Zunoquad 3“Canoeing the Teslin and Yukon Rivers (6)

Day 5

I woke up clear in my mind that leaving Russell behind was not an option.  His alien presence might spoil our holiday mood, but it was possible he could enter and extend the scope of the group.  More important, guilt for abandoning him in the woods would dampen our high spirits even more than his presence, and if he met harm, the story would eventually come out to our shame.  Before I had a chance to express this view, Steve approached me with the question, should we leave or take him, and I answered without hesitation.  He said that he and Andy had agreed he should poll people individually rather than enter a lengthy group deliberation, and that my sentiment was shared by everyone. Russell seemed happy with our decision and brought his backpack with rifle down to the shore to be loaded into the reconfigured canoes, and asked if we could spare a cup of rum.

Minutes before our scheduled 9:00 AM departure the unaccustomed sound of engines was heard from upstream, and as it increased to a roar, two stainless steel jet boats with several red-suited occupants sped toward us across the bay. It was the Royal Canadian Mounted Police!  They came onshore announcing that a couple of hunters had been reported missing and then saying quietly to John that this kind of thing happens often; the “crazy” guy was probably in detox.  Russell didn’t appear eager to go with them, but had little choice and gave us a friendly goodbye. After reporting what little we knew of the situation, we repacked the boats again and shoved off downstream without him.


Now we were riding the Yukon river, larger and faster than the Teslin.  Windows of sunshine opened in the overcast occasionally flooding canoes and shore with oblique morning light. Reflection upon our being spared the consequences of our morally preferable choice about Russell eased the mood, and Lionel and I spun alternative Hollywood plotlines for a sequel: a hijacking involving the guy who went crazy a la “The River Wild” or “Deliverance,” or our rescue from drowning in rapids by Russell and his family living along the shore.


At a late afternoon lunch break we were joined at a pullout by Imo, a shy greybearded German mountaineer, who had just gotten into kayaking after making a film about rock climbing along the coast of Majorca. Rob joined the exclusive club of successful fishermen but got so carried away by the sport that he busted Lionel’s fancy rod.


As we coasted downstream the lightshow continued all afternoon, highlighting the canoes between water and sky, casting a rainbow between the river banks and making the autumn foliage glisten at our day’s destination, the old trading post at the confluence of the Big Salmon with the Yukon.  Cameron had reached this spot before us and found shelter far enough away to avoid being disturbed by our unrestrained language and laughter.  This expansive site included several log cabins, one of which contained a bookcase full of liquor bottles left by recent campers as well as an old gold pan.  Originally a First Nations fishing camp, it had served as steamboat landing, telegraph station and mission.  Before the Klondike Gold Rush in 1903, it was headquarters for many prospectors who took out moderate amounts of gold from the immediate area.  According to the guide, “By the mid 1930’s the community was still a riverboat landing with a trading post.” On a rock outcrop above the site, we found a cemetery, with manufactured fencing and small structures protecting shallow or surface graves.


Erecting the tarp without trees to rope to was an ambitious task but not beyond the abilities of the tarpmeister and assistants.  Cocktail hour consumed all the remaining rum under the auspices of the day’s leader, Andy, aka “Captain Blowhard.” Entertainment was provided by the whole crew playing roles of ragged, rambunctuous, raunchy pirates.  Another dinner with a generous fish course followed by Nutella for dessert was enjoyed under a lyrical pastel sunset.


Day 6

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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