There are few experiences more humbling than being alone on the river, floating through such a vast and beautiful wilderness. With the current constantly pulling you along, it's all you can do to eagerly peer around each bend and discover what surprises are in store: breathtaking rock formations, charred remains of forests, sand & gravel islands, looming storm clouds, and plethora of wildlife. This was the kind of trip that reminds you that you're just another one of nature's creatures.
We'd both recommend the trip to anyone who's had any wilderness camping experience. If you're well equipped for camping, you should have no trouble gaining your canoeing experience on the river.
Daily Trip Log
We started our trip at Tatchun creek, a couple hour drive from Whitehorse (thanks to Chelsea’s mom for the ride!). This put us just downstream of the Five Finger Rapids which we were too scared to attempt right off the bat. In retrospect, we totally could have handled them – we may go back just to prove it to ourselves. As we loaded the canoe and tied down our gear, a First Nations woman hanging salmon nearby warned us that there was a bear very close by. Needless to say, we didn’t dawdle long for our goodbyes.
The first day of padding was quite casual. As we got used to steering through the big eddies and quick current, we spotted a moose on shore and floated quite close before it got spooked and took off. Later in the day, just before Minto, we spotted a large black bear on shore who didn’t pay us any mind, reminding us that we should take care at camp to avoid any encounters: cook, eat, and store (in airtight containers or drybags) all food, dishes, and anything else with any kind of scent, including clothing worn when cooking or eating, a good distance away from where you sleep and where you store your canoe. Despite this reminder, our dinner of rice and bean burritos proved impossible to contain, forcing us to move from our initial island camping spot just across from the Minto airstrip. That spot was a bit too cozy anyway and we had no option to move our tent more than 5 or 10 feet from where we were eating. Lesson one: burritos are a bad meal choice in bear country. We covered 37 miles, as the river flows, putting us just past Minto.
We ended up spending the night instead at a spot marked “Thom’s Location” on the map, with a nice camping area and a usable cabin. Because there was fresh bear scat nearby, bear claw marks on the trees, and wolves howling in the distance as we were stoking our camp fire, we decided to sleep inside the cabin, with the door tightly tied shut. And because Chelsea was afraid of spiders, we pitched the tent inside the cabin. This was a restless night for me, with hours spent listening to the scampering of rodents throughout the cabin. I guess we shouldn’t expect to be the only ones taking advantage of such a cozy cabin – the tent was a good idea after all.
Another day of beautiful weather and wildlife spotting (mountain sheep, beavers, bald eagles, ducks and other birds). We stopped for a long break at Fort Selkirk (a historic trading post of the Hudson’s Bay Company) to have some lunch and explore some of the old buildings and artefacts. After an easy day of padding, covering about 26 miles, we stopped at a large sandy island with a beautiful beach. Lesson two: when you’re on a remote beach, it’s impossible to resist getting naked and playing frisbee.
Our third day was definitely the most exciting. We awoke in sunshine to rolling thunder from a distant storm which we watched for a few hours as it slowly closed in around us. Before the dark clouds and lightning got too close, we took shelter on shore below some cliffs and nervously watched the show. With cliffs on one shore and hills on the other, the thunder echoed and rolled on for minutes at a time. We managed to duck under a tarp just as the sky opened up dumping rain and hail on us.
Despite the earlier scare, we found a great fishing spot on shore at the mouth of Selwyn creek and managed to catch a couple grayling for the evening meal. After covering about 41 miles, we set up camp on another sandy island and finished the day.
The fourth and fifth days offered an unexpected challenge: intense sunlight. With the long, northern summers (over twenty hours of sunlight) the sun can really take a toll. We had run out of sunscreen early on the fourth day so we were forced to hide under clothing instead (at one point I wore a pair of shorts over my head to keep my ears from burning).
Despite the heat, there was a good variety of wildlife along the river. I’m not sure how, but Chelsea managed to spot a lynx in some bushes on shore (I didn’t see it until we had paddled to within 15 feet of it). We also spotted a wolf about a hundred feet downriver, though it didn’t hang out to give us a better look.
After passing White River the water became even thicker with silt, making it tough(er) to filter directly from the river. Luckily there were the odd creek with cleaner water to use. You could actually hear a “hiss” from the silt as the canoe moved through the water, pretty wild.
Day four was a long one (we covered 51 miles) – we decided to pick up the pace and try and arrive in Dawson a day earlier (the sun had amplified our thirst for a cold beer). The sun had finally taken its toll midway through day five, so after 37 miles we stumbled onto an island, set up a tarp for shade and had a long, cool nap. Lesson four: spray-on sunscreen works fine, but only holds about a dozen applications - useless for a long trip. Bring lotion!
On our last morning on the river we awoke to smoke in the air and a haze in the distance ahead of us. With a summer as hot as this, its common knowledge that there’s a risk of forest fires, but what would we do if we found ourselves padding into one? We decided to press on and re-evaluate if the smoke got much thicker. Luckily, after a few hours it cleared and we were able to continue on. Later that day, as we neared Dawson City, we could see a large plume of smoke in the distance on the left shore – the fire was still there, but the wind had shifted.
After covering the final 36 miles, we arrived in Dawson City. Although it was nice to be done and enjoying some patio beers, we both admitted to each other we wished we had just a couple more days…