While we were in the Yukon to see the northern lights we took the opportunity to check out the great paddling rivers the Yukon and Tahkini, but in March there was no chance of paddling! With average night time temperatures below -25C and daytime temperatures (in direct sun) only touching -5C there was still 600mm of ice covering both rivers. This however, made a perfect surface for dog mushing (sledding).
We went sledding with a group of dog teams from Muktuk Kennels run by Frank Turner a past winner and veteran of 20+ Yukon Quest races. This kennel has about 80 dogs and the respect and honour shown to the dogs was great to see. See link for a good read on the annual 1600km Yukon Quest Whitehorse to Fairbanks race that takes about 9 to 10 days to complete:
We were kitted up in Arctic clothing (on top of our ski jackets and pants), given ‘Bunny’ boots (very stylish double layered white plastic numbers that are standard Canadian armed forces issue that really keep your feet warm), introduced to our dogs, shown how to use the brakes and off we went; one of us reclining in the sled, the other mushing.
The art of mushing is pretty straightforward, but with a team of five keen dogs on tracks with uneven camber the odd mishap can occur where both musher and passenger are thrown from the sled with the dogs charging off into the distance.
In some ways, it is not unlike a tippy K1 with a mind of its own. Once tactics to throw your weight from one side of the sled to the other to counter the G-forces are mastered everything relaxes and you can breath in the cold air and take in the breathtaking scenery. Over the day we covered about 35km down along the Takhini River and onto the Yukon River, a tiny portion of the Yukon Quest route.
Our team of dogs just wanted to keep up with our guide on a skimobile no matter what his speed and do it all day. They didn’t want to slow down. Every time I had to put my foot on the brakes they would turn around and give me a look of “What are you doing that for?”
Anyone who likes dogs, speed and snow give it a go! It is a lot of fun and the dogs just love to run. And is a very different river experience.
Photographs: Andrew Buzacott collection. The northern lights, and dog sledding on the Yukon river