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Uffish Thoughts: Waiting as the River Flows November 26, 2012

Posted by klondykewriter in Uffish Thoughts.
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Uffish Thoughts: Waiting as the River Flows

By Dan Davidson

November 1, 2012

–  710 words –

The Yukon River fascinates Dawsonites at this time of year. Just a fortnight ago at this writing people were cruising by daily just to see if the ice was beginning to form – trying to get some idea when the ferry would be pulled.

It wasn’t easy to judge. One day there were circular lenses of frazil ice in the river; then they were gone and nothing appeared for several days, although the surface had that glassy appearance that makes you look twice.

When the lenses came back again they we more numerous and they had frosting, but it still seemed as if we might get close to last year’s October 26 date before the George Black ferry got pulled out.

The ferry schedule gets chopped back from its 24-hour service once the tourists go home, and it can get extracted from the river any time after Thanksgiving, but that was early this year, so people weren’t expecting a great rush. Sure, the cable spools had been placed on the dyke, ready for the block and tackle to be attached and the heavy equipment to move in, but the little ice pans weren’t that thick yet.


Even knowing that the crossing service sort of runs on a day to day basis after the first third of the month, people expect the usual 24 hours notice before it actually gets pulled. This year unpredictable Mother Nature only provided about 6 hour’s warning – on a Sunday afternoon of all things.

The very next day, Oct. 22, the Highways crew was out with all its equipment, doing the job in quite chilly weather. It took the entire day shift and then some to extract the boat from the river, which seemed destined for a really quick freeze-up this year.

What follows is always the wait for the river to stop flowing completely and the first tentative footpaths to form on the icy frosting. People drop down daily to see how things are progressing. I know that because I do, and I’m never alone for the 5 to 10 minutes that I sit and wonder.
The river is nothing if not a source of drama however. While delivering copies of our bi-weekly newspaper on Hallowe’en I dropped down to the ferry landing again to see what had changed this time.So imagine my wonder on October 30, when the main channel was almost completely clear and I was faced with a glassy mirror in which only the a few glittering ice lenses were floating slowly north. Gone was the mass of heavily frosted pans that had been floating by for days. I was shocked and so were the folks who looked at the 25-second video I posted on Facebook later that afternoon.  Six other vehicles arrived while I was there and they left quickly, as if disgusted with the view.

Only everything. Where there had been open water the day before, there was a solid blanket of icy white from bank to frozen bank. There were a few small open pools, but none of them were in the path of the traditional ice bridge. More significantly, the surface wasn’t moving.

A couple of days before I had jokingly remarked that it was too bad we couldn’t figure out some way to have an ice bridge pool to go with the breakup pool we have in the spring.  That wouldn’t work, of course, because the transition from footpath to ice bridge is gradual and determined by human effort. A pool like this has to have a natural basis, something out of human control.

If we could figure out a way to determine just when the river stopped moving, that might be an option. In the spring it’s easy (more or less) as the movement of the ice stops a clock. Determining the hour and minute when the ice stopped moving would be a trickier proposition. Maybe some kind of video surveillance would do it.


I’m sure I don’t have an answer, but I’m throwing the idea out there for comments.



* IMG_0556 – Open water on October 30.






* IMG_0560 – Frozen Yukon River on October 31.











1. Paul Wellwood - February 27, 2014

Hello Dan
Long time no see!
I remember that an old native lady in Carmacks had told my mother that the Yukon froze at 3:15 one night. Mom asked how she could be so precise. Her answer was – “that was when the ice chunks stopped grinding”

klondykewriter - March 5, 2014

Hi Paul:

Indeed. Not since you were living in Whitehorse. I’ve had a lot of Hantsport contacts on Facebook in the last five months or so, starting with Andrea and Barb, and spreading out from there. Apparently there’s a Homecoming planned for this summer and an FB page has been posting all sorts of pictures from decades ago. What caused you to check in at my little blog?


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