Friday, 19 October 2012 1:17 PM
Cat Hughes explores the beautiful Yukon territory in Canada in search of adventure and the elusive Northern Lights
The Yukon, a little known part of North Western Canada, is roughly the size of the UK with a population of just 33,000 (which to put it is perspective, is roughly the same as the population of the Essex town made famous by Gavin and Stacy, Billericay!).
The territory’s capital –Whitehorse, where 70 per cent of the population live – was my destination.
The town came in to being just over 100 years ago, when those in search of fortune made their way up through the wilderness to Klondike in what became known as the gold rush.
Now, many intrepid travellers make their way to here not for gold but for adventure and even a glimpse of the Northern Lights, which for the past two years has lit up the skies in a spectacular fashion.
After a two and a half hour flight from Vancouver – the closest major Canadian city – I landed in Whitehorse, and made my way up to a windy bluff above the city. On this rocky outcrop I found the base for my stay – several yurts belonging the Boréale Mountain Biking Adventure Company, run by a born-and-raised Yukoner Marsha and Québécois Sylvain.
The whole camp is off-grid. The yurts are heated by a propane heater and lit by a battery-powered lamp. However, there are some mod-cons such as a shower with hot water, fed by a water tank, and also WiFi. I have found that no matter where you go in Canada – no matter how remote the town or the camp – you can still get WiFi! The yurt also had a clear dome on the top so you can see the night sky as you lie in bed, and hopefully a glimpse of the elusive Northern Lights.
The next day I was taken mountain biking to Miles Canyon, through which the mighty Yukon River flows. Passing the foaming rapids, I learnt that this was what gave the town Whitehorse its name; it was said that the rapids looked like a horses’ mane. The white water has now been tamed by a hydro-electric dam.
Back at the yurt camp, Chef Carol was cooking up a delicious meal of elk steak. Hungry from a day’s mountain biking, I tucked in with glee. It was somehow both tender and chewy, but also full of flavour. It was accompanied with locally-grown kale salad. The meal was then finished off with wild Yukon cranberry and white chocolate cheese cake – it was so good I ate two.
That night, as it darkened, talk turned to the Northern Lights. In the autumn, the Aurora Borealis periodically lights up the night sky – something I have always dreamed of seeing.
I stayed up till well after 2am in the hope I would see the green wisps dance in the night sky. I checked outside every so often and stared up through the clear dome, but alas that night all I could see were stars.
The next day, my guide and I packed up and headed on to the Alaska Highway to the next town, Haines Junction (population 589) - 98 miles away, in the hope we would see the Northern Lights once darkness came.
Whilst the sun shone, I explored what else the Yukon has to offer.
In September the trees begin to turn red and gold – this is the Yukon’s best kept secret – and their colours more than rival the East Coast. As we drove along the highway towards our next destination Kluane National Park, gold, green and red foliage extended as far as the eye could see. On the side of the roads fireweed, the territory’s flower glowed a deep red colour and in the distance I could see the vibrant purple-red colour of the mountain tundra.
After a beautiful drive, we arrived at Haines Junction, the gateway to the Kluane National Park, famous for its glaciers – the same glaciers the Klondikers crossed for the gold rush. It was these glaciers we were about to see on a four-seater bush plane.
The views of the glaciers and the surrounding mountains are amazing from 8,000 feet, and it really gives you an idea of how huge the wilderness of the Yukon really is.
I hoped that this was the night the Northern Lights would put on a show.
We were staying in the Parkside-Inn in the centre of the town. After a disappointing and overpriced dinner in the only restaurant open, we headed to the one of two bars for a couple of drinks. After chatting to a handful of colourful young locals, who were back after a stint in a mining camp, we were about to call it a night when one of the men we spoke to came rushing to us and said excitedly, “come outside now it’s the Aurora Borealis!”
I grabbed my coat and rushed outside and there were the green sheets and white wisps of light dancing above us that I’d hoped so long to see. I watched them with wonder while sipping my glass of wine until they faded away. Mission accomplished.
By Catrin Hughes
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