Dog-Sledding In The Yukon!
Touring the Western Cordillera
by: Josephine Mai
Have you ever dreamt of truly experiencing the wind in your hair as you were being pulled by a team of majestic and energetic sled dogs? This flyer is here to give you all the information you need to know before you zip up that parka and head on up to the beautiful Yukon!
The climate in the Yukon is continental. Winters are extremely cold, with an average temperature of -18 degrees Celsius annually (The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2015). Brr! Summers are quite warm, with an average annual temperature of 10 degrees Celsius, but cooler air pushing southward from the Arctic can make temperatures go down. Precipitation in the southwest is generally low due to the high mountains sealing off access to moister air. The annual precipitation in the west is only 300 mm, while the annual precipitation in the east rises to 1500 mm. One third to two thirds (1/3 - 2/3) of this precipitation falls as snow (Torsten Bernhardt, 2015).
What you need to know:
In summary, the Yukon's climate could never be more perfect for dog-sledding. The consistent cold temperatures are essential to maintain a constantly frozen, hard ground in the winter to ensure that the sled dogs (and you!) have a nice, smooth ride! As for the precipitation, lots of snow is what makes the Yukon, truly the Yukon!
The Western Cordillera is known for being the youngest landform region in Canada, which means that not a lot of erosion had occurred. The Western Cordillera is made up of many lakes, forests, oceans such as the Pacific Ocean and large mountain ranges such as the Rocky Mountains (Aidan Woods, 2012). Mountains and plateaus are the dominant features, separated by valleys and lowlands. Debris and deposits from glaciers cover the plateaus and valleys, as well as the lower slopes of mountains (Torsten Bernhardt, 2015).
What you need to know:
As the Yukon is a very vast area, you and the sled dogs will have tons of space to journey to your heart's content! While there are very mountainous regions in the Yukon, there is still a lot of flat, empty land.
Vegetation and Soil
Boreal forests cover 57% of the Yukon Territory. The vegetation is classified as sub-arctic and alpine. White spruce and lodge pole pine trees are the predominant tree species. Other tree species found in the Yukon include alpine fir, western white pine and balsam poplar. The short summers in the Yukon mean that the trees grow slowly and develop into hardy, high-quality wood. The Yukon is known for its native plant diversity with over 200 species of wildflowers. Although very few foreign plant species have been introduced and few could thrive in this extreme climate, invasive plants are a concern in this region (The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2015).
Mountain systems have complex vegetation due to climatic effects of elevation and mountains acting as barriers to air flow (The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2015). Lower parts of the mountains are scattered with coniferous trees (pine trees), however depending on the elevation of the mountain, there may not be any trees at all due to the extreme cold (Chase, 2010). As elevation increases, only shrubs, moss, lichen and herbs are found (Torsten Bernhardt, 2015).
Geology (rock types)
Let's take a step back and get a look at the whole picture of the Western Cordillera! The Rocky Mountains are formed of faulted sedimentary rock (Torsten Bernhardt, 2015). The Columbia Mountains are formed of both sedimentary and metamorphic rock in layers beneath the surface. Interior plateaus are made by volcanic activity, which means that this area is composed of igneous and metamorphic rock and also contains valuable metals such as copper, zinc and gold. Plains and valleys often consist of glacial moraine or deposits from ancient lakes (Chase, 2010).
Human Activities that can be enjoyed in the Yukon include:
- Northern Lights/Aurora Borealis
And of course, dog-sledding!
Here is a video that perfectly captures the liveliness and true joy of ... dog-sledding, made by Travel Yukon!
Influence of Climate Change
These are the impacts of climate change on the Yukon, (according to Environment Yukon, 2015):
- Increased average temperatures:
- increased amount of precipitation (rain/snow) received annually
- greater opportunities for the spread of invasive species
- increase in agricultural opportunities
- Melting glaciers:
- contributing 1.13 mm of water to global sea level rise
- glaciers losing 22% of their surface area since 1958
- Thawing Permafrost:
- causing expensive damage to the Yukon's roads and buildings
- has led to "slumping" (shown below)
- more frequent landslides
- Extreme/Unexpected weather events:
- lightning storms and flash floods
- warmers temperatures in areas such as Dawson City have led to ice-jam floods
- Dawson City and Mayo are expected to see a 60% increase in forest fires by 2035
What you need to know:
Of course, both the long-term climate and the day-to-day will be things to consider when packing for your trip! This next section will be about what to wear and bring to ensure that you're ready to weather the storms! Make sure you pack long-sleeve shirts, sweaters and thick bottoms.To be comfortable outdoors, a warm parka and insulated boots are an absolute must. Be sure to bring snow pants, gloves/mittens, a warm hat and a scarf! Renting a winter clothing package is also an option, just be sure to check with your tour guide first for more information. While it will be very cold out there, it will also be very bright due to the sun so be sure to pack a pair of sunglasses as well, (Travel Yukon, 2015). And if you have all these items packed, you're all set!
Risk of Natural Disasters?
These are the possible natural hazards that may occur in the Yukon, according to the Government of Canada, 2015:
- avalanches (being the main and most common one)
- severe storms
Avalanches are not uncommon in Canada but are more frequent in the mountains of British Columbia, Alberta and of course, the Yukon. Avalanches occur when a layer of snow collapses and slides downhill. Avalanches can travel up to 90 km/h. After just one hour, only one in three (1/3) victims buried in an avalanche is found alive. The most common causes of death are suffocation, wounds and hypothermia, (Government of Canada, 2015).
To help give a clear sense of what an avalanche truly has the power to do, here is a great video that shows the internal force of an avalanche:
What you need to know:
In case an avalanche ever occurs during your visit, there are several precautions and things you must do to stay safe (according to Government of Canada, 2015):
- Always travel in a group led by an experienced group leader
- Be sure to participate in a certified avalanche safety course
- When driving, always be on the lookout for signs that say "Avalanche Area - Do Not Stop" and drive carefully in those areas
To sum it all up, the Yukon Territory would be the absolute best place for anyone interested in taking part in dog-sledding! From the suitably chilly winter climates to the conveniently smooth landscape, such factors make the Yukon a great place to participate in a wide variety of winter sports/recreation! So what are you waiting for? Head on up to the Yukon Territory and have the time of your life today!