Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Yukon: Conclusion

In this post I want to keep aside the big negative aspect that galled the trip for me and forced me to get off prematurely: my paddling partner. I also do not want to take into consideration that I had constant ear pain - and still suffer from it now. I just want to focus on the trip itself - and that had been GREAT! Yes, I would definitely recommend paddling the Yukon river to a friend and will probably do it again myself to make it all the way to the end. Still, paddling the Yukon is not a piece of cake either - it will not be an easy trip, especially not for paddling beginners. So what are the main issues to look out for?

Heavily undercut bank
First of all the strong current took me by surprise. Things were aggravated by the fact that this has been a year with unusual high water levels leading to an even stronger current. Handling and steering the canoe with a current up to 15 km/h was kind of scary - especially in the beginning and especially being a rookie. But I think now that I have gotten used to it and would not be that scared any more doing it again. Still, you should definitely practice the U-turn or so-called ferry before you embark on the Yukon...

Half submerged island
Second, camping turned out to be more difficult than expected. Again, things were more difficult than usual because the island were still very much submerged. Normally you would camp at the sandy front end of the river islands, but those were still under water! On the other side it was very difficult on camp on the main land either because of the very steep and high cut banks that made landing and getting out of the boat very often impossible. Very often the banks were extremely undercut and constantly huge chunks of soil or trees were crashing down - an eerie sound at night. When new soil gets exposed the permafrost starts melting creating a constant dribble. And if you were able to find a spot were to land it would probably be totally overgrown with thick brush and thorn bushes..... But on the positive side: Things got much better towards the end when water levels were residing.

Now to the positive surprises:

Bear print
Yes, the mosquitoes were bad and the can really taint your experience. But I have to admit that you sort of get used to them. Also their bites are not as painful as with other mosquitoes. They do itch, but the swelling and the itch subside after less than half an hour. Other than that the wildlife was just great! We saw lots of moose (with baby moose), bears with cubs and a surprising amount of interesting birds: Huge ravens, loads of ducks, eagles and very aggressive mew gulls that skydived on us.


Barge with mining equipment
I was also very much worried about paddling in high waves, especially in an open canoe. Although I admit that it is not the most pleasant paddling time, we were able to cope with the waves much better than thought. Except in the Five Finger Rapids we never got water into the boat. But not only the wind creates waves: Some stretches of the Yukon have quite a bit of barge and skiff traffic. Most drivers were very considerate and gave us a wide berth, but some came pretty close and their wake shook us quite a bit. On the lower half of the Yukon boat and air traffic is the only mode of transport as there are no roads. Therefore you can see barges loaded with mining equipment slowly coming up the river - and almost speeding coming back.

The weather can be an issue and paddling in rain and strong wind is miserable. We did have some bad weather, but luckily it never lasted longer than a day. I was expecting to be stuck for days on end, but that never happened. Actually I was surprised how many really hot days we had. Overall I was more too hot than too cold on the Yukon - but of course, I missed the last bit on the Delta.

Undercut bank
We had read that the low water temperature would be a big issue as well. If you capsize in very cold water you have little time to make it ashore before you die of hypothermia. The Yukon is very cold, but only in the beginning. The water warms up soon after Dawson and at the end of our trip we were actually swimming in the Yukon just for fun. You would not want to stay in there for hours, but you would definitely survive more than 10  minutes. The Yukon itself is very silty and could not be used as a source of drinking water, but there were plenty of clean side streams or little creeks coming down the mountains with good water. We usually loaded up with water in the villages.

Smoking salmon
There was also a surprising amount of interesting things to see: Lots of relics from the goldrush era, abandonded cabins, bearproof cemeteries, native villages, fish camps.... Dawson City and Fort Selkirk were definite highlights of this trip! I very much enjoyed stories about the interesting Alaskan characters and after having spent a bit of time in this hard climate myself I cannot help but admire the courage and endurance of the early settlers and miner to survive in such an environment.

Overall, paddling has been a very pleasant experience. It is by far less physically demanding than hiking or cycling. You go at a much more leisurely pace and have more break time (mostly due to bad weather). And because weight is not so much of an issue you can do a lot of very good cooking!

Bottom line: I will soon be paddling again and will definitely buy a folding kayak.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hallo meine Freunde

Schlechte Nachrichten aus Kanada, ich bin am 16.06.2011 kurz hinter Fort Selkirk in einem Logpile (Holzverhau auf dem Wasser) gekentert.Nur mit sehr, sehr viel Glück habe ich diese Situation überlebt, kein Scherz! Die Paddler unter Euch wissen wie schlimm so ein
logpile ist und mit welcher Kraft das Wasser solche sie durch-spült.
Zu allem Übel blieb ich in den Fußsteuerkabel der Steueranlage
hängen und konnte mich erst in letzter Sekunde befreien, einige
Sekunden länger unter Wasser und ich wäre ertrunken...
Als ich wieder an der Oberfläche kam, sah ich mein Boot den Yukon
River hinunter treiben und musste ihm in dem kalten Wasser ca. 10
Minuten hinter her schwimmen. Hört sich nicht viel an, ist auf dem
-schnellfließenden und kaltem Yukon aber ein echtes Problem!
Gott sei Dank blieb das Boot in einer Untiefe auf einer Insel
hängen, denn viel weiter hätte ich es nicht geschafft, meine Kräfte
wären am Ende ...
Im Regen und mit nasser Kleidung musste ich mein Boot mit einer
Tasse leer schöpfen, was eine lange Zeit dauerte.
Meine komplette Kameraausrüstung war lange Zeit unter Wasser, was sie natürlich nicht überlebt hat. Nun habe ich nur noch meine kleine Pentax W-90 Kompaktkamera!
Sehr viel Ausrüstung habe ich bei der Kenterung verloren was genau muss ich erst einmal überprüfen in den nächsten Tagen.
Das Nautiraid Grand Raid 540 Expedition Faltboot verdient diesen Namen nicht! Es lässt sich nicht schnell genug Steuern und reagiert manchmal auf Steuerbefehle überhaupt nicht, was mich nun zum zweiten mal auf dieser Reise in ernste Schwierigkeiten gebracht hat und mir diesmal fast das Leben gekostet hätte.
Ich werde nun eine Woche in Dawson City bleiben und meine böse
Erkältung abklingen lassen die ich mir bei der Kenterung zugezogen habe.
Gott sei Dank habe ich ein Breitband- Antibiotikum mit das auch sehr gut angeschlagen hat.
Eigentlich sollte ich hier in Dawson City schon meine 2011 Expedition beenden, aber mein innerer Schweinehund sagt mir ich soll den Yukon River wenigstens bis zur Hälfte fahren, natürlich höre ich mal wieder auf ihn. Ich werde also meine Expedition an der Yukon Brücke (Dalton Hwy) in Alaska beenden, also nach ca. der Hälfte der Strecke ( 1600 Km ).
Es wäre einfach unverantwortlich mit diesem Faltboot die zweite Hälfte bis zur Bering See zu fahren, denn ich könnte jederzeit in einen der Herbststürme hinein geraten, bei denen ich mit diesem trägen und fast nicht zu steuernden Boot kaum eine Chance hätte.
Von der Brücke am Dalton Hwy in Alaska werde ich nach Fairbanks
fahren und von dort aus meinen Rückflug buchen damit ich in der
ersten oder zweiten Augustwoche zurück nach Deutschland fliegen kann.
Die ganzen letzten zwanzig Jahre gab es immer wieder Situationen die sehr brenzlig waren, aber bei denen ich mich immer auf mein ausgezeichnetes Ausrüstungsmaterial verlassen konnte, diesmal jedoch ist das nicht der Fall, mein jetziges Faltboot ist eine Katastrophe und hätte mir fast das Leben gekostet.

Mit Grüßen aus Dawson City / Yukon - Kanada
Regards Chris Breier
Phone & Fax: (49) 32 21 - 1231 672
Mail:long-expeditions@arcor.de
URL:www.long-expeditions.de
Be a Traveler Not a Tourist !

German Tourist said...

Chris,
natuerlich erinnere ich mich sehr gut an Dich - wir haben uns auf dem Zeltplatz in Carmacks getroffen. Ich bin sehr bestuerzt zu hoeren, was Dir passiert ist!
Gute Besserung und gute Rueckflug!
Christine

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