Sunday, November 28, 2010

Skiing Little Takhini Creek

Headed out early this morning (sunrise is at a decent 10AM so lots of time for breakfast and coffee before departing) to ski Little Takhini Creek near our home. Lots of fresh snow and -11C, a perfect day. Low clouds and continuing snow kept Haeckel Hill in the mists during my trip. Frederick Schwatka, an American army officer who rafted down the Yukon River in the summer of 1883, named the hill after the German biologist Ernst Haeckel. Haeckel actively promoted Charles Darwin's work in Germany and developed the concept of ecology. Haeckel's fame has made him a geographical toponym in the United States where Mount Haeckel overlooks the Evolution Basin in the Sierra Nevada and in New Zealand where there is a shorter mountain apparently not overlooking much worth noting.. There is also an asteroid named after him. I do not think anyone has named a car or a rock and roll band after him so obviously he is no longer that important. All the Haeckels aside the local Southern Tutchone name for the hill, with its four wide spread ridges, is Eagle Claw mountain.

The trail has been a favorite with our family for twenty years. It winds along the edge of the deeply incised valley of the creek and gradually drops down to a lovely picnic spot on the Yukon River. Where the trail first hits the creek there is a large beaver pond with three of four dams and lodges. Now its frozen over and the beavers have a lethargic winter occasionally swimming under the ice to retrieve another of the juicy and nourishing popular branches they've stored underwater near their lodge. Further down the trail there is a blow out where, in summer, kids can hurl themselves over a cliff and tumble down the soft sand some 20 meters to the creek, sort of a near vertical beach. Always a pack of tired kids for the walk back home on those days.

Spruce tree seeds on the trail
In the distance I can see this Semenoff Hills, another of Schwatka's place names, this time the president of the Imperial Geographical Society of Russia. It's a good thing there are lots of hills, mountains and lakes in the Yukon because Schwatka seems to have had a lot of friends. But not everything went his way. He annoyed one of the Tlingit chiefs on the Pacific coast by failing to deliver a promised payment for some service. Subsequently the chief took his name stating that he wouldn't give it back until he was paid. A final irony for the man who named everything that already had a name was the naming of Schwatka Lake, a water body "made up" by the construction of the Whitehorse dam.

Little Takhini Creek with the open water of the Yukon River ahead.
Finally I slide down the last hill to the confluence of the Little Takhini and the Yukon. The Yukon River is still flowing. The water is low and wide bands of ice, a little bumpy but certainly possible to skate on make an icy rink road 10 meters wide and 15 kilometers long back into downtown Whitehorse. But I've gone far enough. I eat some chocolate and start my ski back home again.

Watching ice form on moving water - how does it do it?

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