Dawsonites build their own ice bridge with only a chainsaw

'It actually worked kind of better than we thought,' said Kyler Mather, who helped cut a massive slab of ice that then drifted into place.

Yukon gov't has struggled to build winter river crossing at Dawson City

A group of local residents went onto the river over the weekend and cut out a massive slab of ice that then drifted into position as a makeshift bridge. (Submitted by Kyler Mather)

They've done it again — some industrious Dawsonites have gone ahead and built their own ice bridge across the Yukon River. Meanwhile, the territorial government is still strugging to build the Yukon River ice road crossing.  

West Dawson, Yukon, resident Kyler Mather and some friends went to the river this weekend with a chainsaw and cut off a massive slab of ice near the lead of open water. The current then moved the slab into place, bridging the open water.

"Once it started to go, the current just took it down real nice and gently. It actually worked kind of better than we thought — we were a little bit nervous, maybe it might hit the far side and just break in half," he said.

"It went real nice and slow, and just basically fell right into place."

Mather tried it out soon after by walking across. He said there were some "gaps and whatnot" on either side, but he felt comfortable using it.

"I put on a life jacket — you never know," he said.

Last year, at the same spot, Mather and his friends fixed a tree and some rope across the stretch of open water, which then helped ice form. It was not a government-sanctioned or maintained crossing — but people used it and it worked, Mather said. 

"That's actually where everyone drove, right in that exact location, for the remainder of the winter and into the spring."

The territorial government has been trying a similar technique this year. The highways department spent $200,000 to hire engineers to install a log boom across the water, so ice would build up and solidify. So far it's a no-go.

Engineers hired by the territorial government installed a log boom last month, to encourage ice to form across the open water. So far, it's been a no-go. (Chris Healey/Government of Yukon)

Use with caution

The government's goal is more substantial than a foot bridge — the standard in past years has been a maintained road crossing, solid enough to safely support heavy vehicles such as fire trucks. The government's bridge also must go where the ferry runs because there is infrastructure in place for getting onto the ice.

Mather's crossing won't support anything too heavy, yet. But he said it's a potentially viable way for West Dawsonites to get to town, at their own risk.    

"So, as far as someone just going down there and wanting to walk across, you know, obviously there's open water there. You know, you'd want to use extreme caution," he said.

Mather and some friends cut out a slab of ice that was then taken by the current. 'It went real nice and slow, and just basically fell right into place,' said Mather. (Submitted by Kyler Mather)

With files from Sandi Coleman and Claudiane Samson


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