Friday, 17 June 2011

Yukon: Five Finger Rapids

Yukon Bridge at Carmacks
The Five Finger Rapids are the only really "dangerous" or whitewater section of the Yukon. I have been afraid of them ever since I started deliberating this trip and have read everything about them. And now the day was coming closer and closer. The Rapids are 38 km downstream from Carmacks and our outlook did not improve when we woke up on the decisive day and realized that it was raining. Usually rain stops very quickly but it rained on and on and on. We had already packed all our stuff into the boat and were just hanging out at Carmack campground waiting for the weather to improve. We agreed on 2 pm as cut-off time as we did not want to go through the rapids too late in the day. And for sure, right at 2 pm the clouds broke up and the rain stopped.

We made a quick dash to our boat and embarked on this critical stretch. My stomach felt weirder and weirder the closer we got and Adrian had to take a "fear pee". There is a back eddy right before the rapids were you can watch the whole thing but we decided not to procrastinate it much longer and go straight through. All the guidebooks say the same thing: Just use the right most channel and you will be fine. People only die taking the wrong channel.... The actual passage is very short: The current is strong and you are sucked in and spit out seconds later. With that in mind we raced down the Yukon very nervously into the roar of the rapids - kneeling in the boat to lower our centre of gravity and everything firmly tied up.

Cut bank
To cut it short: The passage was both easier and more difficult than expected. We had feared to capsize or crash against the rock walls. Neither of those happened. Our boat is so heavy that it was absolutely stable in the water and the channel so wide that even we rookies would not even come close to the rock walls. The problem came from a different angle: Inside the channel some violent wave were raging. I was kneeling in the front and even had difficulties getting the paddle into the water when we were thrown up by a wave. And those waves would slosh water into our boat - lots of water!!! Within seconds I was soaking wet and realised in a wave of panic that the whole bottom of the boat was already covered with water. For seconds I was afraid of sinking... But we just paddled on - and within two minutes we were through the channel. Once through I immediately started bailing water, although it became very quickly apparent that we were not even close to the danger of sinking. Still we had taken in about at least 30 - 40 liters of water.

Cut bank
Shortly after the rapids there is a public campground and to our great relief we saw two groups of fellow paddler already beached there - and bailing water. They had suffered exactly the same fate. I felt much better now seeing that we had not done anything wrong - you just get wet going through those rapids. I quickly changed into dry clothes and then we decided to paddle on and tackle Rink Rapids, which are 9 km downstream and less dangerous. Again you take the right channel. Approaching the Rink Rapids it looked even worse than Five Finger Rapids but as predicted in the guide book in the very last minute a calm channel on the right opens and ensures a safe passage.

Cooking in bug proof clothes
We felt elated! We had made it through the technically most difficult stretch of our whole trip without suffering any casualties. Now we just wanted to camp as it was already relatively late for our standards. Mind you that right now it never really gets dark at night here. But this is when the real problem started: The current was so strong now that we had great difficulties to land. As soon as we saw a suitable spot we were already past it. Even trying to get out of the current seemed like a life threatening undertaking. And when we finally were able to land somewhere we could not find a spot to set up camp. After 1 hour of futile searching I almost became desperate. Our map showed an "official" camp site 5 km further down and we decided to try our luck there. Good move! After sneaking along the shoreline for 10 minutes and trying to figure out where the place was we finally found a faint path up the shore - and were even able to land there! The place is called Yukon Crossing and serves as a winter crossing of the Yukon. Plenty of space were to camp, some old relics from 100 years ago and even a new privy. Totally exhausted I cooked dinner with about 100  mosquitoes and then we went to bed thankful that this exciting day had gone so well.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Landing on the Murray should be much easier and I don't think there will be any rapids.