I was in Calgary in the middle of a snowstorm when the ice went out in the Yukon River this year. Two days earlier, it was beautiful. I was strolling in the Calgary Zoo getting slightly sunburned around my receding hairline, because the only hat I had with me was my winter-weight Tilley.
I had expected the river to break while I was attending a family wedding in the south. Last year’s May 15 breakup was a definite outlier in a statistical set that has tended to run from very late April to very early May in recent years. In 2012 it was May 1, so this year’s date of May 2 wasn’t a surprise.
One of our town councillors has made a statistical study of all the breakup times, and his graph shows the event tending to be earlier. The graph predicted there was a 13.2 per cent chance that breakup would be on May 4, but Mother Nature trumped statistics this year.
Folks at home were reacting to my snow covered Facebook posts from Calgary with suggestions that we run back North as soon as possible. Four days went by when the thermometer in Calgary read between -2°C and 2°C and it was snowing, or sleeting or raining or hailing, while Dawson was reading between 13°C and 20°C, and it was sunny.
Meanwhile, people tell me, the river was behaving in a most unspectacular fashion. South of town, Rock Creek broke without any flooding (so far), and the Klondike River put on quite a show of heaving ice and cracking sounds. I thank Jack Vogt for posting that video.
In town, however, it was a different story. I had noticed that the ice pool tripod was essentially sitting in a pool of slushy ice before I left town to be the emcee at the Young Authors’ Conference in Whitehorse.
As noted a few issues back, the tripod has to move to pull the cable that stops the clock attached to the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre. That determines the winner of the ice pool organized by the IODE each year.
Each year, dozens of people watch as the tripod heads sedately down river. It’s big enough that you can track it almost to Moosehide before it gets lost against the brown of the early spring hillsides.
Looking it over this year, I wondered if it might just sink, and whether or not that would be enough to do the trick — and whether that might actually happen before the ice moved.
The Klondike River broke on April 29. The usual guess is that it will be three to six days after that when the Yukon breaks.
On May 2, the Klondike Visitors Association posted: “BREAKUP 2014: GOODBYE WINTER, HELLO SUMMER! The Yukon River has broken! While it might have been more with a whimper than a bang this year, it is always impressive!”
CBC North reported that the tripod moved at 1:19 pm and that a local woman, Austen Gaven, picked up around $4000 for having the closest guess.
Nobody reported on the low water level, or what happened to the tripod. The staff at the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre gave us this description:
“What a splendid afternoon! We were standing under the wire watching the ice not move…then it did! This year instead of just floating away, the tri-pod was ripped apart…board by board.”
There’s a slightly fuzzy photo on the centre’s Facebook page showing the tripod’s remains lying on its side with the caption: “The Tri-pod de-constructing in front of DZCC.”
I can’t be absolutely certain about this, but I’m willing to wager that this is first time the tripod has met this particular end.
After 32 years teaching in rural Yukon schools, Dan Davidson retired from that profession but continues writing about life in Dawson City.