I Backpack Canada » North http://ibackpackcanada.com A backpackers travel guide to Canada Fri, 15 May 2015 19:13:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 7 True Yukon Experienceshttp://ibackpackcanada.com/7-true-yukon-experiences/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/7-true-yukon-experiences/#comments Thu, 12 Mar 2015 20:24:40 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=7116 I’m happy to feature a guest writer on I Backpack Canada this week. I was recently approached by a fellow writer who wanted to share some of her stories and photos. Gemma Taylor of Off Track Travel has been hiking, paddling, driving and writing her way around Western Canada with her boyfriend Jean Robert since 2011. Together, they’ve […]

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I’m happy to feature a guest writer on I Backpack Canada this week. I was recently approached by a fellow writer who wanted to share some of her stories and photos. Gemma Taylor of Off Track Travel has been hiking, paddling, driving and writing her way around Western Canada with her boyfriend Jean Robert since 2011. Together, they’ve managed to cover a massive part of western Canada, including BC, The Yukon, and the Northwest Territories. I love seeing other writers’ and travellers’ stories and advice on Canada, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity! Be sure to check out her site for more posts like these! With that said, I’m going to shut it and let Gemma take over from here.

Canada’s Yukon is truly a place like no other. The name alone evokes images of wilderness and adventure. But where to start? Here are seven experiences which I believe sum up the Yukon best.

Photo by Gemma Taylor

Photo by Gemma Taylor

Hiking and camping on tundra in Tombstone Territorial Park

This protected area is a real rarity. Located only an hour from one of Yukon’s main two highways, Tombstone offers remarkably easy access to pure Yukon wilderness. In Tombstone, you can hike and camp anywhere. Seriously, it’s just a matter of choosing which direction you want to go and starting to hike if you have some back country experience. The lack of trees allows for unparalleled views and relatively straightforward navigation, though the squishy tundra can take some effort to cross. With few visitors even despite the road running through it, reaching solitude is not a problem. You can enjoy the magnificent views from a mountain summit all to yourself.

Photo by Gemma Taylor

Paddling the mighty Yukon River

Follow in the footsteps of the Klondike gold miners and journey up the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Dawson City. Rustic camp-sites line most of this section of the mighty Yukon, as do relics of the past. Up until the 1950s, the Yukon River was the main highway in these parts. Explore abandoned telegraph stations, stern-wheelers and trappers’ cabins. Slow down and get on river time; there’s no hurry here. Mountain goats and moose can be spotted along the journey as well as grizzly and black bears. With an average river speed of 10km/h, paddling the 700km route is less intimidating and more achievable than you may at first think.

Photo by Gemma Taylor

Photo by Gemma Taylor

Crossing the Arctic Circle

The Yukon is home to Canada’s only all-season highway passing the Arctic Circle. The Dempster Highway is a 740km dirt road that currently reaches all the way to Inuvik, NWT. The journey is the destination here, as the highway passes over tundra, spectacular wide-open landscapes and incredibly rugged mountains. This is a place that reminds you how small you are. Reaching the Arctic, your expectations are likely to be thrown out of the window. There may not be many people in this area but it is still vibrant with local culture and a variety of wildlife. And it gets hot in the summer, up to 24 hours of the day to match the sunlight. Just remember to take bug spray – the mosquitoes are alive and well throughout those 24 hours too.

Dog-sledding in a winter wonderland

Whipping through the forest on the back of a sled pulled by a team of dogs, mushing in the Yukon offers a winter experience like no other. With the Yukon River freezing over, the humble dog sled was once the main form of winter transport in the Yukon. February’s annual Yukon Quest race continues to keep the spirit of epic dog-sledding journeys alive. Visitors can get in on the action too with various mushing experiences on offer around the Yukon, which can be combined with visits to hot springs. A wonderfully low impact way to explore the wilderness, the dogs are likely to be as excited as you.

Photo by Gemma Taylor

 

Stepping back in time in Dawson City

With a year-round population of 2000, you may expect Dawson City to be a sleepy place. It is in fact anything but! Centre of the 1896 Klondike Gold Rush, Dawson City is now almost like a living and breathing museum. Costumed interpretors wander the streets in summer and tour visitors along the wooden boardwalks and around the preserved Gold Rush-era buildings. Thrice nightly cancan shows continue in Canada’s oldest casino, Diamond Tooth Gertie’s, while brave souls in the Westminster Hotel down a drink with a dead appendage in it to join the ‘Sour Toe Club.’ The half-way point of the annual Yukon Quest, Dawson City knows how to party in winter too.

Experiencing the Midnight Sun / Watching the Northern Lights

“There are strange things done in the midnight sun” wrote Robert Service in 1907 and he was absolutely right. Summer days are long in the Yukon, averaging at 20 hours for much of the territory. With this much daylight, exploring doesn’t have to stop at dinnertime. The Yukon offers an entirely different perspective to what is summer; one that is seemingly never-ending and full of possibilities. On the other side of things, winter days may be short but in exchange they provide the opportunity of seeing the famed Northern Lights. Who needs long days when there is a dancing light show happening in the skies? Yukon skies shimmer with green throughout fall and spring too, but the dark nights of winter provide the best time to see the show.

Driving in Yukon territory

Photo by Gemma Taylor

Driving the Alaska Highway

The longest stretch (958km) of the famed Alaska Highway actually runs through Yukon Territory. Considered one of the best drives in the world, the ‘Alcan’ was originally built to connect Alaska with the continental USA during WWII. It may be a modern road today but it still evokes adventure, even if you don’t drive it all the way to Alaska! Lined by mountains and one-of-a-kind views, the road travels past some of Yukon’s most iconic sights, such as Watson Lake’s Signpost Forest (started by the road builders in 1942), the Yukon River, Kluane National Park and the stunning Kluane Lake. Short detours from the main highway lead to anomalies like the Carcross Desert and intensely coloured Emerald Lake. If you have time, take the ultimate road trip and drive the entire highway from Dawson Creek, BC, to Fairbanks, Alaska.

About the Guest Author of this Post

Gemma has been hiking, paddling, driving and writing her way around Western Canada with her boyfriend Jean Robert since 2011. Their most recent five month road trip stretched all the way to Inuvik, NWT. Sharing their outdoor adventures and travel tips on offtracktravel.ca, Gemma has also recently released an eBook ‘the Ultimate Guide to a Working Holiday in Canada’ to help enable others to go on their own Canadian adventure. Connect with JR and Gemma on Twitter and Facebook.

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16 Must See Canadian Destinationshttp://ibackpackcanada.com/16-must-see-canadian-destinations/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/16-must-see-canadian-destinations/#comments Tue, 24 Feb 2015 16:26:51 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=7073 I get hassled a lot by readers, asking what are the best Canadian destinations to see. I try my best to avoid naming names, but I’ll usually share a handful of what I deem to be the best. While I like to remind readers that the best is all subjective, I partnered up with Expedia […]

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I get hassled a lot by readers, asking what are the best Canadian destinations to see. I try my best to avoid naming names, but I’ll usually share a handful of what I deem to be the best. While I like to remind readers that the best is all subjective, I partnered up with Expedia Canada and came up with my own little hit list to share some of my personal faves. Something a little more public & out there, something that I can just link people to and say “Give this a read“. I’m hoping some readers will comment and share some additional must see Canadian destinations, but I hope this gives you a start!

tombstone mountain yukon

The Yukon

The wild, rugged Yukon has lured people from all over the world for hundreds of years. Home of the Klondike gold rush, thousands of kilometres of dense bush, and some of the most beautiful mountain ranges in Canada (I’m looking at you Tombstone Mountain Range). The Yukon is this mysterious territory where art meets manliness, where nature meets quirky towns and cities, where people don’t take anything too serious, except when it comes to making people laugh. SourToe Cocktails, gold miners trying to strike it rich, and 1:00am sunsets are sure to raise some eyebrows. The Yukon is too weird, too wild not to include in this list.

whale watching vancouver island

Vancouver Island, BC

Beautiful Vancouver Island is larger than it might sound. In fact, it’s the largest island on West Coast North America, and 43rd largest island in the world, measuring 32,134 km2 (12,407 sq mi). From the English inspired streets of Victoria, to the chill surfer vibe of Tofino & Ucluelet, there’s a large amount of must-sees on Vancouver Island, all within a relatively easy driving distance. While most of BC is already pretty laid back, you’ll quickly realize that Vancouver Island has it’s own pace. You see it in the arts, the culture, the sport, the food, and the people. I can’t name any one place in Vancouver Island as the only must-see, so I’m copping out and just saying “Go see it all“. It’s just a terrific island to cruise around and explore. A must see destination if you’re a die-hard hiker, a relaxed camper, an RVer, a luxury traveller, or just someone who likes to snap photos. Vancouver Island is truly a travellers paradise.

Kalamalka-Lake-Okanagan-Valley-British-Columbia

The Okanagan Valley, BC

Picture massive valleys, mild temperature, vineyards, warm lakes, wind & kite surfers, boaters, and cute beaches. The Okanagan Valley is often skipped by visitors in lieu of the nearby mountains. A weekend in the Okanagan is well worth the small detour, particularly in the summer. Rent a car, a bike, or a boat, and find yourself exploring this unique BC countryside. Panoramic views of this beautiful part of Canada will leave you with empty SD cards and countless warm memories. Or possibly a hangover, as the wine is delightful.

vancouver-bike-the-wall

Vancouver, BC

Vancouver, it’s often dreamed about by other Canadians due to its year round mild weather. While the weather may not be as extreme as other parts of Canada, the amount of activities you can squeeze in during a short stay in Vancouver is sure to make you think this area is anything but mild. Mountain biking, stand up paddle boarding, hiking, skiing, snowboarding, surfing, kayaking, you name it, you can probably do it in or near by Vancouver. While Vancouver is one of Canada’s larger cities, it’s still fairly easy to get around with public transportation. Surrounded by mountains and pacific ocean, Vancouver is a must-see destination simply due to its beauty, and also due to the sheer number of exciting activities that you can enjoy. An outdoorsy, nature lovers paradise, with an extremely large amount of good restaurants, and a superb stop for any visitor to Canada.

jasper mountains

Jasper National Park, Alberta

Nothing compares to Jasper. A rocky Mountain mecca that truly lets you feel like you’re alone on this planet. While Banff continues to draw in more visitors per year, Jasper has kept its pristine look and feel. You never really feel like you’re too close to people. There’s room to breathe, and even more room to explore. Countless hiking trails await you, world class skiing and snowboarding, Jasper is a year round meccca of discovery. By day you’ll come across all sorts of wildlife, and by night Jasper’s Dark Sky Preserve allows for some of the starriest nights you’ll ever experience.

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Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan

The prairies we know in Canada are not same prairies that existed 300 years ago. Once upon a time, a large part of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba were covered in grasslands, feeding herds upon herds of wild bison. Before the fields of wheat, barley, canola and flax, there was grass, and lots of it. Visiting the Grasslands National Park lets you truly experience what that would have been like. It has become a refuge for wildlife, flora, and some of the most beautiful sunsets in the world. If you want to really take it in, camping for a night or two in these parts is a must, just be on the guard for the wild bison, rattlesnakes, and the thousands of prairie dogs that live in these parts.

Winnipeg Legislative Golden Boy Hermes

Winnipeg, Manitoba

Winnipeg gets poked at across Canada, but spend a weekend there and you’ll quickly discover that Winnipeg is actually very awesome. I can’t help but wonder if the insults directed at Winnipeg for being too cold, too boring, are just tactics to keep the tourist masses out of this prairie city. With a wildly popular music scene, home to such great artists as Neil Young, The Guess Who, Bachman Turner Overdrive, and more, you can hop from bar to bar catching incredible indie bands and singer songwriters. Spend a day exploring the Forks, the historic & mysterious Legislative Building or any of the countless festivals that setup in downtown Winnipeg. Or simply explore the wildly different neighbours of the Exchange District, Osborne Village, or the french quarter, formally known as St. Boniface. Winnipeg’s got a lot to offer for those willing to look!

polar bear canada churchill mb

Churchill, Manitoba

I regularly receive emails asking where someone can spot polar bears. I’m always quick to educate people that the majority of us don’t live near polar bears, but there are some places in Canada where they’re regular visitors. The easiest place to see them without getting mauled to death, is hands down Churchill Manitoba. Located on the tip of the Hudsons Bay, known as the the home of the polar bear, beluga, and countless other wild animals. Churchill is a quirky town where industry meets rugged outdoors. This place is easily a must see Canadian destination. The VIA Rail trip from Winnipeg up to Churchill (2 days), is long and difficult, but very much worth it!

EdgeWalk CN Tower

Toronto, Ontario

Toronto is a different beast. While still very much Canadian, you can’t help but feel fully immersed in countless different cultures when exploring this city. Each neighbourhood differs so much from the next. With countless museums, parks, sports arenas, architectural wonders, and commonly known as a foodie’s paradise, Toronto has something for everyone. Public transportation makes Toronto easy to get around, and in spite of its size, it’s still very affordable to visit this metropolitan city. Take it all in from the top of the CN Tower, or do something crazy-stupid like hang over the edge of the building on the EdgeWalk. I have clammy hands just seeing that photo again!

ottawa-canada-day-streets-people

Ottawa, Ontario

The national Capital, Ottawa has always struck me as a mix between Halifax and Toronto, with a dash of Montreal. Historical buildings, governmental grandiose buildings, and a growing number of clubs, pubs, and restaurants makes Ottawa a beautiful city to visit. Explore the canals by boat, or bike & hike the countless paths throughout the city. There’s a ton to see and do in Ottawa, making it a great place to add on anyones Canadian bucket list. Consider visiting the nations capital during Canada Day to truly experience the Canadian pride associated with this great city.

montreal-tam-tams-drum-circle

Montreal, Quebec

This city is awesome. There’s really no questioning a visit to Canada should include this hip, cultural centre of Quebec. An incredible mix of french and english, with a dash of european culture peppered throughout. Food, music, arts, and the outdoors are such integral parts of this city, that you can’t help but feel inspired, exploring the streets of Montreal, or using this city as base camp for your Quebecois journey. A summer visit to Montreal is a must, taking in the numerous food & music festivals, such as POP Montreal, or the always-free, always-fun Tam Tams in Mount Royal Park.

quebec-city-fairmont-w1024

Quebec City, Quebec

The great walled city of Canada, this historic french city centre has been at the forefront of some of Canada’s most famous historical events. A history buffs dream come true, from old gothic architecture, to battlegrounds from hundreds of years ago. This city has retained it’s elegance throughout the years, and is still widely regarded as one of the best places to really expose yourself to french immersion. While Montreal can be very french at times, it’s common for people to live in Montreal and not speak a lick of french. If you want to expose yourself to true french Canadian culture, from the delicious artisan foods, to the beautiful views of the Fleuve St Laurent, Quebec City is a safe bet.

hopewell-rocks-new-brunswick-flowerpot-3

Hopewell Rocks, New Brunswick

Home to some of the largest tides in the world, this entire area was carved out by the rising tides of the Bay of Fundy. The flowerpot rocks are a stunning example of natures power. During low-tide, hike throughout the rocks and explore the caverns carved from water. During high tide, kayak around the flowerpot rocks on the Bay of Fundy. While Hopewell Rocks are a terrific day trip that really lets you experience the wild elements in these parts, the Bay of Fundy is also home to some amazing whale watching tours, along with some beautiful highway drives.

Barrington St Bike

Halifax, Nova Scotia

One of my favourite cities, Halifax is a superb combination of metropolitan fun mixed with maritime heritage. Easily one of the most walk-able cities in Canada, Halifax is a great place to visit, and an even better place to settle down for a bit. I found myself living there for nearly 5 years, and enjoyed nearly every minute of it. From historical pubs, delicious microbrews, countless colleges & universities, and the gateway to some terrific tours. A weekend in Halifax is sure to be met with a few hangovers, but before the drinks begin to flow, you’ll be immersed in some of Canada’s earliest history.

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St Johns, Newfoundland

Screech, beer, hard drinks, wild parties, all surrounded in a historical maritime harbour. St Johns, Newfoundland is definitely a must-see-must-experience Canadian destination. It’s funny what a stretch of water will do. While very much similar to Halifax, it’s easy to see that Newfoundlanders are their own breed of maritimers. With their celtic inspired tunes, cute but sometimes hard to understand accents, and their affinity for embarrassing CFA’s (come from away’s) by initiating them into Newfoundland culture by kissing a cod. The easy to walk (though be warned, they’re hilly) streets of Newfoundland make it a great city to stumble around, crawling from pub to pub and sampling their local beers, eats, and laughing with some of the friendliest people in Canada. If you can squeeze in George Street Fest on your visit, all the power to you. Just be sure your liver is up to it! Those east coasters can put ‘em back.

fogo head trail

Fogo Island, Newfoundland

This charming, mysterious island takes control of you in weird ways. You’ll find yourself staring out into the Atlantic Ocean, wondering “Why can’t I live here forever“. Fogo Island’s scenery is some of the most unique in Canada. Everywhere you look is rock, moss, trees, ocean, and stunning beauty. The Island residents have known this for a long time, in fact, artists from all over the world fight for the chance to become an artist in residence on this small little island. Some of the worlds freshest seafood, the most spectacular drives, and the friendliest people you’ll meet are all found on Fogo Island.

Am I missing any must-see destinations in Canada? I’d love to hear from you, comment below or throw a tweet my way @ibackpackcanada!

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Vice International Covers Prohibition in Northern Canadahttp://ibackpackcanada.com/vice-prohibition-in-northern-canada/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/vice-prohibition-in-northern-canada/#comments Sun, 18 Jan 2015 12:24:34 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=7001 Nunavut is a beautiful arctic territory, isolated from the rest of Canada with its own culture and language. While expensive for most to visit, over 30,000 people call Nunavut home. It’s widely known, however, that despite strict alcohol laws, this territory suffers from some serious social problems. This week’s Sunday Canadian Travel Video is going to cover some of […]

Vice International Covers Prohibition in Northern Canada is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Nunavut is a beautiful arctic territory, isolated from the rest of Canada with its own culture and language. While expensive for most to visit, over 30,000 people call Nunavut home. It’s widely known, however, that despite strict alcohol laws, this territory suffers from some serious social problems. This week’s Sunday Canadian Travel Video is going to cover some of those issues the people of Nunavut face. Vice International recently sent one of their reporters there to cover the story.

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Burlesque & Beers at Diamond Tooth Gertieshttp://ibackpackcanada.com/burlesque-beers-at-diamond-tooth-gerties/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/burlesque-beers-at-diamond-tooth-gerties/#comments Mon, 08 Oct 2012 12:30:18 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=4724 Red velvet curtains, wood floors, games of chance, and cold Yukon beer greet each visitor of this unique gambling hall. Smiles crawl across the faces of new visitors and only enlarge at the sight of Gerties Girls, a beautiful bunch of cancan dancers who take stage three nights a week. Welcome to Dawson City’s famous […]

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Red velvet curtains, wood floors, games of chance, and cold Yukon beer greet each visitor of this unique gambling hall. Smiles crawl across the faces of new visitors and only enlarge at the sight of Gerties Girls, a beautiful bunch of cancan dancers who take stage three nights a week. Welcome to Dawson City’s famous gambling hall – Diamond Tooth Gerties – a unique blast from the past that continues to dominate the nightlife of of this small Gold Rush town.

Timing is Everything

As with most gambling halls, the atmosphere in Gerties changes with the clientele. Show up too early (say the 6pm or 9pm show), and expect to see the PG rated version of the Yukon. RV Tourists and Cruiseline Crusadors fill the hall for a very tame taste of Gerties. However, if you’re able to pump your brakes for a few hours, you’re in for a completely different show.

yukon-slot-machine

I was amongst a loyal group of comrades, hell-bent on seeing every side of Dawson City. Being fans of beer and gin & tonics, we felt obligated to sample drinks coincidentally close to 2 separate showings of Gerties Girls. The 9pm was quiet, we observed people that were well over 20-30 years our senior gamble and drink. The girls danced, embarrassed a few older gentlemen, and smiled as wide as possible. While it was nice to see some Baby Boomers throw a beer or two back, it was still rather family-friendly in my eyes.

dawson-city-diamond-tooth-gerties-girls

The Midnight Show

Returning at Midnight, the crowd had drastically changed. Lights seemed a little more dim, and Gerties Girls seemed a lot more scantily clad. Locals lined the bar and filled the poker tables. Men with beards longer than the hair on my head slugged beer back like water. The show started, and the bar cleared to watch. Beautiful girls doing sexy things on stage can make the most honest man stop and stare.

Once Gerties Girls left the stage to change outfits, a male performer took stage – clearly trying to seduce the opposite sex in the same manner that Gerties Girls do. It didn’t appear to be working; however, it was then that I figured it out. I looked back at the bar & every inch of standing room around the bar had filled with men seeking refills. As the man-dancer got off stage, the man-drinkers returned to their observation stations. This was genius – Gerties was using the man-dancer to get the men to drink more & also allow the lady-dancers time to change. Yukon ingenuity at it’s finest!

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A Run-in with an Angry Fellow

I joined the flock and learned the rhythm of the bar – it would appear timing out your next drink required accurate planning. Showing up too late meant you missed a song and dance with Gertie & her Girls. After refilling my beer I managed to bump into a local Dawson City gentlemen who didn’t like the cut of my jib. With the assistance of his friend, I was able to convince this rather angry fellow that smashing my face in wouldn’t do either of us any good. In lieu of his act of kindness I was merely encouraged to buy the three of us a shot. That seemed like a fair trade, “Three Tequila’s it is!“.

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A Beautiful Venue

As the final set of Gerties Girls finished up, I did an ocular pat-down of the gambling hall. Men and women were playing blackjack against traditionally dressed dealers in suspenders. The sound of a slot machine spilling it’s guts into the cup of a lucky winner rang through one corner of the bar, lights flashed, people drank, smiles were all around, and the floor was filled with people enjoying a show that could have been put on in the early 1900’s.

Dawson City is this little hidden town in it’s own bubble. Time doesn’t appear to have had much of an affect on it. The beer tastes good, the locals are friendly (even the drunk one that wanted to fight became an ally after drinking tequila with him), and the amount of things to see and do around this little town is astounding. Find a way up here if you’re ever in Whitehorse and see what I feel is the “real Yukon”. A little rough around the edges & jammed full of sexy history, beautiful scenery, and an ample supply of alcohol.

Diamond Tooth Gerties is a non-profit gambling hall that started in the 1950’s by a keen bunch of locals who wanted to promote tourism in The Yukon. Named after Diamond Tooth Gertie, a real life Klondike superstar / lady of the eve who differentiated herself from the “other girls” by sticking a Diamond in her teeth. Diamond Tooth Gerties serves beer, liquor, texas hold’em, roulette, blackjack, and all the slots you can shake a stick at.

Entry Cost: $10.00

Special thanks to the kind folks at Tourism Yukon for helping arrange this excursion, and to the fine people of Diamond Tooth Gerties who let me snap photos of this unique piece of Yukon culture.

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Chopper Flight Over the Tombstone Mountain Rangehttp://ibackpackcanada.com/chopper-flight-over-the-tombstone-mountain-range/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/chopper-flight-over-the-tombstone-mountain-range/#comments Tue, 02 Oct 2012 13:22:42 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=4801 Crawling into the rather small helicopter on the tarmac of Dawson City’s tiny airport, I couldn’t help but smile. Up until this point, I had never stepped foot inside a helicopter, and what better way to pop my chopper cherry than in the colossal mountains of the Yukon. Looking at this sophisticated piece of machinery, I couldn’t […]

Chopper Flight Over the Tombstone Mountain Range is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Crawling into the rather small helicopter on the tarmac of Dawson City’s tiny airport, I couldn’t help but smile. Up until this point, I had never stepped foot inside a helicopter, and what better way to pop my chopper cherry than in the colossal mountains of the Yukon. Looking at this sophisticated piece of machinery, I couldn’t help but awe at the wonder of flight. Four blades connected to a shell, slicing through the air to provide lift to a handful of men stuffed into its insides. It’s a strange notion the more you dissect it, but as the helicopter got off the ground, I’d never felt more safe, and never felt more alive.

trinity-helicopters-tombstone-tour

Trinity Helicopter Tours

I first met our helicopter pilot at a bar in Whitehorse a few days before the flight. While talking over some beer it turned out that we were alumni’s to the same elementary school in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan – talk about a small world. I had almost forgot about the encounter in Whitehorse until I ran into him again in Dawson City. I laughed thinking “I wonder how many helicopter pilots are in the Yukon, and how come I keep running into this fellow.” As it would turn out, he was fated to blow my mind with the dangerously endearing beauty of the Tombstone Mountain Range.

tombstone-valley-yukon-helicopter

Tombstone Valley

Departing from Dawson City, we climbed the currents of air eastward, exploring the hills, valleys, and trees that completely surround this small town. Our pilot provided us with some colour commentary on the way up, explaining some of the work being done in the current gold mines, and briefly informing our group of the geological studies being performed in the area. It wasn’t long before the tree line began to fade into rocky outcrops – which fast became massive slabs of earth that stabbed the sky.

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Yukon Spires

As we flew through Tombstone Valley, it was clear why this area of mountains was used as a landmark for first nations people. The towering spires on each side, the epic beauty of small rivers, colourful greenery, and deep shades of blue, grey, and white make for a scene that can only be described as mind-blowingly-memorable. We hovered in the area, snapping photos, and circling the sharp jagged spires along the Tombstone Territorial Park.

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Tombstone Mountain, Yukon

Flying up to Tombstone Mountain, it’s apparent how the name stuck. The sharp flat face and jagged edges truly do the name justice .Looking over some of the mountains, you could see completely different weather systems lingering, threatening our clear skies. Our pilot seemed sure they weren’t going to sneak our way, but it was something he was going to keep an eye on. As we approached the 40 minute mark our helicopter began it’s flight back to Dawson City; however, not before a quick fly by of the the city & the Dredge Ponds which scour the surrounding area.

What are Dredge Ponds?

The dredge ponds located throughout the Yukon are remnants from several multi-million dollar machines that clawed through the land, digging for gold. Their method was far from “good” for the environment, but in those days the word eco-friendly didn’t sit anywhere near machines. In order to extract the gold from the land, a complicated process involving washing the soil with water from the rivers and lakes nearby forced the gold to fall to the bottom of these massive machines. While some see the dredge ponds as a scar on Yukon’s past I can’t help but feel they’re a unique piece of Canadian history.

dredge-ponds-gold-mine-yukon

As our helicopter landed along the Dawson City airstrip I stepped onto solid ground once again. I couldn’t help but laugh in shock of what I’d just seen – taking in the Yukon from the sky is truly the only way to get a grasp of the scale and sheer enormity of this Canadian territory. The Yukon is so sparsely populated by humans, yet so densely populated by wildlife, trees, rivers, mountains and lakes. With helicopter tours starting for under $200, you’d be a fool not to jump aboard.

Trinity Helicopters in the Yukon

Trinity Helicopter Tours offers the most spectacular views of Gold Fields, Tombstone Park, Ibex Valley, Fish Lake, Wheaton Valley, Chilkat Glacier, along with City & River tours in Dawson & Whitehorse.

Dawson City: (867) 993-3971

Whitehorse: (867) 393-3598

Special thanks to Tourism Yukon and Owen at Trinity Helicopters for helping me get up in the air!

Chopper Flight Over the Tombstone Mountain Range is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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The White Pass & Yukon Route – Gateway to the Northhttp://ibackpackcanada.com/the-white-pass-yukon-route-gateway-to-the-north/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/the-white-pass-yukon-route-gateway-to-the-north/#comments Thu, 02 Aug 2012 17:19:18 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=4712 Driving from Whitehorse in the Yukon to Fraser, B.C to climb aboard the White Pass & Yukon Route is an experience unto itself. The scenery in this region can hardly be described. Hues of blue & green with sharp contrasts of icy white and dark charcoals and black cover the rocky mountainous terrain. It’s as […]

The White Pass & Yukon Route – Gateway to the North is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Driving from Whitehorse in the Yukon to Fraser, B.C to climb aboard the White Pass & Yukon Route is an experience unto itself. The scenery in this region can hardly be described. Hues of blue & green with sharp contrasts of icy white and dark charcoals and black cover the rocky mountainous terrain. It’s as if a painter had only a few colours on his pallet, but somehow managed to make a masterpiece with various tones and shades. The old train parked along the tracks overlooking this natural work of art is a stark reminder that you’re still a part of civilization, even if you can only see a few dozen people.

whitepass-yukon-route-train IN FRASER-BC

All Aboard the White Pass & Yukon Route

After awing over the beauty of Fraser, B.C, I boarded the train and was greeted by a friendly young train employee who happily points out the Train Engineer and the Conductor. At a cost of $135, taking the WhitePass is a great way to get to and from Skagway, Alaska and Whitehorse, Yukon. It’s worth noting that this isn’t your typical Eurorail type of train. These carts are old, and the rail line is practically ancient. While it may not be the fastest train you’ll ride, the slow pace gives you ample time to take in the breathtaking views during the ride.

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Old Sounds on an Old Train

As I acquainted myself with my seat, the train slowly began to move forward and I watched as the natural skyline began to change. My cart rocked gently back and forth, swaying to the beat of the precise heavy bass caused by the turning of the wheels. The hissing cry of metal on metal added a sense of old time flavour to the experience. The steam whistle screams and makes me jump. I laugh at myself for not expecting that. As the train passes through canyons covered in snow and ice I couldn’t help but feel as if it’s winter. It’s June 1st – practically summer – and snow in these regions are still measured in feet, rather than inches.

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A low ceiling of misty white clouds hangs over the mountains. Sleet and rain gently pour down, adding a sense of adventure to the slow moving train. Walking outside of the trailing cart I snap photos of the ever changing terrain. After passing through a few tunnels it’s clear to see we’re approaching a rainforest. Snow trades it’s place for massive trees and the temperature begins to warms up. Waterfalls and cliffs can be found every few kilometres along the rail line.

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Does a bear sh*t in the woods?

As the train curves around bends, I hang over the iron rails and snap photos. Then suddenly, as if waiting to see the train go by, a large brown bear is crouching beside the tracks. He isn’t moving, and one passenger asks “Is it real?” – as our cart is dragged a little further down the track we see the bear from another angle and quickly find out that yes, he is real, and yes bears do in fact shit in the woods. Our cart erupts in laughter as someone jokes “It’s the Charmin bear!“.

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On to Alaska

Moving slowly along cliffs and waterfalls, across old bridges and rivers, we made it to our final destination – Skagway, Alaska. While I have many thoughts and opinions on Skagway; I’ve decided to leave them be for now (separate post on that coming soon). A train with this much history and beauty along it’s path really needs to be experienced to fully understand it’s allure. You don’t have to be a train buff, history geek, or arctic explorer to enjoy the Whitepass Yukon Route. All you need are some curious eyes interested in seeing one of the most beautiful stretches of rail you can find in North America.

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The History of the White Pass & Yukon Route

The rail line between the Yukon and Alaska was built in 1898 in response to the Klondike Gold rush. Over 100,00 men & women stormed the Klondike region in hopes of striking it rich. These stampeders needed a quick way to get themselves and their gear into the region, and wealthy entrepreneurs of yesteryear tried to strike it rich by providing a futile service to the region. The single-track rail is 27.7 miles and takes you through the Norths most rugged terrain, including the Coast Mountains, Tongass National Forest & The White Pass Summit between British Columbia & Alaska, which sports a soaring elevation of 2,865 ft or 873m.

The White Pass & Yukon Route was designated an International Historic Civic Engineering Landmark in 1994, alongside such other engineering feats, including the Eiffel Tower, The Statue of Liberty and the Panama Canal.

The White Pass & Yukon Route – Gateway to the North is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Panning for Gold at Claim 33http://ibackpackcanada.com/panning-for-gold-at-claim-33/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/panning-for-gold-at-claim-33/#comments Thu, 21 Jun 2012 12:13:41 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=4718 The Yukon, home of the largest gold rush in history. 100,000 stampeders from across the world invaded the region in search of riches. While only 30,000 to 40,000 actually made it across the treacherous terrain, and only a few thousand even struck gold, people continued to flock. Gold fever they call it! It’s a game of chance […]

Panning for Gold at Claim 33 is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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The Yukon, home of the largest gold rush in history. 100,000 stampeders from across the world invaded the region in search of riches. While only 30,000 to 40,000 actually made it across the treacherous terrain, and only a few thousand even struck gold, people continued to flock. Gold fever they call it! It’s a game of chance with the elements; however, I was about to find out there was also some skill to it.

 

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Gold Fever at Claim 33

I arrived at Claim 33, a museum, souvenir shop, and one of the few locations the public can come to pan for gold themselves. It’s here that I’m taught that you can pan for gold all you want, but if you don’t have a proper technique, you’re going to lose every bit of gold you find.

I’m handed a black steal pan with a pile of gravel and dirt. I’m guided to the water trough where I’m given a brief tutorial on the proper way to pan for gold. I start sifting through the dirt and gravel, trying to separate the gold flakes from dirt in hopes of striking it rich. I shake my gravel in water, washing it, trying to loosen the dirt. I’m corrected multiple times due to my poor technique but soon get into the rhythm. Wash, pour, dip, wash, pour, dip.

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It’s all about the Technique

After a dozen attempts I appear to be making some progress. My friendly instructor laughs at my terrible technique. In the time it’s taken me to get half way through my pan, she’s finished three, and found gold in each. It seems I would have been a starving stampeder had I been around during the Gold Rush of 1898.

As the large stones are sifted out of my pan I see my first flake shining in the lip of my black metal pan. “GOOOOLD!” – I concentrate on not losing the flake. Praying that by shaking the last big rock out, I don’t accidentally knock out the precious flake with it. Another gold flake pokes through the thin dust. I think to myself “I’m gonna be soooo rich!“.

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Gold Fever in the Yukon

It soon becomes apparently that I have Gold Fever. I begin planning to sell my life and move up here to become rich. I shake, dip, wash, pour, until finally – I present my earnings for my 15-20 minutes of labor. 4 gold flakes – estimated value… not a lot. In that instant I’m cured of the fever. While clearly my technique needs some work, it’s surprisingly fun sifting through dirt, a practically worthless pile of nothing, and turning it into a few gold flakes that could actually be worth something. My back aches from the short time I was bent over – those Stampeders had a hard life. For those that struck it rich, it must have seemed worth it. For those who didn’t, I can’t imagine the despair.

While panning for gold my seem a bit “touristy” – it’s a great way to learn the history of the Klondike Gold Rush and really does provide an accurate portrayal of the pain and frustration the thousands of Stampeders would have felt. Many locals in this area spend their time off knee deep in rivers and streams panning. It’s sort of a mix between a hobby and a part-time job. If it pays off, it pays well, if not – well, they get their fair share of Vitamin D and get to take in the outdoors. Which in my eyes, is one of the best riches you can find in the Yukon.

Panning for Gold at Claim 33 is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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The Sourtoe Cocktail – A Yukon Traditionhttp://ibackpackcanada.com/the-sourtoe-cocktail-a-yukon-tradition/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/the-sourtoe-cocktail-a-yukon-tradition/#comments Mon, 18 Jun 2012 10:49:39 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=4769 You may have heard of it in passing. Whispers of a drink so strange it simply can’t be true. “You’re kidding! Is that even legal?!” – is the most common reaction. I’m talking about the Sourtoe Cocktail. Take one highball glass, fill it with a liquor of your choice and drop one severed human toe into […]

The Sourtoe Cocktail – A Yukon Tradition is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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You may have heard of it in passing. Whispers of a drink so strange it simply can’t be true. “You’re kidding! Is that even legal?!” – is the most common reaction. I’m talking about the Sourtoe Cocktail. Take one highball glass, fill it with a liquor of your choice and drop one severed human toe into the drink. The Jagerbomb’s got nothing on this. It’s sort of become a viral phenomenon – and people travel from all over the world to Dawson City, Yukon to join the Sourtoe Cocktail club.

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Welcome to the Home of the Sourtoe Cocktail

Walking into the Downtown Hotel (Corner of Second St & Queen) – it’s clear you’re in the home of the toe. A giant wooden carving of a severed toe hangs above the bar, inscribed on the carved statue is a Capt. River Rat’s name, along with his year of birth, and an awaiting year of death. It would appear the Captain is still kicking it. I think to myself – “Good to know – surely he’s lost count of how many he’s done and if he’s still alive, how bad can it be!”

I’m greeted by a friendly young lady who has earned the title of “Sourtoe Captain” – her job is to encourage patrons of the bar to enjoy a Sourtoe Cocktail, and upon their agreement, bring them to the back of the bar and initiate them into the Sourtoe Cocktail Club. People gather around the back, waiting for the next person to join the club.

She tries luring me in with her cute eyes, I smile and politely decline “Just spectating for now thanks, probably tomorrow night!”“But I won’t be here tomorrow night, you’ll have someone else…” she replies. After a bit of back and forth I eventually find myself in the chair at the back of the bar, starring at a severed, wrinkly, pickled human toe. Surprisingly the toe isn’t all that creepy as a whole, it’s just the  nail. Dead people’s nails look ridiculously disgusting.

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One Jack Daniels with a twist of Sourtoe

The bartender offers me a glass – “Yukon Jack?” she asks –”Jack Daniels please“, I reply. She pours me two fingers and brings back my highball to the table. I smell the oaky tones of JD and hope it’s enough to mask the taste of dead people. I then made a promise to myself, this is the closest I’ll ever get to cannibalism. She picks up the severed human toe, and drops it into my glass. It bounces gently on the bottom of the highball glass. I make eye contact with the toe, then The Captain passes me the traditional Sourtoe chapeau. I slap it on, give her the thumbs up just as she starts to speak the words that seal me in as a member of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club.

I hear my cue – “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow – But your lips have got to touch the toe.” – I pick up the highball and bring it to my face, slowly pouring the warm JD down my throat, savouring the burn. The toe falls from the bottom of the glass and touches my lips and I decide to hold it there for a couple seconds. Make it official – and likely get a neat photo in the process. The crowd that’s gathered around me cheers as I release the glass from my lips and place it back upon the table. The toe sits upright in the bottom of the glass, as if it’s saluting me for my accomplishment.

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A Sourtoe Cocktail with The Captain

As I recover from the burn of the drink, I shake my head in debelief and ask The Captain – “How many times have you done the Sourtoe Cocktail?” – she looks down shyly – “Only twice…” – I reply “You should do it again! Do a Sourtoe with us!“. After a few prodding words of encouragement from me, she says “What the hell! It’s been a while!“. Her drink is prepared and she asks me to read her in – the script is thankfully printed on my newly minted certificate.

I ask politely “Can we trade hats? Your’s look more official.” – she hesitates, assessing whether I’m worthy of wearing the Captain’s hat. She slowly removes it from her head and passes it to me. I slap on the awesome Captain hat with a big smile and belt out the initiation words. She slams a Sourtoe Cocktail like a champ – “Clearly not her first time”, I think to myself. The Captain sticks her hand out “Hat…” she says. I pass her the Captain’s hat and she slaps it back on, adjusting it slightly, laughing – “You don’t know how many people try to get me to do a Sourtoe Cocktail with them, you guys got lucky!

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Member No. 44,119 & Counting

As I get up out of my chair, thanking her for the experience, another patron sits down. The Sourtoe Cocktail practically sells itself. It’s an experience. One of those unique & quirky things you don’t want to leave Dawson City without doing. You’ll be happy to hear that once you pay to do the Sourtoe Cocktail once (Cost of $5 + drink cost), you can do them free for the rest of your life – you only have to pay the cost of the drink. Did I mention you get a Sourtoe Cocktail Club card? I keep mine beside my health card.

The History of the Sourtoe Cocktail

In the early 1970’s, this wild Yukon character (originally from New Brunswick) named Captain Dick Stevenson a.k.a Captain River Rat, found a preserved severed human toe in an old cabin near Dawson City and had the bright idea of turning it into a drink. People who knew Captain Dick guffawed, saying – “Nobody will do that, you’re crazy!” – while he may stretch the definition of sane, turns out everyone was wrong. The Sourtoe Cocktail became an immediate hit, and it wasn’t long before people were sucking them back like they were going out of style.

Originally the Sourtoe Cocktail was done in a pint of champagne, but it has since evolved into a highball of liquor, typically whiskey; however, they’ll drop the toe in just about anything – including Virgin Sourtoe Cocktails. They’ve gone through 4 human toes already, one was lost, one was stolen, and yes, one was even swallowed! While there’s been a few minor changes to the initiation, one rule remains the same. The drinker’s lips must touch the toe. As the initiation process so boldly proclaims “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow – But your lips have got to touch the toe.”

The Sourtoe Cocktail – A Yukon Tradition is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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