YUKON TER­RI­TORY

Dan Avila chases his bucket-list photo of the Cana­dian north­ern lights

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Travel pho­tog­ra­phy means dif­fer­ent things to dif­fer­ent peo­ple. That’s the beauty of it, re­ally. For me, the ex­pe­ri­ences that are the most com­pelling are the vis­ceral, pri­mal and nat­u­ral. It’s about feel­ing a con­nec­tion to the power of na­ture and even tast­ing the dan­ger that this can rep­re­sent. It’s not that a trip to Canada’s Yukon Ter­ri­tory needs to be a white-knuck­led ad­ven­ture; it’s that it can be for those that want the chal­lenge.

Lo­cated in the far north of Canada, and shar­ing a bor­der with Alaska, the Yukon stretches to the Arc­tic with win­ter con­di­tions dip­ping down to un­think­able lows. The more pedes­trian yet re­splen­dent way to ex­plore the re­gion is in the warmer months, with won­der­fully mild con­di­tions and sun­light that al­most never ends. I choose to ex­pe­ri­ence the Yukon dur­ing the big white to pur­sue my pas­sion for pho­tograph­ing re­mark­able land­scapes and to at­tempt capturing my buck­etlist photo of the Cana­dian north­ern lights.

The Yukon feels like the up­side-down ver­sion of Western Aus­tralia’s Pil­bara re­gion. It is sparsely pop­u­lated with a strong indige­nous her­itage. It is wild and re­mote with a

“I choose to ex­pe­ri­ence the Yukon dur­ing the big white to pur­sue my pas­sion for pho­tograph­ing re­mark­able land­scapes and to at­tempt capturing my bucket-list photo of the Cana­dian north­ern lights.”

breath­tak­ing land­scape that can be un­for­giv­ing to the ill-pre­pared. While the Pil­bara can reach tem­per­a­tures in the high 40s, I am win­ter-shoot­ing in the Yukon in tem­per­a­tures of mi­nus-30 de­grees Cel­sius. I know it is prop­erly cold when I open a bot­tle of wa­ter and it freezes in my hand be­fore I can even take a sip.

Ar­riv­ing in White­horse, I am de­ter­mined to take ad­van­tage of the crisp weather and blue skies to ex­plore as much as pos­si­ble in my five-day stint, which is barely enough to scratch the sur­face.

The wild north

A lit­tle like an en­closed sa­fari park, the Yukon Wildlife Pre­serve cov­ers hun­dreds of hectares of var­ied ter­rain and pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity to see some of the ma­jor wildlife draw­cards of the re­gion in one place.

The stand­out per­form­ers are the Arc­tic foxes – ever mov­ing and with a per­ma­nent cheeky grin – and the fe­line of the north, the grace­ful lynx. Both an­i­mals have per­fectly evolved to deal with their habi­tat and con­di­tions. The lynx are equipped with enor­mous paws that spread out like snow­shoes. I sink to my thighs in the soft snow while the lynx prance across the sur­face.

Driv­ing north to Daw­son takes the bet­ter part of a day, with the driv­ing sub­ject to the icy road con­di­tions. The town is charm­ing, a lit­tle like the set of an old Western. The next morn­ing, while wait­ing for Tommy, my First Na­tions guide, I watch a young fam­ily cross­ing the frozen Yukon River by dog sled.

Sev­eral hun­dred kilo­me­tres north to­wards the Arc­tic Cir­cle, the roads are pure ice and the land­scape is pos­i­tively Nar­nian. Lynx dart across the road then wait, con­fi­dently, for a photo. The moun­tain­ous land­scape is carved by rivers now turned to slick, green ice.

My final Daw­son ex­pe­ri­ence is a stun­ning flight through the Tomb­stone Moun­tains with Great River Air. Each time a scene emerges that needs to be cap­tured, I stick the cam­era lens out the win­dow as mi­nus-30 de­gree air rushes through the cabin. A post-flight hot cof­fee never felt so good.

Driv­ing south to­ward Klu­ane Na­tional Park, I make it to the much-an­tic­i­pated dog sled trail at Muk­tuk. Af­ter the ex­cited bark­ing set­tles down, the Alaskan huskies find their rhythm and the sleds qui­etly slip across the snow as the smile freezes on my face.

Aurora good­ness

Driv­ing west to­wards the Alaskan bor­der, I ar­rive at Mount Logan Lodge. With clear skies and crisp con­di­tions, I head out with a small group on snow­mo­biles to reach the Klu­ane Ice Cave. The blue and green of the dense ice is gor­geous, and it opens out to val­leys each side, al­low­ing the set­ting sun to flood the cave with light.

Back at the cabin, my host and guide, Ryan Gustafson, cooks a hearty meal and pre­pares us for a night shoot. “The aurora can come at any time, and it can dis­ap­pear within min­utes,” says Ryan.

I no­tice a faint glow on the hori­zon, like a city in the dis­tance. We quickly drive out to a small frozen lake that of­fers an un­ob­structed view, with moun­tains in the dis­tance. Within 20 min­utes, the aurora in from of me goes from a glow to a se­ries of magic danc­ing rib­bons. It is so beau­ti­ful and in that per­fect, freez­ing mo­ment, I cap­ture my aurora ex­pe­ri­ence.

Travel file In­for­ma­tion

Canada Tourism keep­ex­plor­ing.com.au Check the aurora fore­cast be­fore you head out with your cam­era. au­ro­rafore­cast.gi.alaska.edu

Ex­pe­ri­ence

Muk­tuk Ad­ven­tures of­fers a Yukon dog sled ex­pe­ri­ence. muk­tuk.com Daw­son City tour guides yukon­web.com/tourism/ fish­wheel Ac­com­mo­da­tion mount­lo­gan­lodge.com

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