As for the photos?
'Evans excels at "stranger in a strange land" travel writing, and readers looking for a light version of Bill Bryson will enjoy her intimate look at the inner workings of one of the most professional sled-dog kennels in the sport... Her vivid account is peppered with brief histories of the towns she visits and the locals she meets, most notably in historic Dawson City…Armchair explorers will find much of interest, from striking descriptions of howling dogs to Frank Turner’s expertise.' Booklist
In the dead of winter, Polly Evans ventures to the remote Yukon Territory in Canada’s far northwest, where temperatures plunge to minus forty and the sun rises for just a few hours each day. Her mission: to learn to drive sled dogs. But when she arrives, she finds there’s more to this unspoilt wilderness than deathly cold.
In a pristine landscape patrolled by wolves and caribou, Polly takes her first bruising lessons in the art of mushing. But before the snows melt in spring, she hones her skills and becomes infatuated with this brutal, beautiful land where jagged gems of hoar frost glisten on the spruce boughs and the northern lights weave green and red across the skies. Above all, she discovers a deep affection for the loving, mischievous huskies who with such courage and enthusiasm escort her through the lone white trails of the unforgiving north.
I flew out on Friday 13th January and returned home on April 1st. The dates had almost selected themselves but they seemed curiously appropriate, for I feared I was embarking on a fool’s errand. I was going to spend eleven weeks, in the heart of winter, in one of the most inhospitable climates on earth.
The Yukon is a triangular-shaped territory in the far northwest of Canada. It borders Alaska to the west; at its northern tip lie the icy waters of the Beaufort Sea. Other people travel to the Yukon in the summer when they can enjoy the long, balmy days that blend one into another with little darkness between. In September, though, the tourists pack their bags and leave. The attractions close. The museums’ doors are bolted and the buses are laid up until May. Even most Canadian people, who so proudly extol their pitiless winters when basking comfortably in the sun elsewhere, shiver at the thought of coming this far north during the frozen months. The average temperature in the Yukon in January is minus 26 degrees Celsius but the mercury can plunge much lower. Temperatures dip regularly into the minus forties; once, they dived to minus 63.
But there’s another side to winter in this harsh land. As the nights grow longer, the milky jade and blood red of the northern lights weave across the skies. The snowshoe rabbits’ coats turn spotless white and the arctic foxes wear plush, dramatic furs. Winter has the late blue dawns, and the warm buttery light of the low midday sun. It has the jagged gems of hoar frost, and soft, feathery snow. Winter is the season of solitude and pure, glorious silence. And in winter, the sled dogs run.
It was the dogs that drew me. During my time in the north I’d be based at Muktuk Kennels, the operation of one of Canada’s most famous mushers, Frank Turner, and his wife Anne. I’d scoop poop, help with feeding, and learn to drive a sled. From Muktuk, I’d make further trips around the region. I’d follow the Yukon Quest – a 1600-kilometre dogsled race that runs from Fairbanks in Alaska to Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon Territory. I’d visit Dawson City, the town that sprung up in response to the frenzied Klondike gold rush. I’d fly to the very far north, to the Arctic Ocean itself. And through it all, I’d learn all I could about the howling, capering, tail-wagging world of sled dogs.
If you want to dip your toe in the snow, so to speak, you can easily go on a dogsledding holiday just for a week or two – there’s no need to go for three months as I did. Frank and Anne at Muktuk, where I stayed for rather longer than a week or two, operate a tourism business, and also offer ‘Follow the Yukon Quest’ packages. Go to www.muktuk.com for further information.
My shelf of northern books has grown rather heavy since I first started reading up on the Yukon, but here are a few of those that I really enjoyed.
If you want to know more about the Klondike gold rush, <img src="http://www.assoc-amazon.co.uk/s/noscript?tag=pollyevans-21" alt="" /> Klondike Fever: The Life and Death of the Last Great Gold Rush by Pierre Berton is the absolute must-read. Keeping it in the family, I also really liked Laura Berton's (she was Pierre's mother) I Married the Klondike, which is a delightful first-hand tale of her life in Dawson City in the years immediately following the stampede. Also fantastic on gold rush history is Archie Satterfield's hiker's guide to the Chilkoot Pass: The Most Famous Trail in the North.
A couple of wonderful historical autobiographies are Two Women in the Klondike by Mary E. Hitchcock which tells the story of two American society ladies who decided to 'do' the Klondike on a pleasure trip in 1898 and, at the other end of the comfort scale, Arthur Walden's A Dog Puncher on the Yukon (Wolf Creek Classics). Walden carried the mail between the remote outposts of the north during the years immediately before and after the Klondike stampede and tells wonderful stories of late 19th-century life in the miners' settlements.
On the Yukon Quest, both Adam Killick's Racing the white silence: On the trail of the Yukon Quest and John Balzar's Yukon Alone: The World's Toughest Adventure Race are good accounts of the race, the Yukon winter, and the characters who mush through it.
Further northern tales that are well worth a few evenings on the sofa are:
The Lost Patrol: The Mounties' Yukon Tragedy by Dick North. It tells the story of the fated Mountie dogsled patrol that perished as it travelled through the Yukon in early 1911.
The Mad Trapper of Rat River: A True Story of Canada's Biggest Manhuntby Dick North is the incredible story of a trapper who evaded capture by police for 48 days, travelling in deathly temperatures through the frozen north. North also tries to uncover the mystery of the trapper's identity.
Sailor in Snowshoes: Jack London's Klondike Caper by Dick North is North's latest book about London, and North's own search for the writer's cabin deep in the Yukon bush.
Also brilliant is The Cruellest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic by Gay Salisbury and Laney Salisbury, which is based on Alaskan history rather than Canadian. It tells the story of the dog sled relay to Nome in 1929, to transport supplies of serum that would prevent an epidemic of diptheria.