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Canoeing the Big Salmon River in the Yukon, 2009

Kathy and I decided that we would try to do a real Canadian adventure with our daughters, Alexandra and Angelina, before they got too old to want to join us. That culminated in a 2 week canoe trip of about 400 river kilometres of the Big Salmon River from Quiet Lake to Carmacks. We also got to spend about a week total in Whitehorse, the capital. It was a real adventure! We had wonderful weather, tremendous wilderness and scenery. We saw all kinds of wildlife, and met some interesting people, and learned a thing or two about ourselves and each other. Below are the pictures that chronicle our journey.


Waiting for our flight to Whitehorse at the Vancouver Airport

The MacBride Museum is small, but its worth going through, if you have a couple of hours to kill.

Angie panning for gold......

Checking out the local saloon

Fireweed down by the Yukon River

It didn't look like anyone had ridden this bike for a few seasons

A statue celebrating the spirit of the Klondike fortune seeker

Having a pitcher at the Salmon and Rib, probably the best eatery in town.   

The put in, Quiet Lake, about a 3 hour drive east of Whitehorse. Up North rented us the canoes and dropped us off and picked us up. Over 100k of the drive was on the old Canol road, a gravel road. Standing for Canadian Oil, the pipeline was built during World War II to help out in the war effort. This was a joint venture with the US. More on this at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canol_Road

Our bug tent, a screened enclosure, was VERY popular. The mosquitoes were terrible this year. It was fine on the water, but even a few metres into the forest was unbearable without a big shirt.

But the bug shirts do sort of make you look like either a nuclear accident clean up crew, or aliens. But they work. MEC carries them.

Sandy Lake, the second of three lakes that we had to traverse before reaching the headwaters of the Big Salmon River.

This guy was sitting in the tree in the small river linking Sandy Lake with the much larger Big Salmon Lake, the third lake. We saw many bald eagles. There seems to be no shortage of them. We even saw some fishing and eating trout and grayling.

Big Salmon Lake is quite large and the weather was very fine that day

Taking a nice break

I even took a dip, but it was a wee bit cold.

At the head waters of the Big Salmon River stands an old log cabin, still used by canoeists. It's owned by the Teslin Family and generously allows it to be used by all. Franz Six was a friend of the family and lived here for a couple of years, fixing it up, etc. He was an outdoorsman and died in an avalanche in Austria. The cabin has log books, like on the Long Trail in Vermont and they date back to 1993! I tried to Google his name but came up with no reference to his life or death.

The Big Salmon River starts right in front of the cabin. That evening, the grayling were jumping like crazy, so I sat in the back of one of the canoes and cast out with just a small spinner. I must have caught 15 on 20 attempts. The largest 2 became dinner for Kathy and I. Very tasty!

The old cabin with its living roof, and a large food cache built to resist bears. The roof showed no signs of leaking. We slept outdoors but ate in the cabin. This area is wet, and had just tons of mosquitoes

Our compound at Franz Six

This was the log jam that all of the books and posts write about. It does span the entire width of the river so it cannot be crossed. It is probably dangerous in high water, but even though this was mid July, the summer had been very dry and the water levels were low. We pulled the canoes through some mud and shallow water on the right side of the log jam. In the very center of the photo, is a dark shape. These are 2 otters that were fishing in the swift water. There was a group of at least 6. I did not have time to get my big lens out so I did not get a close shot. They barked to each other almost like dogs and got very excited when one of them caught a fish, which we saw them do.

By the end of the first day, Kathy and Alex had figured out the best configuration for their canoe.

I was having a wonderful and peaceful time

Our camp at Sheep Creek, a very nice spot with few bugs and plenty of nice water.

Every place in the world has its light. The Yukon has its own.

The river steaming on a cold morning

The girls were always in amazingly good spirits

The river with its bends and sweepers

Cooling off Yukon style on a particularly warm day. We had temperatures in the 25 - 30 range most of the time

Self portrait with compound in the waning sunlight

Sometimes we would just pick a sand bar for our camp. With the water being low, there were many options for these

We built small fires from the driftwood to burn our garbage

The Royalex canoes served us very well. They are sturdy and very tough.

The river was at about 2,000 feet ASL and the hills ahead topped at over 6,000

We did have time to relax and take in some rays....

There was even time for the beach!

Another very convenient sand bar, flat as anything. It would have been under water a couple of weeks earlier

An arctic tern

My wonderful crew

There were forest fires burning less than 100k away and sometimes we could smell them, and sometimes the wind pushed the smoke like a dark cloud towards us. It was very weird, like something from Mordor!

The smoke would create a weird light

Our last camp on the Big Salmon River, before we joined the Yukon River

Some of the camps were built into the forest but all are ad hoc. There are no formal camp sites. Some have been used by natives for centuries.

We spent most of our communal time on the ground in the bug tent. We ate there, read, played cards

Fishing was good, but I never had the chance to stop at choice spots to fish. It was a canoe trip after all, NOT a fishing trip

Mother and child. These ones surprised us. We rounded a corner of the river and almost passed them when Angie spotted them. The mother was lying down and we thought she was dead, but she was only resting. She stood up and watched us float harmlessly by.

Abandoned cabins at the Big Salmon Village and Trading Post where the Big Salmon River flows into the much larger Yukon River

Obviously people stop in here on a regular basis. There were some guys in a big fishing boat that were camping there. We looked around and moved on.

It looks like a wonderful spot, a great place for a base camp

Fireweed growing on an old burn. It is so called because it is the first thing to grow after a forest fire

Some hoodoos in the making

We would raft up every hour or so to reconnect

And we always looked GOOD!

This was our first camp on the Yukon River, not far downstream from the Big Salmon Village

The forest floor was very dry and the forest was thick. Its tough to bush wack through this stuff. And the mosquitoes were coming at us like clouds

The landscape is very pretty

Alex was having a good time

Even though she did get bored after a while.....

A self portrait. I had not seen myself for over a week so I took a shot to see what I looked like

Angie was my faithful and trusted helmsman

We picked up a map book in Whitehorse of the river and that helped us a lot. I used a GPS sometimes to locate us on the map. We had all kinds of topo maps with us as well, but these were not really necessary and we barely used them

More Fireweed

Abandoned cabins at the location of the old Little Salmon Village where the Little Salmon River flows into the Yukon. Not far away, the natives have started up a village for themselves, primarily for summer use, and salmon fishing during the run in late August

Our last camp on the river

We spent a night in this cabin in the Coal Mine campground in Carmacks, the end of our canoe journey. Up North picked us up the following day even though we arrived several days early. With good weather we did not need any of the slack days we had built into the schedule. Furthermore, we canoed more per day than I had expected. We did 50 kilometres the last day and 40k was not unusual for us.

Fishing off the wharf

The restaurant in the campground. The couple that run it are very friendly and helpful. The food is good too!

Their dog was very easy to get along with

Everything Alex needs to live. Books, ice cream, her diary, and the great outdoors!

And so happy she was!

We spotted this guy from the van on the drive back top Whitehorse. He and his sibling were munching on berries by the side of the road

Back in Whitehorse. Because we finished a few days early and we did not need to use any of our slack days, we had 5 days to cool our heels in Whitehorse, so we played tourist

A log cabin high rise! Unique architecture

An old church

One of our favoured eateries, a Bistro with good food

We took a walking talking tour for an hour by the river to give the town some context for us

An aspen grove

The tour leader was kind of cool and laid back

A statue celebrating Robert Service. Lake Labarge is not very far away, from The Cremation of Sam McGee fame.

Some old piles from an abandoned warf. The Yukon River water is phenomenally blue because it is so clean

The largest wind vane in the world. The entire plane spins to align itself into the wind

The local cemetary

A bike repair shop

This "hotel" was next to ours and drunks would be stumbling around and yelling at all hours, starting at mid-morning


All Photos Copyright Nestor Lewyckyj 2009