The Yukon Flats


The Yukon Flats have the most varied climate in all of Alaska.  They see temperatures up to 90 in the summer and down to 70 below in the winter.  That’s a 160 degree difference!  Luckily I got to experience the higher end of this temperature spectrum.  It was in the 80s and still as can be as I paddled through the region.


The flats are an intimidating place to travel through with innumerable islands and sloughs you lose track of the current from time to time and have to remember your geomorphology lessons to try to figure the river out (thanks Dr. Bob!).  Look for cut banks.  The current will be hitting there.  Be patient.  If you lose the current stop and pay attention.  See where your boat is drifting.

I would have loved to have tucked my maps away and just paid attention to where the current was taking me and I might have if it weren’t for one obstacle.  The whirlpool.  There is a whirlpool between Circle and Fort Yukon that can apparently take the better part of the day to get out of if you find yourself within its grasp.  I decided to avoid that one!  And stayed out of the current behind an island opposite from where the spot was marked on my map.  I would be curious to see it someday though.  Maybe from the safety of a boat with a motor.


My first evening in the flats was so nice, I decided to set up camp early a little ways south of Fort Yukon on a good island with a beach.  A moose came crashing through my camp a couple of hours after I set it up.  I hollered at him as he came towards me so that he’d know I was there.  He ran off into the willows.

. . .

The next morning I paddled into Fort Yukon- one of the larger villages on the river with a population of 600.  I left my kayak in a safe spot and walked into town with my backpack on.  Didn’t make it five steps before a gentleman zooming by on an atv pulled over and asked if I’d like a ride.  Sure I would!  Wow.  You don’t even have to hitch hike in Fort Yukon!

Most everything was closed since it was the 4th of July but I did find a place to fill up on water and was told that the town’s parade would be held that afternoon.  Well.  I wasn’t going to miss that!  I was able to buy myself a cold root beer, find a nice spot of shade and relax while I waited for the event to unfold.


The parade was a festive lineup of atvs, kids riding on bicycles, a few trucks, the town’s ambulance and fire truck.  Most everything was red white and blue including the kids’ faces which had been painted with stars and stripes.


Every single person I met eagerly wished me a “Happy Independence Day!”  I spent about four hours there and it was a very pleasant visit.


The following days in the Yukon Flats took me past the villages of Beaver and Stevens.  One of the most exciting parts of this trip is getting to see the different outposts along the way, meeting the people who live there and finding out more about their lifestyles.


After the Flats, the Yukon hits the road.  The Dalton Highway.  I lived on that road for a good while when I worked up at Coldfoot and it still kinda feels like home.  There is a camp at the road and I was very happy to walk in and see three familiar faces.  My friends Lacey, David and Brody!!  It’s strange and rather wonderful to suddenly be somewhere you know after so many miles of new terrain. I was able to take a shower, do laundry and enjoy a delicious hot meal at the camp and talk with friends!  After stowing my gear (thanks Brodie, Dorothy and Jeremy!) it was time to head south to Fairbanks to re-supply.  Town.  Can’t say I wasn’t excited.



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To Circle

Owl hooting

Rock slides off bluff

Hissing of sediment

Wind in aspens

Howl from a sled dog up river


Every night before I go to bed, I make a list of the sounds I can hear as I lie in my tent.  I camped at Calico Bluff the last day of June.  Another kayaker had recommended the spot to me.  There was a good beach on an island across from the rock formation.  The bluff is so big that it fills up the whole world when you sit across from it.  It fills up the whole sky with its greys and whites and rust all twisted.  So much pressure, so complex, you want it to mean more than it does.  That afternoon I had crossed the border back into Alaska.  It was good to be back and I fell asleep in love with it all.


The next morning I was up early.  Rain was coming and I wanted to sleep in one of the cabins between Eagle and Circle.  I had my eye on the Glen Creek Cabin.  I was up early enough that I had paddled there by 1.30.  Thunder was grumbling here and there, so it was good timing.  I brought my gear up to the cabin, hung up a few things to dry and made myself a good lunch of lentils and pasta and an apple.  I caught up on my journal-ing and sat for a bit.


I paced around the small cabin and sat some more.



Looked at the registrar.  Twiddled my thumbs.  Peered out the front door . . .  it was only 3 pm.

I looked at my maps.


The legendary Slaven’s Roadhouse was only 33 miles away.  The 2 story cabin that the Yukon Quest Mushers stay at.  After a little more pacing it was decided.  I was going to push on.  The distance was just a little too far to be comfortably covered that evening but something bit me and I was going to get to Slavens and rational thinking certainly wasn’t going to stop me!


So I packed up my gear and went.  It was a push through a little rain and wind to get there but oh was it worth it.  What luxury!  I made it by 11 pm  and hauled my things up a little hill to discover a two story building with multiple rooms outfitted with a long table in the dining room with a kitchen and stove upstairs.  And beds . . . with MATTRESSES.  Not gross old moldy mattresses either but clean, fairly new ones.  Ha!


I had the whole place to myself and fell fast asleep in a bed that night and slept until 9 am the next morning.



Now this was the kind of place where I could relax and take it easy!  That day I went through my gear, read my book, put that traveling guitar that I’ve been lugging around to good use.  In the afternoon I hiked up to an old dredge a couple of miles away.  It was nice just to walk.  All this kayaking.  I miss walking and running and hiking.


When I returned to Slaven’s an hour or two later, I was excited to see two packrafts resting next to the cabin. . . company!  It turned out to be two park rangers posted in Eagle.  One of them (Nick) who knows my friends Ken and Jack!  Small world.  They were just finishing up a month long wild packrafting patrol down the Charley and another river.  Great having some company!

The following morning it was off to Circle, AK and the start of the intimidating Yukon Flats.



P.S. An ENORMOUS thank you for the mail in Circle!  That kept a smile on my face for days!



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Dempster Highway Adventures and the Mad Trapper of Rat River



Did you see that? 

Let’s turn around. 

That old cabin?  It looked. . .




Once in Dawson, my friend Patrick and I had decided to go on a road trip up the Dempster Highway.  The road stretches from Dawson City 450 miles north into the Arctic.  It was originally a dog sled trail.  The road was built in the late 1970s to serve oil and gas exploration in the Mackenzie Delta.  It’s a dirt road (a mud road if it is wet outside).


dempster map


After living up on the Dalton Hwy in Alaska, I have been very curious to see the road’s twin.  Luckily for me, my friend Patrick had also been wanting to drive the road, and was able to come out from Fairbanks with a nice clean truck (which wasn’t going to stay that way for long) for the adventure.


We explored all the way up to the top, to Inuvik and back managing not to get any flat tires along the way.


On the way back south we paused in Fort Mcpherson and as we were driving through, a structure caught my eye.  There were plenty of dilapidated cabins around but this one stuck out from the rest somehow.  It looked like it must have a story.


We drove over to it and were surprised to discover a sign informing us that this was the home of the man who we had been hearing about all over the Yukon Territory and all over the Northwest Territory.  The man whose death photos adorn bar walls.  The man whose tale everyone in the area seems to know.

Albert Johnson.  The Mad Trapper at Rat River.  The troubled man who shot a constable and then ran, evading his pursuers and leading them on a 150 mile foot chase in the dead of the Arctic winter.  No one knows his true identity.  Who he was or where he came from remains a mystery.  They say his pursuers did not hear him utter a single word during the entire chase.  The only sound they ever heard from him was a cold laugh after he shot the constable.

The cabin was dark and low to the ground.  I did not dare get close.  I just studied it from the road.


After another day and a half of driving we made it back to Dawson.  I liked the Dempster more than I thought I would.  I’d give it a perfect 10.  It is very different from the Dalton Highway.  It passes through several mountain ranges and is more rolling hills than flats after the mountains.  It was a good adventure.  A nice break from the Yukon to rest my arms for a few days and let the splits in my poor hands heal.  By the time we returned to Dawson I was ready to paddle on.  Alaska was near.



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Dawson City



I had been making good time that morning.  Great time.  Dawson was within my reach.  Dawson City.

The weather had been sunny and still and the current fast.  Progress was quick.

All of that changed in the afternoon though.  I had just 5 miles to go to town and my mind was more preoccupied with what flavor of ice cream I was going to get in Dawson than anything else.

Then the wind came bringing with it rain clouds.

Oh wind and her wild ways.

You can hear the wind.  You can see the gusts raging over the water before they hit you.  It gives you time to brace yourself.  Time to hold your breath so you don’t breathe in the sediment they carry.  Time to angle your kayak so they don’t throw you off course.

And then it hits you.  It is an oppressive feeling.  A helpless feeling.  Your ears fill with the sound and you struggle forward.

Kayaking has seemed luxurious compared to thru-hiking.  I can carry more comfortable gear.  I can throw in my traveling guitar and a couple of books and nice food without stressing about every single ounce. . .but when you are out on the water, there is no hiding from the weather.  No thick forest to shelter you from rain as you travel.  No shade when it is sunny and hot.  No hill to walk behind to hide from the wind.  Whatever the weather is, you are in it.

The wind was as wild as I had seen it on this trip.  In minutes it started whipping up white caps.  The gusts were erratic coming from all different directions.  Never a tailwind though.

Should I set up camp?

But I’m so close!  That mint chocolate chip ice cream is so close!

Another blast of wind . . .

Imposing whitecaps . . .

I need to set up camp.


I had just about made this decision when I turned the corner to find a protected slough behind a nice island with tall trees.  I had seen the spot on the map but hadn’t considered paddling it.  I took a second look at the map.  The slough stretched a ways behind the island and would get me close enough to the boat landing.  I wouldn’t have to cross the broad river.  I could just stick to the shore . . . this could work!  Ice cream, here I come!

Only a light breeze made it to the slough and after I made it around the island, Dawson City was right there.


I was so excited when the town came into view, I almost forgot to pay attention for the boat landing on the opposite side of the river.  Dawson City sits right at the confluence of the Klondike and the Yukon.  Where clean, clear Klondike water meets the silty already giant Yukon.


I landed my boat.  The wind was still strong and throwing sand in my face but that didn’t matter anymore.  I had made it.


Dawson is quite a place.  It is so chalk full of character, you could spend weeks there and not have had enough of it.  This town was the goal of all those thousands of prospectors who came to try their luck in the goldfields during the gold rush over 100 years ago.  How far they had come.  How much they had risked.

Dawson could have faded into obscurity like so many of the gold mining communities from Klondike Rush times.  It nearly did.  Over just a handful of years after the rush, its population dove from 40,000 to 8,000 to 5,000 to 1,000 but the town stubbornly held on and there it sits today.


Dawson still has dirt streets and wooden sidewalks.  Some of the buildings are over 100 years old.  Some have been restored and some have been left alone and sink low to the ground.  The elegant theater is still there, Jack London and Robert Service’s cabins are there. Dawson still has a frontier town feel.  It is after all a 6 hour drive to the nearest outposts from there.  6 hours to Whitehorse and a 6 hours to Tok and an entire days drive to Inuvik.




It is an incredibly friendly place.  People would say hello and even introduce themselves as I was just walking down the street.  I was very excited to meet two other travelers: Sarah and Oskar who are right now walking across Canada!  Check out their website here.

Camped with new friends Claire, Ben and Patrick!

Camped with new friends Claire, Ben and Patrick!

I stayed at a hostel for a couple of days and went on a tour of dredge 4 a ways out from town with Claire (from Australia) and Patrick and Ben (from Germany).  It is good to be around people.  I will be off the road system in a couple of weeks and these opportunities will be gone.


Hike with Patrick, Ben and Claire!


If I can make it to Dawson, maybe I can make it to the sea.


. . .

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To Dawson



“Bakery Keep Right 6 km” A green sign along the river read . . . on the river miles from any road, miles from any village, miles from anything at all.


I could go for a nice pastry and a tea.  Dare I get my hopes up?


The morning before I had spent a good 5 hours rambling around the deserted town of Selkirk.  There is so much to see!  The chapel, the cabins, the church, the graveyard.  So much to see.  As I walked through the empty homes, a part of me almost expected someone to pop out and yell at me for trespassing.  The Yukon government has done a great job of maintaining the buildings.  You can still see the care that went into the homes.  They have nice wallpaper and thoughtful design.  One of them even had stained glass windows.


Selkirk sits right where the Pelly River joins the Yukon.  It has been inhabited in some form for the last 8,000 years with a trading post in the 1800s before the highway was built on the other side of the river.  Now it is deserted aside from the caretaker.


After a morning of exploration, I hopped in my kayak at around 1 pm but not before being offered blueberry pancakes by the group of German canoers that I had camped with the night before.  I wrapped them carefully in aluminum foil to save for a snack.  They were delicious!


That afternoon the wind picked up so intensely that I was forced to make camp having only made it to Selwyn.  The German group who had left just after me ended up doing the same, so I had company for two nights in a row!


High basalt walls dominated this section of the river

The following morning I was up and at ‘em early, hoping to make miles before that wind came back.  I saw the bakery sign at 11 am.  I stayed right on the river until a boat landing came into view and secured my kayak.  There was a path leading up from the landing and I could make out a few cabins through the brush.  Is this it?  Or am I about to intrude on someone’s land?


I walked up the hill quietly, trying to figure out whether or not I was trespassing or indeed walking up to a bakery.

It didn’t look like the spot for a bakery.

The dogs gave me away.  There were four of them.  All shapes and sizes and colors.  Barking.

A woman and two young girls came out of the cabin.  They waved me over and assured me that this was the bakery.  There was a menu on the side of the cabin and before I knew it I was sitting down with a delicous egg breakfast and a cup of tea in my hand.

Turns out they are a family from Dawson who spends the summers out at this camp, providing food and a place to tent for travelers on the river.  The two girls- ages 10 and 11- sat with me while I ate and told me all about the camp.  They were looking forward to the canoe race that goes from Whitehorse to Dawson in a few days.  The racers are required to take a 3 hour layover at their camp and they serve them soup and sandwiches.

I left with a full stomach and a coconut cookie in my pocket.


Then it was onwards.

The Yukon River is growing rapidly as I head further downstream.  With the addition of the White River and Stewart River, the Yukon seems to have quadrupled in size and amount of silt.  At the confluence of the White River I hiked up a bluff to get a good view.



Then it was on to Dawson City which I arrived at the following afternoon!  DAWSON CITY!!

To Selkirk

After my adventures in mushroom picking, I was excited to return to the river especially after all that sooty air in the burn.  I woke up early with plans to head to a cabin just past Minto.


The day was sunny and hot.  The river took me past more mountains and cliffs and islands.  I paused for lunch at an old Mounted Police Post and explored three rotting cabins set back from the river.


A few hours later I made it to Minto.  There was a road there so I left my kayak to go for a walk and stretch my legs.  Found a falling in cabin up on a hill and an informative sign by the road.  Minto used to be on the overland trail route which was used to bring mail from Whitehorse to Dawson before air mail service.


I made it to the cabin just after Minto but the structure was up on a cut bank that rose over my head.  I couldn’t figure out a way to get my boat up or secure it below, so after a quick dinner I decided it was best to continue down river to hopefully find a more kayak friendly site.


I went by the first site I saw because I felt like paddling just a little further.  Big Mistake.

The following miles of river brought me past sheer cliff banks and thick forest.  Nowhere to camp.  I ended up having to paddle hours on all the way through the “Gates of Hell.”

“The Gates of Hell” is a quick moving section of river that is choked up by islands.  No problem for my kayak but a BIG deal for the sternwheelers that used to travel this area.  It was not uncommon for two boats to be stuck in the Gates of Hell at once during the gold rush days.


I finally made it to the ghost town of Selkirk to camp.  Selkirk used to be an important trading post before the highway was built.  The town has been maintained and many of the buildings (cabins, trading post, church, chapel) are still intact and really fun to explore.

I was a little spent but it was lucky to get to camp there.  Such a cool place!  Pretty busy for a ghost town too.  When I arrived, a group of 10 Germans were hanging out around a fire.


Steep boat landing in Selkirk. My kayak and the German’s canoes.




Here is a picture of my wonderful Dad during a hike in the Gila after he flew all the way from the east coast to finish up the Grand Enchantment Trail with me last year.  I am one lucky kid!


HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD!!!!!!  I miss you and can’t wait to see you when I get home!



Morel GOLD


There were three people standing ahead of me in the line for showers in Carmacks.  They were filthy.  They were filthier than anyone I had ever seen- and that’s saying a lot coming from a thru-hiker whose “longest time without a shower record” stands at 1 month.

Their faces and hair and clothes and shoes- every inch of them was covered in soot and dirt.  Grime was worked into their very skin so that even when they emerged from the showers, their hands were still black.

They were my age.  They were laughing and happy and full of life.  What the heck are these people up to?  I wondered.  They were mushroom pickers.  Hundreds and hundreds of people had come to pick mushrooms from all over the Yukon and all over the world.  Many of them had found the work accidentally, had been traveling through the area and heard about the riches you could accumulate after a week or two of picking.


“Made 500-600 dollars every day at the beginning of the season” one gentleman told me.   “All you need is a knife and a bucket.  The mushroom buyers have stands all over the place, so you just sell right to them. . .  You can join us of you’d like.”

“No.  I should keep paddling down the river.” Was my first response.

Mushroom picking.  I have no business mushroom picking.  I’ve never done that before.  I’d make a mess of it for sure!  Mushroom picking?  That’s for hippies.

Am I a hippy?  I don’t think so.  What is a hippy?  I don’t know.

Mushroom picking.  500 dollars.


Well.  I can’t resist a new adventure.  So by the next morning I had convinced myself to take a vacation from the river and I wandered out to the burn with my new friends Alfred, Sharon and Jack.  A first nations family from Watson Lake and Whitehorse.  They were nice enough to let me tag along and show me the ropes.  We drove to the burn on the other side of the river in Jack’s boat and took ATVs out deep into the woods.


Sharon showed me how to pick the mushrooms and what to look for.  She looked through my bucket after we’d been picking for a half an hour or so to see how I was doing.  “Those are too dry!  The buyers won’t take them.  The ones in the red areas are the best.  That one’s not even a mushroom!”


Eventually I got the hang of it.

We drove further back into the burn.  Ran into some of their friends who gave me more tips.  I couldn’t believe how friendly and open everyone was.  By the end of the day I had a nice collection and Alfred kept saying to me “You’re worse than a squirrel!”  Sharon went back to camp and Alfred and I picked into the evening and then drove back to the river where I was able to sell my collection to a mushroom buyer.


Went back to my camp in Carmacks feeling full and happy from the adventure and ready for a shower.