Paddling the Yukon River to Dawson CityDecember 31, 2016
Leaving Fort Selkirk felt strange for us since this would be the last leg of our canoe trip. Our next destination was where we would pull off the river in Dawson City.
We have grown accustomed to slow starts in the morning. Chuck slept over 12 hours and still woke up tired. It rained off and on all morning. We watched all the other groups leave Fort Selkirk, but we waited to leave with the spirit boat after lunch. The spirit boat is beautiful. It’s a replica war canoe and it is usually on display at the First Nations Cultural Centre in Whitehorse.
There is a lot of excitement surrounding their journey and it was fun to leave with them. However we quickly realized that even with eight men paddling and one sterns person they aren’t travelling very fast. In fact, we could keep up to them. We paddled alongside for a short while, but were quickly annoyed by the motor boats following so closely behind. For us having motor boats tailing us the whole way down the river would really dampen the experience. We did have a chuckle because all three motor boats were so heavily loaded with gear that it would be hard for them to help anyone if help was needed. Eventually because we didn’t want to embarrass them by having the family boat keep up to them we stopped to take a rest and let them get ahead of us. We didn’t realize at that point that we were going to get to Dawson City around the same time, five days later, so we would be passing each other again and again.
The river is so big now it’s easy to spread out. Both kids napped for the next 2 hours while we happily paddled through the beautiful country. At Fort Selkirk we had admitted we were tired and ready for the trip to be over. Five more days to Dawson City seemed like a long time. When we met the large guided group we learnt they were only doing a six day trip and had put in on the Pelly River right above Fort Selkirk. I felt better knowing that the trip to Dawson City must be worthwhile if this tour company was selling it. Today we realized why you might only do this section of the river as it was a beautiful paddle all day.
We paddled 70 km today in 6 hours. The current was fast in spots, but overall it felt slower than we had expected. The whole day was super beautiful with big green mountains, fully treed on river left and green grass/shrubs with scattered trees on river right. We loved the Lake Laberge and 30 Mile section. From Hootalinqua to Fort Selkirk there were good views, mountains, cliffs, rocks, but this was the first day since Hootalinqua that we were in awe of the natural beauty all day. It was re-energising to be excited about our surroundings even as we got so close to the end of our trip.
We saw a moose and a black bear today. Dwane spotted the moose across the river from Fort Selkirk, but it quickly ran into the forest as the motor boat rushed past. Moose are heavily hunted in this area, probably exclusively by motor boat, so they are elusive and easily scared by the noise. I spotted the black bear walking along a ridge above the river. I turned to look at the kids and saw it. It was exciting for me because Dwane has spotted all the wildlife so far on the trip.
Near our next campsite we realized that big mountains on river right were echoing. We stopped paddling and all practiced our echoes. I had never realized how awesome echoes can be. Dwane’s echo sounded just like him, Molly’s echo sounded like her and mine like me. The kids loved it, but I was equally impressed. I was sitting in awe wondering how I’d never realized how echo’s truly echo, when I turned around to see the big group camping across the shore. Opps, we had disturbed their quietness!
We camped on a gravel spit on the upstream end of an island. All the marked campsites on the map were taken, but we prefer the natural camps anyways. Dinner is done, fire is burning, the kids are playing and we had a lot of sun (with only small rains while paddling) so life is good. Early in the trip we weren’t worried about our daily mileage, but we have fallen into the trap of adding it up every night. 200 km to go.
The next morning we were ready to go in good time. Our lunch break was early that day, brought on by a sudden rain shower. It didn’t last long but we stopped to put on our raingear (Molly calls it rain deer). The weather seemed to clear and then we had some more pouring rain. It was the first time we’d continued paddling in the pouring rain, but we were dressed for it. I found the paddle more enjoyable than sitting in the trees or under a tarp. It was 20 minutes of heavy rain and then it brightened up again.
We stopped for a second lunch break in the late afternoon on a beautiful rocky spit that would have made a great campsite except we had hoped to paddle another 20 km today. We had already paddled 50 km, but we were trying for longer days in the hopes of getting to Dawson City as expected. The healing boat passed us while we were there so again we delayed our departure to let them get well ahead. Chuck protested strongly when we left our second lunch spot at 5:30 pm. Poor Chuck thought we were going to stay there for the night and didn’t want to stop his play time. He protested by sitting on the canoe gunnel instead of in his seat. Eventually his crying ended in his third nap of the day.
Overall the scenery provided another beautiful day. The river was again slower than we’d hoped. We were happy to leave everyone we knew behind. The healing boat was on shore having a fire on the beach and we passed the other two groups at their campsites. We thought we’d have an easy time finding a campsite even though there are no camps labelled on the map. That is until the next three camps we found had people in them. We checked out two more island gravel bars that turned out to be mud and rock piles, not very nice campsites. Discouraged and getting tired we eventually found a great campsite on a gravel bar at the head of an island just upstream of the White River.
After we landed, the spirit boat, a Russian couple in a canoe, and a solo kayaker from Calgary passed by. We were happy to have reached this site first and were surprised how busy it was on this section of the river. The kayaker camped on the same island as we did, we only knew this because Dwane saw his campfire smoke and later when we met him in Dawson City he told us a moose had run through his camp that night. Dwane had found a large fresh bed right behind where we had camped, he didn’t know what it was from, but definitely a large animal. Perhaps the moose was sleeping when we arrived and we scared him into the kayakers’ camp!
We were happy to have found a good campsite. We’ve had so many great campsites we didn’t want to start settling for mediocre sites now and especially because it is Molly’s birthday-eve. We paddled 75 km today (our longest day yet). We have 125 km left to go and Molly’s 4th birthday is tomorrow. We were chased into the tent tonight by rain. Wishing for sun tomorrow.
We woke up to a beautiful sunny day without a cloud in the sky. The weather makes us feel like it is the beginning of our trip again. Molly has been excited about her birthday for months. She woke up very excited and happy. We had a pancake breakfast and then presents. I had bought Chuck a present too and Molly was thrilled with her four little presents. I took the time this morning to read the kids some of the books Molly had received for her birthday. We left camp after lunch and had a really pleasant day. I might have said the kids are getting used to the paddling, but it’s more likely because Molly was so happy about her birthday she didn’t have the drive to fight with Chuck. Chuck feel asleep right before we would have stopped for a break so we ate some energy bars and continued on.
Shortly after we left camp we paddled past the confluence with the White River. We were amazed with how huge it was, big mountains, a wide valley and a huge river. It felt like the White doubled the size of the Yukon which was already big enough. Up to now we felt that the river was lower than normal, but after the confluence with the White river the water was immediately right up into the trees on the bank. The enormity of it was intimidating.
We flew along the right hand shore, but now navigating became harder as there were a lot of trees stuck on sand banks which we needed to stay away from. There were channels and we crossed the river back and forth to where we felt was the safest place to paddle, sometimes in small channels and sometimes in the main big river. It was 5 pm, we’d done 50 km in 4 hours but with no real break so we were tired. We were coming out into another wide river section with log jams and wind and a big storm cloud behind us. The next island we paddled up to was a gravel island with sand patches perfect for a camp so we stayed.
The guide book has decided to stop labelling campsites for the last 200 km to Dawson. It’s ridiculous since only the islands seem suitable for camping, but not all the islands are good so it would be nice to distinguish then. It would also be nice to know what side of an island to paddle down if looking for a campsite. Without any labels on the map you don’t know if the next island will be better, but if you pass by a potential camp you might not find another one for quite sometime.
We set up camp, ate dinner and Dwane baked a cake for Molly’s birthday. He struggled tonight with the Dutch oven. The wood here burns so fast it doesn’t make good coals to bake with. He was pretty disappointed with the crummy messy cake. Molly seemed surprised at first by what it looked like, but then she and Chuck dug in, eating spoonfuls out of the pan. I love how they are so adaptable at this age.
We had a little rain shower at 9 pm. Of course we couldn’t have an entirely rain free day, but at least it held off this long. Then a kid sugar high as they bounced around camp enjoying themselves immensely. After reading the new picture books I gave Molly for her birthday I finally wrestled them into bed after 11 pm.
We had been rushing a bit the last three days to get to Dawson city. If this trip was just Dwane and I, we would have taken longer on most sections with more time to hike and explore. This morning we’re sitting 75 km from Dawson City, but our plan is to do a 50 km day today and 25 km on the final day. A shorter day on our arrival into Dawson will allow us to have the slow mornings we enjoy and to get to Dawson city with enough time to find a hotel room and a place to store the canoe and gear.
Without trying we left camp an hour earlier than usual and paddled 25 km in 2 hours. It’s so beautiful, a huge valley with high mountains on both sides and such a big river. When we paddle inside channels it feels smaller and less intimidating. But a few times continuous log jams along the right shore have pushed us further and further out into the main channel. That’s a little scary because with log jams as our only shore and very cold water tipping the canoe would be very dangerous. Again we wonder about all the novice paddlers we’ve seen on the river who didn’t even know how to steer. I wonder if they even know how dangerous log jams can be and I hope they have figured out how to steer by now.
We started looking for a campsite, but we were not having any luck. Finally Dwane spotted a small island a couple of kilometers downstream close to the left shore so we paddled towards it. The little island turned out to be a great campsite. I often joke that he looks like such a fantastic guide when he says “look at that tiny dot way out there, that island looks like a good campsite” and then it is. However I know it’s a bit of luck after he made me ferry back and forth across channels looking at other islands that turned out to be not what he hoped.
We enjoyed our little island camp that night. It felt so remote over on the left shore, although it was obvious that others had camped there before. The kids played and we tried to soak in our last night on the river. We were forced to bed by the rain and it rained the rest of the night.
24 km to Dawson City and we’ll have completed this 900 km trip! We planned to head out early, but a Chuck’s temper tantrum delayed our departure by half an hour. He was tired so he promptly fell asleep when we finally got him into the canoe.
We had a nice paddle on our final day on the river. The crossing from the left shore to the right took a couple attempts as we were pushed back by the current and the angle of the islands. To be safe we returned to the left shore and tried again later. It ended up being three crossings between islands and then we were happy to be following the right shore to Dawson City. The right shore took a big meandering corner which we followed. We had always heard that the current is very strong in front of Dawson but the right channel was almost as still as a lake. Later in the hotel room we saw an aerial photo and I realized what a big detour we had taken for our last couple miles into Dawson.
The paddle around the last point was into a strong head wind. Finally we arrived at the mouth of the Klondike River. The river was fairly small, especially compared to others we had past. The water from the Klondike River was brown but much clearer than the silty Yukon water. It pushed the Yukon water out and you could see a line down the middle of the river clearly showing the Yukon water on the left and the Klondike water on the right.
We slowly paddled past the side wheeler tourist boat and pulled our canoe into a beach with a bunch of other canoes and just like that, there we were! The trip was over! I suggested it would be possible to travel back to the start and do it all over again!
To read about the previous leg of our trip click here.
This is the last leg of our trip. Thanks for reading!