Sunday, November 1, 2009

Yukon trip - Part II


My sister gave me a hard time the other day for starting to write about my Yukon canoe trip and then not carrying it on. It's been 3 months now, but I'll see if I can tell the story.

On the morning of our second day we woke up to a breakfast of cinnamon bun leftovers. We finally finished off the gigantic bun we'd bought the day before, and were thankful to not need to eat it anymore. We'd had enough.

Right outside our tent were footprints that explained some of the noise from the night before. I think they're moose hoof prints, but when it's dark outside and you're in Grizzly country every sound has added meaning. Particularly when you're a city dweller like me.



We got out on the water for our day's paddle. It was a little overcast / smoky still, and not particularly warm, but it was a decent enough day to be out on the water. After a couple of hours of paddling we came to a point where our map said that there was a small settlement off to our left. We were able to beach our canoe and head up a little hill to check it out. It was a small homestead that someone had built for themselves many decades ago.


There were several of these during the trip. Little homes and communities that people had built, usually back when the Yukon river was the primary means of transportation between Whitehorse and Dawson City. It was pretty interesting to think of this big river where we were all alone being populated and acting as a vibrant transportation route 100 years ago, when now there is almost nothing along its length.





We returned to our canoe and continued our paddle. A great deal of the shore on this day had been destroyed by fire within the past decade or so, but it was still quite beautiful. There were a couple of signs of development along the way as well. We paddled from time to time near a highway. We passed a mining operation with a big ferry that crosses the river.


Then, in the early afternoon, the highway left us and there were no more signs of life anywhere. We were truly on our own. I put out the fishing rod to see if I could get us some dinner. I had no luck then or at any point for the rest of the trip. I'd bought the rod, all the tackle, and the licence, hoping to grill up a fresh fish at some point. But I'm not much of a fisherman, so it was a good thing that we didn't have to rely upon my skills for food.



By now it had really clouded over. It was looking like it was going to rain pretty soon. My goal for the day had been to make it to Fort Selkirk, an old trading post where I had heard that there was fresh water and a fenced off camp ground. We knew we were close when it started to rain a bit.

Fort Selkirk is right after the confluence of the Yukon and Pelly Rivers. I was pretty excited when I spotted the Pelly because it meant that we were close. We knew we needed to make a certain turn in the river at that point to get the shortcut to Fort Selkirk, but the current decided that that wasn't going to happen. It grabbed us and forced us across the river. This wouldn't have been so bad, except there are sand bars all across the river at this point, which we were doing our best to avoid. You can dodge the ones that are out of the water, because the river flows around them, but the ones that are just a bit under water are much more difficult, because they can cover the width of the river, they're hard to see, and the flow of the river can take you right on top of them. We hit several, got stuck a few times, but were able to continue without ever getting out of the boat. (I know, it doesn't look too bad. But that's what makes it hard.)



Needless to say, it took as a long time to get back on track and make the final leg into Fort Selkirk. By this time the rain had turned into a downpour. We were getting drenched. We paddled hard and I dreaded setting up camp in the weather. We had proper gear, but it was going to be a very unpleasant night.

Fort Selkirk is build on a plateau above the river. We could easily spot it from 10 minutes away. We beached our canoe and I climbed the stairs that had been left for travellers like us.



I'd been told before we left that we could camp in a fenced off area near the flag poles, so I went in search of our site. The whole area around the poles had been turned into a muddy bog by the rain, so I went searching in the opposite direction, which looked more promising.




At that point I saw a woman coming towards me from the opposite direction in the rain. She welcomed us, said her name was Wendy, and that she was from the first nations group who looks after Fort Selkirk. She let us know that we were welcome to camp in another area, nowhere near the flagpoles, but that with the rain and since we were the only visitors there we could take over the warming hut if we liked and stay in there for the night. This sounded like a terrific improvement over staying in the cold downpour. The she quickly showed us around - the hut had a giant stove, there were external storage lockers for food, there was a pile of dry wood that they had cut for visitors, there were water pumps and there were outhouses. I couldn't have been happier if we'd come across a Four Seasons in the woods. Compared to the night I thought we were about to have this was luxury.

We rescued our gear from the boat. Secured our canoe. And got everything into the hut.



The hut was fantastic. We built a roaring fire. (It took a few attempts to get it to the roaring stage. Many thanks to Colleen.) We set up our gear in hopes that it would dry that night. I cooked us a bit of dinner. That night it was pad thai and biscuits. Delicious! And we got set up for the night. Here's Pig making another appearance.







It turned out to be a terrific end to a very nice day, and the best possible alternative to what was going to be a pretty miserable night. A huge thanks to the Fort Selkirk First Nations people, it was greatly appreciated.

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