Category Archives: Kayaking

Yukon, Before You Go! Part 3

Sea Kayak on a River

There are a hundred different ways to paddle the Yukon. Since I was solo and wanted to be light and fast, I decided on a sea kayak. Other soloists I met used canoes and did quite well, so its just a matter of preference.

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I used a plastic (polymer) 17′ Necky Looksha. It was a great boat. The seat was comfortable and I never once got a hole despite all the rocks I dragged it over. At first I thought it was tippy but I just needed to learn how it handled. It was a little short, however, for my 6′ frame. I wasn’t able to use the rudder as my legs were much longer than the peddles. But I managed. I bought the kayak from Kanoe People in Whitehorse. Speaking of Kanoe People; everyone there was very helpful, both on the phone and in person- even going so far as to pick me up from the airport. The cost of the kayak was about the same as it would have been in the states and I didn’t have to pay to ship it from Colorado. Another advantage of buying from Kanoe People is the store sits directly on the bank of the Yukon! So, get all your supplies and groceries in Whitehorse, head to Kanoe People, drag your boat to the river, AND LAUNCH! Easy.

Kayak touring is like lightweight backpacking- you have very limited room to pack all your stuff. So before you leave home, make sure you have exactly what you need and not a smidgen more. I had to paddle with a backpack strapped to the outside behind me. It worked, although self rescue would have been more difficult.

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Lets talk about water purification.

We all know about Giardia- the dreaded “Beaver Fever”.

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I used Aquamira which is a two part solution you mix together. It tastes great and kills everything. I boil the water I use for dinner so no Aquamira used there.

Here’s the issue you’re going to have; the Yukon is dirty! Not dirty as in poopy, dirty as in silty. Silt won’t hurt you but dirt in your food isn’t very fun to eat. I used a six liter, MSR dromedary. When I came across clear creek tributaries, I’d stop and fill up my dromedary and water bottles. This gave me enough water for a couple days of silt-free cooking. Easy. On rare occasions you might not find a clear running stream. If this is the case, just boil some silty Yukon water, then let it sit for an hour. The silt will naturally separate from the water. Pour the clean(er) water into a bottle for use later and dump out the silt which now sits at the bottom of the pot.  I’ve always been told you can just let the water sit in a pot and it will naturally settle. This is true but it takes days! You need to boil the water, then let it sit! Boiling is the key to make the silt separate!!!

Bears! Oh My!

Camping in bear country can be scary and exhilarating. I prefer to be exhilarated. Plan ahead and you too can be exhilarated!

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Photo credit: Oli Amann

 

Canada does not allow the possession of pistols and getting a rifle or shotgun into the country can be a pain. Instead, get bear spray. You can acquire it in Whitehorse at Canadian Tire. Yes, they sell more than just tires! Actually, Canadian Tire is the best outdoor store in Whitehorse! Who knew?! Anyway, you will have to ask for the spray as it is locked behind a glass case. They will ask if you plan to cross the border into Alaska. The answer to this question is ‘NO’ as they won’t sell it to you if you say ‘YES’. By the way, no one in Alaska gives a hoot if your undocumented bear spray sneaks silently across the border.

Bear Barrels. I hate these things. They’re heavy, won’t hold more than seven days of food, and they sure as heck won’t fit in a sea kayak. I’ve used Ursacks before but they are expensive, and I feel like a bear would just squeeze my food out like toothpaste. When I’m traveling alone, or in areas of high concentrations of bears, I don’t cook where I sleep. I’ll stop about 5pm, cook a meal, then head downriver for another hour or so and camp there. In my opinion this is the best advice. Don’t cook where you sleep and keep food smells to a minimum! Bear barrels were designed to keep the bear from getting your food. But then bear gets hungry and decides to eat YOU instead. Wouldn’t it be nice if the bear ate the food instead of you? I sure think so.

Yukon, Before You Go! Part Two

I used a Goal Zero portable solar panel with a recharger to power my inReach, iPhone, and camera. It worked well for my needs. The best way to use the solar panel was to put it in a clear dry bag and paddle with it on the deck of my kayak. It even charged on cloudy days.

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If you intend to paddle solo as I did, I would suggest bringing music and headphones. Its wonderful to listen to the sounds of wilderness but after a month of hearing silt hiss against the hull of your boat- you’ll be glad you brought something else to listen to.

Here’s another suggestion- buy brightly colored kitchenware or spray paint it before you go. I’ve lost more spoons, knives, lighters, and tent stakes than I can count.

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This spray painting idea was good in theory but didn’t work as well as I hoped. I used the spray that had paint and primer in one can. Cause I’m lazy. I was constantly walking around camp with orange hands. But at least I didn’t loose my spoon. Instead, I broke it, and had to carve another one out of a log, as usual. Then, I simply transferred the paint on my hands to my new wooden spoon. Perfect.

Lets talk about tents. I started my trip with a Black Diamond Megamid. It’s been recently replaced by the Mega Light. Same Same.

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Megamid

 

I love this tent! It weighs less than a pound and the center pole can be replaced with a paddle to make it even lighter. It doesn’t have a floor (which you don’t need) but it’s nice to sew some strips of nylon to the bottom edge as a way of keeping the mosquitos out. One problem with this tent- it doesn’t do well in strong wind. On the Yukon, camps are almost always set up on islands and areas exposed to wind. This is good because wind keeps the mosquitos down. Unfortunately, if the Megamid isn’t protected from wind it will act as a sail.

I went through THREE tents on my Yukon trip. Sand destroyed the Megamid zipper and gnats got in and ate my hands. In Dawson, I bought the only tent I could get my hands on which was a cheap “World Famous” dome tent.

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My World Famous tent protected by a driftwood windbreak

Surprisingly, this tent did very well but also had issues with wind and the zipper (sand again). Note: The sand and silt on the Yukon will destroy most zippers. Even the one on your coat. So its best to have as few zippers as possible. I found adding a little clean/clear water can save a zipper, or at least improve its functionality. Anyway, I accidently ripped the “World Famous” tent (my fault) and had to get yet another tent sent to me. This time I borrowed my friends Mountain Hardware, Room With a View. He sent it to me in the mail. Its from the late 90’s and STILL works great.

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Mountain Hardware, Room With a View

 

Two other items I wished I brought along but didn’t- sturdy tent stakes like the ones below, and a mallet for pounding them in. I used those cheap aluminum stakes which do well on tundra but can’t break the surface of a hard gravel bar. Trust me, bring a mallet (a rock isn’t a good substitute)and tough stakes. I think MSR Groundhogs are the best for gravel bars but those expensive Cyclones look pretty badass, albeit longish. Nothing worse than seeing your tent blow away while doing dishes.

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Yukon- Before You Go! Part One

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This helpful hint isn’t going to help you Europeans (because the cost of shipping is too high) but if you’re originating from either Alaska or the Lower 48, a great way to save money is to ship food to yourself along the river. This isn’t necessary in Canada because Whitehorse, Carmacks, and Dawson all have road access and therefore cheap grocery stores. But once you cross the border into Alaska, food in the villages gets very expensive. I mailed food to Circle, Galena, and Holy Cross. You’ll want to send your packages six weeks ahead of you and its polite to call the village postmasters in advance and ask permission. On the packages write- PLEASE HOLD FOR KAYAKER, in bold letters, along with the approximate date of arrival. If you’re running behind schedule, call the post offices and make sure they don’t return your packages. Remember; the post office won’t be open on weekends or holidays, so adjust your schedule accordingly.

I bought a cheap dehydrator and saved money on shipping by drying canned food. This works well and canned food rehydrates beautifully.

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Dried canned chicken, ham, tomato sauce, beef in gravy, and krab.
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Meals in the box for shipping

In retrospect; I would have doubled bagged ALL the food as some of it (like the cereal) ended up being stale when opened. Major bummer- but still edible.

Books: Their are two guidebooks you should have for the journey. #1- Paddling the Yukon River and its Tributaries by Dan Maclean.yukon3

This is probably the only guidebook for the entire Yukon River. It has maps, mile markers, and sound advice. Half the book is related to Tanana, Porcupine, and Koyukuk rivers and can be discarded to save weight. Its a good book but I wish it had street maps of the villages. I’d arrive in big towns like Galena or Tanana (which are miles long) and not know where the heck the store, post office, washeteria, or camping spots were. Perhaps these maps will be added in the next edition or better yet- Google them and print your own. 

Another valuable guide is  Yukon River- Marsh Lake, Yukon to Circle, Alaska by Mike Rourke. This spiral bound book is a necessity as it contains high detailed maps along with in depth history of the area, camps, and places of interest. If you buy Mike’s guide online, be sure you get the latest version- NOT the one on Amazon.com from 1985. You can find it in Whitehorse at Kanoe People. Its only downside is that it doesn’t indicate latitude or longitude, so its best to have another map which can be used with a GPS. Or use the inReach device which I talk about below.

Speaking of maps- check out www.hillmap.com  Here you can download high quality maps and print them FOR FREE. I also like that you can compare the Google satellite imagery side by side. I use the 1:250,000 scale and print on Nat Geo waterproof paper . I print on BOTH sides of the paper to reduce waste, then number the maps to keep them in order.

Here’s another nifty gadget that I was very happy to have along.

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DeLorme inReach Explorer

The inReach uses a global satellite network to send text messages, emails, posts, tweets, and the like from anywhere! It can link to an iphone via Bluetooth (which makes texting WAY easier) and can also replace a GPS. Download maps to your phone and BAM- now you got a mapping program that shows EXACTLY where you are. Another nifty feature is the SpotCast weather forecaster. It really is worth the extra bucks per month. I paid special attention to the wind direction and speed. Why paddle in a 20 knot headwind if its going to be calm in an hour? Have lunch instead.

In my opinion the inReach replaces the need for a satellite phone. Its lighter, cheaper, and only requires a monthly installment which can be cancelled at any time. Check it HERE. Remember- YOU STILL NEED MAPS AND COMPASS! Just in case you drop it in the water. 

One cool thing I didn’t expect was that other river travelers had the inReach as well! This made communication between groups possible when traveling separately. “Hey Dave, there’s a bear near the confluence of the Salmon River- best to avoid camping there. Camp with us instead! Here are our coordinates.”