By Charles P. Beauzay
It was mid-August, we had just driven from Seward, Alaska all the way down to Haines (2 days) and then took the ferry across to Skagway. We dropped off Brad, as he had to catch a boat back to Seattle and then fly back to Minneapolis â€“ he could only take 10 weeks off and Scott and I took 14.
We drove up through Whitehorse, YT to Dawson City, Yukon Territory. Dawson is an old gold rush town that has turned somewhat touristy. It’s all very cool. The road from there back into Alaska is a drive you will never forget (but that’s another story). All the buildings are in the old 1800’s style and the streets are not paved. This was also a favorite hangout of the great poet Robert Service. After partying in the local bars where we became members of the “sourtoe club” and going to Diamond Tooth Gerdies (casino, dancing girls, etc), we decided it would be a good idea to do a canoe trip down the mighty Yukon River.
The next day we went to the local canoe outfitter and before we knew it, we were in a van with a canoe driving up river about 3 hours to the drop off point which was actually on the Stewart River. The guy drops us off and says “just tie up the canoe by the docks when you get back to Dawson, oh and watch out for the log jams!” Log jams? Whatever.
We loaded our cooler full of food and beer and oh crap, we had forgot the meat. Oh well, it looked like just side dishes for a few days. I had my shotgun with us in case of bears, so maybe we would shoot a duck or use our fishing poles.
The canoe we had was a tank – thank god. A 15 foot coleman which is pretty much untippable. Being experienced canoers, we set off thinking this would be a pretty simple, relaxing trip, which it was for the most part – only a few nervous moments.
The Stewart River is a modest sized river (about a quarter mile wide, fairly clear, no rapids, and not that fast of a current). We had a GPS and we were paddling about 5-6 mph. Camping was easy. We found sand bars to camp on with plenty of dry firewood and no sign of bear. We only saw a wolf and a cow moose. We did find, however, that the river elevation fluctuates and one morning we found the water getting close to our tent â€“ good thing we had the canoe tied up secure. Note: Always camp back from the river’s edge.
The Stewart is a beautiful river with great scenery – forests, rolling hills, cliffs. We were on the Stewart River for a day and a half. We had seen zero people and no sign of civilization at all when we rounded a bend and behold – The Mighty Yukon!!! Holy crap! Ok, put the life jackets on, and tie the beer down! From canoe level, all we could see was a torrent of the fastest, muddiest water a mile wide. And we were heading right for it. What an experience, the GPS said we were going 8-10 mph not even paddling â€“ we got up to 12 mph paddling. Whoa, hey, what’s going on! The canoe spun half way around and then back again! Note: try to steer clear of the big boils, it’s tricky, because they are always moving and sometimes they boil up right under the canoe and send you spinning!
That was something I had never experienced before. “Oh, Scott? We are heading for that log jam up ahead, maybe we should start to paddle to the other side.” “Oh, it’s a half mile away, we got time.” Well, we missed getting sucked into the log jam and disappearing forever by a few yards â€“ yes, the current is that strong! Now I know what a tractor beam feels like. Note: listen to guide when they say â€˜watch out for the log jams’.
That is really all for the dangerous excitement. We still had not seen a soul and the feeling of isolation was pretty intense. After the second night on the Yukon, we did see one other group of people, but they were on the other side of the river and to paddle across would be suicide. It would leave us a mile downstream of where they were at anyway.
We were just getting relaxed and into the rhythm of the canoe trip and the beautiful scenery, and the solitude (in fact, Scott and I hardly talked to each other the entire trip â€“ not because we were mad at each other or anything, it just felt like talking was too noisy and out of place), when all of a sudden a little boat with the loudest outboard motor goes whizzing by then disappears around a bend and it’s quiet again. What the hell was that? Then another boat, and another, and another. Well, we must be getting close to Dawson. We shared the river that day with a bunch of racing boats. Apparently it’s an annual homemade boat race from Whitehorse to Dawson. We canoed into Dawson amidst a cheering crowd â€“ which was kind of cool, we pretended they were cheering for us. We tied up the canoe, left a note on the door of the outfitters that said we were back, and headed for the trailer and a hot shower and then a big dinner (no fish or ducks were killed during this adventure). Total time: 4 days, 120 miles.