Isolated campsites, many of which are located on islands in the Yukon River, offer a solitude that one must experience to understand. The Yukon is synonymous with the Klondike Goldrush and this portion of the Yukon River highlights this more than any other. We will stop to visit Fort Selkirk, an important settlement from the goldrush through to the 1940s. Buildings still stand to represent a bygone era. We will canoe past Stewart City and Sixty Mile. It is from Sixty Mile, that Robert Henderson, began the search that eventually led to the great goldrush.
And what feelings must have accompanied the goldrushers as they rounded the bend in the Yukon River and saw Dawson City for the first time. It is an anticipation that many who have done the Yukon River trip with us have expressed. We will spend time in Dawson City, exploring its rich history, visiting the original goldfields, and enjoying the period entertainment. This Yukon River adventure will draw you closer to the passion for the north expressed in the writings of Jack London and the poetry of Robert Service.
Day 1: After breakfast, we will be picked up by our driver and taken to our destination, Minto, about 3 hours from Whitehorse. Here we will load canoes, review paddling safety and technique, and begin our paddle to historic Dawson.
Days 2-8: It is not practical to give a day by day itinerary. We will paddle approximately 50 km/31 miles per day. Our plan is establish camp on the many islands and sandbars which characterize this stretch of river. This will lessen the remote possibility of bear encounters as well as reduce our contact with those pesky mosquitoes. The following, highlight some of the more interesting features of this stretch of river. The sight of Fort Selkirk (125 km from Carmacks) on a high bank remains one of the trip's highlights. The Hudson's Bay Company established it in 1848. Only accessible by water, Fort Selkirk includes a campsite with well water, tent sites, and kitchen shelter with cook stove, bear-proof garbage containers, and a warming cabin. Our trip down the Yukon River normally includes an overnight and layover day at Fort Selkirk. Fort Selkirk has long been a gathering place for First Nation peoples.
Stone tools discovered near this site have been dated to 10,000 years old. In 1848, John Campbell descended the Pelly River to establish a Hudson Bay Company trading post at the junction of the Yukon and Pelly River. In 1852 the coastal Chilkats, who had previously maintained a monopoly on trade with the local First Nation peoples, reacted to this challenge by looting and then burning the trading post. Campbell fled for his life and it was thirty years before white men returned to the region. In 1889, Arthur Harper re-established a trading post here, calling it Harper's Landing. In 1894, Bishop Bompass erected a mission house and school. In 1899 the North West Mounted Police built a station here and a post office was opened. With the opening of the Klondike Highway, and the subsequent demise of riverboat traffic, Fort Selkirk was abandoned in the 1950. Today the Canadian Heritage Branch has restored the settlement with the Taylor and Drury store, Mounted Police building, Protestant and Catholic Churches, and schoolhouse among the more than 30 buildings that are open to the public. Once past Fort Selkirk, the surrounding country is at least as impressive as ever.
Certainly there is no shortage of historic sites along the banks. The White River (120 km from Dawson) sees a dramatic difference in the color (and the sound) of the Yukon River. The color is the result of a combination of glacial silt, and ash from a volcanic eruption about 1,250 years ago. The ash layer now makes a convenient dating tool for archeologists at sites throughout most of the south and central Yukon. At Stewart City (100 km from Dawson) the river is slowly reclaiming the site. The Stewart River, which joins the Yukon near Stewart City, was one of the earliest of the Yukon's placer mining areas. Prospectors were probably working on the river by 1880, and in 1885, several fairly rich bars were discovered. Arthur Harper soon set up a post at the mouth of the river to serve these miners. However, when much richer deposits of gold were discovered near Forty-mile in 1886, everybody moved there. The Stewart didn't attract much attention again until the Klondike rush; a fair-sized town was built, with a stern wheeler dock, a NWMP post, a large warehouse, two hotels, a large number of cabins, and an even larger number of tents.
The population may have reached 1,000 over the winter of 1898-1899. Although the boom ended, the island maintained a population of between 25 and 50 into the late 1930s. Several buildings have been moved back from the river's edge in recent years. As we get closer to Dawson, a number of old wood camps and homesteads have been taken over by new owners and new cabins have been built to replace the old ones. The relatively fertile islands were particularly popular spots for combined wood-cutting/farming operations. Little or nothing remains at most of these sites. Some have been lost to river erosion, or were moved to new locations when the original site was no longer viable. The anticipation heightens with each bend in the river as we near Dawson City. This same thrill and anticipation must have been present with the Klondike goldrushers after their long journey. Finally the Dome, Dawson's well-known landmark, can be seen in the distance. One more bend and we have arrived.
Days 8 - 10: We have scheduled at least one complete day in Dawson to allow you time on your own to visit the sites that are of most interest to you. We will also drive to visit the original goldfileds and the lookout [Dome]. We will leave Dawson after breakfast on the last day and return to Whitehorse, arriving late afternoon. Along the way we will stop at Braeburn Lodge, a.k.a. Cinnamon Bun Airstrip, for the largest, and best, cinnamon bun around.
- "The Yukon River, our first choice for paddling into the past". (Canoe and Kayak Magazine, 1998)
- "For a moment we find ourselves in a time warp... It is a place you can't see. You feel it. Here there is a wider sense of place - planted in our intellect by people we never met or knew and by events we never witnessed. On the Yukon River it takes hold of you as you drift around each corner and discover some new remnant of time." (River Time, by John Firth).
- Difficulty: Class 1 Novice
- Origin: Whitehorse, Yukon.
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