Yukon River Expedition – Whitehorse To Shipyard Island
“This is the Law of the Yukon, that only the Strong shall thrive; That surely the Weak shall perish, and only the Fit survive.”
Journeying through the land of Jack London and Robert Service on a kayaking adventure on the historic Yukon River has long been a dream of mine. From childhood, I imagined myself crossing the dangerous Chilkoot pass, and floating the mighty Yukon on my way to discovering untold riches in the Klondike.
The Yukon River was the main artery of one of the most romantic and dramatic events of the late 1800s. Retold in books and movies, most are familiar with stories and people surrounding this piece of history. Unknown to most, however, is the fact that a living museum of the period exists along the banks of the Yukon River between Whitehorse and Dawson City. This presents the perfect opportunity for a wilderness kayaking expedition back in time on a celebrated river.
As with all great adventures, this one started with a bit of a challenge that needed to be overcome. After getting a ride to the airport and dealing with the hassles of checking 150lbs of gear, we headed to the gate to board our flight for Vancouver BC, anxious to catch our connection to Whitehorse and settle in for one final evening before preparing to set off the next morning on the start of our expedition. We arrived plenty early and made it to the gate without issue. Unfortunately, we were not so lucky with our flight. After repeated delays, the flight left over 1.5 hours late for Vancouver BC. Needless to say, neither the reassurances by our stewardess nor how fast we attempted to sprint through Vancouver airport, would allow us to make our flight. We had cut it a bit close and we had paid for it.
After a bit of hassle, we were able to get the folks at Air Canada to cover our lodging for the evening and were booked for an 11:30 flight out the next morning to Whitehorse. This presented a few challenges. Namely, we had planned to be on the water rather early our first day in Whitehorse and we had arranged it so all of our gear would have a free ride to our hotel, which was only a couple of blocks from Kanoe People where we were renting our kayaks. Instead we ended up flying into Whitehorse without a ride and with limited options to get into town from the airport. The hotel we had planned on staying in before this debacle had free shuttle service, so being the resourceful individuals that we are, we hopped on the shuttle and directed them to drop us off at the hotel. At that point, we simply walked into the hotel, confirmed the reservation for the July 1st and then made the trek down to Kanoe People to get final arrangements made.
Originally we had planned to drive up and use two Delta 15.5s we had purchased from Delta for the trip. Unfortunately, some personal things came up which impacted the amount of time available for the trip. Being an authorized reseller of Delta, we contacted Kanoe People and inquired about renting two 15.5s instead. Kanoe People said this was no issue and that the kayaks would be ready. Imagine our surprise when we showed up and there were two brand new Delta 15.5 expedition models waiting for us, one of them still wrapped from shipment from the factory!
Final arrangements took quite a bit of time to get squared away as Kanoe people was very busy with people coming in to prepare for the Yukon River Quest, but service was prompt and courteous. Scott, Emily, and Fabian at Kanoe People went out of their way to help transport all of our gear, run us to the store to get water, help update our maps, etc. Overall, I was incredibly pleased with the service that they provided.
After getting everything prepped and packed, we were finally able to launch around 3:00PM, putting us quite a bit behind schedule. Our original intention was to be on the water by 9:00 or 10:00AM and to paddle at the minimum, the 30 miles from Whitehorse to Lake Laberge, with the hope of making it as far down the lake as possible if the weather was good. Unfortunately, with our late start, we were just able to reach the head of the lake as the evening was winding down.
We thought about camping on Scow Point, so named for a large sand flat that boats would use to take refuge from the storms on Laberge at the turn of the century, but we decided to press on a bit. We started heading down the eastern shore of the lake and eventually tucked back up in a swampy creek where we were welcomed by a trapper’s cabin just as the rain started to come down. After a quick survey of our environs we decided that spending our first night in a trapper’s cabin was a splendid idea.
Pulling up into the swamp presented us with our first taste of things to come, with mosquitoes instantly swarming us. After quickly unloading our necessary gear and doing a quick repair on a broken window in the cabin with a bit of plastic and duct tape, we settled down to squash as many of the nasty buggers as we could, and to attempt to grab a bit of sleep, although with the summer solstice rapidly approaching, this was difficult. Luckily we had planned ahead a bit and brought sleep masks.