Watching the River Thaw

Members of the Yukon Order of Pioneers (YOOP) have placed the Ice Pool Tripod on the ice of the Yukon River and the tickets for the IODE Ice Guessing Contest, generally just called the Ice Pool, will be on sale at various places between Whitehorse and Dawson City until April 15.

The tripod is anchored by a cable to a boxed clock on the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre, and is ready for when the ice moves during breakup some time in late April or early May. That will pull the cable lose and stop the clock.

The Yukon River took a long time to ice over this winter, but finally did so down past Moosehide. The government’s attempts at creating an ice bridge did not succeed once again, but various DIY routes were created by locals. These are now becoming unsafe and the river looks very unpredictable, as it has been for the last three years. As with last year, it is possible that breakup may be fairly undramatic. Much of the ice may just rot away or sublimate.

This season is so unusual that the Percy De Wolfe Memorial Mail Race had to follow an alternate course, and was unable to make the round trip to Eagle, Alaska, and back. With the temperature on the starting morning being nearly 20 degrees higher than normal for March 21, it was no wonder.

The Ice Pool contest has been running since 1896 and has been in the IODE’s hands since the 1940s. A full set of searchable break-up dates and times can be found on the following website:

Breakup can happen as early as April 23 and as late as May 28, though either date is far from the norm.

Last year. it stopped the clock on May 8 at 1:25:48 p.m., but didn’t actually move much for some time after that.
The report from that year stated “the slab of ice holding the tripod merely drifted down to the area by the ferry landing and, according to a report from Glenda Bolt, spent the afternoon there.”

In 2017 in was May 3 at 10:04 a.m., but the big ice flush didn’t happen until around 1:30. Another year, the tripod broke in pieces and sank.

An annual statistical analysis created by local engineer Stephen Johnson does indicate that the long term trend is for breakup to happen earlier rather than later.

In the April 3 Klondike Sun, Johnson predicted, “mathematically speaking, the river will break at precisely 3:55 a.m. on May 4.”
But he added, “The chance of the ice breaking as predicted is approximately 1 in 38,880.
“That’s better odds than Lotto 649 at 1 in about 14,000,000.”

From now, till the day of the event, an increasing number of people will be seen walking the upper dike trail, studying the river and looking forward to the real beginning of summer.

Someone will be there to see it happen, will notify the fire department and the siren will sound to notify the town and the dike will be crowded with people within minutes.

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