WHITEHORSE, YUKON – It’s just past midnight and the temperature is around minus 50C. Frost covers my eyelashes, my fingers and feet are numb and I’m shivering uncontrollably.
Despite the bitter cold, a National Geographic photographer works on, preparing to capture a perfect picture of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). He takes off his gloves to adjust his camera lens, and I cringe when I see his skin cracked from the bone-chilling cold. In the distance, we hear the gloomy cry of coyotes.
We wait patiently in the freezing darkness for nature’s light show. Suddenly, without fanfare, it begins. Bright green flashes illuminate the sky, then vanish as quickly as they appeared, only to return with even more intensity a few minutes later.
Above: Dog-sledding is an exhilarating way to get around.
The coloured flashes jump, whirl and twist on the night sky canvas. I’m captivated and I try to capture the magic on my camera, but it’s frozen.
My National Geographic companion is snapping pictures furiously — maybe he’ll give me one as a souvenir.
Above: Seeing the arctic first-hand is truly unlike anything else.
The flashes seem to have a warming effect because I don’t feel cold any longer as we stand and watch the spectacle for more than an hour.
On the drive back to our hotel, someone says “nothing can top this.” Another passenger pipes up, “Oh yeah? Have you ever seen a dogsled race?”
That prospect sounds as exciting as the Northern Lights, and since I’m visiting in February, I’m in luck because that’s when they run the biggest dogsled race in the world: the Yukon Quest, which covers 2,500 kilometres between Whitehorse and Fairbanks, Alaska.
At dawn, a few days later, I join throngs of spectators gathering at the race’s starting line. The muscular dogs bark and tug impatiently at their leashes, anxious for the race to begin. As the sun slowly rises, the mushers position their sleds, a gun sounds and they’re off.
Above: The Northern Lights are indescribably beautiful.
The sleds make speed along the frozen Takhini River and then vanish over the horizon. It’s another magical Yukon moment. And there’s more in store, like a thrilling flight over beautiful Kluane National Park, one of the world’s great natural wonders.
Our small plane departs from Haynes Junction a soars over glaciers, white-glazed peaks and frozen lakes, while below we can see packs of wolves plotting against herds of moose.
The views are breathtaking and, when we land, we find a surprise — a dog sled is waiting to take us on a ride through the park.
The dogs glide effortlessly, panting rhythmically as they pull me across the frozen landscape at top speed on my own private Yukon Quest thrill-ride. But that’s no surprise: everything about this journey has been a thrill … even with the chills.