Tour 2014 – Johnson’s Crossing to Dawson City

For this section of the journey, I padded the Teslin and Yukon Rivers down to Dawson City for 14 days, from June 18th to July 1st, with a total distance of 750 km.

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After I arranged for a canoe and gear rental in Whitehorse, I was transported to the put-in at Johnson’s Crossing in the afternoon. It was next to the bridge that I crossed a few weeks earlier. Rearranging my stuff and the food for the next two weeks was a bit overwhelming. Especially the food! I couldn’t believe how much I brought. I must have been pretty hungry when I was pushing my cart through the aisles of Whitehorse Superstore. Because I was paddling solo, I sit at the bow reverse and put all my gear at the stern, which made the canoe more balanced.

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The river flows with an average speed of 7 km/hr, although at the beginning it felt more like a lake. Later on I calculated that I was making about 10 km/hr on average with paddling included. I stayed on the water about 8 hours a day. The sky never gets dark and you feel like you can go forever but when I saw a nice campsite I forced myself to stop. It was easy to follow the topographic features and know exactly where I am on the map. The guidebook I used had possible campsites rated between 5 to 10 and the high rated campsites usually deserved their ranking. I missed a few ones because either I was on the other side of the river or the current was too swift to react on time.

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The shoreline was mainly sandy overgrown cutbacks. Spruce populated most of the hills. The sky was usually covered with interesting cloud formations for many days. It rained a bit on the first couple of days and it got really windy a few times, but mainly it was a pleasant weather, with sunny days increasing and getting warmer by the day towards the end of the trip.

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Where Teslin joins Yukon there is an old gold-rush era settlement named Hootalinqua and it has derelict cabins. The campsite was nice with outhouses and picnic tables. The guidebook had many historical tidbits written on the map and it was interesting to read about them while slowly paddling next to what’s left behind.

IMGD_20140625_054-001Beyond Carmacks lies the notorious Five Finger Rapids. Every book I’ve read said in big bold fonts that I had to follow the channel on the VERY RIGHT, and that’s what I did. It was high water which made it a bit exciting and I made it to the other side without a hitch.

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A few tributaries join Yukon and one of the larger ones is White River, named because of its silty discharge. I was able to climb a lookout just after the junction and looked back at the delta. It felt good to stretch my legs a bit and have a different perspective after days of similar scenery.

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My pancake dreams soon literally crashed and burned, by lack of skill or whatever. But I didn’t give up and tried to salvage the remaining flour. Most of my attempts turned out pretty good but it took long hours to build a fire and wait for the dough to become a bread or something worth eating.

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In Teslin, the campsites were generally nice, in sheltered areas with soft and level tent spaces, sometimes with tables and fireplaces and ready to use firewood. Once in Yukon those campsites became rare, although the number of camp-worthy spots increased. There were many sandy islands in the middle of the river.

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Ft. Selkirk was a really nice place to stop and relax where the Peel river joins Yukon. It’s an old trading post with a lot of history behind it. Most cabins had been restored and there was a small interpretive centre with native or settler artifacts and a video explaining the early days around the area. Seasonal native crew was busy doing maintenance work. The campsite was free to use with scenic sites, water and outhouses. At midnight I joined a group of volunteers to cheer for Yukon River Quest paddlers trickling down the river.

IMGD_20140623_057Days flew by and my memories on what happened on which day became blurred. When I look back at my journal, I sometimes wish I had written more. My most memorable experience happened before Ft. Selkirk. While drifting between the shore and a sandy island, suddenly I heard a whistling Doppler effect sound, like a jet airplane approaching , and all I saw was a black dot in the air travelling at great speed at eye level 10 ft from my canoe.  It was as if someone shot a missile towards me and had missed. Stunned, I turned my head and followed it for a couple of seconds and saw it finally flappedits wings when it reached the trees on the river side. I didn’t know what kind of bird at first, but then I read about them at Ft. Selkirk. It could only be a Peregrine Falcon.

I reached Dawson City on a rainy afternoon and returning my rental gear became a bit of a hassle, but in the end everything played out well and I was able to get to a hotel for some cleanup and start making plans for the next leg of my journey. I picked up my bike from the bus depot, dusted it off and lubricated its chain.

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Dawson is a nice little town with most things geared towards tourists. A ferry runs over the Yukon river to connect the Alaska Highway farther north. On the other side lies the Top of the World Highway until you reach the U.S. border, which I didn’t bother to go. I visited the Trondek Gwichin (or Tr’ondek Hwech’in) Centre for a brief tour and video about the native life in this junction of Klondike and Yukon rivers; went for prospecting at Bonanza Creek where the Klondike gold rush began in 1896 (I found the tiny gold pieces placed in the dirt in a gold panning station created for tourists like me); and strolled down town’s dirt roads and elevated wooden sidewalks.