"Six days, 228 miles, a close grizzly encounter, way too much sun, an incredible thunderstorm, and a constant feeling of awe - this was a trip we'll both remember for a lifetime."
We've been away from internet for awhile now, time to catch up on here! Andrew already posted a blog about Bolita but it didn't include pictures so here you are!
It was such an interesting little place, exactly what we were hoping for. I won't re-describe everything for you but there were a couple of things I wanted to add to Andrews notes.
We had so much time to hike around and watch wildlife near Bolita. The picture here is from beside our table at breakfast. Hummingbirds, bees, monkeys, macaws, doves, geckos, etc. were always nearby.
This picture shows the nearly finished product of our volunteer work. We were asked to build a shelter over the clothes-line. We used bamboo which we cut down from a nearby bush, and some scraps that were lying around from previous projects.
It took us two days (4-5 hours per day) to build and was very fun! We learned a lot about working with bamboo though didn't have any instruction - all by trial and error.
At one point Andrew got a bamboo cut on his thumb. At first he looked at it a bit nervously and insisted that he was ok when I asked. After a few minutes, he got off of the stump he was standing on and wobbled to the kitchen sink. I knew he was going to faint so I grabbed a stump for him to sit on while I held onto him from behind. (Note from Andrew - it was a really hot and sunny day of hard work, I was really just quite dehydrated! =P)
This is not the first time I've had to do this so was pretty routine, lol. When he was feeling up for it we cleaned it out well and stuck a bandage on it. It really wasn't too bad, but he said he got disturbed when it began to ooze dark blood. lol, funny day. The next day I got a couple of bamboo cuts as well (nothing bad) but it is worth noting that bamboo can be pretty dangerous for that! Super sharp! We wore gloves after a few warning cuts.
We spent the last four days hiking and nature watching in Corcovado, the largest of Costa Rica’s National Parks and reportedly one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet. We saw a ton of cool creatures, took over a thousand photos & over an hour of video footage, ate a ridiculous amount of tuna and peanut butter, worked the hell out of our legs, and returned to civilization the dirtiest and smelliest we’ve ever been. All in all, a great success in our book. =)
We spent three nights at Sirena Ranger Station, deep in the heart of the park. To get there, we took what I’ll now term a “potato bus” (more on this later) from Puerto Jimenez to the end of the road at Carate, then hiked a beautiful 20 km along the Pacific coast, at times working our way up and around large rock outcrops or wading through streams and rivers. When we had originally gotten our park permits and spoken with the park staff in Jimenez, we were told we’d need to be on the trails by 6am in order to hit the final river crossing (at the Rio Claro) during low tide - crossing at high tide is not recommended, partly due to dangerous currents that could suck you out into the ocean, and partly because the deeper waters allow bull sharks and crocodiles to make their way up the river to feed on fish (or unlucky tourists). We thought we’d take this fairly seriously, and decided to catch the bus to Carate the night before the hike to allow us to get a nice, early start.
Our original plan was to arrive in Carate and find a nice secluded spot to pitch a tent, probably somewhere along the beach. As we were boarding the “bus” from Jimenez, however, we bumped into a couple frazzled-looking backpackers first words to us were, “DON’T CAMP ON THE BEACH!” – they had just returned to town after having their bags stolen from them while camping on the beach in Carate the night before. Yikes – we rode to Carate, and with only a couple hours of daylight to spare and no real idea where we’d end up spending the night, we began our trek down the beach. We were starting to get a bit worried after about 45 minutes in, until we noticed a quaint little property just off the beach with a perfectly mown lawn, impeccably kept gardens, and a few small huts – where the hell were we?? We wandered in and struck up a conversation with the only guy in sight, an older gentleman named Bob who quickly realized we were in a bit of a pickle and said he had no problem with us pitching our tent on the grass. It turned out that he and his son Kelly were on vacation from Northern California, spending a week of it on the property which was owned by a friend of a friend of theirs. In no time, Bob and Kelly were sharing with us their dinner of beans & rice (what else), some great conversation (did you guys know about this Ison comet that’s approaching extremely close to Earth?), and even the last of their special stash (which we smoked from their little seashell pipe). Chelsea and I felt like we’d stumbled into some fairytale paradise, and were happy to contribute one of our very precious chocolate covered coffee beans and a Snickers bar, which we all shared for dessert. An unexpected but most excellent evening!
The last few weeks have been a blast! After a couple action-packed weeks with my parents (so glad you guys were able to visit!), we decided to get back to nature and spent the last week at an incredible hostel called La Bolita located on the edge of Corcovado National Park. The place was great – exactly what we’d originally had in mind when we first planned on visiting Costa Rica. Although it was a bit of an adventure to get to ...
take a colectivo (mini-bus) about half an hour along the world's bumpiest road from Puerto Jimenez to Dos Brazos del Tigre, a town of about two hundred people. Once there, walk five minutes to the edge of town and then hike for half an hour up a steep jungle path, at one point wading through the Rio Tigre (don't worry, there aren't any tigers).
... for us this just added to the wonder of the place. Every morning we awoke to the sunrise and the sound of howling monkeys and screaming macaws (why does such a beautiful bird have to sound so horrible?), and spent the day hiking, nature-watching, relaxing in hammocks, and doing a bit of volunteer work. How could we ever go back to an office job after this??
Situated on sixty hectares of land that once contained a banana plantation, Bolita consists of a couple dorm buildings, a kitchen, a bathroom & shower building (with flush toilets), and a series of hiking trails through the old plantation and surrounding jungle. One morning we did an awesome hike that took us a couple hours through the jungle and up to a waterfall, after which we followed the Rio Tigre for a couple hours back down, hiking in water anywhere from ankle- to armpit-deep. We saw howler monkeys, white-faced (capuchin) monkeys, a couple small snakes, and a few jesus christ lizards running across the water and earning their names – amazing! We also ran into a couple local oreros (gold miners) panning for gold, which was a bit of a surprise for us. We were later told that there's a whole shanty town of gold miners who live in the jungle a four hour hike from town and pan various parts of the river.
Because we stayed as volunteers, in exchange for about 20 hours of work per week, we got free accommodation along with unlimited beans & rice – finally a volunteer gig where we aren’t working AND paying. And since we didn’t realize there would be next to no groceries available in town, we ate nothing but beans & rice for the first couple days and saved a bunch of money on food (at least we had brought some hot sauce). Luckily, the owner Val was nice and picked us up a few things during her weekly trip to Puerto Jimenez, letting us to cook up some of the best pasta ever. The volunteer work was enjoyable, and we spent a couple days putting together a rain shelter for the clotheslines. We felt like proper rainforest pioneers chopping down a couple tall bamboo trees, splitting and cutting the bamboo, and lashing together a beautifully-engineered structure.
Spending the week at the edge of Corcovado National Park has got us really excited for our next adventure – four days at La Sirena ranger station deep in the park. The plan is to catch a bus to Carate, the small town at the edge of the park, then early the next morning set out for the 20 km hike in along the beach.
If we’re lucky, during our stay we’ll get to see tapirs, giant anteaters, pumas, jaguars, ocelots, crocodiles, bull sharks, a load of monkeys, and a plethora of frogs, lizards and birds. Also, if we’re lucky we won’t be seeing any of the many kinds of large, venomous snakes. Apparently there’s a very poisonous snake called the bushmaster (insert inappropriate comment here) that grows to be over three metres long and has been known to be aggressive, even at times chasing people through the jungle (or perhaps here). We’ll definitely have our hiking sticks and machetes out and will be ready to defend ourselves. =)
We haven’t had much internet access lately and so haven’t had a chance to upload any photos, but once we’re out of the park and have settled somewhere in Panama we’ll be able to catch up and share some more stories.
Until then, Pura Vida! - Mandrew
When we arrived at La Biosfera late Saturday night, we walked up the steep muddy driveway to the lodge area and met Suzanne, the owner who immediately poured us some mugs of the most delicious home brewed herbal tea. She is a VERY interesting character (check our her "Curious Character" profile). Originally from Buffalo, NY, Suzanne's an ex-marine now in her early 50’s, living on a piece of land she owns just outside of Jinotega. Although she lives alone, she has lots of visitors like us coming through all the time (though maybe not as many as she would like). In a few words I guess I would describe her as eccentric, tough and very generous!
There was also an Argentine family staying there (Rafi, Flor and their 3 year old son, Fidel) when we arrived who were equally as interesting and mystical, but unfortunately they had to leave the next day. Rafi spoke the most English of them though we tried our best to speak in Spanish as much as possible (and then Andrew and I both had dreams in Spanish, FINALLY!). We talked about just about everything including the meaning of life, water vibrations, UFO's, herbal remedies, etc… Later, when we were getting ready for bed I told Andrew that I felt like we had stepped into – Andrew cut me off and finished my sentence perfectly – another universe…
In the morning we got ready to start some work and said our goodbyes to Rafi, Flor and Fidel – we hadn’t known them for long but for some reason it felt like years. We took a tour of the property with Suzanne, which is huge and so green! There is a waterfall and small river, the bat cave is wicked cool, and the potential for forest preservation and education is enormous! There isn’t too much infrastructure there right now, and lots to do to get some more in there. We did some high priority work for the day including scrubbing the algae off of the walkway so no one would slip and fall. The next day we did some more manual work, as well as put our engineering skills to the test with the design of a lightweight, mobile chicken coop (which we chose to make out of PVC pipe, inspired by the photo booth structure Kim and Nate made for our wedding) as well as a support structure for the squash greenhouse. The chicken coop became our pet project for the next few days, and it turned out very well, we think. Assuming she can be caught, the pet chicken (originally known as "cena", meaning "dinner", but after many battles with the pet dog now known as "cena the warrior chicken") can chill in there now, along with some egg-laying hens Suzanne plans to buy from a neighbour. It was a really fun project even though Andrew and I had some trouble working together as we both like to take the lead on designs, lol.
After a few more days we got some new visitors! Michael and Amanda are in their early 20's and are basically searching for the meaning of life. They were kind of funny to talk to, and in a weird way, reminded me a bit of Andrew and I when we were their age travelling in Australia (oh so long ago now!). They were very enthusiastic about everything, and really seemed to take what we said, and anyone else said, to heart. We talked about all kinds of wacky, fun things such as, again, the meaning of life, vibrations, water, mermaids, fractals (patterns that repeat on all scales, for example the Fibonacci Spiral found in nature; snail shells; broccoli), free energy, the Bermuda Triangle (which by the way it looks like it could be the location of Atlantis based on some underground quartz pyramids! Seriously! Check Youtube!), pyramid power, DMT, etc. From what I gathered, Amanda grew up in a very religious family and had, only in the last couple of years, begun to question her beliefs. It must have been a very stressful and scary time for her, but now she says she is re-discovering the meaning in her life, and determining what is really important to her. Michael is a free spirit who appreciates nature more than most 20-year-old guys I've known. He thinks outside the box and is in search of new experiences. They make a very good couple, finishing each-other's sentences, sharing the same open-minded philosophies, and they are very supportive of each other. We had a really good time getting to know them over a few days. We even spent one evening making German Strudel with a Nica twist! I used the recipe that Oma taught me before we left the Yukon, but we had to substitute some of the ingredients (instead of apple and raisin filling, we used guava, passionfruit, raspberry extract & coconut oil), and we baked it in a wood-fired cobb oven so it tasted a little smokey which wasn't the best, lol. But it was still fun and turned out pretty well.
When the time came to leave, we were very sad to say goodbye. In a very short amount of time we came to know Suzanne, Michael and Amanda surprisingly well. I would say the highlight of La Biosfera for me was the people, and the bonus was the place; nestled in the mountains and full of life. We made some possible plans to meet up with Michael and Amanda in a few months in Peru as they will be heading down there after a short stint back home - I hope we do see them again!
We hope you enjoy our pictures, Andrew says that I post too many, but I really have a hard time cutting out any because I think that if they are good they should stay. He thinks that no one will look at them if we keep putting this many, but I guess I don't really mind if you don't, lol. What do you all think? Should we be putting limits on them? Or just keep going as we are so that in the future we can look back at this website and have all our photos on hand? That's my logic anyway...
Sorry that we have been running behind on posting, the internet has been pretty terrible these last few weeks, but we are catching up now!
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We spent five nights in Leon (including one night camping on an active volcano!) and loved every minute of it! After spending lots of time in the rainforest and on a beach, we thought it was time to see a little culture. Leon is pretty small but has a great market and a ton of history. It isn’t as touristy as other cities either, which made it attractive for us. We stayed at Sonati, an interesting hostel run by a volunteer organization that gives environmental tours to backpackers and educates the local children in Leon.
On our first day we split up and explored the city by ourselves. I was so stinkin' hot I decided to buy a dress that was much much cooler than my yoga pants and t-shirt. Andrew explored the markets and churches. It was a nice relaxing day.
The next day we decided to take a tour with the Sonati group. Johnny, a German dude who just so happened to turn 20 that day, was our tour guide on a daylong kayak trip through the mangrove forest! Two other volunteers from the hostel joined in the fun for the day, Simon, another Sonati guide, and Emma the awesome receptionist, which made the trip extra fun.
We left around 7:00am on foot from the hostel and walked a block or so before catching a local... truck-thing… It was supposed to be a bus but apparently when they are short on busses they use pick-up trucks with canopies on the back and jam a TON of people in. So we jumped on while it was basically still moving and I nearly fell out when they gunned it, thinking we were all secure (though they do this ALL THE TIME). From there we switched to a real bus that was a little less crowded (but not by much) and had a bunch of people wandering through the aisle selling food and drinks. You can buy just about anything from your seat on any bus in Nicaragua, it seems. At bus stops sometimes people will board the bus from the front with a basket of baked goods or other treats and walk to the back trying to sell, advertising their goods quickly and loudly kind of like an auctioneer. Then when they get to the back they hang out until the next stop and get off. It is very interesting! We’ve seen them sell everything from baked things, ice-cream, corn-on-the-cob, little plastic bags of juice, razors, nail clippers, hammocks, DVD’s, SIM cards, and even pharmaceuticals.
Anyways, I digress, so we get to the kayak place around nine, get in our kayaks and off we go! It was so gorgeous! But after an hour or so we started thinking it might be fun to check out some of the little channels that branch off of the main river, something Johnny had never done before, and it turned out to be super awesome! We dragged ourselves through the narrow mangrove channels by pulling on the roots ahead of ourselves and came out into some neat ponds with birds, bugs, crabs and even a raccoon in one spot. At lunchtime we made it back to the main channel and stopped off at a beach spot to chillax, eat a bunch, and swim in the ocean. It was an awesome day! And to top it off, when we got back to the hostel, everyone that was staying there, and more (probably 20 people or more!) decided to throw Johnny a surprise birthday party! Emma and I made up a delicious chickpea salad thing, and Andrew did a couple of beer runs to contribute (20 cordobas, about $0.80 for a LITRE of beer!). The dinner was great, and the company was even greater! After dinner and a bunch of drinks I decided to call it a night but Andrew stayed out and played Flinky-Ball, a German drinking game that sounds a lot like dodgeball.
The next morning we got up and packed our bags for a two-day trek up Telica, an active volcano in the area. People were a bit hung over so we got a later start than we had planned, but we picked up a few more hikers, which was great! We had Johnny and Simon again, our friend Devon who we had hiked La Conception with on Isla de Ometepe a few weeks earlier, and a girl named Anna who arrived at the hostel the night before and after some consideration we had convinced to come along.
It was a 15min walk to the bus station, then an hour-long bus ride to the starting trail. The hike was incredible! We started out at some boiling mud pots that smelled like sulfur then headed up a dried riverbed/ cattle trail and up over some farmland. It wasn’t until after lunch that we started the climb. I made a bad decision to eat two peanut butter sandwiches even though I don’t like peanut butter, because I was so hungry by the time we stopped for lunch. Unfortunately the steep hill with a nasty peanut butter filled stomach was not so pleasant. I managed to keep it all down but couldn’t stand the sight of peanut butter for the rest of the trip, and that’s almost the only thing we brought… (I traded for other things). Once we made it to the cone, the view was surreal! A massive smoking cone sprouting out of the hillside and a frozen lava river spilled over the top. We quickly set up our tents as we had less than an hour before sundown, and then headed up to check out the cone! It was loud, like a jet engine but muted. The cone was about 1km across and maybe that deep. We stood and crouched on the edge, literally where the ground cuts deep into the engine below. Yes we did acknowledge how dangerous it was there, but how could you resist! Deep in the center of the pit was a fiery glowing red hole with smoke spewing out. After staring at the lava hole for some time, mesmerized, we got up and walked to the other side of the cone to watch the sunset before heading back for dinner (a delicious homemade Dutch veggie mush dish made by Simon and Johnny) and topped it off with some roasted marshmallows at the campfire.
The next morning was equally awesome, we woke up early to see the sun rise (4:30) then hiked back up to the cone for another look before cruising around to a bat cave that Simon found one time when he was guiding another group up there. It was neat-o! And then we headed back down the volcano. The hike back was fun and quick, but everyone’s legs were happy for the break by the time we got on the bus to go home.
So while our cultural visit to Leon itself was a little short, we got to see some super neat things, meet some new friends, as well as an “old” friend, Devon.
After Leon we hoped back on the Chicken Bus and headed to Jinotega to stay on a finca/ nature retreat called La Biosfera, about two and a half hours north of Leon. We found La Biosfera on helpx.org while looking for another place to do some volunteering, and chose it partly because there is a bat cave there, and partly because it sounds very unique!
Hope everyone is well at home! I would like to congratulate my Dad and Carolyn on a successful hunting and fishing year! They finally got two moose and 27 Coho salmon! Of course it isn't all for them as there were others in the group to split with, but the freezer is full this winter which is awesome! We are also getting excited to spend two weeks with Donna and Jim (Mandrew's parents) who will be heading to Costa Rica on Nov 11th! Can't wait to see you!!
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Well, we have said our good-byes and are now on our way to Isle Ometepe, Nicaragua. While we are excited to see a new place and spend some time on a beach, we were also sad to leave Mastatal! The tiny farming community in the middle of nowhere, Costa Rica. After three weeks we came to feel like locals, passing familiar faces everywhere we went, and recognizing the newbies in town when they passed through. We will fondly remember the tink frog sounds at night, the rooster in the morning, and the smell of caca de vaca (cow poo) that frequently wafted on by.
During our last few days in Maststal Marcos, the finca owner at Siempre Verde, was very gracious to show us some of the most beautiful parts of Costa Rica and he enlightened us with heaps of birder knowledge. I have never met a real life "birder" before, and now that I have, the movie, "The Big Year" makes much more sense to me (if you haven't seen it, you MUST! It's hilarious!). I have always found birds to be very beautiful and neat, but I admit that I have developed a higher interest in them since meeting Marcos. He could name any bird making a peep or flying by at any time. He would be in the middle of explaining something about the finca and abruptly turn straight around and point dead square at a tiny humming bird five trees away! He really is connected to all of nature and being around him for two weeks really strengthened our connection as well.
Marcos took us on a hike down (and through a few times) one of the main rivers that runs through Maststal to show us the sights, birds, insects, plants, etc. We took a bunch of video footage and will be making a short video about the Costa Rican wildlife while we are in Nicaragua. He also took us on a very cool night hike near the finca where we got to see some nightlife in action!
One thing that I find kind of hilarious is how used to something you can become. For example, I was cooking dinner a couple of nights ago, stirring a bunch of rice and beans in a big frying pan on the stove, when the rice began to move! I gave it a second before poking it with the wooden spoon and all of a sudden two large cockroaches crawled out of the rice and over the side of the pan. I did take a half a second before I continued stirring but I realized that it really didn't have much impact on me. But if I think about how I would react if that happened at home?! No friggin way would I even still be in the same room, much less continue cooking and EATING it! Haha. Also, on our night hike, I had stopped to take a picture of something (a frog maybe?) and Marcos came up and asked me if I had seen the giant tarantula standing next to me. I calmly looked down and started taking pictures of it, without a second thought. If this had happened on the first, or even fifth night in Costa Rica, I would probably be in the ground, dead from a heart attack. Not only have we gotten used to these things, we have grown very fond of them, and will miss them terribly while we are gone!
But we don't have to get too far ahead of ourselves just yet, we are staying in Central America for at least a couple more months and I am sure will have many more encounters with the jungle. Next time you hear from us will be from a beach in Nicaragua looking at a volcano! Hope everyone at home is doing well, I heard it was snowing in Whitehorse today (hehehe).
Love you all!
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For one of our last camping excursions in the Yukon this summer, we decided to head north on the Dempster Highway to the Tombstone Mountains. We saved this trip for this time of year as the fall colours are out in full strength.
We did two full day hikes and camped in the Tombstone campground. We would have gone further up the Dempster if we had more time but at least we got a taste.
The Grizzly Lake hike was amazing! The pictures here show some of the colours and the rugged mountains. It took us just over two hours to get to the peak of the hike to the lake where we hung out, had a sandwich and spied on the hills below. The conservation officer that was working at the Interpretative Center told us that it generally takes 7hr to get to the lake, but we could have done it in about 3.
The hike itself was fairly challenging. A massive wind storm passed through the night before and knocked down over 100 trees on the Grizzly Lake trail. On our way into the trail, a distraught couple with a young baby passed us heading back to their car. They were clearly upset (which was kind of funny) and told us not to go any further as there were so many downed trees! The man, red in the face and huffing, made a hand signal cutting across his neck as he told us it was frugal to go any further. But, we decided to keep going :)
The couple was definitely right about the trees posing a challenge! If we had a small baby with us we wouldn't have gone much further either. But I don't think we would have been so angry, haha. We did our best to navigate the trail over the fallen trees and came upon another couple trying to make their way as well, heading in the same direction as us. The woman was near hysterics as I approached, mumbling something about "only a couple of downed trees, my ass..." and when she realized we were approaching she straightened up and explained how she had just punctured her leg on a broken tree branch. The man looked a little weary about going further but, as I would have in her situation, the woman insisted on continuing, trying to make the best of this awkward situation.
It took maybe 20 or 30 minutes of this scrounging over trees before we came to the steep incline, heading up the hill toward a lookout point on the way to Grizzly Lake. The trail from then on posed a new challenge; very steep incline and rocky footing. As we forged on up the mountain, the colours and scents of the rugged north engaged our senses. The land looked like a shag carpet of reds, yellows, oranges and greens, leading up to the rugged mountain peeks in the distance, some powdered with snow. This was by far my favorite hike of the two. Once we got to the lookout point we stopped for a few pictures and to take in the sights, then decided to keep going to the top of the mountain ahead. It didn't take us too much longer to reach the peak where we had an amazing view of Grizzly Lake (top picture). We had made it well over half way to the lake, but decided to turn around at this point since we didn't bring our camping gear. In the future I think we would like to return to this trail and stay at the lake for a day.
It didn't take us long to make our way back down the mountain, but our quads did most of the work this time. We were very happy to find that the parks maintenance guy had already cleared some of the trees which made our trek back to the car much less treacherous.
The next day we hiked the Hart River trail which is a snowmobile trail in the winter and a hiking trail in the summer. It was not difficult by any stretch as it followed the Hart River valley with almost no incline at all, though some muddy patches. The mountains on either side of us were so pretty and majestic! We saw grizzly, caribou and moose tracks along the way, and we heard a wolf howling in the distance. The Hard River Caribou Herd roams the mountain sides here, year round, but unfortunately we didn't get to see them. We took our time, scoping the hillsides for wildlife, and taking snack breaks along the way. We turned around at a creek with a small gorge after sending a GPS beacon home so we could see where we ended up once we got back.
At the campsite we drank a couple of beers and made dinner in a communal cooking hut. We met a young Danish guy named Nikolaj who was travelling by himself. Nikolaj taught us a new card game in exchange for a few beers, and after learning that he was looking for a way back to Whitehorse or Dawson, we offered him a ride with us. We left after our Hart River hike at about 6:00pm and made it into Whitehorse just before midnight. Since it was so late Nikolaj stayed with us, sleeping on the couch at my Moms house. It turned into a kind of funny thing for Nikolaj, who ended up staying for 3 nights and attending a gathering of close friends one night, and of family the next. We basically adopted him into our family which was a lot of fun for all of us. It was the second time my Mom and Jock had invited a "stranger" into their home, as Andrew and I have been trying to introduce the concept of couch surfing to them. I think they've now seen how awesome it can be.
We hope you enjoy our pictures from Tombstone! We didn't have as much time as we would have liked to hike and explore the area, but now we know where to pick up when we get back to the Yukon. If you haven't been here before, make sure you add this to your list of places to see. And put it down for early-mid September so you can see the colours for yourself. The pictures are one thing, and actually being there and seeing it for yourself - priceless!
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Six days, 228 miles, a close grizzly encounter, way too much sun, an incredible thunderstorm, and a constant feeling of awe - this was a trip we'll both remember for a lifetime.
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.
The paddling itself was quite non-technical and effortless; with the current flowing at about 7 or 8 km/h you can cover ground just relaxing and letting the river do the work. Much of the actual work we did was to investigate some of the smaller side-streams and islands along the way, or to avoid being drawn into areas that were too shallow or full of fallen trees. There were only a handful of small rapids, most of which we worked hard to get to just for a little excitement.
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.
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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.
Later that day once the rain had dried up, we started to wander from the main drag and explore more of the side streams and island channels in the hopes of finding a good fishing spot and spotting some more wildlife. This brought us to Seventeen Mile creek, where after tying the boat to a fallen tree in a channel no more than fifteen feet wide, Chelsea was caught mid-pee (literally with her pants down) when a grizzly bear poked its head over some shrubs on the opposite shore about 10ft away. I managed to alert Chelsea by shouting “Bear! Bear! Grizzly!” allowing her to demonstrate her ability to multi-task under pressure by quickly pulling her pants up, getting back into the canoe and untying the rope, all the while blowing her whistle, waving her arms, and assertively chanting “Hey! Hey! Get outta here!”. Although we couldn’t see it, we could hear movement in the bushes beside the bear, probably from a cub (eeks!). Luckily, after contemplating coming in for a closer look (perhaps to eat us), the bear slowly turned and went back into the bush. Lesson three: before stopping close to shore, make a ton of noise!
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.
Days 4 & 5
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…
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Assuming we can get all our ducks in a row today, tomorrow we take off down the Yukon River to head to Dawson City, the heart of the 1898 Klondike gold rush. We'll be putting in just past Carmacks, giving us about 6 or 7 days on the river depending on how energetic we feel.
After the first couple days we'll be deep in the wilderness, so we've got to make sure we've got all the necessary safety & emergency gear. We need to be prepared for bear or moose encounters, wind, rain, sun, forest fires, bloodthirsty mozzies, and tons of angry beavers.
Mandrew's looking forward most to burying his poopie in the dirt and wiping his ass with fresh river water. Chelsea's excited to sing as loud as she can without anyone hearing (including Mandrew, since marriage has quickly trained his selective hearing).
Wish us luck!