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Dawson City

There’s an avalanche scar seated high above the city. It’s a huge white talus slope that dominates the mountainside. You see it over the trees before you take the last bend of the Yukon into Dawson City.

We round the last island, then skirt the sandbar where the clear Klondike bleeds in confluence with the silt-white Yukon River. Just past the Spirit of the Yukon steamship, there’s a pull-out for the canoes. A local man with a dog waves and smiles at our approach. “Welcome to Dawson!”

We spend the night at the hostel across the river from Dawson. There are no municipal services on that side, so I plug my phone into my solar panel, chop wood for the bathhouse fire. It still feels like a luxury, spreading my sleeping bag out on an unheated bunk. I don’t have to worry about rain.

The bathhouse is our first opportunity to get really clean after another week in canoes– layering up, paddling hard, sweating, bundling up to sleep, waking up with damp condensed breath on everything. So I build the fire carefully in the woodstove, lift the flap of the attached boiler to check the water.

The sauna-like room heats slowly. While I’m waiting for the water tank to be warm enough to ladle over my head, I rub down and shampoo with the rosemary-peppermint dish soap we’ve been using all trip. Clean. Warm, and clean. It’s going to be a good night.

In the morning, there is a thin rime of ice on everything. The bear-proof trash can handle melts cold water onto my hand. The empty wooden tent platforms sparkle with frost. It’s September 8th, but it’s clear that summer has faded already for Dawson City.

Technically, it is a highway that runs down Front Street. Accordingly, the little ferry that connects downtown to our side is free, twenty-four hours, and on-demand. The Dempster is “the highway to the Western Arctic”, so there’s more traffic than you’d suppose between the tiny town and the continued gravel road that goes by the hostel.

The visitor center graciously lets us stash our drybags in the break room. They’re accommodating: the heated building it’s full of maps and displays, but they know most people are there for the only free wifi in town. They offer wall outlets and coffee, too.

Walking around town, we’re already recognizing people. The owners of the trading post where we checked our boats in dined at the table beside ours for dinner. A woman who chatted with everybody while drinking coffee atop her four-wheeler at lunchtime commented on my dress when we walk past the bar where she’s drinking. Our waiter from last night is in intense conversation at a table today while I wait in line to order lunch at the bistro.

We’ve been given a map of hiking trails. The trail up to the Midnight Dome follows the power line to the radio towers. Built for utility, it doesn’t waver into a single switchback. Still in our rubber boots, we climb straight up the mountainside.

Past the radio towers, the path trips up and over bumps, a mountain bike route to get on top of the avalanche scar. Golden warmth lights white birch trunks through leaves already yellow for fall.

Up at the top, the view goes forever. We look back at the Klondike feeding into the Yukon.

We look ahead, yearning, at the next island in the river past town. The snow-capped peaks and bluffs look in-reach from here. Just a few more days, and we’d crest the Arctic Circle. Just a few days after that, we’d paddle over the border to Alaska.

But we’re stopping here. We’ve returned our rental boats, and have tickets for flights starting home today. Two weeks in canoes– and two months out here adventuring– is enough for now.

Maybe we’ll come back.

We turn around and start back down the trail. I skip and sing all the way down the mountain. We’re going home.

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