Wilderness home for seniors

If we ever leave the bush it will be because of conversations like this-
“Who was it in Gladiator? Australian.”

Long pause. "Can’t think of anyone Australian. Except Rolf Harris.”

“Neither can I.”

“Mel Gibson!”


Longer pause. “One syllable name, though.”


Hours later…

“That’s it. Simon Russell-Beale? No. Wait. Simon Beale… Russell Beale… Russell Crowe!”

It’s like living in the world’s most remote old people’s home. Things we once knew are slipping away and our minds are gently filling with snow. I get The Economist online every Friday to stem the flow but it doesn’t help with trivia.

Dawson City in the distance, open lead on the Yukon to the right

Thank God we can get to town now and have other input. We don’t have our shorter river trail in yet so are doing the long route, downriver and back over the mountains, a 160 mile round trip.

Cassiar Dome just before dawn, no filter

It took us 7 hours and nearly all in the dark as we only have 5 hours of twilight a day now.

We were high in the mountains when a blood red dawn crept into the sky. The wind blew so hard, I could feel it pushing through the fabric of my coat so we didn’t linger except to take these photos.

We ran into friends in town. “What’s happening downriver?” they asked. Absolutely fuck all is the truthful answer. “Some wolves came by… it was windy… lots of rabbits… Anyhow, what do you think of the Italian debt crisis?” Luckily I have The Economist to fall back on.

After two months of freeze-up isolation it was wonderful to be back in the land of living. The journey went well, we didn’t tip a machine or get stuck in overflow. A much needed success as everything else has been a total balls up.

 We need to get some more logs so we can carry on building our new cabin in the summer. We have a few live straight-ish trees at the back of our land, and some dead-standing across river where we cut wood.

We ruled out using this log, too bendy, but ended up using it anyway. Straight walls are so anal...

Getting them down isn’t usually the problem, it’s getting them up our ramp. Except when it’s both and we can’t get them down or home and then it’s a really long day with lots of shouting.

Got one up!

It was my suggestion to attempt the hung-up looking tree by the creek at the back of our land. Neil said, “No, the branches are all tangled in that poplar.” I said “It’ll be fine. Stop fussing.” I did a beautiful cut with the chainsaw but it would not budge.

My beautiful felling cut

We had to winch it from 100’ across the creek as there were no trees we could use as an anchor nearby. We damaged our rope puller, broke two ratchet straps, snapped our 100’ braided rope in two places plus another nylon rope and spent the whole damn afternoon climbing up and down the bank and going home to replace things we’d broken before we got that reluctant tree down.

Neil and Skidoo

Neil couldn’t tell me off as he cracked the cowling on our “new” Skidoo the day before, having a paddy when he couldn’t turn it round in the brush. So it was “one all” as the Skidoo was more expensive.

Log stuck on the ramp

Our ramp into the yard from the river is 100’ of slippery snow, on a 1 in 4 gradient, with a camber into the brush and a 90˚ bend at the top.

This one got stuck too

We've got nearly every log stuck somewhere on that ramp bringing it home. We tie the log to our sled and then hit the ramp as fast as we can with the snow machine and, 2 out of 3 times, plough off to the side into the brush.

Trying again

We’ve tried different techniques, pulleys, ropes to the machines but don’t have a long enough straight run in any direction to set up a good pulley system. Now, we don’t have a long enough rope either as, over-stretched by the stubborn tree, it snaps every time we use it. It is now looped together like a piece of macramé made of bowline knots and won’t go through the pulley.

The “rope-along” hand winch is effective but tooth-pullingly slow and we are impatient.

I had the great idea of using our Widetrak snow machine to pull the Skidoo so we’d have the power of two machines. Our wise Alaskan pal came to visit and told us it should work, but we must attach both machines to the sled with the log on, rather than tie them to each other.

Got one up and onto the pile using two machines

So what could go wrong with two machines nose to tail at high speed up a 100’ ramp with a very heavy 20 foot log behind us?

Well, being forgetful, we didn’t remember our pal’s advice and tied the machines to each other with our macramé rope. It wasn’t til I was being dragged through the brush with the Skidoo on its side that I realised that meant I couldn’t steer and so went straight off the ramp and tipped over. Neil didn’t realise and carried on at full pelt on the Widetrak.  

Righting the Skidoo with a pole

We managed to roll both machines completely onto their sides in the space of an hour on that day. At one point I let out a magnificent roar of frustration, pitched somewhere between a lion and a squirrel, that bounced off the hills and away into the forests.

Moments later

The next day, I suggested we"run in" the wood cutting trail. Running a trail on a snowmachine allows the fresh snow to pack down so makes it easier to use next time. “Yes, why not,” said Neil. In retrospect, because it is 3.30, it will be dark in half an hour, we have no tools or safety equipment and it will all go wrong, that’s why not.

Stuck. And this we before we got properly stuck

Ten minutes later we had both snowmachines stuck on a hill, both with the track jammed between big logs so we couldn’t go forward or backwards on either. We had an axe so Neil diligently cut out the lowest big log, we spent 30 minutes trying to reverse our little 340 Polaris, Piccolo, out of the brush and turn it round in very deep snow so I could go back home to get a chainsaw and headlamps. “Put some gas in the chainsaw,” Neil shouted as I left. “It’s full,” I told him.

And I fell over...

It wasn’t. I got back 30 minutes later with the chainsaw. Neil was now tired, sweaty and very cold. “It’s fuckin empty!” he screamed. I started laughing which was apparently not the right thing to do. There was just enough gas to cut the Widetrak snowmachine free, but not to clear a space to turn it around on a steep hill. So we were another hour trying to cut willows with an axe. In the dark cos I forgot the headlamps too.

Overflow at the edge of the river

I bashed the chainsaw in my hurry and bust the casing. Now, when I do remember to fill it, it leaks gas. So that’s another thing broken. I keep a list so we can apportion blame in the evenings.

Open lead at Halfway Corner

We gave up on log-getting to save our marriage and went to work on our trail up the river to town. We drove 16 miles but got no further than we did last week, a spot we call Halfway Corner.

Water under the snow

The ice over the main channel was only 2-3 inches deep everywhere we checked. There is 30 feet of water running down there and it gurgled up quickly, darkly, into the holes we chopped into the ice.

Testing the ice

We could probably whizz safely across on our machines, but with our current run of bad luck, we decided to wait and let the ice thicken. We got almost home and realised we’d lost the axe so went back to find it, but didn’t.

Back again! Looking for the axe

So we burned 6 gallons of gas and lost an axe, but by now, who’s counting? And there was a beautiful dusk with a steel blue and peach pink sky to marvel at.

Thank God for Homer who has had a rare moment of brilliance. We tried our first trip this season with the dogsled.

There are only 4 commands for our hard working sled dog to master- “Let’s go!” “Whoa” “Gee” (right) and “Haw” (left). Despite two winters of one-to-one tuition, plus a season on a trap line in a team of experienced dogs, Homer never quite mastered turning. Gee and Haw simply meant “Miss Louise comes to the front of the sled and walks off in another direction and I follow, weird!”

He must have pondered this all summer, and somewhere in that muddy husky mind a connection has flared. Homer has learnt to turn left and right on command, all by himself and only 3 years into his career. And they say huskies are dumb.

Helping Mr Neil get his snow shoes on

Unfortunately this has coincided with a minor leg/ hip injury. He’s not in bad pain but limps like an old codger sometimes in the evenings. So it seems we’ve broken the dog too and he won’t be pulling the dogsled until he is better. And not so dumb after all as he must have noticed we really need help getting those logs up the ramp.

Homer ready to pull at the front

This week we are going to town to buy new rope and an axe and then we are going to sit very still with our genius husky all through Christmas and try not to break anything else.

At the Christmas Grotto (our local glacier)

Merry Christmas from all of us here at the Yukon Home for Forgetful Folks and Convalescing Sled Dogs!

Anyone remember that painting American Gothic?


  1. I enjoyed your tale of woes. Life sure is hard up there. But you must love it, an adventure every time you wake. When you go to town I assume you lay over at least until the next day to return. Do you take a little time to relax besides shop? Hope so. Have a Merry Christmas. - Margy

    1. I do wish we could lay over, Margy, but we have nowhere to stay and genius husky left at home, so no we usually make it a very long day and try to squeeze in a coffee with a mate if we can. Luckily town is so small and we know so few people we tend to run into them all anyway! Merry Christmas to you guys too, must be beautiful on the lake at this time. Lou

  2. Have a great Xmas and New Year, including Homer!


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