Jason's personal expedition log of his and Sean's first few weeks of their Yukon River expedition in deep Alaska. Featuring a race against time trek & perilous battles across treacherous, storm ridden & sub-zero seas.
The trek begins. We had 3 days to make it from Skagway to Bennett via the Chilkoot Pass. We faced all weather conditions carrying 80-90lbs, with my kit being the heavier due to Sean’s injured knee. Travelling through temperate rainforest, up into arctic tundra and then back down through the Boreal Forest. The terrain was tough with rocks, vines and roots, we were constantly on the lookout for bears and moose (which can be equally dangerous). Our feet were on fire due to the pace we needed to keep to make sure we arrived in time to pull our kayaks off the train. If we missed them, then they’d be gone, challenge over.
With 40 minutes to spare before the train arrived, we got into Bennett. The 49 mile hike had kicked our arse before the boat shenanigans had even begun! It was definitely a taste of what was to come.
We offloaded the boats and began to pack. It was great to get in the water and begin. We had a decent breeze behind us and a gentle flowing sea to push us along. That changed after an hour to a strong wind and bigger seas. It was hard to control our 17.5ft long boats in the conditions and we were taking on water getting drenched by waves. Sean’s especially, as his rudder had fallen off. We pulled in to camp on an island for the night, after a check for bears we temporarily fixed Sean’s rudder in place, but this would not stop the flooding. A first set back, but we kept pushing forward.
When we set off the following morning, the winds were strong and a storm was heading in! We hugged the shore for some cover and every hour or so we’d have to go in and empty Sean’s boat. After about four hours of hard paddling we made Carcross, a town at the end of Bennett Lake. We got a coffee and managed to fix-up Sean’s boat with some duct tape.
After the break, we set off for Tagish Lake through a small channel called Nairn’s River. Once we hit the lake we had big seas again smashing us. To stay on track with timings we battled it out for 10 hours. Eventually we got to Tagish Narrows, passing through safely we arrived to camp in Tagish at 2330. After paddling through 15 hours of high winds, constant rain and big seas – we were saturated. A very kind old couple from Canada allowed us to sit by their camp fire and fed us hot chocolate and hotdogs after which we pitched our tent in the pouring rain and passed out for the night!
When we woke the sky was clear, taking full advantage we headed off into Marsh Lake, the biggest of the three we had to pass through before the Yukon River began properly. The conditions were sweet for paddling. Five hours in we stopped for a bit on a beach in the sun. We headed out again and after another five hours we reached the Yukon River. Looking up to the skies, we saw bald eagles patrolling the air, an unforgettable sight.
The pace quickened as we got into the flow of the river but we still paddled for a further four hours to find a suitable sand bar to land and camp. We had our evening meal and saw a local beaver cutting about being busy. That night we heard noises and thought we could hear bears nearby, we slept with one eye open.
The next day we set off for the Whitehorse hydroelectric dam. Three hours down river we hit the very quick flow of Miles Canyon which was awesome. Once through the canyon we had to paddle through a small lake to the top of the dam. To get to the bottom was a mile portage over land first taking the kit then the boats, one and a half hours later we were back in the boats headed into very fast flowing water! My back end was pushed out causing me to go down the rapids backwards. Once through the rapids it was a quick five minute paddle/drift into Whitehorse for food, repairs and a hotel for the night to recharge.
After leaving Whitehorse on Tuesday 25th June into a very fast flowing Yukon, the weather was spot-on and the pace of the river got us to the start of Lake Laberge in about three hours. On our way we saw a bald eagle up close and personal. To say they look majestic is an understatement. We had been warned about how the weather and lake can treat you, fortunately we were blessed with clear skies and glass like water. We headed to Richthofen Island which is midway up the lake. By the end of the day we reached the south side of the island, set up camp and got a fire going.
We were up early to crack-out the rest of Lake Laberge, we renamed the lake to laborious instead of Laberge as it’s huge, long and never ending. At the end of the lake we met up with Carl and Toby (two friends from the army) we went with the river for another two hours before finding a decent area to camp.
The next three days consisted of going with the flow which sounds easy, however, our daily target of 100km per day for the next six weeks means we need to dig deep and put a shift in, so easy it ain’t! The river twists and turns and meanders all over so it’s all about route selection and finding the faster sections of river. It doesn’t always happen and on occasion we nearly bottom out!
The evenings are a welcome break from the sore shoulders and back and consist of sitting round a camp fire spinning dits (telling stories) from old days gone by.
I’m writing this from a breakfast café in a town called Carmacks where we are conducting a stores replenishment before we smash on to Dawson, (home of the TV show Gold Rush) the Five Finger Rapids which could prove to be something to write about in the next update. Take care back there.
Love many, Trust few, Always paddle your own canoe!
– Jason Fox