For months, the temperatures in Whitehorse were hovering around 10-20F, then about ten days prior, they began to drop. By the time we landed, the temperature in town was -27C. Wayne Suggs and I arrived a day early to scout the regions we intended to visit with the participants. The daylight is short this time of year in the far North, so sunrise is at 10:30 AM, and sunset is about 5:30 PM. We drove to our first location in the dark and noticed fresh snow. What was fascinating was how the extreme cold created Hoarfrost on everything. Hoarfrost is frozen water vapor that forms on all vegetation and fences. This made it look like a winter wonderland.
Jan 10, 2024
Everyone arrived safely, and we met them in our suite on the fifth floor of the Raven Inn Hotel. The large room offered us a great space to meet everyone and hold our image reviews, plus two separate bedrooms for each of us leaders. We informed everyone of the expected colder-than-normal temperatures and confirmed they had the correct gear to wear when venturing out the following morning. We expected the same -40C temperatures at 6:00 AM when we planned to drive everyone to a great landscape near Fish Lake.
We drove up to photograph the Northern Lights in the winter wonderland. Once we arrived, it was indeed -40C, and some Northern Lights were in the Western skies. We all spent about an hour capturing landscapes with various Aurora until we all began feeling cold. We drove back down for breakfast and a warm breakfast. The Yukon Wildlife Preserve had warned me that if the temperature at the Preserve were below -36C, they would not open up and that it was too dangerous to be out in the cold. After I explained that we had all been up at Fish Lake at -40C, they decided to adjust our private tour. On the way, we stopped and photographed a small stream with incredible snow moguls surrounding it, steam rising from the water, and snow-flocked trees in the background. Everyone was able to capture some authentic winterized magical images. Then, we met our guide for the Yukon Wildlife Preserve, and all jumped in their heated bus. Our first stop was the frosted Wood Bison sleeping in the snow. The sun was perfect, so we captured many great images.
Afterward, we visited the anticipated female Lynx. The Yukon Wildlife Preserve is a unique location set up in the 70s to become a living center for the Yukon’s species. There are 12 wildlife species, including Arctic Fox, Arctic Ground Squirrel, Canada Lynx, Moose, Mountain Goat, Mule Deer, Elk, Musk Ox, Thinhorn Sheep, Wood Bison, and Woodland Caribou. Each enclosure is extensive, allowing all participants to practice wildlife photography with “wild” animals in a region that offers natural backgrounds. Because we had a small private tour by one of the Preserve’s staff, we had access to some enclosures, such as the Canada Lynx. This was an exceptional opportunity to photograph a beautiful wild animal in an enclosed space. The Preserve’s beauty offers people a chance to become familiar with these species they would never have the time to encounter in the wild. We left with just enough time to quickly stop to capture dusk light on mountains East of Whitehorse. When the air is so cold, the frozen vapors in the sky create a deeper color, contrasting the white-blanketed landscape below.
Jan 12, 2024
Because of the cloudless skies, we drove up the hill at 2:00 AM to capture more Northern Lights in the unusual winter conditions. The lights were good for the first 30 min but vanished for the remaining hour. We returned to town for a quick nap and a warm meal.
We then drove back to the Preserve and spent some time with the very interesting gray-colored-red fox. He was born in captivity and had fallen when he was young, breaking his left front leg. They successfully amputated it, and he is now a very happy, athletic fox to photograph and observe. Following a warm lunch catered to the Preserve’s learning center, we revisited the Lynx, but this time in the afternoon sun. It was so much fun working with the guides who would place the quail meet for the female Lynx up in trees to make her think and work for her meal. She would spend time sniffing around in the snow for it until she finally caught a whiff of it, then jump up into the tree to capture it. We also captured incredible images of Mountain Goats on a rocky cliff in fresh snow. By afternoon, the clouds had moved in, obscuring the sun. On our way out of the Preserve, we stopped by to visit with the one huge Moose who is named “Watson.” He usually stays close to the fence, so we decided to walk up along the fence and look at him closer. He was very large and beautiful. A slight jog in the fence allowed us to photograph portraits of him and his frost-covered face in the late afternoon shade.
Jan 13, 2024
We held an image review to look at everyone’s images and make any necessary and helpful comments. Afterward, we drove up to SkyHigh Wilderness Ranch for lunch and a snowmobile ride. We visited a small island in the middle of frozen Fox Lake to create some rather stark but beautiful landscapes. The guides shared some hot chocolate and cake before we visited a frozen creek surrounded by snow and ice-covered pines. After returning the snowmobiles, we gathered in their large Yurt for a homemade dinner cooked by the manager, Jocelyn. It was snowing out, so we immediately returned to town to our hotel.
Jan 14, 2024
We were allowed back into the Wildlife Preserve for a few hours because we missed a half day at the beginning of the trip. We arrived at 10:30, just before sunrise, and began with a stop at the frosty Bisons. Then, we found ourselves watching the Musk Ox. We had to wait until the snow plow opened one of the access roads before visiting an unusual viewing point. This vantage point gave us incredible access to view the Musk Ox while grazing on a hill. We were ready for the potential when one of the three bulls might charge another, and we didn’t wait long. Moments after we arrived, one began running through the deep snow and came back full circle to the other male. We all captured some action-packed images of them running through the deep snow; it was a very unpredictable highlight.
After lunch at our favorite stop, “Been North Roasting,” we drove North to visit Fox Lake. Some frozen slabs of ice along the shore made for some incredible foreground elements to frame against the vast Yukon landscape.
Jan 15, 2024
We held another image review before leaving to go dog sledding. We had another home-cooked lunch before meeting the guides to learn how to mush. Everyone was allowed to 4 dogs, which were amazingly powerful. You had to be very careful to hold on. The guides took everyone out on the frozen lake for a beautiful ride. The sky was cloudy, and light snow was falling. It was magical. The dogs were so happy to be out doing what they loved. Some had little booties, some were taller, and some were louder, but they all pulled very hard. When the ride ended, the guides took two teams back onto the lake for us to photograph. We set up a location to capture images of them riding by; the photos were so much fun to capture, and the landscape behind them was beautiful. During one of the final passes, the dogs appeared more interested in us than in mushing by. It was so much fun being around these amazingly beautiful animals.
We had another home-cooked meal in the Yurt, followed by some night photography of a cabin nearby. The lights did not show, but we enjoyed photographing the cabin with a small interior light.
The workshop was successful, cold but fun. Everyone could capture images of wildlife, the landscape, and even dog sledding.