The Yukon and Whitehorse

I had a little bit of a fight with my bag in the morning trying to close it with all the stuff inside, but I won! So I drove to the airport which was only 14 minutes away. After returning the car and paying a crazy drop off fee of $150 dollars (everywhere else it was $46 so far), I proceeded without further problems to my gate where we boarded on time. I had a window seat and could take some nice pictures since it was another beautiful day.

I also had a nice seat neighbor, a Canadian Lady from Ottawa who was born in Whitehorse and on her way to explore her birth place. The middle seat was free, so plenty of space for all our stuff. 2.5 hours later we touched down in Whitehorse. I really liked AirNorth, you get some food and drinks without extra costs and even a still warm cookie. They also don´t make a big fuss with the luggage, everything friendly and easy. I got picked up by someone from Nature Tours of Yukon with whom I had booked my Yukon adventure, 6 days canoeing on the Yukon from Whitehorse to Carmacks. They dropped me off at the Beez Knees Bakpakers in Whitehorse where I checked into a 4 bed dorm. I was pretty tired so I wanted to take a little nap, but there was too much commotion in the dorm so I was not exactly successful. I went into town a little to have a look around, gave a few dollars to a homeless guy and had a nice Bison Burger with fries at the Dirty Northern Bastard. Got a bigger water bottle, chewing gum and a banana in the supermarket and bought a sleeping mask and a nice flask in a souvenir shop.

Back to the hostel I tried to work on my blog, but the internet went on and off all the time and if it worked it was super slow. No chance of uploading any pics to my blog like that. At 6 pm I had to be at the hotel anyway for a meeting with Nature Tours of Yukon. We got our dry bags, fitted the life vests and the paddles, had to sign a waiver and got some information. Back to the IMAG0803 (FILEminimizer)hostel I had to pack again. All the stuff I needed for the trip including sleeping bag, thermo rest, water boots, clothes, toiletry, bug spray, water bottle, camera and so on into one big dry bag and one small one for the things you need to access on the boat. When I was done with that I tried the internet again. It worked a lot better now and I managed to post 2 blog entries before I retired to bed. I had a French girl in the upper bunk over me who snored like crazy and was moving a lot making the bed shake all the time. The couple in the other bunk bed was super quiet. It was still light outside. At this time of the year there is the midnight sun. It never gets completely dark. There is a sunset and a sunrise for a period of about 4 hours a day, but it is always at least like dawn light. This and the girl kept me pretty much awake all night. At 6:45 I got up and had a last shower with washing my hair, had breakfast and organized the last things of my luggage. Then I brought everything that was not in the dry bags over to the hotel to store it in the luggage room there (at the Beez Kneez you couldn´t lock it properly). When I wanted to get my dry bags over to the hotel the van of Nature Tours of Yukon was standing there. Positive surprise! So I didn´t have to carry my stuff over and could hop in the van. We collected the others of my group (Simon and Stephen, Sarah, Laura (all British) and me plus the guide Robert and his dog Opie- an Alaskan Husky) and another group and drove to the place where we loaded the canoes, paddles, tents and barrels onto another vehicle and transferred our luggage and us a well. Then we were off for about 40 minutes’ drive to a campsite at Lake Lebarge. We unloaded everything and putting the stuff from our group on a motorboat.

We crossed the last about 30 km of the lake by motorboat in about 1 hour since it would be too long to paddle that too and got off at the point where the lake flows into the Yukon River. It was pretty cold and rainy; I froze on the motorboat. Plus I had forgotten to bring my gloves. I had ice cold hands. The motorboat went to pick up the other group and we had a look around the heritage side there with an old rusted truck and an old telegraph station. We had a cold lunch consisting of rolls with meat and cheese and started to load the canoes. Some explanations about knots, how to load and paddle technique and off we went.

I was in a canoe with Laura. I was in the back, steering and Laura in the front – the motor. Off course you paddle in the back too, but you have the steering additional whereas in the front you just paddle and don´t have to care about anything else apart from listening when the steering person tells you to go harder or slow down or something. We started with crossing the river and practicing a landing. I had my difficulties with the steering, but we managed in the end. Then we finally took off. We first did a lot of zickzacking and some 360°C turns but after about half an hour I got the hang of the steering and we had a smoother ride. Not so easy with the currents, wind and everything. We only did about 20 km the first day in about 2 hours since we started really late. With paddling it got a lot warmer apart from my hands and it also cleared up a little in the afternoon. Stephen and Simon almost didn´t make the landing and had a good workout paddling against the current to get to us. Once in camp after unloading the canoes and securing them on shore we had to collect fire wood and pitch up our tents. Robert cooked on the fire. We got Broccoli, Potatoes and Elk sausages for dinner. Really yummy. We even had desert: peaches out of a can with maple syrup. I did the dishes together with Robert and we set around the camp fire a little before everyone went to their tents. Simon and Stephen had one together being a couple; everybody else had a tent to him/herself.

I was quite happy about my sleeping mask since it never gets dark and I had a really good sleep. Again very warm in my nice sleeping bag and the good mattress I had. It started to rain again in the night, but the tents didn´t let through. Robert woke us up at 7 am and we had eggs, bacon and roasted bread for breakfast.

Taking down the tents again and packing everything together, loading the canoes and off we were. This time I was in front and Laura was steering. At 9 we were on the river. We did 35 km that day. The weather started to clear up in the late morning and around lunch time we had full sun and it got pretty warm. At our first pee break I wanted to take something out of my small dry bag and when I closed it again all the air went out. So I had a closer look and discovered a big hole in the buttom corner of it. Not much of a dry bag anymore with a hole like that! I looked inside and discovered that my small bag of nuts was in that corner and the nut bag also had an identical hole in it. Must have been a squirrel at night. I exchanged the dry bag with a lot smaller one were not so important general stuff was in and from that day on I always but all food into the barrels for the night. At one point the Teslin River joins the Yukon. They have different colors and it looks quite cool to see them flowing into each other. At Hootalinqua we stopped for a lunch break. We had Tortillas. After we hiked up the mountain and enjoyed the beautiful view from there before we climbed down again.

A short paddle to the Hootalinqua Shipyard where an old paddle steamer was lying. They used to pull the boats out of the water for winter since the river would freeze completely and that one was left behind.

Here was the last outhouse for this trip. From now on you had to dig a hole for going to the toilet, stuff the used toilet paper in a paper bag and burn that in the camp fire. The river water you had to boil for at least 5 minutes or use a water tablet. When we wanted to board the canoes again we saw a bear crossing the river about 100m away. After the landing at the camp site the same procedure as every day: unloading and securing the canoes, collecting and/or sawing firewood, starting a fire, pitching up the tents, boiling water and then chill while Robert cooked. Cleaning the dishes after dinner and before going to bed every food, food related item or cosmetics that could smell like food had to be stored at the “kitchen” area. Nothing was supposed to be in the tents, because of bears and other wildlife. When you had to use the toilet you had to go into the woods. For a pee not so far, for number two quite far away from the camp and not to forget the spade and the paper bags. Every piece of waste we had was burned in the fire to keep the campsite clean for us and the following people staying there. If anything would smell like food, bears would come and the campsite wouldn´t be safe anymore. We had several cans of bear spray and Opie – the dog to protect us. For dinner we had Tortellini with Chicken Curry.

Before bed some of us had hot chocolate and I offered a bit of bourbon to put into the hot chocolate which I brought in my hip flask. I slept really well again aided by the sleeping mask. The next three days we did 50 km each and it was beautiful hot weather. After putting up the camp I had a quick swim and wash with my outdoor soap in the river each of these days. It was super cold, but it felt really good. Laura did the same, Simon joined twice and Stephen once. I will never forget the look on Robert´s face when he saw us in the river the first time. He couldn´t believe we were doing that, his eyes were saying “Why would you go into this cold water just to wash yourself?!?”. The morning routine was also every day the same. Robert would wake us with his moose call at 7 am with hot water and coffee prepared already and then he would prepare some kind of breakfast (something different every day), after we would clean the dishes, take down the tents and pack everything, fill up the water bottles, extinguish the fire, pack the canoes and leave at around 9 am. 3rd day we had blueberry pancakes for breakfast. And we saw a beaver. At Mile 95 we passed an 81 years old shipwreck, the Klondike I, which sank in 1936. There is not much left of it though. I was in the back that day. Shortly after the wreck we climbed a steep cliff and had a spectacular view over the Yukon and could also see where we would have lunch later. For lunch we grilled sausages over a fire.  For dinner we had lentil stew and strawberries with cream as desert. Didn´t sleep very well that night and was a bit out of power the next day.

Day 4 we had bread with jam and Nutella for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch. We passed the Big Salmon River and the Small Salmon River and stopped quickly at the Big Salmon Village – an old deserted village with a trading post and a cemetery. We once almost failed to land, but managed in the end. We had lunch at an old deserted gold digger place. At camp Robert prepared crackers with Brie, Cranberries and Almonds as an appetizer. That was sooooo good! For dinner we had pasta with cabbage and bacon.

That night we had some other people in the camp: three Canadian women. Usually you paddle on to the next campsite, when the one you aimed at is already taken, but they were pretty exhausted and the next site was quite far away. The place was big enough to pitch up 3 more tents, so we invited them to stay. We never had this problem since we hardly ever ran into other people and started quite early, so we would be there first anyway. Desert was Salted Caramel Brownies and Marshmallows. We brewed some tea with local herbs we picked. That night I slept really well again. Although a tree crashed down at night close to the camp. Day 5 Quinoa and Strawberries for breakfast, for lunch we made a fire and had instant noodles. We took a shortcut through an inlet. That was a lot narrower and shallower than the Yukon and you had to be a lot more careful with the steering. But I liked it, it was something else for a change and I enjoyed the challenge since I was in the back again. Shortly after the inlet we saw a bear on the hillside quite far away. Sarah – who was in the front of Robert´s boat – also wanted to try to steer once and since Robert always needs to be in control of the boat for safety reasons I changed the place with her for the rest of the day. With Robert in the boat the paddling was a lot easier, I didn´t have to do so much which was nice. Simon and Stephen almost flipped over when we arrived at the campsite; Sarah did a really good job. We collected some wild peppermint at one of our pee stops and had fresh peppermint tea in the evening. For dinner we had some kind of Dal. Another hot chocolate with bourbon and I was ready for bed.

On Saturday, day 6 and the last one we only had to paddle about 20 km to reach Carmacks. It had rainied again during the night and the day was very overcast, windy and not as warm anymore.

We took it pretty easy with lots of floating breaks and arrived as the first group at 11 am at our pick up site. In total we had paddled 220 km. We unloaded the canoes, cleaned them and carried everything up to the street. IMAG0967 (FILEminimizer) Then we had a last little lunch consisting of little snacks of crackers and stuff that was left over. During our lunch the other group arrived and at 12 the vans came to pick us up. While loading the stuff on the trailer and in the van it started to rain and when we took off it poured down. Pretty good timing I would say! At about 4 pm I was back to the Beez Kneez and got an upgrade to a cabin in the garden for the same price as the dorm. That was very nice, since I had enough space to pack everything without disturbing anyone. IMAG0981 (FILEminimizer) I first did my laundry and had a long hot shower. Then I packed for another flight the next morning. After returning the dry bags and getting some cash from an ATM I met the others at the hotel at 6:45 and we went for a farewell dinner at the Klondike Rib & Salmon. Since we had to wait for a free table for about 45 minutes, we first had a drink at the Dirty Northern Bastard. The drinks and the food later were amazing, super yummy, but also very expensive. The amount of money I spend that evening is normally efficient for 2 to 3 days for me.

After the goodbyes I went back to the hostel. Another guest was playing the piano and Nancy (the owner of the place) asked if I could play too. So we played together for a little bit. After brushing my teeth, I downloaded the pics from my GoPro to the laptop and went to bed. I slept until 8:30, checked out and explored Whitehorse a little again. Unfortunately it was raining and only 8°C, so I was not too keen to be outside a lot. I went to the visitor center, looked around there and watched the movie they are showing about the Yukon. They say when you drank the water of the Yukon you are bound to come back because the river becomes part of you. I didn´t drink anything else the last 6 days. Hm… I went into a few souvenir shops and bought some pralines before going back to the hostel where I had instant noodles for lunch and downloaded the pics from the phone and the camera to my laptop.

At 2 pm I got picked up by my airport shuttle. Had to queue quite a bit, but had enough time. I was unlucky to be the random person they chose for a full body checkup, but they didn´t find anything. This time I had a seat in the middle and couldn’t see much, plus it was no direct flight. They landed in Kelowna, but we were not allowed to leave the plane, just the people who went there. So it took a bit more than 4 hours to get back to Vancouver. The Yukon adventure was thus over. I can definitely recommend it. This place is just magical. The vastness, the wilderness, being one with nature far off from any civilization, is just stunning. It is so quiet out there, the only things you hear is the water, the wind and a few animals. Even without a toilet, internet and general reception I didn´t miss anything out there and could have continued for a few more days. It´s relaxation pure. Nancy said I was shining when I returned to the hostel. I would definitely like to come back one day, probably for a longer tour all the way up to Dawson City. And in general with more time so I could also hike and do horse riding and stuff like that while enjoying the midnight sun. I would also like to go there in winter once and do dog sledging and see the northern lights. It was definitely not the last time I visited the mighty Yukon!

3 Comments

  1. Nice blog Meike, I almost felt it like my own trip. Eager to follow your next destination to Hawaii which I can relate to being been many times.

    Like

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