TAKE A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE
The Yukon calls when you’re done roamin’
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.
THE KLONDIKE HIGHWAY
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.
THE LOG CABIN
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-
IT COULDN’T BE A MORE FITTING CONCLUSION TO A THRILLING, AND AT TIMES CHILLING, ADVENTURE
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.
DAY TRIP TO ALASKA
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.