Monday, August 31, 2009

Canoeing the Yukon River

Colleen and I set off on our trip down the Yukon River two weeks ago. We flew into Whitehorse on the Friday evening, did some last minute shopping at the local Canadian Tire, where we picked up bear spray, fuel, bear bangers, flares and other things that they don't like you to carry on the plane. We then spent the evening with our friends Jeff and Jenn.

The next morning we went grocery shopping and added to our camping food. We also picked up a couple of last minute things like a toque for me and a safety knife for paddling. Then we went down to Kanoe People, where we picked up our boat. They had answered all my trip questions for the past couple of weeks, they had set up transport to Carmacks, where we w
ere to start our trip, and they were helpful on that Saturday morning, providing us with new gear, a bear cache, maps and lots of good safety stuff.

Next we got a ride from a gentleman Harris from Whitehorse to Carmacks. On the way we stopped off at the Braeburn Lodge, home of the Yukon's giant cinnamon buns. I was shocked at the price, $8.50 for a bun, but it served as lunch, dinner and breakfast the next morning for the two of us. Sorry I didn't get a photo of the bun. They really are huge and really rather delicious.

Harris dropped us off in Carmacks, where we were able to get one last fabulous meal before our trip. Cheeseburgers, onion rings and milkshakes. Yes, we were eating terribly, but we felt we deserved it if we were going to be on the water for six to eight days.

We went down to the dock, loaded up the canoe, strapped it all in with bungies. And we were ready to go. It was after 4:00 by the time we hit the water, much later than I'd hoped for.

The first few hours on the water were pretty uneventful. The forest fires in the area at that time were pretty terrible, so there was a haze covering the water and you couldn't see that much. One canoeist who had arrived at Carmacks when we had been leaving said that he'd seen fire on both sides of the river shortly before getting there. All the same it was a nice start to our trip, regardless of the limited visibility.

Our goal for the first day was to make it to the Five Finger rapids and the Rink rapids. These are the only two rapids to speak of on the trip and, as a pretty novice paddler, I had been stressing about them. I'd watched videos on YouTube and I'd done all the research I could to learn how to tackle these rapids. I'd had sleepless nights worrying about them. All I know was that it was critical to stay river right when we went through them.

After about four hours of paddling and tracking our progress on our map we knew we were getting close. We finally rounded the bend and there they were, five basalt pillars in the middle of the river, just waiting for us. It was now or never, although we had no choice really, since the river was flowing pretty fast at this point. So Colleen and I got our nerve up and charged ahead.

We hit the first gap in the rocks at just the right spot. We paddled for the left hand side of the opening. We bounced around a bit, rode a swell or two, and that was it. No drama, no capsizing. It was fun and somewhat exciting, but for all the stress that they had caused the Five Finger rapids were quite a disappointment. More than anything, they were really pretty.

Next up were the Rink Rapids, about an hour later. Nowhere near as dramatic as the Five Finger rapids, we still didn't want to mess with them. But by staying river right again, we were able to avoid them pretty much altogether. You can see them here, just ahead of us.

Having survived the main challenges of the day, we were beat. It was time to find an island and make camp. We had to paddle some distance still to find just the right, relatively bear free, location. While we paddled the sun was beautiful as it poked through the smoky haze.

It took quite awhile for us to find a location that we liked. We ended up settling for something less perfect than we wanted, but it was getting late and we needed sleep. We set up camp, at some more of our cinnamon bun, and called it a night.

This is our friend Pig, who likes to travel with us.

The night was eventful, with lots of deeply disturbing noises. But we'd survived day one, and we'd made it through the rapids, so things were good.

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