The first time I saw the Yukon? I remember it well. It was the week I moved to Alaska. The week I moved all the way from New York to Coldfoot for a new job.
The jack of all trades up at Coldfoot Camp had picked me up in Fairbanks to drive me north to the Arctic. I was so nervous and so excited. He took a look at me as I buckled my seatbelt in the passenger seat of his truck. “Don’t freak out when we skid because we ARE going to skid.” And with that introduction, we were off, bumping along north, north, north, up the Haul Road. Up the Dalton “Highway.” It was still early enough in the season that the road was all ice and snow. The Yukon River is a couple of hours and then some drive north of Fairbanks. You know it is coming because you go down a BIIIGG hill. You’re going to want your brakes to be working for that one.
We skidded. I held onto my seat, white knuckles, stomach doing summersaults, but didn’t make a sound. He looked back over at me once we had regained control. I kept staring straight ahead at the road, trying to look as unfazed as possible. Maybe I passed the test because he didn’t say anything. He just kept driving.
I forgot about it all a few minutes later though because the river came into view. It was HUGE. Bigger than I had ever imagined. Bigger than any river I had ever seen. All white and frozen solid. Breakup was still a few months off. Come to think of it, I have seen more of the Yukon River frozen than flowing. I’ve really only seen the point where it passes under the Haul Road, occasionally getting out there to take a break on a long drive south to Fairbanks or back north to Coldfoot. I once stopped to eat lunch there early in the spring and climbed up on a little tug boat that was parked there for the winter for a better view. I suppose I have seen it from the air a few times too but mostly near the same spot and then by Fort Yukon once. That leaves a LOT of exploring to do!
The first time I day dreamed of floating the Yukon? I remember that day even better! That was at ALDHA-West’s Triple Crown Ceremony at Lake Wenatchee in Washington. What year was it? 2011 I think. At that long distance hiking gathering I ran into Walking Carrot and Nowhere Man who I’d met on the CDT. We somehow got onto the topic of a Yukon River trip that they had done years ago. I could have listened to them talk about it for days. I was almost angry when a friend came over and changed the topic to the meaning behind wilderness area designations! It was already too late for me. The Yukon River had me in its grip. I was sold. Completely entranced by the idea of seeing its length.
I managed to put the day dream on the shelf for a little while, but last fall a new friend from Haines brought the thought up again. “We should float the Yukon next summer” I wasn’t sure if he was serious but I certainly wasn’t going to say “no” to a fantastic idea like that. So “YES” it was. And YES! It is!
Every time I look at a map of the river I just can’t believe how long and wild and winding the Yukon looks. What an adventure! Right through the heart of the Yukon Territory and the heart of Alaska. Through all that is wild and all that is good.
Right now, the plan is to start the trip hopefully hiking up the Chilkoot Trail as soon as breakup allows in June. There is still a lot of work to do be done to get ready but planning these expeditions is always fun! I’ll keep you updated!