The Paddle

Canoeing the Yukon River Click here to read the blog)
2003 June 1 – August 3                                                      11_Chuck_and_Bill_ready_to_go

The Yukon River is deemed to be the last and longest pristine river in North America. The River length is arguably 2300 miles long. The source of the River is commonly agreed upon as Marsh Lake, British Columbia, Canada. The Yukon River runs northwest until it crosses the Arctic Circle in Alaska. It, then, descends from the Arctic Circle going west until it approaches Galena. From Galena the River turns almost due south for about 600 miles and discharges into the Bering Sea. The last village before the Bering Sea on the Yukon River is called Emmonak.

The River has only one stretch of rapids from the source to its discharge. During the first part of the paddle, one experiences an environment of trees, mountains, small secondary streams, old and abandoned buildings, and abandoned gold mine sites. Much of the remainder of the paddle is characterized by hilly tundra, small creeks, a wider river and a windier, rainier, marshier, island filled environment. Both areas are filled with much wild game such as caribou, marmots, three types of bear etc. The river itself is full of salmon and the creeks feeding into the river also have grayling and trout etc.

Charles  (Chuck), one of my oldest friends over 40 years, and I will begin our voyage on Marsh Lake around June the 10th 2003. One must wait for the River to discharge all of its winter ice before beginning the trip or very dangerous results may occur. Chuck and I will meet at Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada where we are storing our supplies and canoes until the ice discharge is complete. The storage location is with a firm called Kanoe People Limited. They will take our gear to Marsh Lake which is about 40 miles south of Whitehorse when we are ready. In the interim before June the 10th, I will have dropped off my gear as stated before and drive my truck to Anchorage, AK where I will store my truck until the end of our trip. When Chuck and I paddle into the Bering Sea and return to Emmonak, we will fly our canoes and equipment back to Anchorage and load up the truck. We anticipate to the trip to last into late August or early September.

In order to be comfortably successful on such a long trip, planning and shakedown cruises are mandatory requisites. Chuck and I after many hours of face-to-face meetings and computer correspondence, rough tuned our plans to be tested on two shakedown cruises. The first shakedown cruise was on the Peace River starting at Zolfo Springs, Florida to Arcadia, Florida, which was a short 40 mile trip with a two night camping exercise. Both Chuck and I are experienced campers so one must realize that camping is not the test for us — it is the packing of the canoes, the proper location of the equipment in each storage bag, and the canoe covers and ancillary equipment that is our biggest dilemma.

The packing of the bags in an orderly and accessible way is absolutely one of the biggest problems to overcome. I almost had to remove everything from the canoe during each campout simply because the organization was not practical. I had matches in one bag, forks and spoons in another bag, food in another bag, my flashlight in another bag and so on. It was a mess! The storage containers were piled up in an unorganized mass in my canoe and the cover over all the equipment to shed the rain was of little use because I did not have it tied down properly. The first shakedown cruise was an eye opening experience showing us many of the things we must reorganize for the final shakedown cruise and ultimately the three-month Yukon River trip.

The final cruise was a 140 mile paddle down the Withlacoochee River starting from Lacoochee which is about to 40 miles north of Lakeland, Florida. Initially we were going to paddle upstream to the source of this river but with time constraints we were unable to do that. It was soon obvious that we had made many major adjustments from our last cruise which showed many positive results. A friend of Chuck’s constructed a beautiful and very efficient splashing cover on his 18 foot canoe. He was well packed and organized. I had achieved less practical results. My packing of the canoe and the organization of the packing within the bags had much improved from that last trip but I felt I could have done a better job after my later assessment of the cruise. My splash cover idea was quickly tested when I installed my canoe sail and supplementary sail equipment. If I had installed that equipment, my splash cover idea would have worked beautifully at hardly any cost but with the new equipment installation, I had to make more efficient adjustments after this last shakedown cruise.

I purchased a 14 foot long aluminum canoe with a wide girth which has Etho-foam sponsons and with an Etho-foam interior. Although this canoe is much slower and less mobile, it is almost impossible to turn it over due to its width and sponsons. This canoe is well adapted to ocean paddling and sailing, which I plan to do after the Yukon trip. I initially planned to store my canoe in Emmonak for the winter and the following Spring paddle and sail north to Nome, then south down the Bering Sea coast of Alaska and into the North Pacific along the southern coast of Alaska and on to the uninhabited island filled west coast of Canada to Seattle, WA. I plan to do this some time but it will have to be later due to conflicting summer plans. For a three-month venture, I feel I made a mistake in selecting a 14 foot canoe. Although previously, all my canoes have been less than 17 feet, because I did not need such a large canoe for my hunting, fishing and camping expeditions. I feel in this case for storage purposes that a 17 foot canoe is a better selection.

My splash cover is simply a combination of two — 6 by 8 tarp covers that cost 4 dollars apiece at Wal-Mart. I purchased at Home Depot five 8 foot pieces of aluminum half-inch angle and metal screwed the angle on the entire perimeter of my aluminum canoe. Once the angle was installed, I simply fitted the tarps starting from the bow over the angles and fitted a second piece of angle over the tarp into the installed angle and securing it with bungee cords. This type of system affords any type of volume packing one does in his canoe. For example, if I shot a moose, I can simply fit my tarp over the newly raised pile in my canoe and clamp down the adjusted tarp with my bungee cords. The total cost of the effort does not exceed $40. If one tries to purchase commercial splash cover, most exceed $250 and do not afford rapid accessibility to one’s equipment that is covered.

This, of course, is only a cursory overview of information and experiences presently acquired. At the end of the trip, Chuck and I are going to compose an instructional book to assist other interested parties in planning their future trips by citing actual experiences and errors initiated by us. We will explain how we packed our canoes and canoe bags and how we went about the food planning. The book will list the actual equipment we used on this trip and identify any equipment or supplies that we should have taken.

Canoeing the Yukon River (original blog)