Paddling the Yukon River from
Carmacks to Dawson City – July 2016 - by
Brenda and Dave Parks
Brenda, Maggie and Dave Parks; Jesse Winters; Mary Waddell;
Brendan Waddell and Kelly Leighton –Sudbury Group
Kathy and Lance Mather; Denise and Mike Chisholm- Whitehorse
Paddled 440 km and spent 9 days on the river.
The Yukon River, is the longest river in Alaska, and it
is the third longest river in North America. The Yukon River
is 1980 miles long or somewhere around 3200 km (give or
take a hundred or so). Until the completion of the Klondike
highway in the 1950s, the Yukon River was the principal
means of transportation in the regions now known as the
Yukon Territory and Alaska. It was a transportation route
for First Nations people and later, when gold was found
in the Klondike, after 1896 it provided thousands of gold
fever crazed, adventuring prospectors with a connecting
route from Skagway in Alaska over the Chilkoot or White
Passes, the watery connection needed to access the rich,
beckoning gold fields near Dawson City.
The Yukon River was a joy to paddle. Rich in wild life,
scenery and history. There were many stops during our river
trip when we were able to explore the river banks. We were
fortunate to have a couple of friends from Whitehorse who
had travelled the route several times and brought the gun
which provided a sense of security which we felt good about
since we had two 12 year olds with us and we were in a land
which I heard has more grizzly bears than people. Fact or
fiction, I am not sure but there are only just over 30,000
humans inhabiting the whole Yukon territory. I am not sure
about the Grizzly population and I was often reassured that
they much prefer to eat Salmon than people. Nevertheless,
we were very careful to set up tents away from the cooking
area and to never allow anything with any type of enticing
fragrance into the tents.
If you love collecting river rocks or panning for gold this
is a trip for you. The ubiquitous river rocks were ground
smooth from centuries of wear and they provided the seeker
with a variety of interesting shapes as well as a plethora
of colours on which to feast the eyes. We were only casual
fishers at river mouths where the ice cold glacier fed creeks
would empty into the Yukon and provide a perfect place to
catch grayling. We really found the lack of a true night
fall abnormal and unusual since we had never spent time
so near the Arctic Circle before.
We stopped at Fort Selkirk which was an old Hudson Bay Trading
Post where a thriving community had lived in the past and
is now a historical site which is being preserved and revitalized
for future generations to visit. It has an extremely interesting
graveyard and buildings which are being restored and preserved
much as they were over a hundred years ago. It was here
that a native family who were spending some of the summer
catching and smoking salmon provided us with generous hospitality.
They gave us a lunch of their Moose Chili which was delicious
and then they gave us the honour of visiting their smoke
house where their salmon were being preserved for the months
ahead. They also gave us some salmon for our next meal on
the river later that day.
During one stop we came across an old abandoned truck and
other relics of an age when logging had to be done to provide
the steam boat paddle wheelers which went up and down the
Yukon river with the log fuel needed to fire their boilers.
This stop reminded us of how Nature takes back all in time
and really how insignificant technology is when confronted
with enduring natural consequences.
There is much more to tell about the trip. It truly was
fantastic. Until you actually go and visit and paddle the
Yukon I don’t think you can ever really grasp what
Robert Service means in his poem “The Spell of the
Yukon”. Here is a verse from that poem that really
speaks to our visit:
The summer- no sweeter was ever;
The sunshiny woods all athrill;
The grayling aleap in the river,
The bighorn asleep on the hill.
The strong life that never knows harness;
The wilds where the caribou call,
The freshness, the freedom, the farness-
O God! How I’m stuck on it all.