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

 

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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.

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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).