Yukon River Wild!

Yukon River as seen from viewpoint above Dawson City.

It has always been on our list to drive across this vast country to the northwestern reaches of Canada. It came to fruition in May 2022 as we set out for the Yukon Territory with the intent of exploring northern British Columbia also. And explore we did! We drove through breathtaking regions and experienced awe-inspiring moments. In total, we were away for fifteen weeks, two of which were spent paddling on the Yukon River.

After researching various flatwater canoe routes, it was decided to paddle a portion of one of the major watercourses of North America, the Yukon River. Termed the ‘great river’ in Gwich’in, it is 3,190 kilometres in length flowing from the source of northwestern British Columbia, through the Yukon Territory, into Alaska until finally emptying into the Bering Sea.

During trip preparation, we established contact with Mark of Up North Adventures, an outfitter in Whitehorse. Arrangements were made to store our canoe and gear in Whitehorse while we continued to drive northward to Dawson City. We would then fly back to Whitehorse and paddle back to Dawson City to retrieve our car two to three weeks later. We initially intended to start from the source of the Big Salmon River at Quiet Lake. Quiet Lake flows into the Big Salmon River and then continues north to merge with the Yukon River 255 kilometres later. However, our arrival in Whitehorse alerted us to be flexible and relaxed as situations arose that were not within our control. When we arrived, Mark informed us that our arranged shuttle to Quiet Lake (the start of our journey) would not be possible. After a record-breaking accumulation of snowfall in the mountains and a late spring melt, the bridge connecting the access road to Quiet Lake had washed away due to excessive flooding. We gathered around a large lamented map fastened on the wall in Mark’s office to study an alternate route. After much deliberation, we decided to start from Whitehorse and paddle the ionic Yukon River 715 kilometres to Dawson City. While waiting for the high waters to recede, we decided to delay our canoe trip for two weeks and explore Tombstone Territorial Park near Dawson City.

Arriving back in Whitehorse after several weeks, we were eager to start our paddling adventure! Although the water levels were still high and the current strong we felt confident in our ability to navigate the challenges of the river. The Yukon can be paddled by those with a basic skill level, however, with the water flow running swift, good paddling skills are necessary. (The challenge lies with maneuvering the canoe safely to the shoreline in a swift current and departing when leaving land.) With our trusted 16-½ foot carbon kevlar canoe and our gear stowed securely underneath the splash deck, we set out to explore this historic river.

After a late start, our first night’s camp was spent on an island just outside of Whitehorse. The following day we proceeded to Lake Lebarge, which is basically a fifty-kilometre widening of the Yukon River. Normally a windy lake we were greeted with warm temperatures, bright sunny skies, and glassy calm waters. Surrounded by the jutting points of mountain peaks, it has miles of beaches, and numerous bays and is one of the many splendors of the Yukon. On one of those bays is where we set up camp. We retired around nine that night and were alarmed when we woke several hours later by barking and howling. Out of the tent, we arose unnerved by the close proximity of what we presumed to be a large pack of timber wolves signaling their presence. Still very much daylight under the midnight sun, we built a large campfire, not so much for protection from the wolves as they usually avoid us humans, but simply for our own peace of mind. We surmised there was either an event that was happening within the pack itself or they did not like our presence. The wolves howled all through the night and into the next morning. We wearily paddled away from lack of a good night’s sleep.

East Shore of Lake Lebarge.

Exiting Lake Lebarge, the Yukon turned and twisted while the current increased significantly with the narrowing of the river. The river north of Lake Lebarge flows through a broad, generally flat-bottomed valley with scenic white cliffs. The river meanders across the valley floor with numerous sandbars and small islands dotting the channel. With the water levels still very much above normal, we were always on the lookout for high ground – clearings where we could camp or remove ourselves from the canoe to stretch. While moving with such a strong current, campsites are often hard to spot and difficult to access. Often we would zip right past a site with no chance to correct and paddle back against the current, so it was on to the next one, hoping for better success. When we did manage to find a spot it was always a challenge to reach. The river banks were steep and slippery, as the swift-moving water constantly eroded the earth. We had to scramble up these muddy steep embankments, using bushes or exposed tree roots as hand grips. Once on land, we had only a few minutes of peace before the wrath of millions of mosquitoes found us. We made quick work of setting up our large bug shelter to have some reprieve from the mosquitoes that were small, quick, and ferocious!

One of several large group campsites that were flooded by high water levels.
Yukon River north of Lake LeBarge.

The Yukon River is rich in history. Gold was discovered in the Klondike in 1886 setting off a stampede of tens of thousands into the gold-laden creeks near Dawson City. With the influx of people, trade and commerce increased and steamboats travelled the river bringing in supplies and people. We saw relics of lumber mills that were established along the river to provide fuel for the steamers. We saw the skeletal remains of a steamer and trapper’s cabins and read stories of the people that were caught up in the stampede of the gold rush. We followed our map and marvelled at the names of “Keno Bend”, “Shirt Waist Bend” or “Carpenter’s Sough”, all depicting some event in time or tragedy.

Paddling past where the Big Salmon River enters the Yukon River, we thought about what we would have missed had we taken that route. Our daydreaming quickly dissipated as we concentrated on approaching Five Finger Rapids. We had previously scouted out the rapids on our way to Dawson City. There is a hike from the highway that goes to a spectacular viewing platform giving us an idea of what we were up against. The rapids are named for the five channels or fingers that pass through four basalt columns. The right finger is where a paddler must aim the bow to ensure safe passage. We remained nervously silent as both of us listened to the thunderous volume of water passing amongst the series of steep islands carved out of rock. It would not bide well to capsize in the frigid cold waters of the Yukon River. With nervous anticipation, we chose our line of travel and headed toward the right channel. With the current picking up speed quickly, we dug in our paddles keeping a wary eye on the four-foot-high haystacks at the bottom. Staying slightly to the left of the haystacks, we breathed a sigh of relief once we were in the clear. We looked back in awe at the quick and exciting moment of tackling this rapid, one that we normally would never have the nerve to attempt.

Five Finger Rapids from a viewpoint above Yukon River – Carmacks.

While paddling down the watery trail of the Yukon River, we admired the endless wilderness surrounding us. The territory, a mostly semi-arid region of Canada, is sunny and dry. Black spruce, white spruce, and birch forests lined the tops of the banks with endless boreal forests beyond; home to hundreds of animal species and birds. When we were not on the water we hiked in the hills and took pleasure in the abundance of flowering plants. And, beneath the surface of the water, we acknowledged the waterway hosts some of the longest upstream migrating chinook salmon in the world. Salmon will migrate over 2,960 kilometres in freshwater from the Bering Sea to reach their spawning grounds as far as northern British Columbia.

When we approached Fort Selkirk for a planned stop, a forest fire was burning in the mountains of the Pelly River across from the fort. Here the Pelly River merges with the Yukon River and the area is rich in natural resources. The fort is a Heritage Site with preserved exhibits and buildings and is set in a pristine river valley surrounded by mountains. Fort Selkirk has been a trading post for the Hudson Bay Company, and before them, served the Northern Tutchone people as a traditional harvesting and gathering site for thousands of years. With the hazard of forest fires looming, we did not stay long at the fort for fear of getting trapped in what could become a serious threat. When we set off, the rest of the day was spent paddling furiously eager to pass the other four forest fires that were burning high in the hills. Little did we know at the time, we would be paddling in smoke for the remainder of our canoe trip.

Forest fire burning near Fort Selkirk.

The clarity of the Yukon River changed once we met the merger of the White River. The White River is glacier-fed and contains large amounts of suspended sediment from volcanic ash deposits. The ash deposit was formed by two large explosive eruptions that occurred around 850 AD. The Yukon river remained sediment laden from the confluence to its mouth. The sediment was evident in appearance and in sound, as we could hear the particles pinging off the bottom of our canoe. This change in the water condition led us to find small streams from which to source our drinking water.

The White River after merging with the Yukon.
Trees, shrubs and debris washed away from flooded shorelines and islands along the Yukon River.

After paddling for two weeks on the Yukon River we arrived in Dawson City, travelling that last day 140 kilometres to our destination. It only took a mere ten hours to complete – a record day with record swift water pushing us along. Reaching our destination, we felt a sense of accomplishment, grateful to have paddled such a beautiful heritage highway. ‘Larger than Life’ is the motto of the Yukon Territory and larger than life it is indeed!


We published a book called ‘Canoe for Change: A Journey Across Canada’. Read about our canoe trip across Canada that took us from Vancouver, British Columbia on the Pacific Ocean cross-country to Sydney, Nova Scotia on the Atlantic Ocean!

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Yukon Bound!

The departure date for our long-awaited trip to the Yukon is finally here and we are off! Rather than paddling across Canada, this time, we will drive to the far reaches of our country, into the Yukon Territory of northern Canada, taking our canoe with us. When we canoed across Canada, our desire was to return to the northwest to further explore this beautiful rugged corner of our world. We will embark on a canoe trip paddling the Big Salmon and Yukon Rivers. The route is approximately 750 kilometres long from Quiet Lake on the Big Salmon to Dawson City on the Yukon River. Under the midnight sun, we will be canoeing rivers bordered by the spectacular backdrop of rolling mountains, rugged wilderness and rich wildlife.

Once we finish this route, we will continue to explore the Yukon well known for its vast spaces, rivers, lakes and mountains. Next, we traverse the ‘Top of the World’ highway, over the border, to the United States to Alaska’s Denali National Park and Reserve to complete a multi-day backcountry hiking and camping trip through the alpine tundra, around snowy mountains and over glaciers. 

A dream we hope to accomplish is to paddle the eastern Pacific coast of Haidi Gwaii (also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands). Haidi Gwaii is an archipelago off British Columbia’s west coast rich with wildlife, remote islands and temperate rainforests. Centuries-old totem poles stand in the remains of the Haida Nation villages as well as bountiful beaches, hidden rugged coves and trails to explore on this ancient island. 

As always, during our explorations, we will be in search of places where solitude, tranquillity and adventure exist. Watch for updates on our adventures on Facebook and Instagram! 

Click on the map for more details of our Big Salmon and Yukon Rivers canoe route! 

A Spoonful of Love!

When we paddled across Canada, we raised funds and awareness for Loving Spoonful. Even though the upcoming canoe trip is not as ambitious as when we paddled from the Pacific to the Atlantic Oceans, our support for Loving Spoonful continues. Our logo ‘Canoe for Change’ is emblazed on our canoe and we carry it with pride! Pride because of the work that Loving Spoonful provides in our community to work towards food sovereignty.

We continue to raise funds and awareness for Loving Spoonful which works towards the right for all people across Canada to enjoy healthy and culturally appropriate food through ecologically sound and sustainable methods. If you are able to donate, you can do so by donating here!


Do you know that ‘Canoe for Change: A Journey Across Canada’ is available on Amazon and Indigo Chapters? A percentage of the proceeds also go to support the ongoing programs at Loving Spoonful! Follow this link to our website Canoe for Change.ca to get your copy now!

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Exploring Parc national d’Aiguebelle!

Snowshoeing through Aspen Forests. Twigs and bark from this tree is a winter staple for moose.

With our details finalized, our dates booked and our gear packed we are off to Aiguebelle National Park for a winter getaway! We hoped the weather in early February would be kind to us. Gear was carefully catalogued into the Watershed bags and warm clothes and sleeping bags into the Skully bags. The combination of fresh and dehydrated food, along with wine, into a bear barrel. Enough water and small propane canisters to last us for the trek were also stowed away. The bulk was not an issue for us, as we had prearranged a shuttle transport of our gear from cabin to cabin via snowmachine. The only thing we had to concentrate on was the scenery. 

From Kingston, it only took a nine-hour drive, ten if you include the stops to stretch our legs and obtain coffee and gas for us to arrive at Aiguebelle National Park. A natural gem of a park located in western Quebec in the Abitibi-Temiscamingue region 50 km north-east of Rouyn-Noranda. Later we discovered the region is the watershed line between the St. Lawrence River and James Bay. The park offers nine rustic shelters and four larger cabins for four-season backcountry accommodations. Depending on the season and location, the rustic shelters are accessible by car, canoe, on foot, backcountry skis or snowshoes.

Here we would backcountry ski and snowshoe to rustic cabins for four nights. The terrain of the park belongs to the Canadian Shield, vaulting steep hills, gorges, dotted with many lakes and streams, surrounded by boreal forests. Highlight this with the abundance of crisp clean snow and we have ideal conditions for our trek with postcard photo views.

During the summer months, a 22-metre high footbridge allows one to cross a gigantic fault if it is not too windy or vertigo is not a problem. The cabins were rustic and small with a slim Coleman tabletop stove to cook with and a small wood stove in the corner, with firewood supplied in abundance. A large pot was available to melt snow for doing dishes. To complete the cabin a small bunk for sleeping. These cabins were quite cosy when illuminated with candles as a light source.  

Rustic Cabin, La Cigale with a spectacular view of the valley below!

We chose La Cigale as our first rustic shelter, where the views are stunning. Dawning our snowshoes for the 4 km trek we set out traversing switchbacks to reach the ascent of the final 800m, a climb that made your heart pound with exertion and of course the views. Once at the summit the shelter offers sweeping panoramic views of the lakes below. Here we would stay for two nights while exploring the trails before heading onto our next cabin Le Patineur.  Switching to our skis we descended the ridge and braced the cold but bright day to enjoy the scenic forests and undisturbed beauty of the snow-covered lakes along the way to Lake Patrice where our next shelter Le Patineur would await us. 

Well marked trails throughout the Park
Snow Machine Transport from cabin to cabin is available.

This cabin was on the shore facing remarkable views of the lake on one side and majestic hills on the other side. We were surprised to find that this cabin was even smaller than the last, approximately 11 x 7 feet.  This made it even more challenging to find a location to tuck our gear out of the way. Every spot under the bed and every shelf was filled with our gear. The door of this shelter did not close completely and a draft was present, add this to the -32 Celsius temperature and our water bottles left on the floor froze solid overnight, despite the woodstove blazing all night. 

This was certainly a brief but rewarding winter getaway! Filled with great memories, wonderful sights, a few aches and pains, this was truly a wonderful jewel of a park worth the drive to visit!


The Great Bog Monster

Last summer during our canoe trip in the West Spanish Forest, we had the absolute pleasure of meeting Dennis Rogers of Canoehound Adventures and his awesome group of paddle pals. We are tickled pink to be featured in Day 3 of his 7-Day trip video series!

We completed most of the same route Dennis’ group paddled and portaged, but in reverse. We also had the excitement of meeting the ‘Great Bog Monster’!


Backcountry Couples

Michigan backcountry couple, Canadian native Colleen Kuehl and American husband Jonny, have an amazing enthusiasm for paddling, backpacking, camping and overlanding! They also have a YouTube Channel, Kuehl Kuest – ‘Backcountry Couples’ where they chat with other couples that share their enthusiasm! Colleen and Jonny, honeymooners at 50 interviewed us, Carol and Glenn, honeymooners at 60! How fun is that!


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Yes, we published a book! Yes, they are selling fast! You can get your copy from any major online book retailer or contact us for your own signed copy!

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Welcome to our blog! You have received our blog because you are a subscriber, friend or supporter of Canoe for Change! Email us if you have any questions or comments. We would love to hear from you!


The Untamed Beauty of Wabakimi Provincial Park

Even though Carol and Glenn have spent the last 3 years paddling their way across the rugged terrain of Canada, for months at a time, their canoe adventure in Wabakimi Provincial Park was no easy feat!

Wabakimi Provincial Park is a rural and untamed section of wilderness starting about 4 hours north of Thunder Bay.  The park itself is over 5 million acres, which is twice the size of PEI. And the only way to access Wabakimi Provincial Park is by floatplane, train or canoe. On day 1 of their adventure, Carol and Glenn took an exciting floatplane ride from Wabakimi Canoe Outfitters & Ecolodge and were dropped off in the middle of a lake! Full of excitement they began their journey! Continue reading “The Untamed Beauty of Wabakimi Provincial Park”

Thank you!

As we look back on our cross-Canada canoe odyssey, one of the most rewarding memories we have is our interaction with our fellow Canadians.  From the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean we experienced boundless generosity and kindness.  As it is impossible for us to show our eternal gratitude to each and every one of you, we hope that this ‘thank you’ will find its way to you! Continue reading “Thank you!”

Canoe Adventure Story Events – Everyone Welcome!

 

Kingston Frontenac Public Library – Isabel Turner Branch – Tuesday, November 5, 2019    7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Kingston Frontenac Public Library – Calvin Park Branch – Saturday, November 9, 2019      2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

In September retirees Glenn Green and Carol VandenEngel achieved their goal of canoeing across Canada and raising thousands of dollars for Kingston’s Loving Spoonful. Come hear what it’s been like!

Come hear Carol and Glenn talk about their experiences – including heavy weather, isolation, capsizing, bears and wolves – and how they provisioned themselves with fresh local food dehydrated at home then shipped ahead along their route.  Their presentation also highlights the amazing scenery as well as the warmth and generosity of the people they’ve encountered along the way.

Both sessions of this program require free registration:  Register Here

Check out the ‘Kingstonist’ article:    Canoe for Change paddlers share their experiences at KFPL

 

Spearhead Brewing Company  – Thursday, October 17, 2019   7 pm to 10 pm

Join Loving Spoonful for a welcome home party, along with Carol and Glenn for a pint and a snack while you enjoy listening to stories and see photo’s of their epic Canadian coast to coast canoe trip! From portaging 400 km over the rocky mountains to conquering cresting waves on Lake Superior! Spearhead will be donating a portion of beer and food sales for the evening in honour of CanoeforChange.ca campaign.

Arriving in Kingston on Thursday!

Carol and Glenn are happy to announce that on Thursday, September 19th at 2:00 pm they will be arriving at the Kingston Canoe Club!  Loving Spoonful is organizing a welcome home greeting upon their arrival and anyone is welcome to join!

They are so excited to be reaching their home town and to be completing their goal of raising awareness for the importance of equal access to healthy food security for all Canadians!

Loving Spoonful is an organization very close to Carol and Glenn’s hearts.  They strongly believe and share the same beliefs as Loving Spoonful does! Carol and Glenn understand and are passionate about the importance of eating healthy fresh foods; to be the best person both mentally and physically that you can be!

If you would like to donate to Carol and Glenn’s cause by contributing to their $25,000 goal for Loving Spoonful you still can!

Click on this link and support Loving Spoonful! DONATE

Continue reading “Arriving in Kingston on Thursday!”

The Ottawa River

A week ago today, Carol and Glenn reached the Ottawa River!  They are getting so much closer to their home of Kingston, ON.  And reaching their goal of $25,000 for Kingston’s Loving Spoonful!

If you would like to contribute to Carol and Glenn’s cause, click on the link! Every bit helps and every bit is greatly appreciated!  DONATE

Even though they are getting closer; it is not getting any easier! There are always challenges along the way to keep each day different from the next.  Which always keeps Carol and Glenn on the edge of their seats! Continue reading “The Ottawa River”