If you took a traveller, blindfolded him, and set him up in a hotel in Whitehorse, without telling him where he was, there would be certain clues to help him figure out his location.
Firstly, once the blindfold was removed, he would spy the long winter night through the window would be illuminated by street lamps that create a warm, welcoming feel, even at minus 25. Secondly, he would notice an indoor room heater going at full blast. But the clincher, as far as I’m concerned, would have been the two monstrous Malamute huskies sitting in the front seat of a huge half ton parked in front of the hotel entrance. These two I noticed when I left early in the morning. The truck was running, but no driver was in sight. No worries, the two dogs looked supremely in control of the situation.
The annual Yukon Quest dog-sled race brought me to Whitehorse. Here, we witnessed the departure of 30 of the toughest mushers and dog teams in the world on one frosty, foggy morning at minus-38 Celsius degrees (minus-36.4 Fahrenheit). They hoped to make the 1,000-mile journey all the way to Fairbanks, Alaska. Yes, that’s 1,600 kilometres of frozen glory.
Dog-sledding Thrills in Whitehorse
At the start, the dogs are so excited they appear like they’re ready to jump out of their skins, or at least out of the little booties they wear. The noise they make sounds like a flock of demented sea gulls. The crowd is revved up, too. The race is one of the biggest events of the year in Whitehorse, and has brought world renown to Yukon’s capital.
Needless to say, I admired the mushers’ courage but could not see myself inspired to repeat their folly. To my surprise, that’s what I ended up doing a few days later. I was part of a group that got out onto the same Takhini River the pros had ventured onto. Our dog teams were supplied by Muktuk Adventures. Our start was not unlike what we witnessed during the Yukon Quest. Dogs screeched and howled, unable to contain their enthusiasm in getting on with the run. The huskies kept eyeing us as if wondering amongst themselves how these amateurs from the South could manage to handle them.
As intimidating as they may have been, there was also something romantic about setting off in a dog sled to venture into the wild, along the same trail that the real mushers had taken two days earlier. Although I only had a 90-minute time frame, I could easily have mushed for days. I felt like part of Jack London’s Call of the Wild, which depicts dogs and adventurers experiencing Yukon life together.
The territory attracts all kinds of adventurers. At a funky café/bike repair shop I met cyclists who were still peddling in minus-40 temperatures. And they weren’t the heartiest in the place. A group of trekkers had arrived to make the one-week journey in extreme cold to Dawson City. Some of the adventurers came from such exotic warm lands as Brunei, Indonesia, and Spain.
Premier Northern Lights Viewing
But not all needs to be push-the-boundaries outdoor endurance. You can satiate your desires with more common activities. Food fun abounds in Whitehorse, including at the Wayfarer Oyster House, where the eclectic, almost maritime décor and Pacific oysters fitted perfectly together. The owners mentioned they were “recovering bureaucrats” – I liked them as much as the oysters.
Breakfasts were enjoyed at the Northern Lights Resort and Spa. Each morning, I savoured stylish breakfasts with a distinctly Swiss-German touch. The soft-boiled poached eggs were served covered by tiny knitted toques. And a stainless-steel instrument, whose German name was as long as the plunger it included, was left for each guest to pry off the top of their devilish little poached eggs.
The breakfasts at the lodge are a bonus, because the real reason to visit is for its namesake phenomenon. Several of the new chalets have three walls made of glass, providing a magnificent view of the northern lights from the comfort of your bed. The lodge’s vantage point truly is a premium, as attested to the fact local tour operators bring their clients to the area around the property to view the heavenly spectacle.
Proof once more that Yukon draws you in with its celestial beauty as well as its terrestrial charms and challenges.