Saturday, 18 June 2011

Yukon: Dawson City

From Fort Selkirk to Dawson City our landing skills vastly improved. Both Adrian and I had to admit that up to Fort Selkirk neither of us had felt really comfortable in the boat. We felt that any minute some disaster could strike that we would not be able to handle. The combination of a very strong current, weather that can change within minutes from sunshine to hail storm, our only basic paddling skills and the cold water temperature that can kill you within minutes from hypothermia made us feel uneasy. When hiking I usually feel very confident. Depending on what trail I am hiking iffy sections like river or snowfield crossings make up only between 0 - 5% of the time. Paddling on the Yukon River I felt uneasy about half of time! But things improved after Fort Selkirk: We started to feel more and more confident. We are still very attentive and careful, but at least we start feeling more or less at ease most of the time. Bu disaster can still strike any minute like when we ended up in a sudden hail storm and did not land quickly enough... We ended up soaking wet with a boat full of water but otherwise unscathed...

Hostel "bathroo
Dawson City is definitely a highlight of this trip.We are staying at the Dawson City River Hostel which is an attraction in itself. It is situated on the Western Bank of the River that is not connected to electricity or running water. As the sun shines day and night now I do not really miss electricity. And the "showers" are the very best of the hostel resembling an old-fashioned Japanese onsen. You can either use cold creek water or heat water (and the bathroom) with a wood stove. West Dawson is connected with Dawson City via a car ferry that is running 24 hours every day at 10 minute intervals. There is no bridge over the Yukon in Dawson City and therefore the ferry acts as a substitute for a road brigde.

Dawson had a population of 30,000 during the gold rush in 1897, but nowadays only about 1,500 people are left. The town lives on tourism and gold mining and I must admit that they do the tourism well. Everyone in the visitor centre and all the tour guides are dressed up in authentic period costumes. Being an efficient German tourist I immediately bought a visitor pass and set out to see as many sights as possible. And for a little place like Dawson there is a lot to see: A city tour takes you to the first bank with only chicken wire as safety precaution. Well, if you rob a bank where would you go with the money? You could leave on the Yukon and would be found immediately. Actually the very first bank in Dawson was situated in a tent (!), before it was moved to an old storage shed.... Almost all dealings were done in gold dust and so the most important banker's instrument used to be a scales.

You can also visit the old Grand Theatre, where "40 shapely ladies" were singing and dancing to entertain the miners - and relieve them of their money. The "percentage girls" were dancing with the miners for 1$ per 1 minute waltz that ended at the bar - where the girls would receive a percentage of the price of every drink their suitors would be them. But eventually the Women's Temperance Movement would put an end to all that drinking and gambling when the gold mining slowly subsided after gold was found in other places in Alaska. But even during the gold rush Dawson was a relatively civilised place - the Royal Mounted Police would see to that. Everything was shut down on Sundays and nobody was allowed to carry guns in town. Nowadays tourists can join a police officer to solve the only brutal murder incident that happened in Dawson in 1902 - and even then the murderers where caught and brought to justice.

Board walk
Still, Dawson has a "Frontier" feeling to it: Only Front Street is paved, all other roads are plain dirt with old fashioned wooden board walks. You can still see plenty of interesting characters on the streets. 100 years ago Dawson was home to 2 famous authors: Jack London lived here and in a cabin of a Yukon side creek. And there is Robert Service, of whom I have never heard before in my entire life, but who is incredibly popular in North America. He immigrated from the UK and became one of the most famous poets of the last century after short jobs as a cowboy, vagrant and bank clerk. He mostly became famous with his ballads about the gold rush and his old log cabin in Dawson can still be visited and hosts daily poetry readings. Robert Service died as a millionaire - which proves that you can even make money with poems...


John Harwood said...

Had a quick look at the pictures of Dawson City River Hostel, looks impressive.

John x

Anonymous said...

Ah Christine..while reading i am back in 1982, hitchhiking up to Dawson, Carmacks, best Sandwich ever and the lady stopped the car in the middle of the road to take a nap. Five Finger Rapids, wondered how they did it.. Dawson with its campground across the river, but alas, the Dempster Highway up to Inuvik was still i hitched back all the way again to Dawson Creek...

hope the rainbow is still good to know..
happy miles ..

Anonymous said...

Hi GT, I thought that i'd chime in with another Yukon story from long ago (1974): I had a similar experience with poorly vetted and hostile companions, but was able to still get to Bering Sea thanks to a single kayak. The story involves a group of Japanese paddlers who were filming for a TV special: they were in several canoes and you can imagine how heavy and cumbersome TV cameras were in 1974. They had acquired the most recent river maps available at the time, which were printed before the Whitehorse Dam was built in 1958. They hadn't read much about the river either, as they somehow managed to paddle at least two of their canoes over the spillway, which was at least a 10-12 foot drop at the time. They were very lucky to have only one broken arm amongst them, and the loss of a lot of camera gear, plus they lost the canoes. The locals in Whitehorse sold them a huge ancient Native canoe, for a very good price, i.e., a lot!