Yukon Yearnings: the desire to return to the Yukon River; to kayak that immense flowing river through the endless wilderness forests, past the rugged snow capped mountains and pausing in the peaceful and scenic bays and sloughs, has been a constant thought that has lived in my mind ever since my return from the last kayak trip down that river. Having been on the Yukon twice, having paddled 4,300 miles on those two trips, had made me feel that the river is mine, or better yet, that the river owns me. Maybe a better perspective would be to see the river and me as one.
Starting from Lake Atlin, British Columbia, the source of the Yukon River gave me a feeling of flowing with the waters from their beginning. I started where the river starts. That began to solidify my connection to those flowing waters. The river and I wold do the entire journey together. Atlin's waters are cold, maybe 40 degrees but they are clear as glass and one can see ten to fifteen feet down to the bottom as one approaches a beach on and island or the shoreline of the lake.
Passing through Graham Channel, Which connects Lake Atlin to Tagish Lake, the paddler gets to the cabins of Jim and Marion Brook, the first people to be et in the wilderness. They have no neighbors except the people they know i the village of Atlin or in Tagish. Both places can be reached only by boat, plane or pickup in the winter when the lakes are frozen with thick Ice, thick enough to support a pickup.
Tagish Lake stretches for about sixty miles and is just as clear as Lake Atlin. When I paused in one of its bays, the water was so clear that the rocks on the bottom looked like the were no more than a couple of feet below the surface. I was so impressed that I took several pictures of them from several angles At the end of Tagish Lake is the village. And because the lake narrows considerably as it flows into Marsh Lake, there is a bridge that crosses there.
Paddling on down that lake one reaches a place called a river. That stretches for about forty miles Once on the river, there is a current and that makes a very relaxing part of the journey because the current does the work. That allows the paddler to relax and drink in the scenery on both shores of the river.
Lake Laberge is the next and last lake to paddle. That lake can be quite unpredictable because of the mountains that line both shores of the lake. Strong winds can come down from either side and sometimes even from both shores. But at other times the surface of the lake can be as smooth as glass. The paddling the is incredible--- no wind, no waves, no clouds. The water then is as blue as the sky and sometimes the sky blends with the water when one looks down the thirty five miles of the lake.
Leaving Lake Laberge one eventually reaches the city of Whitehorse, and that is a real city, not just a town or a village. It has restaurants, stores, hotels and motels and grocery stores. Whitehorse also has tourist places to visit and all kinds of activities such as canoeing, kayaking, hiking and even gold panning. There is also a large hydroelectric dam there with a portage for river travelers along one side. Whitehorse is also the place where most people who do long distance canoeing or kayaking begin their trip.
The town the of Carmacks is farther down the river. It's on the highway and that means one can stop there for grocery shopping to pick up supplies. There are two grocery stores, a motel and restaurant. Not too far beyond that town downstream is Five Finger Rapids, about the only rapids on the whole length of the Yukon River. The rapids are not very hard to get through and takes less than one minute to get through.
Dawson City is the next and last major city on the Yukon. It is primarily a tourist town with a couple of grocery stores, restaurants, stores, hotels, lodges and a campground for campers, whether they arrive by car, motorhome, canoe or kayak. It is across the river but there is a ferry that crosses the river constantly. The ride is for free. If one is in the campground, the person can take the ferry to visit Dawson City. There one can see the home of Robert Service, the poet, and Jack London, the author. Leaving Dawson City, in a day or so, one also leaves Canada and enters the Alaskan wilderness.
There are no more large cities,no town, just small villages. But they have a grocery store, a post office and a laundromat.
Eagle is the first village that one comes to in the U.S.A. There one has to stop and show the Border Patrol person ones passport. From Eagle one can really focus on the views that Mother Nature provides for the river travelers. There are still vast forests and mountains which are not far from the river.
The next significant village is Circle City because soon after leaving that village one enters the Yukon Flats. That is a 180 mile section of the river that can be anywhere from ten to twenty miles wide. It is filled with islands and sloughs. Because of that the paddler has to really focus on the main current of the river to keep from getting lost among the islands or ending up in a dead end slough.
Soon one reaches a significant point, that is crossing the Arctic Circle. From the village of Fort Yukon, above the Arctic Circle, one eventually reaches the Bering Sea, having passed Russian Mission and Emmonak which is ten miles from the Bering Sea. The scenery has changed very dramatically---no more mountains. But the people are still just wonderful. Still my brothers and sisters.