Whitehorse, May 11 / May 20, 2012

Michael J. Ferguson

Journal Index


1  Introduction
2  Montreal to Whitehorse, Fri. May 11 and Sat. May 12
3  Whitehorse, Sun. May 13
4  Miles Canyon Round Trip, Mon. May 14
5  Whitehorse, Tues. May 15
6  Early Morning Snow, Wed. May 16
7  Whitehorse, Thurs. May 17
8  Whitehorse, Fri. May 18
9  Whitehorse, Sat. May 19
10  Whitehorse to Montreal, Sun. May 20

1  Introduction

I have accumulated enough Air Canada frequent flyer points for a flight anywhere in the USA and Canada. Since I have been all over North America and wanted to pick some place different. After much thought, I decided on Whitehorse and also Kluane National Park. This area has an extremely nasty reputation for black flies and mosquitoes. To avoid both, I decided to go early in the season. Since this is Frequently Flier ticket, I didn't have much choice on the tickets. I had intended to go at the beginning of May, but discovered that none of the campgrounds open until May 10. The only ticket that I could get to arrive in Whitehorse at a decent time had a ten hour, overnight, in Vancouver. This was a good opportunity to visit with my friend Ian, so I took it. At the time I made the reservation, he didn't see any problem, and was enthusiastic about the visit. Just before I was ready to leave, he had a family engagement that took him off to Monterey, CA. He then commandeered his daughter to pick me up and take me to his house. I decided it was rather impolite to inconvenience her in this way and decided instead to stay at the Comfort Inn, Vancouver Airport. The major consideration was that fact that they had a free shuttle.

The planning for this trip is complicated by the current cold weather in Whitehorse, and having to take a down jacket and a much heavier down sleeping bag. In addition, this is bear country so I wanted to be prepared. This meant that I am carrying a bear canister to store my food, and my big pack so I can go backpacking in Kluane. This was an increase in weight and big increase in bulk.

2  Montreal to Whitehorse, Fri. May 11 and Sat. May 12

The rain in the morning became beautiful sunshine, and resulted in a rather pleasant ride to Trudeau Airport. I took my normal hour and a half to pack my bike and trailer, and to compress my big pack. My big down sleeping bag did not fit in the trailer so I had put in with the bike. When I checked in, I was dismayed to discover that I couldn't check my bags all the way to Whitehorse. Apparently Vancouver airport has no provision to store a bag overnight. This meant that I was not able to just walk out of the terminal. In addition, I was only given credit for my bike and extra bag charge to Vancouver. The plane was a little late, so I didn't get to the hotel until after midnight. I am very glad Erin, Ian's daughter did not have to picked me up. It takes a big car to carry all my stuff.

It was a short night, and I took the 5:47am shuttle, with about 12 others to the airport. After some discussion with the Air Canada service people, my bags were taken without any additional charge. If I had had a stopover, there would have been a charge.

I put my bike together in the nice warm airport. The short ride to the campground was incredibly difficult. I had not counted on the wind here. It is fierce, and unrelenting. It was completely exhausting. After I put up my tent, I rode into the center of town to get supplies. This is called the "Hi Country RV Campground" for good reason. It is on the top of a steep long hill that leads into Whitehorse. Coming back, with a full backpack and an empty bike was still devastating. I am going to stay here three nights, and then probably move to "Robert Service Campground" which is down the hill and on the Yukon River.After a few days there, I will decide whether I will go to Kluane. The wind makes it difficult for me to feel confident of making it in a timely fashion in both directions.

3  Whitehorse, Sun. May 13

There was no wind this morning, but the water I spilled, while making coffee, froze on the picnic table. I rode down the long hill on Robert Service Way and continued into town to the only McDonald's for some breakfast. The calm wind soon disappeared, and very soon we were back up to the 30mph to 50mph (50kph to 80kph) winds of yesterday. These winds are, according to the natives, quite unusual, and they don't have any idea how long they will last. I then decided to abort the trip to Kluane, and was able to change my reservation to go back home next Sunday, May 20. I will spend my time riding around Whitehorse, and on some of the many trails that are here. On my way back, I struggled up the hill, to the campground, with a beautiful snow covered ridge in the background.

4  Miles Canyon Round Trip, Mon. May 14

Today I took what was the major ride of the week. I rode south towards Miles Canyon, down (fortunately down, not up) a very steep hill to a narrow gorge where the river is throttled by granite walls. The native peoples called it, rather appropriately, the Narrowing of the Waters.

About 2km upstream from the Narrowing, along a narrow path by the river, past some early flowers, is Canyon City.

It grew up to allow the prospectors to get around the swift river and the incredibly violent rapids at, the now benign Bend of the Yukon River. An entrepreneur created a horse-drawn log tramway along the river all the way from Canyon City.

The spectacular spray at the Bend, reminded the prospectors of White Horses from which the town name was derived. The power dam, that supplies all the power for Whitehorse, has considerably tamed them.

The ride along the trails on the east side of the river and Schwatka Lake which was created by the power dam, were occasionally wide open,

but for the most part narrow, bumpy, and winding. I am not a mountain cyclist, and found that it took too much concentration watching the trail to see anything on either side. For that I had to stop. The trail ended in Whitehorse, on the east side of the river, near the S.S. Klondike and at the town end of the Bend.

The Klondike was the last boat to use the river, and is now a National Historical Monument.

After a short ride into town to get something to eat, I returned to the traffic circle on Robert Service Way. At this point I was so exhausted, that it would have taken several hours to climb the 5km to the campground. I decided that I would try to hitchhike up the hill, and after 5min, an older cyclist like me, in pickup truck stopped, and picked me up. I was back at my tent in only 12 minutes from when I started to hitchhike. It was a good, exhausting day. This link is to the Google Earth Map of the ride.

5  Whitehorse, Tues. May 15

I rode down the hill on another sunny day. The wind came up again by early afternoon so I decided to try the Two Mile Hill exit on the northern side of town. I am not certain if it is as steep as the Robert Service Way hill, but it was certainly noticeable. The rest of the way back along the Alaska Highway was slightly uphill, against the wind, passed by the airport, and was more than a little strenuous.

6  Early Morning Snow, Wed. May 16

The weather forecast warned me of snow overnight, and indeed, there was about 6 in (15cm) when I woke up. It was quite pretty, and quiet, but made it difficult to get in and out without letting in any snow.

Needless to say, I didn't go anywhere today, but spent almost all of it writing this journal.

7  Whitehorse, Thurs. May 17

Today was a welcome change from yesterday. It was bright and sunny, but most of the snow was still there. I rode down the hill to Whitehorse, and had the highlight, so far, of the trip. There, in the Yukon River Bend was a Bald Eagle scavenging. It is the first one I have ever seen in the wild. The raven beside it looks positively tiny.

I had heard of the busses carrying bicycles, and there is one that goes up the Robert Service Way hill. The nice lady in the Yukon Travel Bureau even gave a couple of tickets. I will have to be careful to have $2.50 in cash when I run out. The bus stop at the top of the hill is right across from the campground. This makes the ride into town rather painless.

8  Whitehorse, Fri. May 18

The campground is modifying their excellent WiFi network and, unfortunately, it no longer accesses the internet. Hopefully it will be working tonight. To get some internet access and breakfast I rode down to McDonald's. I need better gloves. My fingers took almost ten minutes to thaw out.

This morning's wildlife was not as exciting as yesterday ... it was a lone beaver in the river, and it disappeared almost immediately after I stopped.

9  Whitehorse, Sat. May 19

I arrived in town at just after 7:00am to find everything closed except McDonald's. I had hoped for a more interesting breakfast at a local cafe but was disappointed. After breakfast I rode around some of the small back streets up against the cliff. The Pioneer Cemetery is rather vacant, and has nice gate, but no fences. I saw girl cross over it, and she, of course, did not use the gate.

The western end of Main Street is the small Teegatha'on Zheh Park which means ``Coming back on the same path you left.''

The eastern end of Main Street is the old White Pass & Yukon Route train station.

A few of the stores have brightly painted facades, staring out at a writing desk commemorating the writing of the poem ``Cremation of Sam McGee''. Some of the back facades were much more interesting than those on the street.

After a couple of Ginger/Molasses cookies at the Baked Cafe, which was now open, I took the bus back up the hill.

10  Whitehorse to Montreal, Sun. May 20

I got up just before dawn, and after a sunny, crispy ride to the airport, and packed my bicycle and trailer by the quite comfortable #2 baggage carousel. The flight to Vancouver is the first I have on in years that was not full. I could switch from my window seat to one on the other side and avoided the intense sunlight. Unfortunately, we were above the clouds all the way to Vancouver so that I saw nothing. It was typical dreary overcast when we landed and quickly changed to rain. The flight to Montreal was quite uneventful but my window seat was not very useful. It was cloudy across the entire continent. Both these flights were unusual for me. They were the first in many years where the plane was not full. I enjoyed the freedom to move around. After finally finding both my bicycle and trailer I took a taxi home, arriving at about 10:45pm.

It was a good trip, if not exactly as I had planned.

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On 22 May 2012, 10:01.