Yukon River 🛶 🇨🇦 🇺🇸: Arrived in Whitehorse, but where is my canoe?

I felt more sad than usual saying goodbye to Alexander. I even cried for a moment. After five weeks together in May and June it will be almost three month without seeing him – an unusually long time. Gonna miss his presence and his positive attitude. What am i gonna do without having to answer all his football questions like whether Messi or Ronaldo is the better player or if Neuer is the best goalkeeper or in fact de Gea. Football dominates his thinking. And why not. My little goalkeeper – just like papa used to be.

We left London with 90min delay due to some mechanical problem. That left me only 1:15min to get through immigration and make my connecting flight to Whitehorse. Will my luggage make the connection?

In that context my worry was not getting delayed by a day or two, it was that Harry would expect to meet me the following day in Bennett and i was in charge of buying the food. Harry would arrive by ferry in Skagway and next day hop on a train to bennett. He would, in fact, have to wait two days given only sporadic transport to the deserted town. Well, maybe i can still text him.

The plane wasn’t busy and the middle seat remained empty in most rows. In the aisle sat Gill. Originally British, she moved to Canada 25y ago following her mum. Still, she visits England and more specifically her sister in Devon every year. Time went past quickly as we chatted about her life and my trip on the Yukon.

The flight to Vancouver is surprisingly short. Just 9h more or less, as the plane crosses into the arctic via Iceland, Greenland and Northern Canada. Given the city is located on the shores of the pacific i expected more. Well, the earth is round i guess.

Flying over ice packed Greenland was an amazing sight. Most certainly a place I should like to visit one day. Even Northern Canada remained snowwhite (and I mean not only the high mountain tops) as we passed over places like Yellowknife, Reliance etc. I wonder if there is ever proper summer here 🤔

I didn’t sleep much and entertained myself with a German movie (“25kmh”, two brothers realising a childhood dream riding through Germany on a moped) and started reading my first Jack London book (“The call of the wild” starring dog Buck).

Arrived. We touched down and things went really smoothly as I rushed through immigration to catch my connection. I must have looked hungry, as Gill overed me a shortbread from Marks & Spencer. Thanks again! Very tasty indeed.

The flight to Whitehorse was only slightly delayed yet overbooked. They offered meal vouchers and CAD400 for the person taking the evening flight instead. It didnt take a minute for a young fellow, seemingly a hiker, to step forward.

Sadly, in Whitehorse i realised that my canoe had not made the journey from Vancouver. I wss promised it will come on the 10pm flight (like 90%). Fingers crossed… If not, same issue with Harry waiting for me and my bus to get me to Bennett leaves 8am. No time to wait for another flight… But lets think positive.

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The check into the Beez Kneez hostel was super smooth and soon i found myself hiking 2.5km to the shopping area. Admittedly, Whitehorse has huge dimensions for a city of just 30,000 people (well, they have cars).

First stop at Canadian Tire for some outdoor gear. You’ll find everything here incuding a huge range of fishing rods and lures. Sadly noone that could tell me which set i should get. I left with a pretty strong rod (6-15kg) and a number of different bait for trout, puke, greyling and salmon. Let’s give it a try!

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Walmart next door was a little disappointing. Their homepage had suggested they sell drones (since Amazon blew the delivery in London), but no. The hostel host (whi in gereral was like superhelpful) offered to get one put aside in another shop. Lets see when i pass through Whitehorse in a few days.

Now quickly food for the coming few days and all done. It was still bright as day outside and so my natural tiredness after almost 24h non stop was supressed. I enjoyed a single pint and informed Harry (also in a pub in Skagway) about the canoe issue. We decided to go ahead as planned and meet in Bennett.

I was already in bed when my host informed that the canoe had ideed arrived. A big sigh of relief! The quest was on and Harry wouldn’t have to starve in Bennett. 😂🤣

Time to sleep… Oh no, who is snorring!!! Who cares. Too tired. Nite, nite…

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Yukon River 🛶 🇨🇦 🇺🇸: Expedition gear list

Packing well for an almost three month trip in the middle of nowhere is essential. The plus with a canoe, however, is that you can pack quite a lot – very different to long distance hikers. My Ally 15 DR canoe has 310kg capacity. Net of 170kg for the weight of Harry and myself (the exact composition shall remain our secret 😉), this leaves us with 140kg for gear & food.

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Yukon River 🛶 🇨🇦 🇺🇸: A 3,000km Canoe Adventure from Canada to the Bering Sea

Ideally you don’t use all the 310kg allowance as manoeuvring the canoe becomes harder. Last year on the Elbe I think Laura and myself travelled with about 200-220kg combined. It will be more like 300kg on this trip: ~65kg of my gear (45kg ex canoe, but including water, petrol, etc), Harry’s gear (~25kg ex bike, ~40kg incl.), food (~50kg) and our weight (~170kg). To make sure I emailed the manufacturer (Bergans of Norway), who has reassured me that sufficient margin has been put into the 310kg capacity label.

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My Gear list for the Yukon Trip: Total 65kg including Canoe

Cooking & outdoor gear Waterproofing & Storage
Expedition set stove MSR Green rucksack (hand luggage)
Petrol bottle MSR XL red dry bag
SIGG bottles (petrol) Large Green dry bag
Titanium cooking pots Medium Blue dry bags
Extra aluminium pot Ocean pack 10l
Baking tin Small yellow dry bag
Insulated cup Barrel 40l
Cleaning brush & Sponge Duffel XL for gear
Plate green Second rope 4mm
Metal spoon Sort leash
Two plastic spoons Clinkers
Tupperware Rubber rope
2 large Nalgene bottles
Thermo cover Nalgene Sleeping
Water Purifier MSR Ground sheet / TARP 2x3m
Cutting board Tent
Ziplock bags Poles
Salt Mattress
Pepper Sleeping bag liner
Chilli Yak blanket
Salad seasoning Tarp poles
Vitamin tablets Stool
Book with recipes Head torch
HUEL (emergency food)
Bin bags black Hygiene & Meds
Grill (buy at Canadian Tire) Wash-line
Leatherman Towel
Swiss knife Unscented soap
Emergency lighter Unscented toothpaste
Axe Dirty clothes bag
Fishing gear Toilet rolls
Bear spray (buy in CA) First aid kit
Sunblock spray
Electronics Anti biotics
SUUNTO Ambit watch Antiseptic
Solar Panel Medical book
Power bank Midget spray
Speaker UE 2 Boom
Chargers Clothing
Tripod Buff
Camera Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ330 & tripod plate Warm gloves
Mobile phone Working gloves
Ortlieb case for mobile Rain trousers
Spare batteries Rain jacket
Kindl RAB hat warm
OR Baseball cap with sun protection
Orientation Long Johns
Offline maps Viewranger (mobile) Cycling gloves
inReach explorer Canoe gloves
Printed maps Shorts
Map case & compass Long trousers
Long sleeve shirts
Canoe Short sleeve shirts
Canoe carry bag & canoe components Bug head-net
Paddles incl. leash Sunglasses
Life vest Underpants
Canoe seat Down jacket
Throwline 30m Fleece
5mm rope Rain poncho
Straps Umbrella
Cable ties Water sandals
Fixing rod holder (incl. tool to fit) Hiking boots
Expedition repair kit Socks Thin
Duct Tape Rubber socks
Water Pump Handwarmer

 

Yukon River 🛶 🇨🇦 🇺🇸: Food supplies, fishing & Alaska’s giant vegetables

In 2011, just after I completed the Crow Pass trail, I had a few drinks in Darwin’s Theory in Anchorage, AK. Completely enthusiastic about my recent experience, I discussed with a park ranger how it would be to get dropped somewhere in the wild (e.g. with a float plane) and then make your own way back to civilisation while living off the land (fishing, hunting, plants). He looked at me and just said: “Son, do whatever you want but promise me one thing – TAKE YOUR FOOD WITH YOU”. He is obviously right and whoever doesn’t believe me I recommend watching this youtube docu of British Ed Wardle.

How much food do you need?

As a hiker, I usually work off ~3,000 calories per day depending how hard I push. For canoeing, it depends a lot on the conditions. During a relaxed paddle you look at 200 calories per hour (so about 2,000 for a 10h day), but headwinds etc can let you sweat a lot more. Here a handy calculator.

Assuming 3,000 calories similar, you’d need 800g of pasta or 500g of almonds to give you sufficient calories. But not all food is that rich in energy and just pasta for three month isn’t that intriguing either (4,5days hiking on pasta in Sikkim were plenty!). So I plan with roughly ~1kg of food per day to maintain weight and not budget my body-fat reserves.

Some high calorie-to-weight food items

1 egg 78cal
100g pasta 380cal
100g almonds 580cal
100g chocolate 535cal
100g snickers 485cal
100g tuna in oil 200cal
100g granola 490cal
100g cheese 400cal
100g kidney beans (dry, = 300g cooked) 380cal
100g lentils (dry, = 270g cooked) 320cal
100g Huel (emergency food) 400cal

What food to buy?

When it comes to food, the key limitation beyond your canoe’s carrying capacity is that you won’t have a fridge on river (even though nights might feel akin to sleeping in a freezer). Resupplying along the route is an option though expensive, patchy (on average only every ~330km on Canadian side, ~110km in Alaska) and with limited selection.

I will opt for food with high calorie to weight ratios, dried and canned food, snacks (lots of time on the canoe) and vegetables that won’t perish quickly (e.g. onion). Meat and other perishable items I will get on the way. In total, I plan to buy ~50kg in Whitehorse.

Shopping list: 50kg of supplies

Basic staples Total (kg) Items to be caught/bought on the way Total (kg)
Pasta 3.00 Fish
Flour (bread) 3.00 Meat
Flour (pizza) 1.50 Fresh vegetables
Lentils 3.00 Eggs
Beans 3.00 Whatever is missing & available
Cooking ingredients Sweets & Snacks
Butter 1.00 Snickers (130g) 3.25
Olive / sunflower oil 1.00 Almonds 2.25
Baking powder 0.45 Beef Jerky 2.00
Pizza yeast 0.12 Muesli bars 2.00
Lemon juice 0.20 Sweets 3.00
Chia seeds 0.50 Cookies 1.00
Dry mango/fruit 0.50
Vegetable
Carrot 0.50 Breakfast
Onions 3.00 Oat bran 2.00
Garlic 0.20 Granola 2.25
Potatoes 2.50 Coffee 0.50
Pickled cucumber 2.00 Tea bags 0.20
Milk powder 0.50
Canned food & Meat
Tuna 2.00 Soups & Sauces
SPAM 1.00 Knorr Soup 2.00
Sweetcorn cans 1.00 Veg stock 0.15
Salami 0.50 Soy Sauce 0.15
Sausages 0.50 Wasabi 0.04

Alaska’s mega vegetables

I have already written about the polar day in Alaska, as the sun never sets around summer solstice. An unexpected side effect of this are ginormous vegetables and fruit that farmers grow in Alaska owing to the extra sun hours. The full records you find here, but just imagine a 16kg broccoli, a 3kg onion or a 668kg pumpkin!!! I will need to find normal sized food or my canoe will sink.

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In May to September it never gets completely dark in Dawsin and the sun is out up to 21h per day. Things are different come winter …

Fishing on the Yukon

Every year the Yukon/Alaska experiences the largest salmon run on the planet and is also home to lots of other fish species. You will need to obtain a fishing license for either side of the border (US145 p.a. for non-residents, $25 in Canada p.a.) and watch king salmon regulations in particular (though the King salmon run is already May/June and hence you will likely miss it).

Below is the advice I received from Alaska Department of Fish and Game (Yukon is turbid; best fish in clear tributaries; don’t just rely on fish) and a fish run table. Looks like chum salmon, dolly varden, rainbow trout, greyling, sheefish and whitefish are on the menu.

Fish species in the Yukon

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Advice Lisa at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Your request for fishing information has come by me.  Sounds like Shane Hertzog has sent information re. your need for a sport fish license while in Alaska.  Since you will be starting your float in Canada, you will need to check with the Department of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences (http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fisheries-peches/recreational-recreative-eng.html) for fishing license and information while you are floating the Yukon River on the Canadian side.

While floating through Alaska, you will also need to have the latest sport fishing regulations with you in addition to your license, which I’ve attached.  The specific regulations for the Yukon River drainage are found on page 21.  The mainstem Yukon River receives quite a bit of glacial input and is fairly turbid.  Most success capturing fish will be in the numerous clear-water tributaries.  Depending on where you are in the drainage, you should be able to target chum salmon.  Chances are good that the sport fishery on the mainstem Yukon River will be closed for Chinook (king) salmon and restricted in the tributaries.  An “Emergency Order” for this and any other sport fishing restrictions will be posted on the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Sport Fish website for the Yukon Drainage Management Area (http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=ByAreaInteriorYukonDrainage.main).

In the clearer water tributaries and/or at the confluences with the mainstem Yukon River you should be able to target “non-salmon” species such as Northern pike, Arctic grayling, and Sheefish (called inconnu in Canada).  You can find more information on the seasonal life histories of these species at:http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=animals.main.  When I fish, I like to use a casting rod with spin reel and different sizes of pixie depending on what I am targeting (small for Arctic grayling and large for sheefish and N. pike).  Northern pike especially seem to like the more tannic sloughs you will encounter on your downriver float.  If you like to fly fish, there is lots of information on flies, etc. on the internet and what species you wish to target like to strike.  I would make sure you had enough food and not rely on fish as major meals as depending on river conditions and what time and where the fish are in their yearly migrations, they can be hard to catch.

ARCTIC-YUKON-KUSKOKWIM RUN TIMING

This table indicates when sport fish are present (little fish) or at their peak availability (larger fish) in fresh water in the area of Alaska which encompasses the northwest half of the state. The only highway in this area is the Dalton Highway, running between Prudhoe Bay and Fairbanks. The area includes the communities of Nome, Bethel, Kotzebue, Aniak, Galena, Arctic Village, Barrow and numerous smaller villages.

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Yukon River 🛶 🇨🇦 🇺🇸: Bear attacks & Hypothermia/Drowning – possible, but not probable

My mum is always concerned when I disappear into the wild. But how dangerous is the Yukon really? My research suggests two main dangers – a fatal bear attack and capsizing / drowning in the cold river. Long story short, the odds for either are pretty low. You are looking at a 0.04% chance of a fatal bear attack during a 3 month stay (1 in 2,600 people) and 0.004% risk of drowning (4 in 100,000 people). In any case, a lot less than the 1-1.5% chance of not returning from Mt. Lhotse 🍀 🐻 🏊‍♂️ 

“In the past five years, three people have been killed by bears in nearby Yellowstone National Park. During that time, 20 million tourists have come through the park. I’m seven times more likely to be struck by lightning than to lose my life to a bear here.” 

See here.

+++ click here for an overview of the entire 3,000km canoe journey +++

Bear attacks: Deers more dangerous than bears!

Some 140,000 bears life in Alaska alone

In Alaska alone live 30,000 brown bears, 100,000 black bears and 4,700 polar bears (vs. c700,000 inhabitants) most of which life outside populated areas. The animals are huge and, when standing, the polar (2.7m), grizzly bears (2.1) and black bear (1.75m) make for a frightening sight.

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Deers are 120x more likely to kill you than bears

Bear attacks can happen, but have on average only killed one person p.a. in the states since 1900. In more recent history, that number rises to about two to three p.a. presumably due to higher tourist numbers, back country exploration etc. Alaska accounts for only 30% of bear fatalities, while 70% happen in US mainland & Canada.

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In Yellowstone for example, your odds of a bear attack are 1 : 2.7million (per day). Now that increases to 1 : 232,000 per day in the back country or 1 : 2,600 chance for a 3 month trip. That means 0.04% chance of getting fatally attacked – a lot lower than the odds I faced on Lhotse. Looking at the statistics, I better watch out for deer that kills 120 people per year … so should I be afraid of the 950,000 moose that life in Alaska instead?

Individual tragedies: For those of you into the details, there is a wikipedia page on bear related fatalities.  There have been 9 reported bear related fatalities in 2010 to 2019 in Alaska & Yukon. The last case in the Yukon in 2018 was sadly a mother with her 10 month old baby who were attacked near their cabin. RIP. 🙏✝️

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Preventing bear encounters

Travelling by canoe already reduces the risk of unexpected bear encounters significantly. You see them from the unobstructed view of your boat and you don’t run the risk of say stepping between a bear mum and their cubs. This also gives you an advantage picking your sleeping spot, as you can often pick one of the river islands less accessible for animals.

Key is to manage those things that attract bears – namely your food. Don’t take food into your tent! Not even a snack! Store food at a safe distance from the tent, don’t keep any food rubbish near your tent, store food that smells in airtight containers and hang food up on trees where possible (mind you, bears are excellent climbers). Don’t hang the food above your tent for obvious reasons.

What to do if you encounter a bear?

In any case, should a bear come along the rules of engagement differ by bear (see below). Generally talking to the bear is advisable and making noise to avoid them in the first place. Unfortunately, as a foreigner without gun license I can’t buy a gun for protection. So bear spray will be my only weapon. This pretty effective with 98% of people that were forced to use bear spray escaping unharmed. Just need to have it handy all the time …

  • Grizzly’s / Brown bears: walking away slowly is ok, playing dead tends to work
  • Black bears: Don’t walk away and make yourself big. Playing dead won’t work – so fight for your life.

how-to-survive-a-bear-attack

Hypothermia & Drowning: Cold water can be a problem

Even though the Yukon is mainly a grade one river and has only the five finger rapids (grade 2/3) as a challenge, waves can be pretty big (1 meter and more) when it gets windy especially on the lakes like Lake Laberge and closer to the Bering Strait that can capsize your canoe. Even with good life vests this is an issue, as the lakes and the river are damn cold even in summer (as low as 5-7 degrees July and August).

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River temperature by month

Still, the odds of drowning are low. On the Canadian side you get about 1 person drowning in the Yukon territory per year while the odds on the Alaskan side are 0.004% (4.3 in 100,000 people). Digging further into the statistics, only ~30% of drowning relate to boating, many involved alcohol, lack of a personal flotation device (life vest) and about half of the dead are locals.

There is a jokeful saying amongst folks on the Yukon river: “Thankfully the paddlers are wearing life vests. It makes finding their bodies so much easier.”

You are significantly more likely to drown in coastal areas in US & Canada, I presume due to strong currents and due to high commercial fishing activity (e.g. king crab fishermen in Alaska are 80x more likely to drown than the average worker making this one of the most dangerous professions in the world).

Yukon River 🛶 🇨🇦 🇺🇸: A 3,000km Canoe Adventure from Canada to the Bering Sea

Fascination Yukon 🏞️

I can’t really tell you why I and many of my countrymen are so fascinated by Alaska and the mighty Yukon river. It is a fact though that German tourists account for the largest share of non-US tourists in the Yukon territory. While for West German’s the books of Jack London like the “Call of the Wild” might have been an inspiration, they hardly could have been in my case being East German. However, I did read all of the Karl May western books (Winnetou etc.) and hope during my trip I can catch up on some of Jack London’s books.

Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well. – Jack London

Be that as it may, the time has now almost come to fly out to Canada to start the biggest expedition of my life yet – a journey from the source lakes of the Yukon river in Canada (Lake Bennett) to Emmonak at the Bering Strait. This 3,000km canoe trip will take close to three month, as I follow the Yukon river initially North-West towards the US border and then West all the way through Alaska.

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Huge dimensions – 3,000km on the river = 5x the width of Germany (and 5x the distance I paddled on the Elbe in Summer 2018)

It’s been coming for a while …

I remember well my train journey to Maastricht in May 2018 where I bought my Ally 15 DR folding canoe after lengthy research and although I already knew at this point that the Yukon would have to wait for another year, as my dad turned 50 that August. Nonetheless, I didn’t waste time and instead started practicing by paddling the river Elbe 650km from Usti nad Labem (CZ) to Hamburg (see here for the blog). I am glad my girlfriend Laura did’t dump me when we got to Hamburg! 👧🏻🇨🇴

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Ally 15 canoe in Usti nad Labem, CZ – the start of our Elbe paddle in summer 2018

It will also not be my first time at the “last frontier” having visited Alaska already three times before including a lake paddling tour on the Kenai peninsula in 2013, hiking the Crow Pass Trail trail in 2011 and twice salmon fishing in 2012/13 with my good friend Walter from the US. In short, the Yukon is more the icing on the cake than just some random idea.

 

🛰️🛰️🛰️ You can follow my progress starting from 13 June using my inReach GPS tracker on this link https://eur-share.inreach.garmin.com/rocketontour 🛰️🛰️🛰️

[I pay for any messages sent through the device … so please be mindful]

The route: 1,000km in Canada + 2,000km through Alaska

You can find decent descriptions of the individual Yukon sections here though the time in days is very long and assumes either very slow paddling or very short days.

yukon river

🇨🇦 Lake Bennett – Whitehorse – Carmacks – Dawson – US border (990km)

Different to most rivers, there is no single source of the Yukon river, but a number of source lakes. I will start my journey from Lake Bennett (near Whitehorse) where I will be joined by Harry from Cologne (and his bicycle) – himself on a one year bike journey in New Zealand, Thailand, Laos, Indonesia and now Canada. Laura and I met Harry in Laos where we spent memorable evenings in Luang Prabang and more so in Vang Vieng.

 

Lake Bennet was the first lake that had a sailable connection to Whitehorse and beyond after gold prospectors climbed the treacherous Chilkoot pass – one of the two routes to Dawson used by the ‘Klondikers’ during the gold rush. We will follow their steps and assemble our canoe in Bennett just as they did. After 4 days and 160km we will reach Whitehorse to get supplies for the journey, drop Harry’s bike (for delivery to Dawson) and check out the capital of the Yukon territory.

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After Whitehorse comes a 740km stretch via the only stop Carmack to Dawson that should take about two weeks. We intend to celebrate Canada day here (1 July) and Harry might get off here to continue his own Canada adventure on bike. The Alaskan border (Eagle Village) is still 250km away.

Strong current of upper Yukon helpful

Altogether the first third of the paddling trip should take us about 3 weeks implying about 55km per day including rest / sightseeing days. In Germany, on the Elbe, I did about 40km per day but with only 2-3 kmh current vs. 6-10kmh (unless on lakes) on the upper Yukon that should speed things up. I hope the water levels (~2.5m now), which have been poor early in the season yet have picked up recently, will keep us going!

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Water levels Yukon, Dawson station

Longer days also helpful: No darkness in June/July

Owing to the effect of the polar day, there will be 20-21 hours of sunlight around the summer solstice and it won’t get completely dark all day. So you can paddle as long as you feel like, weather permitting that is.

Dawson City
Date Sunrise Sunset Sunlight Twilight Natural Illumination
January 1 11:24 15:25 4:02 2.72 6.74
February 1 10:07 17:03 6:92 1.97 8.89
March 1 08:28 18:40 10:20 1.64 11.84
April 1 06:35 20:16 13:68 1.72 15.40
May 1 04:46 21:53 17:12 2.50 19.62
June 1 03:02 23:39 20:63 3.37 24.0
July 1 02:43 00:08 21:36 2.64 24.0
August 1 04:23 22:29 18:10 3.20 21.29
September 1 06:03 20:37 14:56 1.82 16.38
October 1 07:32 18:47 11:24 1.62 12.86
November 1 09:11 16:58 7.78 1.84 9.62
December 1 10:50 15:30 4:66 2.50 7.16

june-solstice-illustration

Key challenges in Canada: Winds on lakes, Five Finger Rapids and Rink rapids

Wind on unprotected stretches like lakes can cause significant waves. Lake Laberge (just after Whitehorse) can easily see 3ft+ waves and capsize your canoe. Not great given the freezing water temperatures. Further down the river, about 38km or 4h after Carmacks, you will encounter the only real whitewater on the entire journey. First up are the well known the Five Finger Rapids followed by the less known Rink rapids another 30min downriver. STAY ON THE RIGHT for both. Going central or left can cost your life.

 

🇺🇸 US border – Across Alaska – Emmonak & Bering Strait (2,020km)

Ideally I/we make it to Eagle for the 4th of July independence day celebrations across the border (and without immigration issues). Given we would only have 2,5days for 250km this is a bit of a stretch though.

On the US side of the Yukon the distance between villages at ~110km on average is much smaller than on the Canadian side (~330km). However, distances remain huge by any measure for a European like me. Villages will also be ever more tiny (think 80 people) and only connected to civilisation by plane (indeed, each village has its own airstrip). I am absolutely looking forward to meet some of the characters living out here!

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I expect this stretch to take at least twice as long (7-8 weeks) with only ~40km per day on average, as the current of the Yukon slows and in the last third tidal flows limit how much time you can / want to spend on the river each day. I think paddling against the tide is not advisable (so you wait for high tide and then follow the water to the ocean), as worsening weather including stronger headwinds in the Yukon delta are enough to cope with. From Emmonak I will then fly with my gear ~800km to Alaska’s capital Anchorage in order to connect further.

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Key challenges in Alaska: Tides, weather in the Yukon delta & orientation

Tides: The gravitational pull of the moon (and the sun) as well as the centrifugal forces of the earth’ own rotation cause tidal effects. High and low tides occur twice per day and shift about one our from one set of tides to the next. While the tidal range at Emmonak forecast for August 2019 isn’t huge at 1.5ft, paddling uphill is not something I fancy.

 

Weather effects: As with all of Alaska, the summer is short and the nice weather window of June to August will be exhausted by the time you reach the Bering Strait. Rain or snowfall will return and winds will pick up with gusts as high as 35kmh – a nightmare for any paddler (as usually into your face!).

 

Orientation can be a problem indeed, as river twists and turns through Alaska. Just paddling on the wrong side of the wide Yukon (500m to 1km+ width are normal towards the delta) or navigating around an island on the wrong side and you miss a village. Hardly a drama, but worth keeping in mind.

 

Weather window: Why June to August?

There is only a certain period in the year when you can canoe down the river. It starts around May and lasts until September. Come October and Alaska freezes over again. Outside this period (October to April) you better bring ice skates or a sled and warm clothing, as temperatures dip below zero. Even once the rivers are no longer frozen you can’t go right away. Ice bulks up in the lakes and may require you to portage your canoe and gear – who wants that really?

Tanana_Nenana_ACCAP

Around first of May is when river ice begins to break

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Freezing nights from October to April