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I’ve been dog sledding in Algonquin—twice—so last winter I was ready for an even bigger adventure. And there’s nothing quite like the call of the North to up the ante. Which is how I found myself with the Yukon wilderness white and silent around me, mountains looming on the banks of Annie Lake, the only sounds the creaking of the sled runners and the panting of my five sled dogs: Wind and Cali in the lead, Pluton in the middle, Chinook and Otter bringing up the rear. I was on an unforgettable week-long camping and dog sledding expedition with Alayuk Adventures, some hard sledding and Northern Lights hunting ahead of me.
The first day of the trip I was on the edge of my comfort, constant bursts of adrenaline at sharp turns and steep downhills, the path only as wide as the sled, the dogs out in full sprint, snow-covered firs blurring past me. On the trail we came across evidence of the Gold Rush, remnants of prospector camps, log cabins and long-rusted-through stoves and other discarded detritus of that golden insanity.
The dogs love to run. Exuberant and drunk on winter, the trail, the snow, they whine plaintively whenever the sled stops, throwing themselves against the harnesses in an attempt to keep running.
We cooked everything on the campfire, by the light of our headlamps. No re-hydrated meals here! Fresh salmon and packaged rice, steak, chicken, tortellini with homemade tomato sauce. Nutella for breakfast, spread on bagels toasted on the flames.
It was overcast most of the trip, the sky milky white and the sun low and quivering through it. The sun in the Yukon takes time to set, sinking slowly behind the mountains. The ambient light from it lingers for what feels like hours.
I was beginning to be afraid that we wouldn’t see the Northern Lights at all, hidden behind the perpetual cloud cover, but got lucky on the last night. We’d set up camp on an island in the middle of a frozen lake. For once, the sky was cloudless, velvet black, the Milky Way stretching above the campfire like a handle on the bucket of our world.
I forced myself to crawl out of the tent at two in the morning to try and catch the Northern Lights. It was perfect timing. A brilliant ten-minute flareup, trembling ribbons of light undulating across the horizon in the perfect silence of the North.
The Yukon is a place for wilderness lovers, restless adventurers who want to find something massive, glorious, bigger than them and their daily life. The Yukon feels untamed still, a challenge in Canada’s beautiful North. And there’s no better way to explore it than on a rushing sled pulled by five sled dogs, under the undulation of the Northern Lights.
What: Dog sledding in the Yukon, anywhere from a half-day jaunt to a multi-day expedition.
When: When there’s snow, there’s sledding!
Where: Fly into Whitehorse with Air North from Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton or Kelowna or with Air Canada, with a layover in Vancouver. Most sledding outfits provide transfer by car from Whitehorse to the kennel and back.
How: There are several great companies to choose from: Alayuk Adventures, Muktuk Adventures, Sky High Wilderness, and others. Beginners will want to start with a shorter tour—a quick half-day session, or a weekend-long trip. For those with dog sledding experience, there are plenty of longer expeditions to choose from, and you can either rough it in a tent or come back every night to a warm lodge to sleep.
What To Pack: All your warm gear and your thirst for adventure! Many outfitters do provide customers with outer clothing (parka, bib snowpants, boots, mitts, hat), but check first to make sure. For base layers, stay away from cotton—it gets cold when wet. Instead, layer up in synthetics or fine wool (such as merino). That goes for socks and underwear, too! For mid-layers, nothing beats fleece. Don’t forget sunscreen and sunglasses (or ski goggles). Prepare for the trip of a lifetime!