Yukon River 🛶 🇨🇦 🇺🇸: Off to Dawson City!

🛶 this section: 410km | 🛶 total: 880km

Map showing the Whitehorse-Dawson run

Five finger & Rink rapids

While team saxony was waiting for a spray cover for their canoe (in hindsight, not really necessary on the Yukon), we headed downriver. Given the rather “feuchtfroehliche”  (boozy) previous night, we had to resupply beer again (30 cans of lager had gone missing … mmhh). While in Carmacks, we also fixed the drone app using the publicly available wifi … and we finally got it to fly! Hurrah! New perspectives ahead …

About 40km after Carmacks are the only rapids on the river – first the five finger rapids and 30mins later the rink rapids. Stay right for both though this is rather obvious. We passed both without problems though a few buckets worth of water splashed into the canoe as we passed the five finger rapids. Harrys socks got wet. Sorry mate. Otherwise very unproblematic especially with current low river levels. Best views of the rapids are acutally not in water, but from a viewpoint above (Harry kindly provided a picture from his return journey).

That night we found an amazing campsite about 10m elevated from the river, cooked up an overly large dinner and took the drone for a spin. Totally amazing views … (and too many “supplies” still to get through … cheers!). Noteworthy: We finally used our fish grilling equipment … to grill tons of pork belly!

We also got to play a little with the drone. Here a short flight around camp.

Yukon River Quest catches up with us in Minto

Back on the river we had a slow day with maybe a bit too much leaning back enjoying the wonderful scenery around. We lunched at a small yet super idyllic side arm of the river and let the drone fly again. To our surprise, the drone couldnt be charged off USB-C as the shop keeper had promised (our solar panel and battery pack only supply 5V power and not the required 12V). So either we fly very little or find another energy source.

On our hunt for a power socket, we spotted some cabins on the right side of the river and hiked up to see if anyone was around. Eventually we encountered a man (and his enormous Labrador dog) in his huge campervan. He is a student and works for the parks during summer. He looked a little surprised to have someone knocking on his door right in the middle of nowhere. Anyway, he pointed us to a campsite 5min further downriver called Minto.

Indeed, we could charge everything there and got an unlimited-hot-water-shower as well. Amazing stuff! That evening we spotted the leading canoes of the Yukon river quest people and their support teams. Amazing how fast they had made their journey to this point, but surely we had more fun. 

The Yukon River Quest Race

Every year some 200 paddlers from all over the world come to Whitehorse to participate in one of the toughest races globally – the Yukon River Quest. The race takes the paddlers the 715km from Whitehorse to Dawson with only a few mandatory resting stops (6h in Carmacks & 3h in Coffee creek). The record is just under 40h for the entire journey.

This years fastest were the mens teams with the winer coming in at 44h (there was also a winner from Dresden, saxony in the mens doble kayak at 50h). Our quest – which coincided with the 2019 race – lasted 12 days instead. However, we looked a lot more alive than some of the participants we met on the way (well, they overtook us mostly).

Exploring historical Fort Selkirk

Next morning we paddled towards a historic First Nation village on the left river bank. Fort Selkirk used to be an important trading post, but is now abandoned yet its buildings (including two churches) maintained. German traces again everywhere with a German bible laid out on the altar – interesting to read that also the bible requests women to subordinate themselves to men. So it is not just islam that is against equal rights for women. One learns stuff in the strangest places sometimes. By the way, take a walk to the first nation cementary about 10mins from the boat landing spot. It is pretty well preserved.

We also used the time to talk to some of the voluntary workers helping with the river quest as well as some of the pretty exhausted crew members. Some had come from as far as Australia just to do the race and one womoen reported of haluciantions on the river due to exhaustion (apparently that commonly occurs). Good luck guys!

That night we stayed on a river island with not so great camping and finished off the last liquid supplies – a fair amount of red wine alongside a once more rich dinner and plenty of boys´conversations. We I think neither of us slept well that night and I had to nurse a hangover in the morning sun and was pretty useless paddling until after lunch. Well, well … no more drinks until Dawson!

When a pike outsmarts you & a Moose pops by at night

How time flies! It was already end of June today and the sun was blazing hot. We made camp on a river island and I enjoyed several swims in the river. Down here the water is refreshing and no longer dead cold as it was in the upper lakes.

While following some bear tracks, we spotted a pike in a side arm in its typical habitat e.g. grassy, shallow water. We tried to catch it, but drew a blank as the fish didnt want to bite even though we put food almost into his mouth. Pity.

At night, i struggled to sleep. If it doesn’t rain, the sun keeps temperatures in the high twenties until late and it just never gets dark that time in the year. I mean we had 30 degress atg 10pm. Anyway, as I was dosing away a noise of splashing water got me interested and as i looked outside the tent. I spotted a moose coming over to our island near where I had a swim earlier. I got out for a few pictures and caught him/her standing in the muddy water. After a few looks it decided to swim on towards the other shore. Amazing swimmers they are as we already witnessed on one of the lakes before Whitehorse.

The Saxons are back!

After a decent day of paddling, passing by an active gold mine at coffee creek, we spent the night on a campsite by Kirkman creek as we feared onsetting bad weather (an unwise decision with hindsight).

No shower. No electricity. You can also get some basic meals (burgers, egg breakfast etc), but buckle up for the steep prices. The really annoying bit were the flies. More flies than there is sand on Caribbean beaches! But heh, so far we were really lucky with insects and flies at least dont bite. So overall, its not worth staying there.

While I was busy cooking garlic and onion bread, team Saxony caught up with us. They had put in a long day and opted as usual to stay at a campsite. We didnt have too much time to talk, but agreed to meet in Dawson.

Last camp before the gold rush capital

The last full day on the river ahead of Dawson was pretty enjoyable and we almost made 100km (99km exactly). We spent most of the day listening to audiobooks – in this case I think it was Winnetou Two after we finished Jack London in the days before. We also spotted some white sheep on the way, which we had not seen so far. Nice. We had more time to play around with the drone and once more a moose stopped by to show off its amazing swimming skills.

Made it to Dawson!

After 1,5 days further down the Yukon we arrived in Dawson a day behind my original schedule. It was now the 2nd of July and thus we missed the Canada Day celebrations (1 July). We also missed the German family which we met at lake Bennett. They had arrived in Dawson a few days earlier and had left the morning of our arrival.

We opted to stay on the campsite on the left riverbank (Dawson City River Hostel) in what is called West Dawson. It is a quirky place run by Dieter from Germany and a good place to re-energise. The government run ferry nearby operates 24h and is free of charge. So you can alwasy get across into town. Only downside is that you have to carry your gear up to the campsite though Dieter provides little trolleys to make life easier.

So we had made it! Lake Bennett to Dawson and thus followed the same route on lakes and river as the gold prospectors did back in the days. Now it is time to relax and enjoy the last few days with Harry who will continue by bike from here.

Hanging out in Dawson & an unexpected turn of events

We ended up spending four days in Dawson enjoying the wild west style old town, gold rush themed museums and the amazing nightlife. Well, to call it nightlife is pushing it really for it never gets dark.

Anyway, you got to visit the casino and its can-can themed show (beer prices in the casino are the most competitive in town between 10pm and midnight) or any of the 10 ten bars available. Its really buzzing! Our favorite was the westminster hotel, which operates a pub daytime and a lounge / dance bar at night.

Having enjoyed the first night on our own, team saxony joined us for the other three resulting in more than one hangover that needed curing. We also got up to a bit of sightseeing, namely up the Klondike to see the place where gold was first found in 1896 (Bonanza creek), the see a dredge (after initial gold rush, commercial gold mining took over) and to try our luck gold panning as well. We all got lucky and found the 4-5 gold flakes the folks at claim 33 had put into the pile of dirt they gave us to wash.

Technically, time had long come to continue the jouney to Emmonak. However, on one of those nights in the casino I had a change of mind. The long journey and time before/after meant being almost 4 month separated from Laura. Neither of us liked that, least of all her. So I took a decision to cut the journey here and head over to Santa Marta, Colombia, for a surprise visit. One day I will complete the journey … maybe together with Laura.

Thank you Yukon people!

Leaves me to thank all the people we met – be it Sara in Whitehorse, the couple near the windy arm, the people on the White Pass train that helped with the bike, the Swiss couple that gave us spare supplies, the gold panning championship contender in Dawson, the canoe people in Whitehorse for storing our gear … well, the list could go on and on. Special thanks go to team saxony. The nights with Jochen, Michael and at times their mum will remain legendary. Team Dawson is born – need to catch up sometime … Cologne anyone?

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Well, what to say to Harry. It is a remarkable story to meet in Laos and then end up in a canoe on the river. We also got on really well, which is not always a given. Thanks for helping paddling Mr Motor and for all the conversations. It was a real pleasure and you are now definately my favorite WEST German :o)))))

The Yukon was an amazing experience be it only 1/3rd complete. To be fair, I think we caught a fair share of the best scenery and both Harry and I believe that the section with the lakes before Whitehorse was the most spectacular. Being so close to nature for such a long time will rest in our memories for a lifetime. I will be back!

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