Yukon Celebrates Trans Canada Trail Connection Milestone!
The Trans Canada Trail (TCT) is proud to announce that connection of the Trail has been achieved in the Yukon! Yukon becomes Canada's third province or territory, after Newfoundland & Labrador and Prince Edward Island, to reach this milestone!
We celebrated this Connection Milestone in Whitehorse with the public and the TCT’s invaluable Partners, Donors and Volunteers as part of the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous on Saturday, February 27, 2016.
In honour of the Yukon's achievement, we are sharing stories and trivia about the history of the Trans Canada Trail in the region, shining a spotlight on some of the individuals who have helped to build and care for the Trail, and who have experienced its unique beauty for themselves.
Who better to discuss the Trans Canada Trail (TCT) in the Yukon than the president of the Klondike Snowmobile Association (KSA)—the official partner of the TCT in the territory?
President Mark Daniels and his fellow volunteers maintain 600 kilometres of trail year round. That includes approximately 200 kilometres of the TCT. Here, Daniels chats with us about Yukon history, the TCT and cycling under the midnight sun.
TCT: A big part of what we're doing at the TCT is working with partners at the local level to get the TCT fully connected across the country by 2017, the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. The Yukon's TCT is now officially connected, making it the third province after Newfoundland & Labrador and PEI to meet the mandate. How does that make you feel?
MD: Well, it’s quite a milestone and it gives us a sense of accomplishment. We did it section by section. Our affiliation with the TCT means a lot because it broadens our base of appeal and our visibility as stewards of a multi-use trail network. It also elevates the status of recreational trails in the Yukon.
TCT: How is the TCT most commonly used in the Yukon?
MD: Oh, we get mountain bikers, winter cyclists, ATVs, skiers, mushers, snowshoers, dog walkers—you name it. In the winter, from November to April, there's no wheel traffic allowed. [Snowmobiles don't have wheels.] We often partner with the cross-country ski club and split the trails, staking it down the middle for shared use. It’s all very collegial.
TCT: Tell us about the history of the TCT in the Yukon?
MD: The Copper Haul Road is the main line of the TCT for the Whitehorse area. It was originally constructed in 1909 as a spur line of the White Pass and Yukon Route railway to service copper mines. Copper was first discovered in the area in 1897 by prospectors on their way to the Klondike Gold Rush. When this railway shut down, the railway bed was converted to an industrial gravel haul road to provide continued access to the remaining mine sites. When the last copper mine shut down, the route was once again recycled, this time into a multi-use recreational trail…. The other main section of the TCT in the area, the Dawson Overland Trail, was an old winter mail route used when the river froze and paddle boats couldn’t get supplies to Dawson City during the Gold Rush.
TCT: What’s your favourite section of the TCT in the Yukon?
MD: The Copper Haul Road, because it's in town and so accessible. It's the backbone for the whole trail system in this area. I taught my kids how to ski on it. You can leave your home, take a connector trail and get on the Haul Road all the way into town. So many people use it. But what we really love about the trails in the summer is being able to go cycling or canoeing at one o’clock in the morning. The midnight sun never gets dark. We don’t sleep much in the summer!
Mark Daniels and his kids enjoying a spring snowmobile ride on the TCT in the Mary Lake area south of Whitehorse. Photo: Nita Daniels.
TCT: What’s involved in maintaining the trails?
MD: The willow trees and the alders (trees and shrubs in the birch family) grow in and choke the trail off. We have to go out on ATVS and cut them back using a chainsaw or bush saw. We also remove the "deadfall" across the trail where it’s heavily forested. Another job is fixing wet and low-lying areas; we hire a contractor or partner with the city or the Yukon government to fill in mud holes. When we’re connecting existing trails, sometimes we have to widen the track or install water crossings.
In winter, we use snowmobiles to drag packers behind, to pack the snow down. The majority of the grooming is done by one retiree, Harris Cox, who puts in 6 to 12 hours at a time. My kids have cleared trails with me.
TCT: What are the challenges of maintaining the trails?
MD: We put up signage—directional and heritage—but signs go missing all the time. That’s a challenge, but our number one challenge is really our lack of core funding. We have to apply for grants on a per-project basis. Our service agreement with the TCT is a big help.
TCT: What are you looking forward to most?
There’s always a festival or something going on, like the upcoming Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous Festival. TCT will be there on February 27 to announce the official connection of the Trail here in the Yukon! Aside from that, there’ll be people in Gold Rush costumes and cancan dancers. Folks enter competitions to carry sacks of flour on their backs, or throw chain saws and axes. The TCT is also sponsoring a canoe race down a toboggan hill! That’ll be good.
“Depending on the time of day, the Ogilvie Mountains shimmer pink, cream, beige and even blue,” recalled Annika Wichter, describing the view from her bicycle on the Trans Canada Trail (TCT) in the Yukon. “It’s breathtaking. Being on a bicycle lets you really savour the colours.”
Annika and her fiancé, Roberto Gallegos, were four years into their around-the-world bicycle tour when they reached the Dempster Highway, part of the TCT, in July 2015. The goals of their quest are to promote intercultural empathy, and to write about their experiences in their blog, Tasting Travels.
Annika and Roberto taking a rest from their journey along the Dempster Highway, part of the Trans Canada Trail in the Yukon. Photo: Roberto Gallegos and Annika Wichter
“We’re big fans of Jack London’s books, so we were excited to experience the Yukon,” says Roberto, 32, who closed his design studio in Guadalajara, Mexico to embark on the cycling trip.
Annika grew up outside Hamburg, Germany, reading library books about the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, European classics written by Loesch Schimanek, a famous adventurer.
“I was hooked. Then I read everything I could find about Dawson City, Sourtoe cocktails, panning for gold—everything,” added Annika, 29, who just completed her degree in cultural and gender studies in Guadalajara, where she met Roberto.
The TCT in the “Land of the Midnight Sun”
“With 24/7 sun, it was fantastic to be able to keep cycling until 1 a.m., if you wanted,” said Roberto, now a big fan of Tombstone National Park. “It gives you more time and energy. You can take long breaks and not worry about running out of daylight.”
For Annika and Roberto, the TCT was a great structuring device for their Yukon adventure.
“You can’t get lost. And it’s so well-groomed that we didn’t feel we were too remote,” noted Roberto.
Annika and Roberto on the Dempster Highway, part of the Trans Canada Trail in the Yukon. Photo: Roberto Gallegos and Annika Wichter
Pass the peanut butter
While enjoying the local flora and wildlife—taiga, tundra, pink fireweed, black spruce, moose, a porcupine, a bald-headed eagle and maybe even a weasel—they also met friendly cyclists, campers and warm civilians.
“People who live in the Yukon were very welcoming and curious about our cycling plans,” said Roberto. “In Dawson City, we were invited to breakfast by a woman who lived there, and two girls offered us lodging.”
On the Trail, the camaraderie impressed Annika: “We met Martine from Quebec City, who rode with us for days, and Emily from Alberta, an amateur ornithologist on her way up the Dempster in an old VW Scirocco. Later came Sheriff Justin and fire fighter Laura, who travelled on motorbikes,” she recounted. “With good people, some food and the fire, it made for cozy evenings in our shelter. We shared crackers with peanut butter.”
All the socializing lead Roberto to a conclusion.
“Canadians tend to mock themselves for apologizing too much and being nice, but it is true! I find them to be empathetic and conscientious about helping others.”
For Trans Canada Trail volunteer and Trail user Harris Cox, grooming the local snowmobile trails in and around Whitehorse every winter is about caring for his community.
Harris moved to the Whitehorse area from Nova Scotia when his father was transferred to the Yukon in 1958 for his work with the Royal Canadian Air Force. Harris has been a passionate Yukoner ever since. “I call it my backyard,” says Harris of the Yukon, home to the Whitehorse Copper Trail that serves snowmobilers, skiers and dogsledders in the winter, and hikers and cyclists in the summer.
The Trail is multi-use, you can walk it, ski it, jog it, and I see parents with strollers, too. It’s got something for everyone,” Harris says.
Harris tends to roughly 200 kilometres of the TCT every winter, ensuring the Trail is clear of snow and ice by using a groomer hitched to his snowmobile. In the Land of the Midnight Sun, winter daylight can last as little as 6.5 hours, and temperatures can drop as low as -37 Celsius, but Harris is unfazed: “I love grooming the Trail in the winter, and I’ll do it until I can’t drive anymore. It can get a little cold, but I can’t complain.”
Looking for pointers on cold-weather dressing for your next adventure in Canada’s northern territories? Yukoner Frank Turner, the iconic top musher who competed in The Yukon Quest, the annual 1,000 mile international sled dog race between Yukon and Alaska for 24 years, shares his secrets:
- Comfort and safety are essential. Look for function, not fashion. Self-sufficiency.
- It’s all about layering. Focus on what is on your skin and build layers outward. Heavyweight Merino wool (600 – 800 grams) is Frank’s favourite. As it can be costly, he recommends rounding out the next two or three layers with alpaca wool, pure wool or garments made with natural fibres that retain their thermal value even when damp.
- As soon as you start to sweat, remove a layer and ventilate, especially when climbing. Stay cool not cold, and always keep your body dry.
- Wear loose clothing so air can always circulate, as well as for mobility.
- Choose pants with a tough exterior fabric and protective cuffs so ice does not stick. Look for pants with a bib (down or synthetic) and lots of pockets you can keep things in. Women need pants with a bib and a back drop seat (with zipper). Men may find a front relief zipper useful to ensure a dry system.
- Warm feet = happy feet. Wool socks (ideally thick Marino wool) and liners are the most important pieces you can own. Frank loves Sweden’s Woolpower socks. Beyond the sock layers you wear, always carry a spare, dry pair of socks.
- Boots should be loose on your foot. Frank favours Extreme Cold Vapor Barrier Boots (Bunny boots) used by the U.S. Armed Forces.
- Make sure you have a great hat that covers the ears and the back of the neck
Frank’s famous last words? “Always carry water and be the best you can be at making the right decisions at the right time."
Frank Turner. Photo: Robin Esrock
Five Things You May Not Know About The Yukon
Where Does The Name Whitehorse Come From?
Whitehorse, Yukon’s capital city, is named after the historic rapids on the Yukon River, which were said to resemble the flowing manes of charging white horses.
What Is a “Sourdough”?
Sourdough bread was a crucial means of survival for miners living in the harsh conditions of the Gold Rush. Sourdough bread “starter” was always available. The name "sourdough" evolved from that into a nickname used in the North (Yukon and Alaska) for someone who spent an entire winter north of the Arctic Circle, and kept to the tradition of protecting their sourdough starter during the coldest months by keeping it close to their body. Now you know why it’s called the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous Festival!
Why is the Yukon Called the Land of the Midnight Sun?
Because the Yukon is located north of the Arctic Circle, the sun can remain continuously above or below the horizon for 24 hours. This means that during the June solstice, the sun is in the sky for a full 24 hours in the Yukon. Conversely, during the winter solstice, Yukoners spend 24 hours in complete darkness, with the sun staying below the horizon for a full day.
Could You Stomach a Sourtoe Cocktail?
The Sourtoe Cocktail is exactly what it sounds like: an actual human toe that has been dehydrated and preserved in salt and served in a drink.Legend has it that Yukon local Captain Dick Stevenson found a severed toe preserved in a jar of alcohol while cleaning a cabin. He plopped the toe in a glass of champagne and knocked it back until the toe touched his lips. He then started serving this beverage, calling it the "Sourtoe Cocktail" at the local Eldorado hotel bar. Some Dawson City bars still serve the Sourtoe Cocktail today.
What is the Name of the Highest Mountain in the Yukon?
At 5,959 m (19,551 ft), Yukon's Mount Logan, in Kluane National Park and Reserve, is the highest mountain in Canada and the second-highest on the North American continent (after Denali in the U.S. state of Alaska)