Friday, July 15, 2011

Yukon: The Flats

 The National Park and our maps ended at the village of Circle where another interesting river section starts: The Flats. Until now the river has always been confined by high mountains on each side and although the Yukon had already became very wide you could still manage to paddle from one shore to the other within reasonable time. Now the Yukon left the mountains and entered an extremely flat area - and immediately spread out tremendously. At some points in the Flats the Yukon is over 6 km WIDE!!!! Of course the river is now a maze of big and small islands, sand bars and loads of different channels. Navigation is sort of a nightmare here. The river changes constantly and our maps were made more than 20 years ago - so almost nothing looked like it should according to the map.

Small side channel
At first we tried to follow the main current which was still surprisingly swift with over 10 km/h. This strategy turned out to be a recipe for disaster. The river is very shallow and peppered with all sorts of obstacles like sand bars or driftwood and trees. On top of all that there are lots of eddies in the water that can swirl you around into directions you do not want to go at all. If you end up in one of these eddies it feels like the river wants to swallow you and eat you alive. This eddies can just show up out of the blue. I called them piranha eddies as they reminded me of a pool of hungry piranhas at feeding time. After two days in the main current we were both nervous wrecks, but luckily discovered how to avoid all these problems: We just stayed on side channels that were much longer and winding and had little current, but were very scenic, easy to navigate and had no steering problems. Paddling became relaxed again and actually turned out to be one of my favorite stretches. But don't get me wrong: These little side channels are usually still wider than the main river Danube!!!

Only once we had another problem on this stretch when we ended up in a thunderstorm in the middle of a big channel. As usual the storm started without prior warning within 10 minutes. We could just make it to shore in time when the waves got so high that paddling became almost impossible. Unfortunately, we were now stuck at a very high cut bank and we had to use almost acrobatic efforts to get ourselves and the gear up on high ground onto one of the most miserable, overgrown and mosquito-infested campsites of this whole trip. But other than that the Flats turned out to be an interesting section of the river.

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