The Yukon calls when you’re done roamin’

Sunday Herald Sun - Escape - - DESTINATION CANADA - JOHN BARKER

The in­struc­tions in the sauna are as crys­tal-clear as the lake out­side. Af­ter we are well steamed we are to leave the small wooden en­clo­sure and dive into the lake. Re­peat three times. We’re in the vast Cana­dian ter­ri­tory of the Yukon, un­der a clear, night-time sky, and even at the end of sum­mer, the lake is a brain-numb­ing 8C. Yes, there is some trep­i­da­tion. In­evitably de­lay­ing the mo­ment, we count down from 10 be­fore plung­ing into the icy wa­ter.

The next morn­ing we ex­plain to our host, Robert­son, that we faith­fully fol­lowed the in­struc­tions, com­plet­ing the sauna/lake rit­ual three times, and felt ter­rific for the ex­pe­ri­ence. “Yes,” he says drolly, “I heard the screams.”

The truth is that we re­ally did feel amaz­ing post-sauna.

After­wards, we sat on the ve­randa of our log cabin among tow­er­ing pines look­ing out across Crag Lake while sip­ping our Thirsty Beavers (a fine lo­cal ale), with our skin tin­gling and the in­creased blood cir­cu­la­tion re­leas­ing en­dor­phins at will. Happy days. It is – for me and my adult son, Fer­gus – our last night in the Yukon af­ter a road trip down South Klondike High­way to Sk­ag­way, Alaska, and we both agree it couldn’t be a more fit­ting con­clu­sion to a thrilling, ful­fill­ing, and at times chill­ing, ad­ven­ture.


When it comes to road trips in the Yukon, the Alaska High­way fea­tures heav­ily. Cel­e­brat­ing its 75th an­niver­sary last year, the im­pres­sive bit of black­top cuts across the south­ern cor­ner of the Yukon, pass­ing through the cap­i­tal, White­horse, be­fore head­ing north­west to Alaska. But one can also travel from White­horse along the lesser known south­ern sec­tion of the Klondike High­way. It also leads you to Alaska, specif­i­cally to the town of Sk­ag­way.

At only 173km in length, the South Klondike High­way is not only an easy drive but a slice of scenic heaven as you pass the shim­mer­ing Emer­ald Lake, through the town­ship of Car­cross, and a sec­tion of Bri­tish Columbia, be­fore climb­ing up­wards through the rugged White Pass (fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of the 100,000 prospec­tors who sought their for­tune dur­ing the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896-99). And then there is the de­scent into Sk­ag­way, on the banks of the In­side Pas­sage.


If you’re trav­el­ling this route and think­ing rus­tic ac­com­mo­da­tion, im­pec­ca­ble hosts and stun­ning lo­ca­tion then the de­light­ful Dun­roamin’ Re­treat – about 14km north­east of Car­cross (pop 301) – is the place to be. Hosts – artist Suzanne Pi­cot and pho­tog­ra­pher Robert­son Bales – have cre­ated a cosy, off-the-


grid re­treat on the lake fore­shore that is some­thing of an Ar­ca­dian dream.

Guests stay in the log cabin where there is an eclec­tic li­brary, jig­saw puz­zles, open fire and kitch­enette. You can also re­lax with a good book in the glass con­ser­va­tory, and/or be rein­vig­o­rated in the afore­men­tioned hand-built, wood-fired sauna.

There’s a tree­house for the lit­tlies, a yurt for those look­ing to be in­spired and plenty of trails to fur­ther ex­plore the nat­u­ral beauty of the re­gion.

Break­fasts are de­liv­ered on a warm tea towel, in a small cane bas­ket, at­tached to a pul­ley sys­tem. On the first morn­ing we kick off our day with yo­ghurt and maple syrup gra­nola par­fait, with rhubarb and rasp­ber­ries fresh from the gar­den. On the se­cond, we get to en­joy Robert­son’s freshly baked muffins. It is the per­fect Yukon re­treat to soothe the senses and ex­pe­ri­ence the awe-in­spir­ing Cana­dian wilder­ness.


I ask Suzanne why she and Robert­son set­tled in the Yukon af­ter they’d “done roamin’” around the world. “I’m an artist,” she replies, “And I’m still try­ing to ar­tic­u­late what makes the Yukon so spe­cial!”

But as we travel down the high­way to Sk­ag­way – past snow-capped moun­tains, long-drop wa­ter­falls, rag­ing rivers and glassy lakes – it be­comes only too ap­par­ent why this part of the world is spe­cial. What one doesn’t ex­pect to see though is the “World’s Small­est Desert”. It lies just out­side of Car­cross and though tech­ni­cally not a desert –sand was formed when large glacial lakes formed, de­posit­ing silt; when the lakes dried, the dunes were left be­hind – it’s still an en­thralling sight.

So too is The Tor­mented Val­ley, a sub-arc­tic tun­dra of rocky out­crops, glacier-blue lakes and wind-bat­tered, 300-year-old trees. It’s a wholly unique eco-sys­tem and a real high­light along the Klondike.

An hour from Car­cross you reach the US bor­der cross­ing (don’t for­get your pass­port) where a photo above the desk of a stern Pres­i­dent Trump, and even sterner bor­der guards, re­minds us that we are in­deed leav­ing Canada. Our main pur­pose in trav­el­ling to Sk­ag­way – other than the sheer joy of a sim­ple road trip through stun­ning land­scapes – is to take a trip on the his­toric Sk­ag­way Rail­way.

The town caters to the end­less flow of cruise lin­ers that sail down the Chilkoot In­let (400 lin­ers in 2017) and the tourists they carry (815,941 dur­ing the same year).

With that kind of tran­sient traf­fic there is no short­age of cafes, sou­venir shops, and an in­ex­pli­ca­ble num­ber of jew­ellery shops.

The main at­trac­tion though, is the rail­way. Un­der­stand­ably.

Climb­ing 880m along cliff faces, through tun­nels, across tres­tle bridges over deep ravines, the rail­way was con­sid­ered an en­gi­neer­ing mar­vel when con­structed in just 26 months be­tween 1897 and 1899. It still is.

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