CANADA 2012 - "There are strange things done in the midnight sun" - Our Yukon River Journey

Wednesday, Sep 05, 2012 at 00:00


There are strange things done in the midnight sun,
by the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that day on the marge of Lake Lebarge
in a canoe with Vik, Al and me!

I take artistic licence with the works of Robert Service whose verse is synonymous with the history of the Yukon and of course with Sam McGee, one of the instigators of the copper rush that led to the establishment of Whitehorse, the Capital of the Yukon and the setting for the beginning of one hell of a memorable journey for us.

One of the key adventures of our trip to Canada this year was a 6 day paddle down the Yukon River retracing the route of the stampeders heading into the Yukon in search of their fortune. The trip was to start at Whitehorse and proceed down 320 kilometres of swift flowing and often treacherous river to reach Carmacks, the half way point between Whitehorse and Dawson City.

Scott and Gaby had been veterans of this trip having done the entire route previously. As the key organisers of GDEC 2012 – Canada, they had originally intended for us to spend two weeks on the river paddling some 700 kilometres. A reminder that they had been 21 years younger back when they completed the journey coupled with a reality check surrounding the current stages of life of our current GDEC crew (OK it was me, I’m an unfit bastard!) saw that shortened to a one week journey over the picturesque first half of the journey. This would still take in the heritage listed 30 Mile River and more worryingly, the infamous 50 kilometre stretch across Lake Laberge.

I feel a Wikipedia moment coming on so here’s a tiny bit of historical info....The Yukon River is a major watercourse of the north western North American continent. The source of the river is located in British Columbia, Canada. The next portion lies in, and gives its name to Yukon Territory. The lower half of the river lies in the U.S. state of Alaska. The river is 1,980 miles (3,190 km) long and empties into the Bering Sea at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Lake Laberge is a widening of the Yukon River north of Whitehorse, Yukon in Canada. It is fifty kilometres long and ranges from two to five kilometres wide. Its water is always very cold, and its weather often harsh and suddenly variable.

The lake was named in honour of Michel Laberge, the first French-Canadian to explore the Yukon in 1866. Laberge worked at one time for the Russians and in 1867 he did some surveying for Western Union who wanted to build an overland telegraph to Europe. He later engaged in the fur trade in the Yukon under the name of the Pioneer American Fur Company. His contribution to the exploration and geography of the area was commemorated by the naming of Lake Laberge in 1870.The lake is also known as Lake Lebarge in some of the earlier documentation and in the poems of Robert Service.It was well-known to prospectors during the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s, as they would pass Lake Laberge on their way down the Yukon River to Dawson City. The longest river in Alaska and the Yukon Territory, it was one of the principal means of transportation during the 1896–1903 Klondike Gold Rush. A portion of the river in the Yukon—"The Thirty Mile" section, from Lake Laberge to the Teslin River—is a national heritage river and a part of the Klondike Gold Rush International Historical Park. Paddle-wheel riverboats continued to ply the river until the 1950s, when the Klondike Highway was completed. The first nations people of the Tagish knew it as Kluk-tas-si, and the Tlingit as Tahini-wud.

For us, the days leading up to our depasrture had seen frantic organisation as the girls developed a menu and eating plan for our 6 days on the river. We assumed that we were going to be limited in the amount of food and supplies we could carry. Our selection was also influenced by the fact that we would have no refrigeration and would rely purely on insulated bags and frozen meat. The other factor effecting our decisions around food stuffs and equipment was naturally, bears! Everything with any scent would have to be hoisted into trees. This naturally meant all of our fresh food as well as toiletries, soap anything. Bears have a sense of small 1000 times more sensitive than humans. They leave dogs for dead in that respect so even simple things like leaving a toothbrush or toothpaste in a tent courts disaster.

Our chosen provider of Canoes and equipment was “The Kanoe People" of Whitehorse. We hired two 14 foot canoes and because we would have a third in our party (The entity previously referred to as “Outback Al” and now going by the handle of “Bear Bait” or as we got to know him on the Yukon.....“Ballast”) we opted for a 19’6’ “Clipper” canoe. This was a bigger, wider unit than the 14’ers and more in the shape of what we expect a traditional Canadian canoe to look like.

Naturally, after selection of our conveyances, it was time to shop so off we headed to the local Supermarket. Whitehorse is an amazing town in itself. It has bugger all rain but bleep loads of snow!................To be continued!

''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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