessert is homemade cookies or toasted marshmallows.  Can’t beat that on a cold crisp day on Caribou Lake.

Then it is my turn to try driving the skidoo – there is something exhilarating about breaking through new snow at high speeds (ok, not 60 miles an hour).  No need for the brake on this machine – it’s all about the throttle and leaning into the curves.  Then it is time to pack up for the trek through the quiet forest and across Marsh Lake to see the stress crack.

Me on a Skidoo! (Yukon Territory, Canada)
This crack is nature at it’s best.  A ragged mountain of ice where the shifting water has created the equivalent of a tectonic shift in the earth.  Jagged blocks of ice gleam from beneath the new fallen snow – thrust into the air with a power that I can only imagine.    A mad dash to home where we can warm up our fingers and toes in the steam room before sharing another glorious meal with our fellow travelers who are temporarily calling the Inn on the Lake Home as they join us in watching for the elusive dancing lights of the great white north.

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