Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The Yukon Territory
Chapter 3. Physical Features

Much of the Yukon region consists of numerous plateaux intersected along the watersheds and in the southwest of the territory by high and diversified mountain ranges. The greater part of the territory lie?- within the drainage-basin of the Yukon river, which has a watershed of 300,912 square miles, of whim. 150,70S square miles are in the Yukon Territory.

On the southwest is the Coast, range of mountains, comprising part of the St. Elias and the Nutzotin mountains, in the vicinity of which is Kluane lake and the Kluane mining district. The highest summits of the St. Elias range are Mount Logan, 10,539 feet, and Mount Hubbard, 16,400.

On the southeast, is the Cassiar range, with northwest and southeast trend, and a transverse width of nearly fifty miles. This range runs parallel to Teslin lake on the west and the upper Liard on the upper, and forms the southern portion of the divide between the great Mackenzie and Yukon basins. North-east of the Cassiar mountains and in the watershed of the Mackenzie are the Simpson and the Campbell mountains on the west of the Finlaison river, which drains along its course Finlaison and Frances lakes. Finlaison lake has an elevation of 3,105 feet above sea level, and is situated on the summit of the watershed or height of land, which at this point divines the upper Pelly from the Finlaison river, a tributary of the upper Liard. Southeast of the Pelly, between the height of land and the confluence of the Felly and Macmillan are the Glenlyon and Belly mountains, the latter range being described as c a series of square outlined pyramidal peaks.'

Between the headwaters of the Pelly and Stewart is the Selwvn Range, which for over a hundred miles divides the watershed of the Yukon and Mackenzie. From the northern extremity of the Selwyn Range and extending in a northwesterly direction is the Ogilvie range of mountains, which form the continuation of the divide between the two great watersheds. The principal summits of the Ogilvie range are: Mount Williams, 6,500 feet, on the eastern extremity; Mount Campbell, 8,200 feet, northeast of Dawson, and Mount Harper, 7,000 feet, northwest of Dawson. From a point about ninety miles north and slightly east of Dawson this divide or height of land runs in a northeasterly direction towards the delta of the Mackenzie and almost parallel for over a hundred miles with the Peel river in the Mackenzie basin and the headwaters of the Porcupine on the Yukon watershed. Northeast of Fort MacPherson this height of land again curves to the northwest, and for some distance before reaching the boundary line is known as the Davidson mountains, dividing the waters which flow into the Arctic from the Yukon basin.

Between the eastern portion of the Ogilvie range and the upper Stewart is the Duncan raining district, interspersed with numerous lakes and high peaks, some of which attain an elevation of 7,000 feet.

On the east of the Duncan district is the Flat Creek plain, ' a depression ten to fifteen miles in width, which extends from Stewart northward to the Klondike and continues on past Twelvemile river. The Flat Creek plain separates the Klondike hills from the Ogilvie range. The elevation of the plain at the summit between the Klondike and Stewart rivers is about 25500 feet, and at the summit between Klondike and Twelvemile river, the first parallel stream at the north, is about 2,500 feet.' (McConnell.)

In the Geological Report, Vol. XIV., Part B., the general features of the Klondike gold-fields are described as follows:

The Klondike region is a typical example of the thoroughly dissected upland. It forms part of the Yukon plateau, and subsequently deeply trenched by a number of small streams tributary to the main river courses. In comparatively recent times, a second elevatory movement has taken place, resulting in a further deepening of the valleys of from 500 feet to 700 feet. Portions of the old valley bottoms, still covered with heavy accumulations of gravel, occur at many points, forming terraces of varying width, bordering the newer valleys. Viewed from a distance the Klondike district has a hilly, even mountainous aspect, but in reality consists of a series of long branching ridges, the summits of which have been curved irregularly into hill and hollow by unequal denudation. Most of the ridges originate at or near the Dome, the topographic centre of the district, and the highest eminence in it. 'The Dome is situated nineteen miles southeast of Dawson, about midway between Indian river and the Klondike. It has a height of about 4,250 feet above the sea, 3,050 feet above the Yukon at Dawson and about 500 feet above the ridges at the base.' (McConnell.)

That portion of the Yukon to the west of Dawson and extending south to the Nutzotin mountains and east to Fort Selkirk on the Yukon river, may be described as a part of the Yukon plateau, with rounded hills and irregular ridges but without any well defined mountain ranges.

Along the course of the Lowes river are the Dawson range south of Fort Selkirk, the Semenof hills at that continence of the Teslin and Lewes, and the Miners' range along the southwest of Lake Laberge.

The country bordering the northeastern slope of the coast range, including the Windy Ann mining district! may be characterized generally as consisting of a system of wide valleys, often interlocking in a peculiar manner, separated by mountain groups, and ridges rising from 4,000 to 5,000 feet above, the valley flats. Most of the valleys are bottomed at intervals with long, narrow, deep lakes, due to the blocking of the channel at various points in glacial drift. The uplands are usually fairly regular in outline, but in places are exceedingly rugged, and are often deeply incised by the numerous small streams which flow down their sides.' ( McConnell.)

Dr. Dawson, in his report of early explorations of the region along the northeastern edge of the Coast range, states that this system of lakes 'constitute a singularly picturesque region, abounding in striking points of view and in landscapes pleasing in their variety and impressive in their combination of rugged mountain forms.'

Rivers and Lakes.

The principal rivers in the Yukon Territory are the Yukon, the Lewes, the Felly, the Stewart, the Peel, the White river and the Porcupine.

The Yukon is formed by the continence of the Lewes and Polly at Fort Selkirk, and flows in a northwesterly direction until it enters the United States Territory of Alaska at a point about 70 miles northwest of Dawson. Commencing at the mouth of Fortymile creek, a tributary of the Yukon on its left limit about 20 miles south of tho point where the Yukon crosses theft boundary line1, the width of the river in the lower portion seldom exceeds half a mile, but above Fort Reliance it gradually enlarges, and in the southerly reach occasionally exceeds a mile in width. In the expanded stretch, however, much of the surface is occupied by islands. The current is swift and uniform, and at a medium state of the water runs at the rate of live miles an hour . . . The valley of the Yukon between Fortymile and the mouth of the Stewart and on to the Belly is cut through an elevated undulating plateau, on which rest numerous low ranges of rounded and partially bare hills, but is not crossed by any well defined mountain range. It is somewhat uniform in appearance, but affords many picturesque and even grand views. Bluffs of rock of a more or les>. precipitous nature are of constant occurrence, and bold rampart-like ranges of interrupted cliffs, separated or continued upwards by steep grassy or wooded slopes characterize the banks for long reaches. The flats are few and unimportant, and as a rule the river washes the base of the banks on both sides. The width of the valley varies from one to three miles and its depth from five to fifteen hundred feet, lis great size, taken in connection with the hard character of the crystalline rocks through which it has been excavated, afford evidence of great age, and point to an origin long antecedent to the glacial period. I he same fact is also emphasized by the remarkably uniform grade, which the river has worked across terraces of heterogeneous hardness, ranging through the whole geological scale in its long course from Rink rapid to the sea, a distance of nearly 1,700 miles . . ' From the month of the Stew7art the Yukon trends in a southwesterly direction for ten miles to its junction with White river. In this reach it averages a mile in width, and is filled with islands. The banks of the valley are steep and rocky, and were estimated at from 600 to 1,000 feet in height. (Report of R. G. McConnell, 1887-88)

In Mr. Ogilvie's report published in 1S9S the cross sectional area and volume of water in the Yukon river are computed as follows: 'The cross sectional area at the boundary, measured in December, 1895, is 21,881 feet. There is a channel 600 feet wide, not less than 26 feet deep, and one 400 feet wide, not less than 20 feet deep. During summer level those Depths would not be less than four feet deeper, and the cross sectional area 27,000 feet. The discharge at this first level is approximately 90,000 cubic feet per second, at summer level it approximates 135,000 cubic feet; at flood level it approaches 180,000 cubic feet or more, possibly reaching for short times, 225,000.'

Lewes River.

"The Lewes river, where it leaves Lake Marsh, is about 200 yards wide and averages this width as far as the Canon. "Below the Canon proper there is a stretch of lipids for about a mile, then about half a mile of smooth water, following which are the Whitehorse rapids, which are three-eighths of a mile long . . . For some distance below the Whitehorse rapids the current is swift and the river wide, with many gravel bars. . . The reach between these rapids and Lake Laberge, a distance of 27 miles, is all smooth water with a strong current.' (Ogilvies report, 1887.)

'The total length of the route by the Lewes river from "the Landing" on Lake Lindeman to the site of Fort Selkirk is 357 miles. From the outlet of Lake Laberge, to the same point, is a distance of 200 miles, in which the total descent is 595 feet, or at the rate of 2.97 feet to the mile.' (G. M. Dawson, report 1887.)

Felly River.

In a recent map (catalogue No. 275) prepared to illustrate the summary reports of R. G. McConnell, Jos. Keele and C. Camsell, the source of the Felly is located in the height of land between the Campbell mountains and the Selwyn range, and flows southwest to some distance north of Boole canon, where it takes a wide curve and flows northwest and west to its confluence with the Lewes. At a point in a direct line about 31 miles west of Hoole canon. Dr. Dawson determined the approximate height of the Pelly as 2,965 feet, the width of the river at that point being 326 feet, with a current slightly exceeding 2 miles an hour and middle depth of 7 feet. The. volume of water at the same point was computed to be 1,898 cubic feet per second. At Hoole canon the river rushes through between rocky banks and cliffs for about three-quarters of a mile, and the water is rough and dangerous, the estimated fall being 20 feet. On either side there are steep rocky banks, and in some places perpendicular cliffs about a hundred feet in height. Twenty-three miles below Hoole canon the Ross river, which rises in some of the spurs of the Selwvn range, flows in from the north. The valley of the Ross is narrow, and bordered by high steep hills at its month. Between the canon and Ross river the current of the Pelly is swift, with numerous small rapids, and on the south Lank there is a wide extent of low wooded country extending to the Pelly mountains. From Boss river to Glenlyon, a tributary on the right bank of the Pelly rising in the mountains of the same name, is a distance of 04 miles. This stretch of the river is bordered on the north by ridges and hills which, before Glenlyon is reached, become mountains of between 4,000 feet and 5,000 feet high, situated about six miles from the river. The river is swift, and much divided by gravel bars. There are two rapids in this stretch, one about two miles east of Glenlyon and the other below the mouth of that stream. From Glenlyon to the Macmillan, measured by the course of the river, the distance is 61 miles. On the north bank there are low irregular hills, showing extensive grassy slopes on their southern exposures. The Macmillan and Pelly valleys coalesce at an acute angle at the western point of the range of hills which alone has separated them for some distance, and the two streams must run parallel for many miles above their junction. The Macmillan is bounded to the north by a well defined range of low mountains which continues to the westward for about ten miles as

No. 2. Below Discovery

the bordering range of the united streams. The distance from the Macmillan to its continence with the Lowes measured along the course of the stream is 74 miles. For some distance below the mouth of the Macmillan the Felly flows through a trough-like valley, and then through Granite canon, about four miles in length, ' with steefi rock} scarped banks and cliffs' 200 to 250 feet in height. Below the canon there is a wide belt of open country on both sides of the river, until within a few miles of Selkirk, when the river is bordered with low hills and ridges. The total length of the Felly from Campbell's portage to its confluence with the I.ewes is 320 miles.

Stewart River.

The Stewart river rises in the northern extremity of the Selwyn range, and flows in a westerly direction until it reaches a point about 20 miles in a direct line northwest of Mayo lake, when it again flows east and makes a wide detour around 'Mayo lake, then northwesterly over Fraser falls and in a general westerly direction from .Mayo to the Yukon river, into which it flows about SO miles south of Dawson. The principal tributaries of the Stewart are Lansing, Hess river or South branch of Stewart, and McQuesten river, a tributary on the right bank rising in a spur of the Ogilvie range north of Mayo lake. The volume of water flowing in the Stewart was measured by Mr. A. J. Feaudette, government mining engineer, at a point near Gordon's Landing, and computed to be 1,010,100 miner's inches, or 10,250 cubic feet per minute. There are no tributaries of any importance between Fraser falls and Gordon's Landing, so that this measurement is approximately the volume of water flowing over the falls. The Stewart river is navigable from its mouth to the falls, and during the summer small stern-wheel steamers ply between Dawson and Mayo Landing.

Peel River.

The Peel river rises in the northern extremity of the Ogilvie range, and flows in a general westerly direction to its confluence with Snake river, where it takes a wide curve and flows northward towards Fort McPherson. 'Below Fort McPherson the Peel river flows in a straight line northward for twelve miles; it then divides the eastern channel, which is a travelled route and has been surveyed by Messrs. McConnell and Ogilvie, joining the Mackenzie river by two mouths another twelve miles beyond. .V careful estimate of the discharge of the Peel river was made at Fort McPherson on the 31st of July, when the level of the water was about medium stage. Though the watermark of the spring freshet is thirty feet above the level in July, the Peel river keeps at a fairly uniform level all summer, and scarcely falls more than three or four feet below the level when the Discharge was taken. The figures obtained for the discharge were 49,200 cubic feet per second. The average velocity is about two miles an hour, and the greatest depth fifteen feet. (Camsell.)

White River.

I he White river is a tributary of the Yukon, into which it flows about ten miles north of Stewart. It rises in the Nutzotin mountains, and flows north and east. The current of the White river is estimated at about eight miles an hour. The month of the river about 200 yards wide, but the main body of water is confined to a channel not more than 100 yards in width, and the water is so muddy that two miles below the point where il enters the Yukon the latter river is completely discoloured.

Porcupine River.

The Porcupine rises north of the northern extremity of the Ogilvie range, and Hows north and slightly east for about 150 miles, when it takes a wide curve about 50 miles west of Fort McPherson and Hews in a westerly direction, joining the Yukon on its right hank at Fort Yukon in the Territory1 of Alaska.

Besides the principal rivers already mentioned there are smaller rivers, which are well known throughout the territory on account of their proximity to the different mining districts. These rivers may briefly be described as follows :-

Teslin or Hootalinqua and Big Salmon, tributaries on the right bank of the Lewes, the former flowing in an almost direct northwest line from Teslin lake and entering the Lewes about thirty miles below Lake Laberge, and the Big Salmon flowing in a similar Direction, slightly north and almost parallel to the Semanof hills.

Indian river, a tributary on the right bank of the Yukon about thirty miles south of Dawson. Quartz, Dominion and Australia creeks flow into Indian river, which may be described as the southern boundary of the Klondike gold-fields.

Klondike river, a tributary on the right bank of the Yukon at Dawson. This river rises in the Ogilvie range and flows in a south and westerly direction, constituting the northern boundary of the Klondike gold-fields proper. Bonanza, the richest creek so far discovered in the Klondike, as well as Bear, Hunker and Flat creeks, empty into the Klondike river 011 its left or south bank.

Sixtymile, a tributary on the left bank of the Yukon at Ogilvie. This river rises near the boundary line almost west of Dawson, flows easterly and northeast, almost parallel with the Yukon for upwards of thirty miles, but flowing southeast while the Yukon flows northwest.

Fortymile, a tributary of the Yukon at Fortymile. This river rises in Alaska, and was the most important mining centre in the Yukon before the discover! of the Klondike creeks.


The principal lakes in the Yukon Territory are situated in the Duncan, Kluane and Whitehorse districts.

In the Duncan district, south of the eastern extremity of the Ogilvie range, are Mayo lake and MacQuesten lake.

In the Kluane district, northeast of the St. Elias range, are Kluane lake, Lake Aishihik, Dezadeash lake and Kusawa lake.

North of Whitehorse is Lake Laherge, thirty-one mills in length, drained by the Lewes river.

Tagish lake forms part of a chain of long narrow lakes including, in order from north to south, lakes Lindeman, Dennett, Naros, Tagish and Marsh, which commence well within the coast range of mountains and extend northward and eastward for a distance of nearly seventy miles. The general direction of all these lakes is north and south, with the exception of Lake Naresl and the upper part of Tagish lake, which have an east and west alignment. Windy Arm joins Tagish lake near its head, and extends south for a distance of twelve miles. Its course is nearly parallel to that of Dennett lake, and the two sheets of water inclose an area of high mountainous country about eight miles in width.'

East of this system of lakes is Teslin lake, the half of which extends into the province of British Columbia. This lake is the source of the Teslin or Hootalinqua river. The Nisutlin river, which rises in the southern ranges of the Felly mountains, flows into Teslin lake 011 its western shore.

The following is the area of several of the largest lakes in the territory:

Kluane.......... 184 square miles.
Teslin......... ..245

Return to our Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus