4 days in northern Yukon

11:40 a.m. on September 5, 2013 (EDT)
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This report takes place over the long weekend of August 30th to September 3 of 2013. The area is in the northern parts of the Yukon Territory in Canada close to where I live. We have had snow here since mid-August. I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

The first day in the high country and our first sighting of caribou.


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And on the next morning, more caribou


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It was very windy the first real day of the hike and the low ceiling made for dim light but we did manage to spot this grizzly looking for berries.


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It's the wide open spaces that I love about this land.


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With nameless creeks flowing from nameless mountains.


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Nature's primary producers frozen in time.


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More of those wide open spaces,


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In the lower elevations there was not as much snow, but the wind still blew quite hard.


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Getting into the trees.


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A crop of bear berries.

 

And bears. These two Grizzlys were spotted from a distance and we were able to get in close for some pictures


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And they wandered off together.


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The snow started to melt in the low country.


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Then the fog moved in from the Arctic Ocean


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The last day and the sun struggled to come out.
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The fog finally released it's grip on the land. It remained sunny for the rest of our trip but the temperatures remained below freezing. We had a great time though and will definately return for more.

11:48 a.m. on September 5, 2013 (EDT)
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Thanks, it ALL looks just incredible!

12:50 p.m. on September 5, 2013 (EDT)
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The North will always be the land less traveled.

1:52 p.m. on September 5, 2013 (EDT)
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really enjoyed looking at your pictures. 

2:14 p.m. on September 5, 2013 (EDT)
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Thanks North, what a treat....

2:51 p.m. on September 5, 2013 (EDT)
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Just...I don't even know what to say. Those pictures make me want to hold my breath until I can get there and breathe that. Very grateful to you for sharing this, North!

3:59 p.m. on September 5, 2013 (EDT)
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Wonderful! I love the wide open vistas. Some gorgeous shots here. 

4:52 p.m. on September 5, 2013 (EDT)
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The spruce trees in the photos with the Barren Ground griz look like they are right at the northern treeline. What is the approximate latitude?

Do the caribou migrate north to the sea in winter or somewhere else that far North?

What is the total number of mammals species around? Probably less than most people would guess.

Are the cranberries ripe?

6:59 p.m. on September 5, 2013 (EDT)
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The area of our hike was the Northern Richardson Mountains which are geologically the tail end of the Brooks Range.

The photos were taken just north of 67 degrees north lattitude, or about 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

The lower valleys encompass some of the most northerly trees in the world, so yes we were at the treeline but hiked mostly above in the higher elevation.

The caribou calve in Alaska along the North Slope and migrate southeast were we intercepted them. Within this one herd there are more caribou than people in Yukon, Northwest Territory and Nunavut combined. Within the Northwest Territory alone there are hundreds of thousands of caribou but only about 40,000 people, in an area of more than half a million square miles.

Cranberries and blueberries are ripe for picking.

10:48 p.m. on September 5, 2013 (EDT)
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Very interesting pictures, that's an area I would love to explore.

5:39 p.m. on September 6, 2013 (EDT)
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Christmas bird count-

In the tropics- 220 species or more

Mid-latitudes- 92

Arctic- 8

9:45 p.m. on September 7, 2013 (EDT)
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Great pictures and trip report, thanks North1. Where do you live and be able to get Wifi to do your posts?

12:27 p.m. on September 8, 2013 (EDT)
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Ppine, that is a good point you raised about ecological diversity. The further away one travels from the tropics towards the poles, the fewer species one encounters. Last winter we travelled for a month through Borneo where a single tree may have more individual species than found in the entire Boreal Forest, although most of these species are insects. Even so, population densities of large ungulates are relatively high in the continental far north as opposed to more developed areas in the south. The Territories in which I live have the highest numbers of Muskoxen in the world and the only stable populations of Woodland Boreal Caribou in Canada, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of Barren Ground Caribou. We also have healthy populations of all three species of bears, wolves, Dall Sheep and Mountain Goats, as well as Moose and three populations of free-ranging Bison.

Although the Christmas bird count may be true, it is also a bit misleading. Most of the birds migrate south in the winter. As we live on a fly way, during the spring the geese, ducks, and swans darken the sky and all along the coast is thick with various species of birds come to nest.

Gary, I live in a small community along the Arctic Ocean. My wife and I are able to travel a lot to our favorite places. Our power comes from a diesel generator, we heat our home with drift wood gathered along the rivers and coast, the Internet is provided by a satellite link.

6:07 p.m. on September 10, 2013 (EDT)
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North,

Thanks for your thoughtful post. Wow, Borneo. I had plans once to make a traverse across New Guinea but it didn't happen. You are one of the most interesting people to talk with that I have ever met on a forum.

How can you tell the difference between the BG caribou and the woodland caribou? Is it mostly habitat? How much alike are they from a distance?

I was not trying to take anything away from the Arctic. It has fascinated me my whole life. I used to read about the explorers quite a bit. Then I had a professor in grad school that did lots of research in periglacial environments. I have been to the Yukon only once up the highway from Haines to Beaver Creek and Tok Junction. It was memorable because of the people and places like L LeBarge and Sheep Mtn. Plenty of Athabascans were smoking fish along on the way.

6:43 a.m. on September 12, 2013 (EDT)
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North1 thank you for pictures and comments, enjoyed both.

7:23 a.m. on September 12, 2013 (EDT)
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I wanted to view the caribou migration with my school age children. I have been on the Dempster Highway before but saw only a few caribou. The Dalton was only slightly better in this regard. What is the best time ( it has to be in July and August as the kids are in school otherwise)? For budget reasons the location has to be reachable by vehicle. I have asked tourist officials but they could give me an adequate answer. Yours Ross Mallick Grande Prairie

11:19 a.m. on September 12, 2013 (EDT)
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Ross,

You are not the first person to try to figure out when and where the caribou herds are going to show up. It is feast or famine. Many subsidence hunters can drop a year's supply of meat in a few minutes, if they can just find the herds.

3:30 p.m. on September 12, 2013 (EDT)
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Ppine, thanks again; that is another good question about caribou. Aside from their range; Boreal Caribou in the woods and mountain and Barren Ground Caribou on the tundra, at least in the summer, there are certain phenotypical characteristics than separate the two species. Generally, the Boreal Woodland and Mountain Caribou are larger and browner along the back and ribs as opposed to the Barren Ground Caribou which are smaller and lighter coloured. This is, however, a broad general statement as the two species have been known to procreate and produce viable offspring.

There are a lot of stories up here about people being able to predict where the herd is, but I have yet to see any reasonable evidence. When I consider that many people charter planes at the taxpayers’ expense to spot where the main herd is, then tell people on the ground so they can drive their ATVs and snow machines over to hunt them, I wouldn’t put much stock in those stories. As they say, extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence.

Currently, the Porcupine Caribou Herd, of which there are approximately 160,000 animals, is heading west into Alaska. For the past 10 years or so this has been the case; migrate from Area 1004 in Alaska along the coast, down the Richardson Mountains then back west to the Miner and Whitestone Rivers in the Yukon and all the way to Sheenjek River area. But, this again is a broad general statement. As they have been known to be anywhere in the northern parts of Yukon and western NWT.

As for the best time to travel the Dempster Highway that would have to late August early September as the snow comes early this far north. Personally though I think the Dempster should be travelled by every Canadian at least once in their lives. It is by far one of the most beautiful areas in Canada, if not the world.  

3:58 p.m. on September 12, 2013 (EDT)
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I just Googled  the Dempster Hwy....That has been added to my bucket list

The only time I have driven in the Canada was from Hay River to Yellowknife in Dec a few yrs ago. That was an interesting ride

5:16 p.m. on September 12, 2013 (EDT)
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thanks for sharing!

10:00 p.m. on September 12, 2013 (EDT)
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The area in the photos is west of Aklavik which is not accesable by road in the summer months; fly in or boat only. However, you can access the mountains via the Dempster Highway. If you take this route, the first week in September is usually the best for spotting wildlife and seeing the spectacular scenery. Be forewarned though, the Dempster is just a gravel road on a birm. If you go bring extra food, two spare tires and camping gear; it is a long ways to nowhere.

By October, the blizzards have hit hard and the highway may be closed for days with temperatures around -20C and by December it is dark with temperatures even colder at -40 to -50 range. I keep trying to bring my in-laws up at this time. That would be interesting.

11:00 a.m. on September 13, 2013 (EDT)
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I too have problems getting my relatives up there. My kids are of the computer game generation, so electric power while camping is essential, and no trip can be made without it. I now have more car batteries (to run the computer games) than spare tires. My 86 year old mother has been through enough boating and car accidents and breakdowns in the wilderness to know that there are a thousand things that can go wrong with a vehicle and if you can think and prepare for half off them you are a genius. She offered to pay me to take a commercial tour up the Dalton so she could stay behind. The tourist official in Coldfoot had to assure her she would not be left to die by the roadside. My wife on the hand has totally misplaced faith in my abilities in this regard, and has no clue about all the bad things that can happen on a wilderness trip. However, even she got suspicious when she noticed the sudden absence of Motorhomes on the highway. I assured her this was because commercial motorhome rental companies did not cover travel on the highway. Later however the absence of even private motorhomes caused her to realize I must be a risk taker.

As to the merits of the Dempster Highway I would certainly recommend that Canadians take it in summer (I wanted to take in winter but I think that it would be a season too far for my family). However the best part of the trip is the section between Tombstone and the MacKenzie river which is treeless. Everything else is forested so visibility is severely limited and wildlife if seen is usually of individual animals rather than large herds. The Dalton highway is better in the sense that more of it is above the treeline so there is more opportunity for scenic vistas and seeing more wildlife. This is hit and miss. 15 years ago when I was on the Dalton I saw herds of caribou and a herd of Musk Ox. Two years ago at the same time of year I saw virtually no caribou and no Musk Ox. From a scenic and wildlife viewpoint I would still give the edge to the Dalton. In terms of tourist facilities the Dempster is better because Inuvik has all the facilities. The Dalton has the hassle of having to book with passport numbers 24 hours in advance for a tour to the arctic ocean which can't be reached otherwise except through a tour which would otherwise not be worth the expense of taking. The Dempster requires a scheduled flight to the arctic ocean (except in winter when there is an ice road). By 2016 I believe an all weather road is scheduled to be built to the arctic ocean above the treeline, so I expect that after that the Dempster will make the better trip.

12:12 p.m. on September 13, 2013 (EDT)
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Ross,

Hearing from you is like a breath of fresh air. Your Canadians sensibilities and experience may prevent you from joining in on some other discussions. Please accept my invitation to make more posts on this forum. People like you and North are sorely needed.

1:40 p.m. on September 13, 2013 (EDT)
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Great photos, North. I just got back from YT and paddling the Big Salmon. The extremely hot weather earlier in the summer changed to unsettled by August 23 when we put in. We had a mixed bag, everything from 26-27 degrees to -3 and 4. On the last two days on the Yukon, we had wind and rain so we paddled 42 miles the first day and 30 the next. The low bush cranberries weren't quite ripe but the high bush were great eating through most of the trip. Wildlife was sparse, just a couple of moose, a couple of black bears, lots of wolf sign and one lynx.

5:46 p.m. on September 13, 2013 (EDT)
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Erich,

Glad you had a good tour on the Big Salmon.

Much closer to home I am headed out to the Sacramento River in search of king salmon week after next. We have 6 people which is the most I have ever had on a canoe trip and 4 boats.

1:34 a.m. on September 16, 2013 (EDT)
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That was amazing...I needed that...thanks!

September 23, 2014
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