Zunoquad 3“Canoeing the Teslin and Yukon Rivers (5)

Day 4

Lord Robert, the day’s captain, saw to it that we were back in the boats at 9 AM on a bright promising morning. The only use of the word “spectacular” in our otherwise low-key guide occurred to describe the section of the river we approached soon after departure, dramatically illuminated in the morning sunshine.  Two high cutbanks converged to create what seemed like an endless maze, probably the outcome of past shifts of the river’s course.  We all stopped paddling and let the current slowly wind us along, dazzled by the luminous cliff faces and hushed by those in shadow, dwarfed by their scale, thrilled by the brilliance of sky and foliage on the opposite bank.


Lunch was scheduled for Mason’s Landing, a historical landmark 136 kilometers from our starting point.   Among the ruins of crude log cabins, we ate, rested and Murray chronicled and composed.  According Mike Rourke’s guide, the Teslin river itself didn’t yield much gold, but it was the route from the South to Dawson City and the Klondike a hundred miles north, and to nearby big strikes on Livingstone Creek in 1894.  First a pack trail and then a wagon road was constructed to lead there from this trading post, along with a telegraph line from the Hootalinqua junction downstream, our destination for the night’s camp.


Andy’s GPS told him that the current was increasing so we could slow down whenever we wanted to enjoy the scenery, the fishing and the feel of the river flowing fast over the bottom visible in the shallows along the shore and slow through the eddies and whirlpools on its surface in the middle.


At Hootalinqua, the Teslin terminated, absorbed by the Yukon river flowing into it from Lake Labarge. The Google map suggested this would be a sensational location, but the convergence was hidden by treed islands. Nevertheless one could suddenly feel a surge of new current and see that the color of the water had changed from a transparent brown to an opaque green.  We paddled hard to get across the channel  and arrived in a calm bay, at the end of which floated a pair of swans in placid dignity beside an artfully shaped boulder protruding from the water.  As we approached them quietly, they took off in formation and circled the large bay trumpeting as they flew over us and then returning to alight where they started.


Another reception was provided by a man standing on shore staring at us intently, dressed not like a canoeist or kayaker, but in torn jeans, jean jacket, gumboots and wide hat, long-haired, bearded, bespectacled and dark in complexion.  There was no sign of a boat along the shore and we knew there was no road to this place. As we pulled up on the sand beach, eager to explore this interesting location and make use of the well built outhouses, he asked if we had any tobacco, he hadn’t had a cigarette in days, since he’d had a fight with his uncle, got out of the boat here, and waited around hoping for a way to get home.

As we unloaded our canoes a tiny figure came shooting across the widened river from behind the island paddling a tiny collapsible kayak.   Cameron, a young man from Victoria had borrowed it from someone he knew who had got it from someone else for a hundred dollars. He’d started at Whitehorse on the Yukon river, and gotten delayed by a two day storm that kept him from crossing Lake LaBarge.  He had neither sleeping bag nor waterproof clothing nor job nor kayaking experience, but a spirit of adventure that was taking him through the five finger rapids all the way down river to Dawson City.


The marooned man, named Russell, also asked Cameron for a smoke.  His strange story and mix of reticence and talkativeness made everyone uneasy.  In reply to whether or not he had food, he said “up in a tree,” explained later by his saying he’d almost hit a grouse with a rock and that he could kill the two swans with one shot.  Steve urged that we offer him a ride out, but Andy suggested that we bring up all the paddles from the shore and keep them in our tents.

Russell disappeared while we ate a somber dinner.  Andy called Steve Mother Teresa and said that Russell refused his offer to call for help with the Satellite phone. Steve said that only “Westerners” would be hesitant to help a person like this in distress.  The rest of our group seemed reluctant to desert Russell but wary of taking on a passenger we distrusted for the rest of the trip, especially since his family and friends knew of his being here. After the meal to which he was not invited, Russell returned and asked for coffee”but not alcohol.  Steve gave him hot chocolate and John and he engaged Russell in conversation.  He had come up river, he said, with his uncle and two friends, one of who had “gone crazy” and run off into the bush up near Teslin Crossing, a spot between Mason Landing and the Spectacular Cut Bank.  The uncle insisted on returning to Carmacs down the river for a doctor’s appointment, but Russell wanted to stay and search. That was the reason for the fight. Wariness diminished somewhat as we all sat around the fire in the chill evening drizzle, despite Russell’s repeated mention of the “thirty aught six” that he had stashed in his camp. He also indicated that he had a son in England, that he was a volunteer firefighter, that he was planning to go to a First Nations shindig upriver, that he was a Boston Bruins fan and that he was familiar with Leonard Cohen.


Day 5

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

Leave a Reply