Friday, July 8, 2011

Yukon: Eagle or Reporting a tragedy with a happy end

Capsized boat
 The first day out of Dawson should get us to the abandoned settlement of Forty Mile where we were planning on camping. And so we were happily paddling down the river in the afternoon when I suddenly spotted something weird on the far shore - something red that looked like an upside down canoe. After a quick discussion we decided to check it out and made a mad dash to the other shore (keep in mind that the current is still strong with about 12 km/h and therefore traversing requires some effort). On the other shore we saw that it really was an upside down canoe buried under some driftwood - and no one around. This was not a good sign and we started to get a bad feeling about the whole situation. This feeling did not improve when we turned the boat around and found a barrel and a backpack still tied to it. It was quite obvious now that someone must have capsized and lost the boat. We opened the barrel and the backpack and tried to find some ID, but only found lots of trash, very little food, maps, toiletries and a leather hat. Both the barrel and the boat were marked as property of Up North, the same canoe rental place in Whitehorse where we had bought our own canoe. Judging from the lack of food and its expiry dated we concluded that this person must have capsized shortly before Dawson City where most paddlers with rental boats get off and a shuttle back to Whitehorse. The big question now was: What has happened to the capsized person?

View from Forty Mile
We took various photos of the boat and the GPS coordinates of the place. After that there was nothing else we could do - especially since it was apparent that the accident must have happened quite a while ago. By now the capsized person must either have been rescued - or died. Of course we talked almost about nothing else and speculated a lot about what could have happened. Losing your boat here in this cold water is a sure recipe for killing yourself, but on the other side we had not heard about any missing paddler or had seen a search and rescue party. I must admit that I had visions of skeleton hands coming out of Yukon trying to grab me....

Phone at Eagle
We would have to inform the authorities but the questions was how? Forty Mile was supposed to have a caretaker but unfortunately he was not there when we arrived. Therefore the next chance for us was Eagle, the first town on the Alaska side. Eagle was important for us anyways as we had to do immigration into the US there - without a customs officer who had died the previous year in a tragic accident and not been replaced. We had been given a leaflet with the immigration details now: You have to stop at the public landing, go to the customs building were there is a telephone. Pick up the phone and it will automtically connect you with US immigration. Well, this is how it is supposed to work in theory. In reality we arrived at the public landing, found the phone box, openend it - and found no phone. It just had not been connected.... Great - what were we supposed to do now? We asked some uncredibly friendly locals who directed us to a free camp spot and promised to drive to the local shop with the only public phone for us and try to locate any authority that might exist in the little town of Eagle. So eventually the local park ranger showed up - there is no other public authority left in Eagle. But by now it was too late to call to Up North Canoe Rental in Canada or the US immigration office. We just camped in the worst campsite of the whole trip and waited impatiently for the solution of the capsized boat mystery and our legalization next morning.

Our camp site at Eagle
Right when the ranger station next morning opened we were there and met the ranger's boss who helped us with all our problems. First she let us make a phone call to US immigration who officially allowed us to enter the US via the phone. We still have to complete the immigration procedure once in Anchorage where there is a real officer. And then she called Up North to find out about the capsized canoe - and the happy ending of our mystery. The canoe had been rented by a Brit in Whitehorse on May 20th. He had indeed capsized on May 28th, but been rescued thereafter. But nobody had found the canoe yet. He had capsized above Dawson and they had searched for the canoe there, whereas we had found the canoe more than 60 km below Dawson! We communicated the GPS data of the boat - and were very happy with this happy ending!!! After a city tour of Eagle and its historical Fort Egbert we left Eagle happily and legally (!) into the Yukon-Charlie National Park.

1 comment:

eArThworm said...

Darn it all...I forgot to wish you a happy birthday yesterday. What an amazing place you're in to celebrate! I'm sure you had a terrific birthday.