National Geographic : 1898 Apr
118 THE FUTURE OF THE YUKON GOLDFIELDS vent things from getting worse. Does any reasonable person familiar with the region believe that seventy trips are possible ? Quite a number of flat-bottomed stern-wheelers for the Yukon are believed to be in process of construction at Unalaska, the in tention being to tow them to St Michael on the opening of nav igation. Suppose that the fleet succeeds in reaching that port by the 27th of June, the average date when the ice goes out of Norton sound. Allow a week for getting them loaded in work ing order and ready to start for the river with a few days' fuel on board. If they take much fuel they cannot take goods. Once well within the delta, feeling their way cautiously over the sand bars of the river, unknown to most of their navigators, they must depend for fuel on wood cut from the banks. The wood of the country is spruce, with a little poplar and willow. These will not burn when green. When the river ice breaks up, about June 1, an enormous quantity of driftwood is carried down by the water, which runs bank full, owing to the obstruction caused by the broken ice. When the ice is fairly out the river falls a little, and all along the bars, low banks, and level beaches this wood is stranded, to remain until the freshet of next spring. It is mainly upon this driftwood that the steamers depend for fuel. The two old companies have landings scattered along the river and Indians employed during the winter cutting up the wood and sledding it to places where the steamer can reach the bank. The population of the Yukon is small in proportion to the area. The reliable Indians are few and already engaged. When the first rush of the melting snows is over the river falls rapidly into its normal channel and for the most part remains there during July and August. Later the mountain springs begin to give out, or freeze at night, and the river continues to fall. Wide flats appear on either side, so that the spring drift, stranded on the shores, is separated from the channel by a wide space of sand and mud, over which wood must be carried after being found and cut into suitable lengths for use. The dry spruce burns rapidly, and 12 cords a day seems a not unreasonable estimate of the amount required to run a good-sized boat well loaded. How much of each day will be used up in procuring wood by the steamers not belonging to the two old companies any one may estimate for himself. Taking this delay into consideration, it is evident the inde pendent steamers are very unlikely to be able to make more than one trip up the river as far as Dawson during the season.