Since being back in Canada our adventures have not ended. Admittedly, we haven't been taking as many photos or writing as many blog posts, but there are still a few things we want to share. It has been amazing to spend so much time with family while we continue to explore new corners of the world - the ones right next door from home.
After our Yukon time we bought a Nissan Cube (long story) and drove down to Vancouver to meet up with Kim, Nate and Harrison! The drive down was quiet and lovely. We stopped at the Liard Hot Springs for a night to soak up the volcanic waters. The fall colours were intense and we were lucky enough to spot a moose in the swamp beside the board walk to the hot spring. Please enjoy a few photos from the rest of our drive.
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The highlight of my summer was definitely our incredible two week canoe trip down the Teslin and Yukon Rivers. Unlike last year’s trip, this time Chelsea and I had some company – both our dads (Doug and Jim) came along for the ride, and Chelsea’s brother Shawn & his friend Sarah joined us for the second half. As much as we enjoy each other’s company, it was a nice change to have some other people around to mix things up (and allow more options for the evening card games!). One of the best parts for me was being able to share such an awesome trip with my dad, who’s the main reason I’m into all this outdoorsy nature stuff to begin with. Thanks everyone for helping pack the trip with so many unforgettable moments! =)
Since it’s taken me such a long time to put together this post (I’ve been busy, get off my back!), I’ll skip the nitty gritty details and stick to some of the more memorable moments. If you’re interested in the practical details on the trip, I stuck those at the end. So, with no further doo-doo, I present to you "Stories from the River". Enjoy!
Who needs bear spray when you’ve got Mandrew Musk™?
One morning before we’d all gotten up, Doug was lying awake in his tent when he heard something moving around beside him. He peeked out and saw a black bear sniffing about. Not wanting to alarm anyone (or the bear) he quietly watched as it made its way around our camp and over to our tent. Just as it reached us I happened to rip out a nice loud fart, startling the bear and causing it to flee for its life. Yup, I've got skills.
"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 have finished another CHAM Studios Original Film. I have been so excited to finish this one! This past summer before leaving on our trip I talked Oma into teaching me her secret apple strudel recipe. It was a lot of work and well worth it! I have since made it twice and have improved each time. When I am home I would like to make one for Oma using some tropical ingredients, which is what I've had to do here due to a lack of many of the ingredients in the recipe. Turns out it works well with almost any fruit (well maybe not banana, yuck).
THANK YOU OMA!!!!
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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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Having grown up in the Territories, there are things that I'd accepted as "normal" all my life and would never have given a second thought to, until I met the world.
When I moved to Toronto to attend university in 2003, the first time I was really able to step out of my own comfort zone and immerse myself in a new environment, I began to learn many new things. And I found out that most of the things I had previously experienced on a regular basis while living in the north, were considered "once in a lifetime events" or things that may never happen to most people. In fact, most people I met in Toronto had never even considered any of my experiences to be a possibility.
Things like; having to watch out for grizzly bears (literally like a dozen one time) while walking around the neighbourhood on the way home from school, or having to fend off bears by yelling and waving your arms while hiking or canoeing, pulling a frozen icicle from your tongue and having a pack of wolves follow you home in the winter because of the blood trail, being snowed in for several days during a blizzard and having people come and dig you out, singing and whistling to the northern lights and having them surround and shoot down at you (which was very terrifying I have to admit), spending time out fishing on a lake in the summer and not knowing whether it is 2:00am or 2:00pm, catching a 20lb Arctic Char and having groups of children begging you for the guts and fish eyes because they taste like candy, having a special room in your house for canned and dried food that could last 2 years just in case the grocery barge couldn't make it during the only 2-3 week window in the summer that it could dock, hopping on floating ice chunks in the ocean during break-up and laughing when someone falls in, never really having to "meet" anyone because you already know pretty much everyone in town, spending nights partying by bon fires in the bush with all your friends.
The experiences were one thing, and the opportunities were even more impressive. Opportunities like; being able to play competitive sports and travel to national events and tournaments, spending 2 semesters of high school on field trips around the Yukon and BC to learn astronomy, biology, forestry and more first hand rather than through text books, learning how to live off the land as part of the regular elementary school curriculum, filling your freezer with hunted meat and fish, and picking berries and mushrooms in the summer and knowing first hand where all of your food comes from. All of this let alone the scholarships and bursaries offered to students attending university programs in the provinces.
But rather than continuing to outline many examples of this (and believe me I have many more) and you taking my word for it, I have gathered a few news headlines, from here in Whitehorse, that I think will help colour the picture for you. These are headlines from just the past month and a half while we have been up here.
Of all the crazy things that Andrew and I can continue to be amused at, it is the differences in the ways we've grown up that keep us surprised by each other. We view the world through very separate lenses and enjoy hearing our stories from our different perspectives.
What are some other crazy news headlines from around the world? We would love to hear 'em!
Mom2 & Mandrew enjoying the sun at Snafu Lake
The last couple weeks have been nice and relaxing. We've been doing our best to spend some quality time with the Yukon family and enjoy the outdoors while the summer sun's still shining.
Chelsea's family is full of interesting characters, and it's been great to be around for long enough to spend some real time with them. We spent about a week camping at Snafu Lake with Mom2 (Carolyn), Alyssa & the dogs, followed soon after by a long weekend at Fox Lake with Momette (Karen), Jock & Shawn.
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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!
We spent last weekend with the family enjoying the Atlin Arts & Music Festival in Atlin, BC. Nicknamed "Switzerland of the North", Atlin was the perfect backdrop for a music fest, with gorgeous lake and mountain scenery and a perfect small-town feel. Even the performers were genuinely taken aback by the magic of the place; Hawksley Workman probably put it best when he simply said, "oh, those mountains there ... they're actually an island."
With my parents (Mandrew's) visiting for the next couple weeks, the weekend was a great introduction to the beautiful scenery and friendly feel of the area. It was also a good primer to get their bodies into the routine of daily drunkenness.
Chelsea, Shawn, and I volunteered as daytime "security" for the festival, giving us free admission and a couple excellent meals backstage with the crew and artists. For a couple of six hour shifts, the three of us were in charge of controlling access to the backstage area. This was, of course, extremely difficult work - both Chelsea and I had to assert our authority once or twice to keep the odd toddler from sneaking a peek behind the curtain. =P
Most of the performers were new to us, which was nice since we got to discover some new favourite bands. Chelsea fell in love with the closing band "The Boom Booms" and we both really enjoyed the mellow tunes spewed out by Harry Manx. On Sunday morning, we all went for a nice hike in the nearby mountains and enjoyed the view before heading back to Whitehorse to get ready for our Alaskan adventure.
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