Zunoquad 3“Canoeing the Teslin and Yukon Rivers (7)

Day 6

A quarter moon and Venus lit the dawn, which arrived 45 minutes later this morning than the day we started. Allan, a.k.a. “Soaring Eagle,” was the day’s leader. We crawled out of the tents greeted by a heavy frost, another sign that the northern winter was on its way. A ribbon of fog spread from the cold river over the warming land and then burned off revealing a cloudless sky. The powers above were smiling on our soon-to-be-terminated voyage. The current had reached a steady 10 km/hr making paddling optional, except where multiple channels around gravel bars and islands required selection and vigorous effort.  Reflecting on the ability of the river to move us as it wanted while we struggled to find the right direction and on yesterday’s experience of choice and circumstance, Steve and I debated determinism and free will. In other canoes Andy theorized about neurological analogies between gambling and angling addictions while John and Murray caught more fish.


On the lookout for a suitable spot to stop for lunch, we rounded a turn and spotted a curious sight on a distant low island: what looked like an old-fashioned wall tent standing off kilter on the shore and people at a campfire.  Steve said, “Looks like hunters, lets not go there,” but then we saw Allan and John’s canoes pulled up on the beach.  As soon as we landed, our old friend Cameron came over and introduced a young fellow with long curly hair and a leather hat as “a film maker.”  We walked with them toward the fire and discovered that the tent was pitched on fresh cut spruce poles and mounted on a large raft also completely constructed of poles. Alan and Rob were conversing with a striking young woman wearing dreadlocks gathered in a loose bun who offered us tea and muffins with a radiant smile.  I could only smile back and stare goggle-eyed as she explained that she was with a group who had built the raft several days before out of 130 poles they cut at the northern end of Lake LaBarge where they too were delayed by the storm. Afterward they’d floated it down the river, having spent a whole night on the water trying to find a place to land where they could maneuver out of the current.


Two other men stood at the fire drinking tea, neither looking much like a voyageur, and when they spoke, out came the broadest Cockney accents I’ve heard since watching a Mike Leigh movie.  They had seen a story about going down this river in a book about 20 Great Things To Do Before You Die and had taken a couple of weeks off from their business in London ferrying drunk teenagers from pub to pub in a minibus.  They’d never canoed or kayaked before and were having the time of their lives.


It was hard for me to take my eyes off the woman with the tea, but my attention was drawn by the sound of Ian flopping in the water off the gangplank leading to the raft.  I wandered over and went aboard to overhear a man who looked like a model exquisitely garbed in wool and corduroy explaining to John with a thick French accent that he and his partner, professional guides, were making a promotional film about a new sport of recreating the old prospector’s experience of building rafts and floating them down the river, the project financed by a Swiss bank. They had rented two canoes from “Up North Adventures,” carried their baggage and towed two large logs and six plastic barrels up the lake, and then used hand tools to build the raft.


Against the pile of baggage on the large deck leaned expensive cases for a rifle and a guitar. Too shy to address questions in the presence of all this competence, youth and beauty, I asked John how the girl got here and he said the guides had put an invitation in the Whitehorse newspaper classifieds and that she responded. Her name was Victoria.  She’d left New Zealand on her post-highschool travel sabbatical twelve years ago and was still on the road.


Back at the fire, Victoria was joined by another lovely woman from the south of France.  She was talking to Lionel and Allan about having encountered Russell a couple of days before and not knowing what to make of him. We shared our story and I flashed on my adventure in the south of France 47 years ago, centered in a tiny village called Grimaud.  She said she knew the place.

Our group reassembled at our landing spot for lunch as the last canoe arrived with Murray and Andy, triumphant about having caught four grayling and also puzzled by the spectacle on the beach.  I urged Murray to give the ladies an offering of fish, but hearing our giggles at his approach, he returned too embarrassed to proceed and instead targeted me with a Monte Python fish slap.


After lunch Murray, Andy and I went skinny dipping in the cold Yukon river a discrete enough distance from the young folk to limit our exposure and still show off. Once we were dressed again and about to get  back into our canoes, the two women wished us farewell as they walked down the beach carrying machetes, presumably to cut more poles in the bush.

Our intended campsite for the night was already occupied by a couple with a dog so we decided to spare them our company and take the next one downstream indicated in the guide, but it couldnt be found. While Murray and Andy stayed behind to catch more fish, the rest decided to carve out a new campsite on a small muddy spit at the end of an island since night was approaching. When the fishermen arrived and saw it, they convinced us to keep going another hour to the Little Salmon River where we found an established spot that all agreed was a better choice. Three speedboats passed close to the canoes just before dusk–other than the RCMP’s the first motors we heard in a week. “Don’t F—With Me” Steve was appointed next day’s leader.

Day 7

To view a complete set of photos for this trip go here.

To view a slideshow of these photos go here.

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