Hello, friends! Apart from eating cheese and local delicacies, we spent a lot of time outdoors in the Yukon Territory. It was so striking, I had to take a break from food to share some of what we saw with you!
Yukon winters are brutal, and I felt that as soon as we left the airport. My nose crusted up immediately. I thought I had suddenly developed a runny nose, but no. It was the condensation from my breath freezing on my nose. In short order, I also realized that synthetic materials generally don’t repel the cold nearly as well as natural ones. My friend’s new synthetic gloves were so overwhelmed by the cold, they started coming undone almost immediately after exposure to the outdoors.
When outside, we learned that the key to warmth is to keep moving and keep covered. Staying still can lead to feeling cold within minutes, and soon after that, frostbite can occur. Luckily, that didn’t happen to us, but there were several occasions where our fingers and toes went numb less than 10 minutes into outdoor photo time. Keep moving!
Base Layers + Socks: We got Helly Hansen merino wool base layers [affiliate link] for this trip. I had another synthetic Helly Hansen base layer, and another synthetic one on loan from a friend. The wool one outshone the others BY FAR, and performed beautifully on a full day of dogsledding. For socks, I tried Smartwool [affiliate link] and Simon’s (a Canadian brand) and found they all worked. Go merino wool for socks and base layers for moisture-wicking warmth! I often would double up on base layers and socks (and then add a layer of athletic socks on top for good measure). If you’re going to the Yukon for a week, I’d recommend at least 3 sets of each to be warm.
Other layers: I had a lot of layers on in the Yukon. My Smartwool wool shirt (kind of like this one [affiliate link]) was on me almost all the time, as well as an array of long-sleeved, warmer athletic shirts. No cotton–you will not be a happy camper because it does not wick moisture away from your body.
Down jacket: I had a Primaloft (synthetic) down jacket [affiliate link, I got a men’s small] from Oakley, and it performed pretty well! I also had an Arcteryx fleece, and ended up wearing that only indoors.
Liner gloves: M. Cheesemonger and I got Smartwool liner gloves [affiliate link] to wear under our mittens. You will want two layers on your hands! My gloves were tech-compatible, so I could still use my phone. Yayyyyy.
Parka: I didn’t get one, but now I’m lusting after Canada Goose parkas [affiliate link]—made in Canada with natural materials and ridiculous attention to detail, these babies are the best!!! We wore them for a day of dogsledding in -35°C weather (with alllll the other layers previously mentioned), and did not feel cold at all. Yayyyy!
Men’s World: Despite the name, I actually encountered zero men working at Men’s World during all my interactions with them. I was able to rent winter clothing for M. Cheesemonger and me rated for -40°C. Service was convenient and friendly! Each of our winter gear kits included: a parka, snow pants, boots, hat, liner gloves, mittens. If you are into the winter gold rush-related festivals, there is a period costume rental department as well. Men’s World website.
The Yukon is a wild and beautiful place, if you can stand it. The environment is hostile, and survival takes a lot of mental and physical fortitude. Mundane tasks take extra effort; the landscape forces you to focus on the essentials of living. For instance, if your car breaks down on a lonely road in the wintertime—you’ll quickly run into serious problems if you don’t find a way to keep warm and/or get help. That said, the extremely harsh conditions somehow stirred something inside me. I am head over heels in love with this place—its vastness, its ruggedness, its wilderness. It is raw and unforgiving, and yet, people and many animals make it their home.
And what people and animals we met!! We’re lucky that one of M. Cheesemonger’s best friends from childhood has made Whitehorse his home, along with his family—and then we met ANOTHER childhood acquaintance of M. Cheesemonger’s who has called the Yukon her home for 10 years! We met a lovely French-Canadian couple who shared their Christmas table with us, a table laden with meats they hunted themselves (bison, caribou, moose). All of our Yukon friends share an open attitude, ready laughter, self-sufficiency, and respect for this great wilderness that is their home. As for animals—we met some of the most beautiful wintry dogs, and crossed paths with moose and foxes outdoors.
So, what did we do outside to cause our fingers and toes to freeze within minutes? Photo sessions of the landscape and the Aurora Borealis! Hoorraaayyyyy!! I have wanted to see them for so long, and this was our chance! Here’s the gear I brought, in case you feel inclined to compare and contrast with your own kit. I’m always looking for photo pointers. Feel free to skip this if you’re not into photography, and want to skip to the Northern Lights:
My Photo Kit (This Time)
Sony a7: my Sony a7 full-frame mirrorless camera [affiliate link] is 2 years old at this point, and it’s held up in Puerto Rico and now the Yukon. The batteries would freeze within maybe 10-15 minutes, so I tried to hold them inside my mittens when possible to slow down the freeze! I found holding the camera around where the battery was housed helped as I was walking about. The auto-focus on the a7 is pretty terrible, and doesn’t do well at all with capturing animals or children. It works fine as a travel camera, though, so I am just going to hang onto it until it dies, then upgrade. I was really worried about moving between heated homes and the chilly outdoors, so I would generally keep the camera in its bag on the floor of the car to transition. The car floor tended to be rather cold, so it was a gentle way to transition between environments. It sometimes would develop condensation after being outside. In those cases, I would let it sit in the bag on the floor of the room for a while (usually an hour or so) to let it transition. My SD cards, rated for -25°C, performed just fine! Don’t forget to bring extra batteries (I had 3 on me at all times, always charged).
Rokinon 14mm f2.8 (manual focus): I rented the Rokinon 14mm f2.8 manual focus lens for Sony E mount [affiliate link] from Lensrentals.com because I knew I wanted big sky photos. It worked great! Manual focus is fine because the angle is so wide, almost everything is in focus, and you can use focus peaking on the camera to make sure your stars are in focus. There was some noticeable coma around the edges, but whatever. I’m ok with that at this point.
Sony/Zeiss 55mm f1.8: The 55mm [affilaite link] is my favorite focal length and my favorite Sony lens. I used this for almost all my people shots taken with the Sony camera, and some panoramic sky shots at night. The wide aperture is great for low-light situations, and the bokeh looks gorgeous! It survived several walks in subzero temperatures.
Mefoto Backpacker Tripod: I hesitated between this and the larger Mefoto Roadtrip for my pano shots and star photos, but in the end, I’m glad I went for the smaller Mefoto backpacker tripod [affiliate link]. It folds up to somewhere around 12 inches, and is about 2.5 lbs! We stuffed it in my suitcase, and it holds the mirrorless camera and lenses well. I even tested it on my Canon DSLR and 35mm lens, had no issues. I wouldn’t use it for zoom lenses, but it works for this kind of lightweight travel stuff. It does come with a carrying bag, which I dropped on a forest trail while photographing the northern lights. When we decided to check the location a few days later, someone had picked up the bag and laid it at the entrance! Phew! Bag save! It was frozen solid after 3 days in about -25°-35°C temperatures, but thawed out without problems. If you want to tripod like Miss Cheesemonger, get a red one like me, but there are 10 colors to choose from!!
The Aurora Borealis
And heeeeere they are! The Northern Lights!! No one told me they can actually look more like grey mist than colorful night lights. Thank goodness I took a test shot and saw them in the photo. Otherwise, I might have gone home without noticing a thing!
Happy adventuring to you in the New Year!! What are your plans for 2018? Tell me in the comments!!
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