Tag Archives: Canada

“Northern Lights, Alaska Highway”

Oil on canvas, by Canadian artist Alexander Young Jackson, circa 1943

Crossing the Border

The United States will open the land borders with Canada and Mexico to fully vaccinated travelers in November. This will come as welcomed news to many border communities after 19 months of having the borders closed to visitors.


The Gold Fields of 1897

Map source: University of Alaska Archives

An interesting map, showing the two routes into the “Klondyke” Gold Fields of “British America” and the “40 Mile” Region in Alaska. One could go overland via the Chilkoot Trail, or by water using the “Youkon” River.

The only established community marked on the map along the Yukon River within Interior Alaska was Fort Yukon, which started as a trading post under the Hudson Bay Company.

Circle City was a mining town that popped up with the discovery of gold in Birch Creek, which is a great float, by the way. Circle, was so named, because the miners thought they were on the Arctic Circle, but they were actually about 50 miles south. Circle City was a major jumping off point for both miners and supplies that had come up the Yukon and were heading out to the gold camps.

Intriguing that Dyea makes the map, but Skagway is left off. Dyea was the start of the Chilkoot Trail, and at the time of the Klondike Gold Rush, was a thriving community with a large wharf. Today, only a few pilings are left of the wharf, and minimal signs of any structures, although it is home to the “Slide Cemetery”. Regardless, “Soapy” Smith would not be impressed with Skagway being MIA. Stampeders would hike the trail over the pass into Canada from Dyea to Lake Bennett. Most would then build boats to carry them to the famed Lake Lebarge and finally the Yukon River. All for the lure of gold.


One Way Border

Hyder, Alaska border crossing

The U.S. – Canadian Border will be open to vaccinated residents of the United States starting today. This is what you will need to ease the strain:

  1. For anyone over the age of 12, proof of vaccination, at least 2 weeks prior to your crossing, will be needed. The Canadian Government will accept the Pfizer-BioNtech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccines. It should be noted that large cruise ships are still banned from Canadian waters, but that moratorium is scheduled to be lifted November 1. Just in time for the Holiday Cruise Season?
  2. All travelers must show proof of a negative Covid-19 test within two days of crossing.
  3. As usual, a passport is required.
  4. Travelers should fill out forms on the website ArriveCAN, and upload their vaccination information, within 72 hours of arrival at the border. Downloading the app is also suggested, since this will not be the only time many travelers will be using the site.
  5. Travelers must be asymptomatic upon arrival at the border. They will also need a quarantine plan if they develop symptoms after arriving in Canada.
  6. Random travelers will be asked to submit to an additional Covid-19 test while in Canada. Checking in with ArriveCAN will be required.
  7. Prepare for long waits. This will all take time to verify at the border, especially at first.
  8. Signing onto the site ArriveCAN if you are thinking of crossing into Canada is a must to get a feel fro what Canadian border officials are looking for. From what I have read, the site is well laid out and user friendly.

Interestingly, the U.S. Border is not open to Canadian travelers, which has small Alaskan communities frustrated. Towns like Hyder in the photo were hoping to see the border open in both directions, but that will not be the case for now.


Steamer Yukon

The steamer Yukon

The steamboat Yukon was the first paddlewheeler to venture up the Yukon River. It was July 5, 1869, shortly after the Alaska Territory was bought by the United States from Russia. In part, the trip was a reconnaissance mission, but it was also a supply mission for the Alaska Commercial Company, which took over the trade route from the Hudson Bay Company.

By 1885, when gold was discovered on the Fortymile River, there were three steamers working the river. With the discovery of gold in the Klondike, as many as 100 steamers entered the Yukon River at St Michael to make the trip to Dawson City in the Yukon Territory.


No cruising Nome

Nome, Alaska

The cruise industry has put Nome in dry dock for the 2021 season. The city was hoping to get five cruise ships in this summer, but the Harbormaster, Lucas Stotts, confirmed this week that the industry has pulled the plug. No blaming the Canadians this time, however. The ships that visit Nome also dock at Provideniya, Russia. Like Canada, Russian ports are closed to tourists for 2021. No alternative was found, so the season officially ended before it began.

I think it is safe to say that the tourist industry is looking forward to 2022.


Is Winter about to lose its grip?

Snow depth graph credit: ACCAP/UAF

After the 14+ inches of snow dumped on us last week, there is only one year since recording began, that snow depth this late in the season was deeper. That was the infamous Winter of 1990-91. We have a whole lot of snow on the ground… and on the rooftops.

Graphic credit: NWS-Fairbanks

We have also set some cold records so far in April. On more than one morning, we have tied the record low temp in Fairbanks. On Friday, we tied the record low of -16F, and shattered the record low high when we climbed to a paltry +3F.

Saturday night saw a return visit to the deep freeze, with the temps dropping to -29F officially at the airport. It dropped to -35 at the cabin. The record low for the month of April is -32F, which we have left intact. Not to be outdone: Old Crow, YT dropped to -40.2C. Way to go Yukon!

Temperatures for this coming week have us seeing +40F for the first time since October. That is also a new record.

Map credit: ACCAP/UAF


Haida Ermine

The Haida Ermine; Photo credit: Alaska Public Media

Southeast Alaska has a new carnivore on the block. Or, I should say that a new one was identified recently. A new species of ermine was identified on Prince of Wales Island, and some were also found in British Columbia. The new species has been labeled the Haida Ermine.

There are three known species: one in Eurasia, one in North America, and now Southeast Alaska. The Haida Ermine was thought to be isolated around 375,000 years ago, due to a glacial period. Over time, it has developed different characteristics and has become its own species.

I am confident that the one living in my wood pile is just the common North American species, but it never sits still long enough for me to say that with 100% certainty.


Burning Increase

Graphic credit: IARC

It may seem like an odd time to think of the fire season here in Alaska. After all, we officially had 29 inches of snowpack at the end of March, and have been adding to that steadily during this first week of April.

In a state that boasts some of the finest summers on this planet, one thing that can ruin a summer in a hurry is a bad wildfire year. Alaska has been trending upward in acres burned over the past 60 years. From 1.6% of the state seeing wildfires during the decade of 1961-1970, to 3.1% of the state going up in smoke in the most recent decade.

2004 was the worst year on record with 6.6 million acres burned. It was a nasty summer here in the Interior. I had hiked the Chilkoot Trail at the end of June, and had made it back to Skagway in time for July 4th, only to find out the embers had really hit the fan. Wildfires were everywhere between Fairbanks and Whitehorse in the Yukon. In Skagway, I called my Dad to tell him not to visit in a few days, because the smoke was so bad, but he came up anyway. We sat on my deck one evening and watched lightning start a fire a couple of valleys over. The next morning air tankers were dumping water over the fresh fire. We climbed to the ridge top in the evening to see a wall of flame across the valley floor.

I couldn’t count the number of dry thunderstorms we saw that summer. I remember standing out on my deck at 2am one morning, lightning was flashing down on the hills all around me, but all I could see was an eerie glow in the thick smoke, followed by the thunder crashing down, rolling across the land. If a fire had started close by, I would never know until the flames were roaring upon the cabin. The smoke was so thick that visibility was down to mere feet.


USCGC Healy to sail Northwest Passage

USCG Cutter Healy 700 miles north of Utqiaġvik, Alaska; Public domain photo: Credit USCG

The largest icebreaker of the three in the service of the United States Coast Guard, will sail through the Northwest Passage at the end of this summer. The sailing will be a joint venture with the Canadian Coast Guard.

The Cutter Healy is named after Captain “Hell-Roaring” Mike Healy, who was captain of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Bear. The Bear sailed the Alaskan coast for decades. The icebreaker Healy has accommodations for the entire crew, as well as for up to 50 scientists. The Healy can continuously break through ice up to 4-1/2 feet thick at 3 knots, and up to 10 feet thick, when “backing & ramming”. The Healy is designed to operate at temperatures down to -50F, and was the first U.S. surface vessel to reach the North Pole unaccompanied.

The upcoming mission through the Northwest Passage is officially a joint research and educational collaboration. That may very well be true, but it’s hard to ignore the geopolitical message that will be sent along with the research.

As the sea ice in the Arctic diminishes, clearly transport through the Northwest Passage will increase.

Currently, plans have the Cutter Healy leaving Dutch Harbor in mid-August for the Northwest Passage. By mid-September the icebreaker expects to do exercises out of Nuuk, Greenland around Baffin Bay.