The Ice Bridge Begins

I finally managed to spot the place where they are crossing the Yukon River yesterday (November 19).

I’ve been hearing stories of people making the trek since about two weeks after they pulled the ferry out, but the ice build-up has been so erratic this year that I hardly knew what to believe.

It looked as if it was going to freeze in the normal way, with colliding ice pans jamming themselves into bigger and bigger ones until the river stopped moving altogether and the ice began to thicken.

That would lead, eventually, to a safe crossing between the ferry landings, which we did not get last year.

The east bank jammed up nicely within about a week and the amount of ice flowing near the west bank looked as if it was going to do the same. Then, one day it was gone and there was a wide stretch of open water over there.

Weirdly, about 100 metres south of this the river looked to be frozen solid, at least until you got down to the area opposite the Commissioner’s Residence where there was open water again.

On November 3 I drove up to the Dome to get an overview, and it still looked as if it would soon fill in.

Between then and about four days from this date, we haven’t had any really cold weather. It often takes a few days of bitter -30 to -40 to have the ice stay in place.

That changed this week and it hit those temperatures on the weekend when I’m writing this column. Two days ago I saw two people picking their way across the river in opposite directions, following a weaving track that picked its way through the jumble ice that’s sticking up. It’s quite a long walk when you have to zigzag back and forth that way, but they made steady progress.

Sadly, I did not have any sort of camera with me that day. The next day – Saturday – I packed one after I got the truck started and headed off to pick up the mail and do some grocery shopping. It was -39 and had been sincbertone the previous night.

Along the waterfront, below the cradle where the ferry spends its winters, I found what I had been expecting to see: the clear track of a snow machine that curved out onto the river and followed a winding path across to the other side.

It had been marked with red flags to show people where to walk, but these weren’t needed as much by then, as the track was quite distinct against the upthrust jumble that covered this part of the river.

I had been expecting the track because our latest Berton House writer-in-residence, Manjushree Thapa, had walked the trail with her partner, Daniel Lak, earlier in the week and had told us about it when we had dinner with them on Thursday evening.

Walking across the river is a thrill for lots of visitors to town, as is taking the ferry in warmer weather, and this pair wanted to add that to their Dawson experience.

It was about 10 degrees warmer when they did it than on the day I spotted the trail, and I will wait until it is that warm again, or perhaps even until the first ploughed ice bridge emerges from the ice, before I walk out there.

Walking and driving on the ice always leaves me a little bit nervous. If I had to do it, I would get used to it, but I don’t, so it remains an edgy experience, even after the surface is flooded and turns it into a two lane highway.

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