August 3, 1990 -- Day 5

Fort Nelson BC to Dawson City YT

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Liard River area We awoke early this morning to a welcome blue sky and were in the air by 7:30, headed for Watson Lake. The Liard River/Muncho Lake area didn't look nearly so menacing without the rain and low ceilings. We came through easily at about 6,500 feet, with scattered clouds at about 7,000 feet. There were standing lenticular clouds over some of the mountains. When I sent in a Pirep on it, the FSS specialist mentioned that they were often seen in the Muncho Lake area. Dad saw Dall sheep on the mountains!

We made it to Watson Lake (YT) without incident. At Whitehorse we left the Alaska Highway and picked up the Klondike Highway, running north out of Whitehorse to Dawson City, a distance of almost 300 nm. A rain shower had taken up residence over the Dawson City airport when we arrived. We knew the runway was gravel and about 5,000 feet long. What the facilities directory didn't tell us was that it was in a very narrow valley, making it difficult to fly a normal traffic pattern. Between the reduced visibility and the encroaching mountains, reversing direction and landing was memorable.

When you reach Dawson City (Yukon Territory), you know without a doubt you have crossed the boundary into another world. There is not a paved street in the town, and the rain had spawned a plethora of mud puddles. The narrow sidewalks are made out of boards and tend to be somewhat uneven. The buildings, which look to be straight out of the gold rush of 1898, almost lean against each other. The sled dogs freely run up and down the streets and seem to have priority over traffic (which is very light). One big grey Malamute curled up in the middle of the street in front of the hotel and loftily ignored the traffic detouring around him. And then there is the light. The days here are 21 hours long with three hours of twilight. At 11:00 p.m. I was still taking pictures and even after midnight one could easily see. We all found our biological clocks affected by the extreme length of the days, and sleeping was difficult.

The flight today really showed the beauty of this incredibly vast and empty land. Rivers follow a serpentine course north to the arctic ocean, and the land is dotted with even more lakes than Minnesota. The Yukon is not a land of jagged mountains or icy glaciers. Rather instead it overwhelms you with the sheer size and emptiness of the landscape. Cruising along comfortably at an altitude of 6,500 feet and an economical airspeed of 130 knots, it is hard to realize this vast land was once accessible only by dog sled or the Yukon River. Dawson City, land-locked and frozen in the winter, was the scene of great deprivation during the early months of the 1898 gold rush. This near starvation condition was the impetus for the Canadian government's decree that the stampeders traveling to Dawson City via the Skagway or Dyea routes must have at least one year's worth of supplies, which amounted to one ton of goods. Although this decision did alleviate the severe food shortages suffered by Dawson City, it in turn engendered great hardship for the 1898 stampeders, who had to pack their tons of supplies over the mountain passes either by pack horse or on their own backs.

We quickly found that aviation gas in the north country costs considerably more than in the lower 48. Because of the cost, we operated the "Six" in its economy cruise mode, generally at 20.5 inches MP and 2300 RPM. With proper leaning we could get the gas consumption down to slightly over 12 gph and still maintain an airspeed of about 130 knots. 100LL was a rarity, but 100 was always available and the Six ran very happily on it.

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Linda Dowdy
Bethel, Minnesota
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