Friday, September 21, 2012

The Return.....

We woke up the next morning to this wonderful campsite right beside the river we had just travelled over 650km from Whitehorse to Dawson City. Knowing that we all had to move on to our next stage in life, we packed up and began to head south. 

Allie and Jeff were pooped from our expedition on the river and snuggled up for a little nap in Kumu on our way from Dawson back to Whitehorse.

However they woke up in time for a fantastic sunset on the route.

Having left Allie and Jeff in Whitehorse after doing a bit of maintenance on both Kumu and Tardis, we arrived in Watson Lake just shy of the first time the two of us had been there on the beginning of our epic trip from Inuvik to Ushuaia. Again, Shona seemed to find the sign bearing her namesake....Look familiar?????.... Actually it was her mission before we headed south on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway once again.

Along the way we decided to hunt out an offroad camping spot. To get there we had to travel quite a ways down this "road" but it was well worth it. It turned out really sweet, right by the river and super quiet with absolutely nobody around.

As it turns out, having nobody around has both its pros and cons. The pros being solitude, the pristine nature and a nice quiet spot. The cons? Grizzly Bears. I had woken up early and decided to get a little fishing in on the river, just down from our campsite. I had gotten up before the Laws and headed down stream to try my luck. I had been there about a half an hour before the grizzly bear crossed the path of the campsite before heading downstream directly towards me. They had no idea I was down there when the bear rushed by. I heard a rustling in the bushes and next thing I saw was a grizzly bear dashing in my direction. Luckily I had both a bear spray and a bear banger on me, nevermind that the bear took a short detour into the bushes, giving me time to load the bear banger gun. Quickly it came back at me and I had just enough time to shoot it off to send it in the other direction (it was only 10 metres from me and coming quite fast!!!!)  Needless to say it was quite the adrenaline rush... Here is a photo of its paw print next to my shoe print.

After a day or two of driving, and taking the advice of Dante and Kahung, we decided as a group to head up to the Salmon Glacier to check it out from the dirt road that passes above it. Now to do this, its not the easiest of tasks to do this roundtrip without a passport legally. First, one must pass from Stewart BC, into Hyder AK, and from there back into BC along the very much gravel, one lane road that leads up to the glacier.The thing with this is that there is no border patrol going from Canada to the USA into Hyder, nor is there any border patrol on the other side of Hyder whatsoever. So needless to say getting to the glacier was a non issue. And we made it. 

Our arrival at the glacier.

Quite an amazing view to see from above. 

It was so beautiful in fact, that we decided to spend the night up there overlooking the galcier. 

The night on top of the mountain was grand and we all got a great nights sleep in the fresh air of the Coastal Mountain Range above the glacier. The next morning we woke up and felt ready for a little adventure. We hiked up the mountain adjacent to the glacier and for the first time Dante got to experience hiking a mountain through the snow. We had a great time and really enjoyed the route. This photo is once we made it back down safe and sound.

Shona scoped out a "love" rock.

From here it was time to try and head back to the Stewart-Cassiar through Hyder and back to Stewart. Enroute we happened upon a great fishing hole and decided it was time to give it one last shot to try and catch something to eat. This was something Mel and Dante had on their bucket list and we felt it was a must try being in a spot where the salmon in the river were oh so plentiful. I am happy to say after about 4 hours of trying we finally bagged a pink salmon and had a sweet fish fry in store for that night. Now the only thing left for us was to get back from Hyder into Stewart...... The thing that made this a challenge for us was that neither Shona or myself had a passport with us. Now I must say that we knew this going into Hyder, but thought that we would just chance it, in order to see the renowned Salmon Glacier. We approached the border, and after what seemed like an hour the border guard reluctantly let us back into Canada. 
It was here that we said our goodbyes with Dante, Mel and Kahung before they headed for Vancouver and us back to Canmore. - They are a great clan to travel with and plans are already in the works for next summer.... 
As we travelled south back onto the Yellowhead Highway, we passed through this little place---- YOU try and pronounce the name... but it did have good fishing.

Finally I found my mecca. A little spot outside of Houston BC where I was catching boatloads of Pinks from this very spot. We actually stayed here for 2 days and just couldn't get enough of the fishing....

Here's one of the many many many pinks that I was able to reel in here. I really need to do more fishing in BC!

So after pulling in such a stock, it was important to b-line it back to AB to share the feed with everyone. We did the remainder of the trip in the next two days and were able to have quite the fish fry with some of our closest friends. 
Sadly, this brought an end to our summer adventure. It has been an epic tour once again but alas, it is time to head back to "reality" for the time being. Shona has now returned back to school and I back to coaching once again. This however, has not ended our adventures. We will still make time to go out and explore all there is to be seen in the world, albeit it may just be in shorter stints for the next little bit. Stay tuned for the next installment........

Monday, September 3, 2012

Chapter 3

We parted ways with the Law's, both excited for the next chapters in our respective journeys. As we hit the river again we passed by these two Germans. We were pretty sure they had everything including the kitchen sink. With the Five Finger Rapids coming up we were pretty happy we had decided NOT to bring the everything we owned on the trip! I don't think the guy in the back could even see the guy up front. 

 Being on the slow program, trying to give Alli and Jeff some time to catch up, we spent our time lazily floating the river and playing many games of scrabble. We also travelled through the infamous Five Finger Rapids (however Schwatka called them the "rink rapids" a name that applies now to a set of rapids further along the river). With a river of over 600km, the ONE set of rapids that everyone talks about do begin to work the nerves a bit. Especially reading the guide book which we did every day, reading about the upcoming section of river. The name comes from the five channels formed from four Jurassic conglomerate columns. For these rapids, the author tells stories of the small police station beyond the rapids which set out a net that was stretched across the river so that all the people who drowned could be caught and their identity established. If gold miner manages to get safely passed this spot, each hasd to dig a grave and bury one corpse on a small hill near by. For this compulsory work, he would receive ten dollars.
Needless to say, it was somewhat intimidating the day we floated up to them having never really seen them before! However, all went well, adrenaline was high and we whooped and hollered as we passed through the end of them!

One of our many amazing camp spots!

On the first half of the trip we saw no bears, but after leaving Carmacks it was a bear bonanza!

After two days of waiting for Alli and Jeff we decided to plunk down for the whole day and really give them time to meet us. We found a spot by a great fishing hole and Andrew caught a couple of these big guys. At first we thought it was a whitefish, but a couple weeks later we asked a guy who fished a lot in the area and he said that to him it looked like and inconnu, translated its called the unknown fish of the north. Either way, it tasted amazing. 

After spending all day at our campsite we had nearly given up hope for Jeff and Alli. It was 6:30pm and still no sign. I caught site of a lone canoe far up the river. We had put up our orange tarp for them to see, so when the canoe reappeared from behind a large island on the far side of the river i was sure it wasn't them. All of a sudden we heard "ORANGE TARRRRP!" and the two canoeists started paddling like crazy towards us.
It was an incredible reunion to meet up like that especially as we had the freshly caught fish all ready to be cooked up over the fire and there was too much just for the two of us!

Alli and Jeff paddling towards the ol' orange tarp

 Reunited and loving life!

 We decided at one point that the river wasn't quite relaxing enough, and we had found these amazing camp chairs that someone had forgotten at one of the campsites so we set them up and travelled in style.
"Jeff, take me over to the thalweg!"

 We continued to see amazing wild life including lots of Dall Sheep.

Not to mention more bears. We did have an exciting night which deserves a story. We had seen 3 black bears on the river one day so we decided to find the perfect island as we figured that hopefully the likelyhood of a bear coming to check us out would be slimmer than on the mainland. The river was wide and fast at this point and we all thought that bears wouldn't have the need to swim such a big channel with so much vegetation on the mainland. At about 8pm Jeff pointed out something in the water. We all strain to see what it was, but it wasn't until he took a couple zoomed in pictures that we could really see the furry eared head sticking out of the water, making his way straight of our group of islands.
There wasn't much we could do, so we headed to went about our business and headed to bed as usual. I woke up to Jeff and Alli saying, "hey bear!... Go away bear!" and some splashing and rustling in the creek very near to our camp. I quickly woke up Andrew and we joined in the yelling. Andrew loaded up the bear gun and got out of the tent, ready to fire if the bear got too close. Luckily he was just curious, and didn't think it was worth investigating our camp more closely with four annoying humans yelling at him.
He took off, and we drifted back into uneasy sleeps for a few minutes before hearing another loud splash, again close to the tents. This time we all got out of the tents and listened as the beaver made its way down the river angrily slapping the water every few seconds.
As we all stood together, feeling comforted by each others company, we looked up into the sky and saw a pretty stunning display of the Northern Lights. It was if the animals were just telling us to wake up and pay attention to everything the North has to offer.

With the excitement over we continued down the river. A cabin up on the hill caught our attention. This was the incredible view from the cabin, unfortunately the cabin itself was pretty decrepit and not good for a camp.

One of the many brilliant sunsets and yet another great spot.

We caught up with some friends of Jeff's brother (what are the chances- 300kms from the nearest anything and only seeing 1 or two other canoes each day), and Jeff was ecstatic to discover that they were travelling with a guitar. He serenaded us as we floated peacefully downstream.

We dubbed this sand bar "Hawaii Island". The sand was incredibly fine and soft beneath our feet. We decided not to camp there, in part due to the large bear tracks as well as the potential for it to become a large mud puddle should it rain. Before we left, we had no choice but to build a sandcastle. Sandcastles in the Yukon, it's a crazy world.

Alli and Jeff playing cowboys and indians in their War Ship.

Gravel bars were a great way of keeping out of reach of pesky mosquitos and black flies. The 360 degree view was a cool contrast to the shelter of the boreal forest.

Enjoying the fire.

The intrepid travellers.

 Home sweet home.

I think this picture sums up our entire trip. Relaxed and loving life.

 We made it to Dawson in one piece, wondering whether we should simply float by and head all the way to the Bering sea. As we unloaded the canoes and picked up Kumu, we ran into the Law's who had survived and loved the Dempster Highway. We had a much needed shower, an incredible burger and then went to brave the famous "Sour Toe Cocktail." You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, either way your lips must touch the toe!
Once that was over we drove the vans onto the river banks and spent the night reminiscing the highlights of the last couple of weeks. Just when we thought life couldn't get any better we were awarded with some of the best Northern Lights I have ever seen. It was the perfect ending to a perfect journey!
From there it was time to head south, we were lucky enough to have about 12 days to slowly make our way home back to reality.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Chapter 2

Life is full of adventures. Each one opening up a new chapter. Even within these adventures there are smaller chapters. Our latest trip to the Yukon had a few so I think I will break it up into 3 or 4 separate blogs.
Andrew and Neil shared Chapter One: The Journey North together while I stayed behind to be a bridesmaid at one of my best friends wedding. That in itself was another amazing chapter! After dancing all night I headed straight to the airport without any sleep to catch my flight up to Whitehorse. I was filled with excitement as it was one of my favourite places on our whole Pan-American trip. As soon as we had left the north the last time, we started scheming another trip.
Paddling the Yukon River seemed like the ultimate way to really immerse ourselves in an area of our country that we wanted to get to know more intimately. We invited a couple close friends, ones that we knew would love the trip and would be easy to travel with. 
The stretch of river that we planned to paddle was from Lake Laberge (Of Sam McGee fame) to Dawson City. A river trip of 655 kilometers was a pretty big undertaking for those of use who haven't done more than a 2-3 day river trips! But we knew we were up to the task.
While I was crazy busy with school and organizing the inaugural Ski Sisters Racing Camp, Andrew was busy planning the trip and trying to coordinate with our friends. Apparently the easiest way to do this was to inform them that we were leaving from Deep Creek on Lake Laberge on the 6th, and if they wanted to come, we should meet a couple days before at the campground in Whitehorse. 
Kahung, Mel and Dante Law, who we first met on a ferry crossing from the Baja peninsula to mainland Mexico, were on an adventure of their own driving from Kingston, ON to the Yukon. We were fairly sure they were coming, but we didn't know for sure until actually seeing them on the 4th in Whitehorse.
The others we invited were a couple that I have know for years. Jeff, Alli and I competed together on the Alberta Provincial ski team about 8 years ago! They were both doing geologic work up north and had told us they really wanted to come, but wouldn't be able to confirm till the last minute. As we went to pick up our canoes on the 4th, we had pretty much written them off. However, after driving out of service range to get the canoes, I arrived back in Whitehorse to a voicemail. When I checked it I heard Jeff's voice, "WE'RE COMING! Alli is stuck in Alaska, but we are coming! We may not make it for the 6th but we're coming!"
Crazy. Unfortunately he was unreachable and we were on a little bit of a time schedule so we left him an email basically saying, I hope you can catch up!
Anyway, back to Chapter 2: Lake Laberge to Carmacks. That was the stretch that we would be doing with the Law's as they had plans to brave the Dempster Highway as we did 2 years ago. Here is Chapter 2 in pictures: Here is the detailed map of our route along the Yukon river from Whitehorse to Dawson City. You can zoom in or out to check out the river or to see where we are.

Dante Law, super stoked that we were there!

 Last bit of organizing before leaving the comfort of our vans.

Kahung and Dante scoping Lake Laberge the night before our departure.

The day of paddling the lake was a LONG one. 36 kilometres of non stop paddling. I think I have decided that canoeing in Ontario is not for me! Luckily the last few kilometres the wind picked up enough for us to construct a sail which was a huge relief to our tired arms.

At the end of the lake we were greeted with an great camp spot filled with amazing history.

Our canoes loaded and ready for the river.

Setting out on the river after the long day of lake paddling was a little slice of heaven. It was everything we had hoped for and more. Stunning scenery, exciting wildlife and beautiful camp spots. There is definitely something to be said for travelling great distance without need for a motor. All our own power (and some pretty substantial help from gravity!)

Kilometer after kilometer of epic, wild, untouched country!

The Yukon River is stuffed full of history. If I had known how many boats sank and how many men lost their lives on this river before we set off, it may have made me hesitate for more than a few seconds! During the late 1800s and early 1900s there were quite a number of settlements along the river due to the crazy gold bonanza. This steamer was "The Evelyn." Just one of the multitude of boats that was claimed by the mighty Yukon.

Andrew made sure that we take a few fishing breaks. Dante got into it too and fishing ended up being his top highlight of the trip!

Catching Grayling, unfortunately all the fish we caught on this stretch were just a bit too little to fry up.

 No matter how cold the river, Kahung had to have his daily dip!

It was pretty special to see moose and beavers from so close up. I don't think i'll ever get tired of spotting these guys!

Bugs and I don't get along. So I came well prepared to enjoy my trip no matter how many bugs there were. Luckily this only had to come out on one occasion! I think the lesson here is if you want to visit the north, August is definitely the opportune time!!

 We luckily were only hit with one day of rain on this section of the river. This is our refuge after the night of rain. It was a more recently built cabin with a great wood stove that helped dry out our gear. Then we headed out on the water for a full 60km of paddling in the rain!

Setting up camp in the rain. The tarp was a last minute addition from my dad and came in handy on numerous occasions including acting as our trusty sail on the lake! We were lucky enough to come across a camp with a fire that was still smouldering and we got some heat to our chilled bones nice and quick!

After 5 days on the river we made it to Carmacks and reunited with the Tardis (the van in the background). From here the Law's headed up to the Arctic circle with a loose plan to meet up in Dawson City nine days later. To celebrate a successful journey we busted out the good ol' jiffy pop!

We had heard that Alli and Jeff had started out 2 days after us. We spent quite a lot of time trying to figure out how slowly we would have to go for them to catch up. We left them a note saying we would do 25 km a day for the next 4 and hopefully they would catch us. We also said we would string up the trusty orange tarp to make our camp noticeable.
To find out if they caught up you will have to tune in for the next chapter!!!