Northern waterways beckon paddlers
Title: Vancouver Sun
By: Lynn Martel
Date: May 05, 2012
Publication Type: Daily Newspaper/ Online News
In Yukon, 70 mountain rivers course along three major watersheds to ultimately pour into the Bering Sea and the Arctic and Pacific oceans. Flowing, rushing, tumbling and meandering across boundless landscapes of rolling hills, rumbling glaciers, open tundra and lush forests, four Heritage Rivers - designated as the best examples of Canada's river heritage - flow through vast tracts of pristine wilderness: the Alsek, the Thirty Mile section of Yukon River, the Bonnet Plume and Tatshenshini rivers.
Home to some of North America's most storied, wild and romantic waterways, Yukon is nothing short of a paddler's nirvana. From tales of gold panning exploits to some of North America's largest icefields, water is an intrinsic element of Yukon's history, culture and allure.
For experienced multi-day white-water voyageurs or dyed-in-the-wool flat water devotees, Yukon provides as many options for river trips as nuggets in a gold rush creek. By raft, canoe or kayak, each unique Yukon waterway shares the priceless traits of sparkling clear water, abundant wildlife and pristine wilderness.
With myriad options for self-guided or professionally organized expeditions, accommodations can range from tents and campfire feasts to lodges with duvets and dining rooms. And with Yukon encompassing 483,450 square kilometres, where 76 per cent of its 35,000 residents live in Whitehorse, solitude is pretty much guaranteed.
"I can't think of another place any-where that has so many rivers you can run as Yukon does," says veteran Yukon River guide Mark Waldbillig (seatoskyexpeditions.com)."There's such a wide choice for varying abilities, from super remote rivers you can only reach by fly-in on a float plane, to gentle beginner afternoon floats."
Here are four regions, along with helpful websites, to get you going. For more info on Yukon River trips, visit travelyukon.com or yukonwild.com.
North America's fourth largest river, the smooth, fast Yukon flows 3,187 kilometres from its first trickles at the Llewellyn Glacier in far northern B.C., north to Dawson City and then west across Alaska to the Bering Sea.
While some intrepid paddlers take two months to travel the entire length of the iconic waterway, first-time canoeists can rent a craft in downtown Whitehorse for a gentle half-day trip to a waiting pickup vehicle (kanoepeople.com).
Whitehorse is also home to the Whitehorse
Rapids Fish Ladder, where underwater cameras reveal fish moving up the ladder, and visitors learn about the longest salmon migration in the world (yukonenergy.ca).
Downstream from Whitehorse on Yukon River,48-kilometre-long Lake Laberge was named for Michael Laberge, a French-Canadian working on a survey team to establish a telegraph line connecting North America to the Russian continent. Immortalized during Yukon's Klondike Gold Rush days in Robert Service's classic poem, The Cremation of Sam McGee, the lake boasts remote rustic cabins, lodges and retreats. Its numerous quiet bays and inlets offer irresistible paddling opportunities.
For a true northern escape though, nothing beats a classic 16-day, 736-kilometre Yukon River adventure. Travelling by canoe or kayak from Whitehorse to Dawson City, paddling past Mounted Police detachments, old telegraph stations, shipwrecked paddle wheelers and now the restored Fort Selkirk brings history alive (yukonwild.com/canoeing.aspx).
Running parallel to Yukon but further inland, the Teslin is the early bird river, navigable weeks before Yukon is free of ice. As a bonus, the eight-day, 368-kilometre stretch from John-son's Crossing to Carmacks is a living museum guarding treasures from the Klondike Gold Rush.
"There's such a special tie-in with the scenery and the Gold Rush history," Waldbillig says. "Some of the campgrounds are on clearings where miners' cabins once stood."
ALSEK AND TATSHENSHINI
Tucked in Yukon's southwestern corner, the Alsek flows through Yukon's Kluane National Park and Reserve, B.C.'s Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park and Alaska's Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve - a UNESCO World Heritage site and the world's largest international protected area. Three-to 14-day trips journey through some of the wildest and most dramatic scenery on the continent, including towering peaks, glaciers tumbling down to the water's edge and grizzlies, moose and wolves (nahanni.com).
Consistently rated one of the world's top 10 river trips, complete with lush forests and exhilarating whitewater, the Tatshenshini passes through the St. Elias mountain range and one of the world's largest non-polar icefields. On this important salmon spawning river, long summer days provide icing on the cake with time for side hikes to such sites as iceberg-filled Alsek Lake (tatshenshiniyukon.com).
For off-the-scale adventure, an 11-day, 150-kilometre Firth River trip is on a scale all its own. Located in the territory's northwestern Brooks Range, the wild Firth slices through rugged canyons and open tundra as it flows through Ivvavik National Park en route to the Beaufort Sea. Accessed only by airplane, the uber-remote region is home to muskox, caribou, wolves, eagles and falcons (nahanni.com).
Caption: Illustration: • / Camping along Yukon River: Solitude is almost guaranteed. • / Moose are just one animal you'll spot along Yukon waterways.