Project Description

COASTAL

WILDLIFE

NATURE

CAMPING

Highlights: Marine environments of the Pacific Northwest / Coastal indigenous nations / 19th century architecture / Historic train route / Ecosystem transition zones / Beringia – the Yukon’s 40,000 year old ice age refugium / Yukon river geography, river hydrology & ecology / Native cultural traditions / Sub-arctic flora & fauna / Arctic circle & global latitudes / Geology of the Yukon / Klondike gold rush history

Spell of the Yukon – 12 Days

“There’s a land where the mountains are nameless and the rivers all run God knows where…” so wrote Robert Service in his epic poem “Spell of the Yukon” more than 125-years ago. Since these words were penned, few would argue that the Yukon is still one of the wildest places remaining on earth. This is the legendary “Land of the Midnight Sun,” home of the Northern Lights, the ancient ice age refugium of Beringia, the homeland of North Americas earliest inhabitants and the Eldorado of one of the most famous gold rushes in history – the Klondike, made famous through the poetry of Robert Service and novels by Jack London.

This extraordinary adventure in learning begins in Prince Rupert, British Columbia (or Bellingham, Washington depending on the time students have allotted for their trip). Here students will board the Alaska Marine Ferry for a spectacular cruise up the world famous Inside Passage. Along the way, they will see glacier-clad mountains, countless islands and the world’s largest protected temperate rainforest. This is the home of bald eagles, wolves, grizzlies, black bears and white “Spirit Bears”, orcas, humpback and grey whales as well as the indigenous Northwest Coast Nations that proudly display their totem poles in coastal communities along the way. Our terminus is the National Historic Site of Skagway, Alaska where “stampeders” disembarked to hike the Chilkoot Pass on their way to the Klondike gold fields.

After a day to explore and camp in fascinating Skagway, we will ride the historic Yukon & White Pass train to Carcross and drive north to Whitehorse, capital of the Yukon Territory and home to the Yukon Beringia Center. Here students will learn how the Yukon, Alaska and eastern Siberia served as an ice-free refugium when much of North America was buried under glacial ice 40,000 years ago. Students will discover this intriguing era through interactive exhibits, riveting films and skeletal remains of woolly mammoths, giant beaver, giant sloths, saber-toothed cats and the partial carcass of a long extinct Yukon horse.

After exploring Whitehorse and camping on the shores of Lake Laberge made famous in a Robert Service poem, we venture north to Carmacks where we launch canoes for a 4-day paddle down the legendary Yukon River. At 3,190 km in length, it is one of the longest rivers in North America. Along the way students will view wildlife and learn northern bush skills from the local natives, like how to start a fire, erect a comfortable camp, cache food away from bears and cook over an open fire.

We conclude our Yukon River adventure in Fort Selkirk, an old Hudson Bay Company trading post that is now a National Historic Site. From here we head further north to explore the Yukon’s sub arctic region along the Dempster Highway, a raised gravel pad road that stretches 734-km North to the Arctic Ocean through one of the most unspoiled landscapes on earth. Here students are almost certain to spot Dall’s sheep, Arctic foxes, caribou, moose, grizzly and black bears as well as a wealth of bird life.

We will camp and trek in the famous Tombstone Mountains Territorial Park and stand on the Arctic Circle as we explore this vast wilderness, experience the midnight sun and marvel at a landscape mind-boggling in it’s vastness but still unmarked by man.

Dawson City, the destination of 100,000 Gold Rush stampeders in 1898 and now a living museum, is our final destination. A quiet town today with fewer than 2,000 residents, Dawson retains its traditional warm welcome and still displays many gold rush era buildings that have been preserved as part of a National Historic Park.

Our 12-day Yukon adventure concludes here with a flight back to Vancouver. For student groups with more time we have a 4-day add-on that takes us over the “Top of the World Highway” from Dawson City to Tok, Alaska and then back into the Yukon at Kluane National Park.

Kluane boasts the highest mountain in Canada, Mount Logan at 5,959 m (19,551 ft.) as well as the world’s largest non-polar ice cap. It is also part of the world’s largest protected area. After camping 2-nights and trekking in Kluane National Park this trip extension ends in Whitehorse with flights to Vancouver, or returning to Bellingham, Washington by ferry departing from beautiful Haines, Alaska.

Study Focus: marine environments of the Pacific Northwest / coastal indigenous nations

  • Students board the Alaska Marine Ferry in Prince Rupert, B.C. (or Bellingham, Washinton – adding on a full day to the trip) for the scenic cruise north to Skagway, Alaska.
  • This is a 2-day overnight cruise so berths can be reserved in advance or students can camp on the deck of the boat for an adventure under the stars.Naturalists on board will help students better understand wildlife sightings and historic sites along the way. Porpoise, whales, eagles, sea lions, seals, black bears, Kermode bears, otters and other marine life are commonly sighted.
  • Students will also hear talks on the different indigenous tribes that inhabit the coast: Coast Salish, Kwakiutl, Heilstuk, Tsimshian, Haida and Tlingit.
  • This is a 2-day overnight cruise so berths can be reserved in advance or students can camp on the deck of the boat for an adventure under the stars.

Overnight: On board Alaska Marine Ferry

Study Focus: Gold rush history / 19th century architecture

  • Arriving in Skagway, we will transfer by bus to a campground within walking distance of Skagway’s historic streets and have a full day to explore the boardwalks and old buildings of this world famous Gold Rush port.
  • Students might want to take in some of the local shows that tell the story of one of the largest gold rushes in history before taking time for an art lesson – sketching one or more of the historic 19th century buildings or the incredibly scenic landscape surrounding the town.

Overnight: Skagway campground

Study Focus: historic train route / ecosystem transition zones / Beringia – the Yukon’s 40,000 year old ice age refugium

  • Today is an exciting day as we break camp after an early breakfast and head to the White Pass Rail Station to board a narrow gauge train at 7:30 am that takes us on a breathtaking 6-hour trip past glaciers, gorges, waterfalls, tunnels, trestles and historic sites – all viewed from the comfort of vintage parlor cars.
  • As we depart Skagway at sea level and switchback our way up the high pass into the Yukon, we will be retracing the footsteps of the “Trail of 98” when tens of thousands of fortune seekers had to haul a ton of supplies over the Chilkoot Pass before the Mounties would allow them entry into Canada.
  • As interesting as the human drama of this region is, the natural history is equally amazing. Students will note many transition zones as we climb from the wet coastal rainforest up to tree line and over the mountain pass into the boreal forests and dry interior of the Yukon.
  • A delicious hot lunch will be served at the historic Lake Bennet station before the train carries on to Carcross, Yukon Territory.
  • Arriving in Carcross at 1:00 pm, we will explore this historic settlement and visit the “world’s smallest desert” that formed here in the rain shadow of the Coast Mountains before boarding mini vans for the 45-minute drive to Whitehorse.
  • Whitehorse is the Capitol of the Yukon Territory and location of the Yukon Beringia Centre, where students will gain keen insights into a fascinating era.
  • 10,000 – 40,000 years ago much of North America was buried under a mile of ice but the Yukon, central Alaska and eastern Siberia were ice-free. It was simply too dry here for snow to accumulate enough to form glaciers. Scientists call this subcontinent Beringia; it was home to the great mega fauna of the Pleistocene – woolly mammoths, saber-toothed cats, giant beaver, huge sloths as well as camels, horses, and lions.
  • Students will have several hours to take in the excellent films and interactive displays at this centre before we visit a restored Klondike paddle wheeler on the banks of the Yukon River and then drive on to our camp for the night on the shores of Lake Labarge.
  • What could be more appropriate around the campfire this night than reading Robert Service’s classic poem: “The Cremation of Sam McGee”?

 

“There are strange things done in the midnight sun

By the men who moil for gold;

The Arctic trails have their secret tales

That would make your blood run cold;

The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,

But the queerest they ever did see

Was the night on the marge of Lake Labarge

I cremated Sam McGee.”

Overnight: Campground, Lake Laberge

Study Focus: Yukon River geography, river hydrology & ecology / native cultural traditions

  • This morning we enjoy a hearty breakfast, break camp and travel north to Carmacks where we’ll launch canoes for a 4-day (125 km) journey down the mighty Yukon River.
  • Over the next four days, students will learn about the amazing geography of this great river, how it used to drain into the Pacific before the ice ages altered its course and redirected the flow several thousand kilometers west to the Bering Sea.
  • There will be excellent opportunities for wildlife sightings along our route as moose, wolves and bear frequently come to the riverbank to drink and gyrfalcons, peregrine falcons, bald and golden eagles nest on cliff sides and cottonwood trees along the shores.
  • Camping and food foraging skills will be an important component of the trip as students build fires, set up bush camps, fish and pick wild berries, and learn to cache food out of reach of bears, fox and wolverines.
  • The sight of Fort Selkirk on a high bank of the river will mark the end of our trip. For over 8,000 years this was a habitation site of the Selkirk First Nations and an important trading area with the Tlingits before the Hudson Bay Company established a fort here in 1848.
  • Only accessible by water, Fort Selkirk is now a National Historic Site maintained by Selkirk First Nation residents of Pelly Crossing, some of whom who will join us here to share in their rich cultural traditions for our final night on the river.

Overnight: Yukon River camps

Study Focus: sub-Arctic flora & fauna

  • Today we end our Yukon River adventure, transferring by motorboat up the Pelly River to the highway at Pelly Crossing. We will then travel up the Dempster Highway towards the Arctic Ocean to stretch our legs hiking in one of the most sublime settings the North has to offer.
  • The Dempster Highway is still one of the best-kept secrets in the Yukon. Completed in 1979, it is the only highway in Canada that crosses the Arctic Circle and affords the traveler a rare chance to see vast expanses of beautiful arctic tundra, striking mountain ranges and abundant wildlife.
  • Tombstone Territorial Park will be our first stop along the roadway where we will set up camp and venture into the wilds on foot. Moose, grizzlies, wolves, wolverine, Arctic fox, snowshoe hares, and ptarmigan are very common in this area. Woodland caribou are also resident and the great Porcupine caribou herds migrate here every fall from their calving grounds near the Arctic Ocean.
  • The explosion of colorful Arctic flowers in the summer months can take your breath away, but autumn scenery with its rich red, yellow and orange hues is considered the most spectacular season along the Dempster.

Overnight: Tombstone Territorial Park campground

 

Study Focus: Arctic Circle & global latitudes / geology of the Yukon

  • Today we break camp and drive slowly north on a wildlife-viewing safari as far as the Arctic Circle. Dramatic views can be found everywhere as just about anywhere along this drive you can see forever.
  • We will stop for a picnic lunch at the Arctic Circle. Displays here explain the significance of this latitude and the mystery of the Northern Lights. From this latitude northwards the sun never sets at the summer solstice, June 21, and never rises at the winter solstice, December 21.
  • Returning south along the Dempster there will be more time to spot wildlife before we reach our camp site for the night located along a creek at the foot of Sapper Hill, a sharply eroded limestone ridge with fascinating rock ‘forests’.
  • Here we will set up camp and have a talk on the complex geology of the area.
  • Fishing is excellent here and students may want to try their luck landing us dinner.

Overnight: Engineer Creek campground

Study Focus: Klondike gold rush history

  • Our final full day takes us to Dawson City, the destination of nearly 100,000 stampeders at the height of the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898.
  • Checking in to a comfortable heritage hotel after so many nights camping will be a highlight of its own, but Dawson has much more to offer.
  • It is said you have not seen the Yukon if you have not seen Dawson City. Once referred to as the “Paris of the North” Dawson today is a diverse community of 1,900 local natives, miners, artists and summer workers.
  • It was the accidental discovery of placer gold on Rabbit Creek in 1896 by George Washington Carmack and his Indian brothers-in-law, Skookum Jim and Tagish Charley that put this place on the map. Soon after, American newspapers started a stampede North with headlines heralding “A Ton of Gold!”
  • Students will have time to stroll along the historic boardwalks of Dawson discovering many buildings still collapsing or restored from the Gold Rush days. The little log cabins where Robert Service and Jack London composed their famous poems and novels are still standing and well worth visiting.
  • A free ferry trip across the Yukon makes for a great hike along the river where a Paddle Wheeler graveyard can be found, offering a haunting reminder of the Gold Rush era.
  • Our final night will be a celebratory affair, as students will be awarded t-shirts and certificates to acknowledge their achievements and share their own favorite adventure tales or Robert Service-styled poems in a closing candlelight circle.

Overnight: El Dorado Hotel, Dawson City

Departure (or trip extension)

  • After a big breakfast at our hotel, students will be transported to the Dawson City Airport for the return fight to Vancouver on Air North.
  • Those groups with more time available have the option of adding on a 4 to 6-day extension that takes them into Alaska along the “Top of the World” highway, to Kluane National Park and back to the Alaska Marine Ferry connection in Haines, Alaska for the cruise south to Prince Rupert or Bellingham, Washington near Seattle.
  • For all, the Spell of the Yukon is likely to call them back again and again.

There’s the land. (Have you seen it?)

It’s the cussedest land that I know,

From the big, dizzy mountains that screen it

To the deep, deathlike valleys below.

Some say God was tired when He made it;

Some say it’s a fine land to shun;

Maybe; but there’s some as would trade it

For no land on earth – and I’m one.

Spell of the Yukon – Robert Service

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