A Season in the Mist

Freeze-up on the Yukon River is not proceeding according to custom this year.

Despite the lack of ice at the regular crossing down by the ferry landing in Dawson City, people did begin to cross the river south of the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike about two and a half weeks after the George Black Ferry left the water.

These crossings were on foot at first, though one resident did tell me he was using a bicycle until the snow build-up on the trail made for hard peddling. By the time I spotted my first pair of walkers, the cyclist had been at it for a week and a half.

The walkers, on the other hand, were following a skidoo trail that took off from the Dawson side just past the RCMP Detachment. The path went from the upper dyke trail down to the lower one, and then out onto the river, heading southwest in the general direction of Sunnydale, to avoid the open water.

On that day it looked like they were walking through open water, but it turned out to be overflow on the ice that was less than a foot deep. The ice itself was reasonably firm.

Not everyone wants to make that long trek on foot, though. A friend who needed to cross for a funeral on Dec. 7 told me she arranged to charter a helicopter. She’s probably wise.

This column is being written four days in advance of that date, and while there is a rough track across the river and 4×4 vehicles are crossing, it’s not an official road and it’s not a trip everyone chooses to make.

As I write, we are down to under five hours of sunlight in the town core — less than that if it’s overcast or if it’s cold enough to cause a build-up of ice fog. This is an interesting phenomenon that occurs wherever there is open water when the air temperature drops down close to -30.

It’s a bit different than the regular habitation fog that shrouds the streets from chimneys and vehicles on really cold days. At first it looks like steam rising off the water, but the colder it gets the darker the mist becomes, and once it gets down to the minus 40s it’s dark enough to make the river look as if it’s burning.

Chimneys and vehicles (whether idling or moving) contribute to the mist on really cold days — and during the last several weeks we’ve been the coldest inhabited spot in the world on a few occasions.

From my living room window on 7th Avenue I have had the pleasure of seeing the late rising sun light up the top of the hills across the river. The trees reflect a mixture of silver and gold, which is quite a sight.

The light creeps down the hill, moves south and then, as the sun describes its shallow arc over the hills up river, it lights up the Moosehide Slide for a while before vanishing.

As we get closer to the winter solstice, this light show gets briefer, and by the time you read this, I won’t get to see it for a couple of weeks.

Getting my hair cut a week ago I exited Hair Cabaret to see a young woman across Queen Street smoking a cigarette and basking in the sunshine hitting the shuttered Midnight Sun Hotel behind her.

Sunshine won’t make it that far into the downtown core until several weeks into January.

After 32 years teaching in rural Yukon schools, Dan Davidson retired from that profession but continues writing about life in Dawson City.

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