A canoe trip on the Yukon River - of wind and waves, wilderness and beautiful life.By Elisa | On 3. Oktober 2018 take an adVANture · On October 3, 2018
A canoe trip from Whitehorse to Carmacks on the Yukon. Meanwhile I'm back at my desk in the Allgäu, which consists of an old wooden door as a worktop and two wooden goats. Simple and rustic, as I like best. In between, I still pule some resin residue from my rain jacket, which still smells seductively after a campfire even after washing. A mountain laundry towers down one floor, but I lack the desire to wash. Finally, I would probably destroy the last odors of forest, the Yukon and Canada.
The article was created in the course of an unpaid research trip. The post also contains an affiliate link. If you order the product, I'll get a small commission, but there are no additional costs for you. Merci.
When I talk about myself and my travels, I usually say that I'm looking for little adventures and that one special moment. Without definition and location, only with a rough direction ... outside. A few times I have come very close to this moment. On the island of Senja in Norway , for example. Maybe a bit in the southwest of France. But especially in the Antarctic. Definitely found but I have this moment of a morning during a canoe trip on the Yukon River, surrounded by fine fog and cold temperatures.
The night before was frosty, fine drops of water hung frozen on my tent. The degradation dragged down due to cold in the length, only the subsequent tea on the morning campfire warmed the now stiff limbs. Barely an hour later we paddled back on the Yukon, the colored canoes formed small splashes of color in front of a gigantic backdrop - at least now it had happened to me. But let me start over.
The Yukon, not the area, but the river I mean, is not really superlative waters. He is neither the longest (he is only at number 5 on the North American continent with his 3,120km), nor is he one of the wildest or most dangerous under normal conditions. Nevertheless, there is this myth and above all a magic that draws you alone at the sight of its magic.
The indigenous population has been using the Yukon River as a transport route and source of food for several thousand years, and has been and still is the lifeblood of some off-road settlements that have not long existed as such. Legendary made him but the Klondike gold rush at the end of the 19th century. Arriving in Skagway, Alaska, hundreds of thousands of adventurers and prospectors followed the call of gold and made their way towards Dawson City. Where the Klondike River flows into the Yukon; where triumph and failure were damn close together.
On foot over the Chilkoot Trail and from there on over the source lakes of the Yukon, it finally went down a few hundred kilometers. It was the time when the myth of Yukon was born, at least for the new Western world. The stories that exist around the river and the time are some of the most exciting I have ever read. Too voluminous, however, to reproduce them in detail here now.
I love the water. Origin of all life and the vein upon which whole village and urban developments are directed. At home several times a week in the summer I wake up in a small pond after getting up to swim for a few hundred meters before work. When I do my own laps there, watching the grebes and glistening the first rays of sunshine on the surface of the water, I know that the world is fine for that one moment.
All the more, I was looking forward to the days on the Yukon River, where water and the wilderness were the main focus 24 hours a day. Eight canoes, 15 people, 320km, 11 campfires, six nights, once wet socks and two more or less failed landings - so the rough statistics for this tour, which led me with Ruby Range Adventure from Whitehorse to Carmacks.
Day 1. The river.
Just outside Whitehorse, where the Takhini River meets the Yukon River, the tour started. With a kayak I have already sailed a lot of waters in the meantime, but a canoe tour, even in such an environment, was something completely new. And, that much I can tell you now, it was definitely not the last trip of its kind for me. But before it finally started, my tiredness disappeared the anticipation and a fat grin, it was first theory before practice and then Umfrachten various sacks and tons. After all, tents, provisions, drybags, miscellaneous and people had to be distributed among the boats, some of them systematically, the rest at random.
We still had the weather on our side and could turn the first rounds on the river in beautiful sunshine (some of them wanted, some maybe rather unplanned). On the first few kilometers, we occasionally heard a few vehicles whose noises the wind carried from the parallel Klondike Highway to us. From time to time you could see signs of civilization on the shore. But barely an hour later, there was only us, the water, the woods, and a bald eagle watching us, unimpressed, from above.
In the beginning, the view and the paddling technique had to share my attention. Straight upper body, upper hand on the handle, lower on the shaft. Even trains, always close to the boat, are steered by the backman - so far, so good. We still had more than 300 kilometers to refine the technology and pull the paddles in harmony through the water.
After 10 kilometers, the Yukon widened and left without a trace in the Lake Laberge , a lake of 50 kilometers in length and up to 4 kilometers wide. The numbers, theoretical as they may be, will play a not insignificant role in the coming lines. Just as the lake provided ample talk in the following two days and showed us who is in charge here. Man against nature and guess who has almost won.
The first few kilometers were done on the lake and the evening we could end with campfire and delicious food on the edge of the shore. The orange tents contrasted beautifully with the dark, grass, olive, and khaki green of the dense forest as the fire pattered comfortably.
Day 2. The human and the water.
After getting up, the tents were packed together, followed by breakfast, the morning toilet, filling the lunchboxes, washing dishes, and then packing up the boats. A routine, which we regularly followed in the coming days and which brought with it already practiced hand movements after a short time - perfect for the (every morning) twilight state after getting up.
After that, on day two of the canoe tour, under normal circumstances, it would have looked like this: After boats and people were back in the water, we paddled north near the right bank. But you notice, the last two sentences are peppered with some conjunctives. Because the predicted weather forecast let our two guides reschedule the process the evening before.
Under the predicted circumstances, the day would have been as follows: Instead of paddling along the right bank, we would have paddled to the other side so that the waves would not have pushed us ashore and we could drive north in the lee of the mountains and forests. Had, would be, if ... the weather and the nature are not just after us humans and also like to use the subjunctive. Finally, to change my story back to the classic past tense, we had to stay ashore and watch as the wind and waves increased significantly in the morning, making it impossible to change shores. For the rest of the day.
Instead, we exchanged the rubber boots for hiking boots, trudged through the forest and up a mountain for a while to enjoy the view together. From up there, Lake Laberge lay calmly, notorious for its drop winds, a blue oasis among the green of the woods. Harmless from a bird's eye view, almost threatening when you put your foot on its shore again. Man and water - we can not live without, but sometimes not with.
The next few hours were filled with nice conversations about traveling, surfing and nature, around the campfire in the open air. An alternative, with which I could arrange myself well - after all, there was nothing else left for me.
Day 3. Old Swede!
What would we have done if the wind had not subsided? I do not know and thankfully we did not have to worry about this scenario.
We lost a whole day on our way to Carmacks. The consequence was that the following days would be longer and a lot more exhausting - my ambition was aroused! So Lake Laberge was the # 1 talk the day before due to the wind, it was on day three because of its length. Still 45 kilometers without current, in the hope that the weather was now on our side. And yes, we were lucky. Often the sun showed up, the rain showers were only short-lived and we were able to sit out again on land.
The fourth time I switched between rain jacket, down jacket and sweater I had stopped counting. Heat, moisture and cold were so quickly the handle in the hand, that I did not want to store the individual items of clothing in the small Drybag. Despite the tight schedule, enough moments remained to appreciate the fantastic views. Rugged cliffs almost perpendicular to the water, the small canoes in the foreground perfectly showed the relationship between small and large, colorful and gray, agile and enduring for millennia. Then, just a few miles farther, the forest ran gently to the edge of the river. Perfection par excellence.
"If you look closely at Canada and study its geography, you can not shake off the feeling that God designed the canoe first - and then devised a land where it can flourish" - Bill Mason
In between, we let ourselves drift in the boats and I also my thoughts. The surrounding mountains were reflected in the calm water surface, punctuated by tiny waves splashing on the canoe. I built castles in the sky, painted fantasies into the water, and felt as alive as I had long ago. Hustle and too much work eat our everyday life and just let weeks melt away. Only here, in nature, you can feel again what is really important in life. Time and the freedom to live your own dreams and dreams the way you would like to live. Point.
I do not remember how many hours we've been on the road. Meanwhile, the arms were heavy, every paddle stroke was completely automated and it developed an almost trance-like state. To keep up the rhythm, I thought through a few songs with a steady beat. Finally, I landed at my All-Time-Favorite: Frank Turner with "The Road" . The title may not have been quite suitable for a canoe trip on the Yukon, but one of the passages of the text was quite good for the moment: "I face the horizon ..." - because that was exactly what was the directional requirement for hours. The horizon and beyond. With each bay we passed on our right, we came a little closer to the destination. And towards the end it was still damn hard for us all. Gosh!
Just past the spot where Lake Laberge ended and the Yukon resumed its run, was the camp. We shared the area with some relics of yesteryear and enjoyed the silence after the exhausting, yet beautiful day. As an appetizer for dinner there was Swiss cheese fondue - not that food plays a big role for me during my travels, but that just has to be mentioned.
The Canadians shimmered in the light of the setting sun. Once again one of those many perfect moments, of which so many followed.
Day 4. Eight.
The night was cold. Cold as an ass, to get it straight to the point. The small drops of water on my tent were frozen and over the Yukon was the finest morning mist. In terms of temperature, assembly took twice as long, with the warm-up of the icy-cold hands taking the most time. We started early because we did not catch up on the lost day. Now, however, the flow of the Yukon helped us move forward, albeit later a bit too fast, than desired.
The following section to the confluence of the Teslin River is also called Thirty Mile River . A natural monument that lives up to the name. The color "green" shone in all sorts of shades from the shore and I fell in love again in this incredibly beautiful area. Especially the woods have done it to me. No forestry or anything like that, nature can develop freely and independently. What remains is a sometimes impenetrable wilderness, left to itself and the animals. In harmony, as from the beginning of time.
Boreal coniferous forest is called that. Characterized by spruce, poplar and pine and determined by the permafrost and short vegetation phases. And here worldwide in its largest virgin extent findable. In between, there were bare areas on the shore, destroyed by large forest fires. The majority of the fires are triggered by lightning and, as long as no settlements are threatened, they are left to their own devices. The run of nature, there is a kind of ecological retreading.
Every now and then one discovers remnants of First Nation settlements or the legendary gold rush along the river. So also in the afternoon, when we landed on Shipyard Island, to see the remains of the steamboat "Evelyn". Unfortunately, the landing in my case was not quite a picture book, it was more a prime example of how not to do it. After a few moments of terror, I had solid ground again under my surprisingly dry feet and I could mark the situation as an experience. Been there, done that.
If you look at the Yukon from the top, it shows itself as a blue band, which winds through dense green. Not only once a 180 degree bend joins the next and blocks the view of the next hundred meters. Perfect for many moments of surprise - on the part of humans as well as animals.
The day was the longest of the whole week. The speedometer would indicate eighty kilometers if such a canoe had one. It was not until late that we reached the camp and instead of relaxing by the campfire, a storm soon overtook us. Rain jacket and pants failed with the amount of water from above and we all squeezed under the tarp that was built over the makeshift kitchen. Freshly caught and grilled fish and a warm stew warmed from the inside, for the night I took a hot stone, wrapped in a towel, from the campfire into the tent. Not a single moment of the day would like to miss in hindsight.
Day 5. The wind, the wind, the ...
The stormy night was followed by a quiet morning. For now. In the meantime, every move was routine and we hurried to pack the equipment and carry it to the boats. The wet rain jacket I fixed to my seat, I climbed into the canoe and with the paddle we pushed away from land. One, two paddle strikes and already the flow of the Yukon showed the direction again.
The world is actually a huge pile of chaos. Globally, what does not matter now, but also often very small, in each one of them. Every day, new decisions have to be made. And I do not mean existential things, because it starts with which socks you want to wear after getting up. How good that flip-flop and barefoot weather prevails in the summer. Shortly thereafter you stand in the supermarket in front of the shelf and consider whether it should be the deodorant scooter or the deodorant spray. But rather the scooter, because ecological. Just a simple example of many.
The abundance of possibilities did not exist out here. The direction was clear, the choice of socks fell on the warmest ones I had and a deo did not matter anyway. It followed an always same daily routine and yet he was completely different every time. An experience that I have been able to do on some journeys.
Added to that was the wind that made us some decisions. If we had decided on the right bank of the river and it blew just that, then it was just the left. Or anything in between. But over a few hours it took a lot of energy and we made slow progress. I felt like a plaything of the wind, which changed its direction as he liked it. Moody and unpredictable.
Our campsite in the evening was one of the most beautiful of the whole canoe trip. We were able to set up the tents spread over several levels, connected by a small boardwalk, and sit comfortably on tree trunks around the campfire. The flames made their faces shine and the shadows dance in the background. Conversations ranged from pleasantly insignificant to exciting and filling the whole evening. It is always nice to look at, if you are with really strange people on a wavelength and share experiences together.
Day 6. Oh, you sweet melancholy.
My alarm clock was already ringing at 6 o'clock in the morning. I wanted to be all alone for the last morning on the Yukon. The night was freezing cold again and with clammy hands I opened the zipper on my tent. Even before I saw him, I heard him - the lapping of the river around which everything was spinning in the last few days. So it was not a dream. I immediately slipped into my rubber boots, slid down the small embankment and listened to the sounds of the Yukon for the next half hour. It's the magic of the North, I was told. The one grabs, holds on and just can not let go. All the fantasies, I had thought before the tour. How wrong I was with it!
The campfire warmed, the hot tea did the rest. At that moment I did not want to talk, instead I wanted to stare at the flames and enjoy everything around me. The morning fog persisted and when we drove back to the Yukon a bit later with the packed canoes ... that's what happened to me. This one special moment. And otherwise there was only silence.
None of us talked while the canoes glided silently over the water. The paddle strokes were more of a habit at the time and less of an advancement. Only when a beaver looked at the edge of the bank, we all awoke from our reveries.
We drove for a while, until the sun battled upwards and slowly dissolved the fog. Since the temperatures were just over 0 degrees, now held all their faces in the warming rays and enjoyed the here and now. The breaks became more and more and longer, the mood more exuberant. It was a pity that it took only a few hours to reach the destination of our journey.
A short time later we were back in civilization. A funny feeling, where you have to put the word "civilization" in quotation marks. Carmacks exists in the immediate vicinity of only a handful of houses and a total of almost 500 inhabitants.
I set up my tent just above the shore, just a few yards from the Yukon. At least one last time I wanted to fall asleep with his noises in the evening and wake up with his sight in the morning.
Day 7. End. For now.
It is the last morning. The farewell is easier to endure only for the reason, because then a 2 ½ week road trip with jeep and roof tent waiting for me. But this is another story.
The sum of extreme weather conditions was the exception to the exception. Usually the tour is more relaxed and with shorter daily stages, but we had to catch up on the lost hours over the rest of the time. The whole thing did not detract from the mood and the experience, quite the contrary.
As a guided canoe tour advertised, it is also suitable for beginners of all ages. Experiences in camping and paddling are an advantage, but not a must. You can find out more about the provider and further tours (for example you can extend the canoe tour from Carmacks to Dawson City) on the website of Ruby Range Adventure .
I enjoyed every single moment of the Yukon canoe tour. Here was once again, what is really important in life and on what should be our focus every day. Because, as always, nothing needs man to be happy. And in this sense: Leave No Trace, leaves no traces, and considering that we are only a guest in nature.
Recommended reading: In 2011, Dirk Rohrbach rode a self-made birch bark canoe from the source lakes of the Yukon to the Bering Sea: Note: I was invited on the canoe tour in the Yukon by Ruby Range Adventure , thank you very much! As always, my opinion and impressions remain unaffected, because such moments in nature are not available anyway. Thanks also to Jonathan and Nils ... for everything.