|Frequently Asked Questions|
Where is the Yukon river?
The first 500 miles are in Canada, begining in the northeastern tip of British Columbia where the river forms as a series of large headwater lakes which is the watershed for the huge ice-capped coastal mountains. The river continues a northward flow for about 500 miles through the Yukon Territory directly on the historic Klondike goldrush trail of '98.
Entering Alaska the river makes a westward bend as it reaches for the Bering Sea, about 1,500 miles away. For a map of the Yukon just click back to the directory and visit the "About The River" link.
How long did it take you to paddle the Yukon?
I put in at Carcross, British Columbia on May 20th and paddled for 46 days to Marshall, Alaska. Here I had a local resident call in a small bush plane from Bethel to pick me up. Except for a glorious 3 day layover in Dawson City, I was paddling every single day despite rain, snow, cold, or heat After getting across Lake Laberge on Day-9, I averaged between 40 and 50 miles per day with my longest day set on June 12th at 60 miles! The Yukon is a fine flowing river where you'll just have to pull up to shore more if the land is passing by you too fast, but the paddling season in the Far North is pretty short so don't slow down too much or you'll be dodging snow before the Bering sea!
When does the ice break up?
Nice question and important to know for paddling in a region that crosses the arctic circle. To begin, I wanted to follow the goldrush Trail of '98 as closely as possible which meant that my journey must begin in the coastal headwater lakes of northern British Columbia. My research indicated that the ice in these lakes could linger into the second week of June but I wanted to get as early a start as possible so upon arrival in Whitehorse I talked to the locals and the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police). Fortunately 1984 was a good year and I got my early start on May 20th, encountering only a few sections of breaking ice which I was able to pull, drag, and push my kayak over, through, or around. A really early start is much more possible if you choose to avoid the lakes, but you'll be missing some of the most spactacular wilderness in the Far North!
How dangerous is the Yukon?
That depends on a lot of things. Putting aside your experience, judgement, and confidence and focusing solely on the physical risk of the river, then I'd have to give the Yukon a high safety rating. For the most part this is a somewhat forgiving river with a fast but non-violent flow. If you're looking for a whitewater thrill then this is not your river, except for a brief encounter with Five Finger Rapids near Carmacks in the Yukon Territory.
In my opinion this is the ultimate river for a solo wilderness experience.
Why did you go solo into such a vast wilderness?
Because being alone in a vast wildernes is the ultimate way of getting in touch with what it really means to be human. And besides, I never had to compromise my daily plans with anyone and that is what I describe as freedom!
What kind of kayak did you use and why?
In 1984 Folbot and Klepper were the only models that I could find that made a folding kayak. Near the Bering sea the only way to get out is by bush plane so a folding kayak was necessary unless I wanted to chance finding a buyer in a small isolated fishing village.
Although Klepper is known as the cadillac of folding boats my budget fell more in line with the "Sporty" model of Folbot which is most like their "Kodiak" model today. I was more than pleased with my Folbot's performance and I got many years service from it afterwards. Although I gave it away in 1991, the new owner tells me that it's still going after 16 years!
How heavy was your kayak?
Bone dry and empty it weighs 52 pounds and can handle a 300 pound payload.
How much food did you take, and where did you re-supply?
I started out with way too much food and found ample opportunities to re-supply in riverside villages along the way. Having what I did payed off because food in the Lower 48 is a lot cheaper that on the river! Although I carried most of my staples like rice and pasta, I especially looked forward to buying fresh fruit, eggs, and candy items while in route. I also packed several gallon cans of freeze dried meals for emergency use only.
What about water?
Never had any problem finding enough water. For about the first two weeks the river itself was crystal clear which was a fantastic source of reliable H2o. Before reaching Dawson City the river was thick with silt which I still cooked with on occasion, but I always found plenty of clear tributary streams for filling up my water jug.
Where can I get a copy of your gear list?
Unfortunately this is the only major trip that I can't find a list. Normally I keep a very detailed listing of everything I take. While I continue to search and look for a list that I know I had at one point, perhaps you can pick out some of the items in the photo link.
How did you deal with the horrendous black flies and mosquittos?
In the cool beginnings it wasn't a problem but by the time I had reached the stagnant Yukon Flats into Alaska I constantly fought clouds of these gigantic pests! Mainly I always tried to set up camp on the lower windy and open beach side of an island where attacks were somewhat held at bay.
However that wasn't always possible so I sprayed my clothing with deet, put on my mosquitto head net, then it was a race to get my tent set up where I could take refuge behind those wonderful netted walls. There was no sweeter sound during my two month trip than to be lying in my shorts with a full stomach reading a nice book while listening to the loud humming of mosquittos just outside those thin nylon walls! You will seriously die if you have no mosquitto protection while on the Yukon as these winged blood mongers are like no other breed that I have ever experienced anywhere else in the world!
On one evening while battling the bugs and racing to get my tent set up I tore up the nylon zipper on my front flap. I spent the next several hours in a deathly battle taking out the zipper in my sleeping bag and sewing it into my tent flap! All the bug battles were worth it but just be forewarned if you go and be prepared!
How much money did you spend?
It's been quite a few years ago but I'd say that including transportation to and from the Yukon, the cost of the kayak, food, and all the airfare from the Bering sea, oh I suppose around $2,500.oo. I'd bet that you can't do it for that price today.
What type maps did you use?
I ordered topographic maps from the U.S. Geological Survey which I laminated for weather protection.
Did any particular person influence your decision to paddle the Yukon?
Yes, and his name was Eugene Cantin. In 1979 I was working for a hunting and fishing outfitter near Palmer, Alaska and while on a short break into Anchorage I picked up a close-out hardback book titled, "Yukon Summer, by Eugene Cantin for just $1.00! It was the account of one fellows solo paddle down the Yukon in 1972 and over the next couple of years this particular book became like a bible to me in deciding to do my own trip. I even took it with me for reference while paddling down the Yukon.
Click on the following link and you can see the book cover which I scanned:EUGENE CANTIN
What is your number-one advice for a successful trip?
Same as always, just ask yourself how bad that you want to do it, then make it the most important thing in your life until it's done.
What did you do about the bears?
The Yukon passes through one of the healthiest grizzly and black bear populations in the world and believe me, they will see you even if you don't see them. At first I had planned to carry a rifle but decided not to because of extra weight, so I decided that I'd better get educated about bears.
First, I learned that bears can smell about a hundred times better than they can see and that their "smeller" worked about a hundred times better than mine! So my first defense was to keep a very clean campsite. I always tried to cook and eat far away from where I set up my tent for sleeping, then cleaned all the mess up immediately and storing my food and pots a distance from my tent also. If you must eat enormously smelly food like bacon, fried dishes, etc. then I would suggest stopping for supper somewhere on the bank about an hour before you get to your final campsite for the day. Then you will have your "big" meal eaten, all cleaned and packed away by the time you find a nice spot to pitch your tent. You can then just nibble on a few cookies and feel good about not being bear-bait for a night!
If cleanliness failed and that stubborn bear decided to plow into my campsite anyway, then I had decided beforehand that I'd go out fighting... maybe not the best plan, but that is what my mind decided. I figured that bears didn't like flames so I slept with 3 roadside flares. If I were attacked then that bear would get a mouthful of fire!
If you have any other questions, then I'll make every effort to answer them if you send them to me via the e-mail address on the HOMEPAGE.