Raft The Yukon

1:31 p.m. on October 27, 2012 (EDT)
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I still have a dream. I'd like to join a summer float trip down the Yukon possibly as far as from Dawson to the Bearing Sea. This could be a trip of several months.

I'm 64, reasonable health and Alaska experiences going back to 1951. My father gold mined back to 1938-9. I have solo packing & camping experience from Alaska to the Sierra Nevada to Death valley. Also group & family camp trips. I feel prepared for long quiet days & weeks on the river.

I spent my youth in Alaska when it was still a territory, been back many times, camped with the grizzles at Hallo Bay, spent time in Prudoe Bay & visited most places that have roads to them.

I can help with planning & expenses.


12:57 p.m. on October 28, 2012 (EDT)
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Have you condsidered a small outboard for your raft?  The Yukon is big and pushy with a lot of braided stream channels.  It would be much easier to control the raft in some parts with a motor.  It could be small 5-10 hp or less as long as it is dependable and starts easily.

You have a good idea.  It is not a new one, but the Yukon is a main arterial across Alaska.  I have always read about the friendliness of people that live on the River, like Native fisherman.  On a rainy day they will wave you in from the wall tent for a cup of tea.  That is living.


1:36 p.m. on October 28, 2012 (EDT)
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Hi Phil,

I'm not sure what kind of raft you are describing. Perhaps a "Tom Sawyer" raft or an inflatable. I have seen all kinds of craft on the Yukon, some similar to the boats the original Klondikers launched from Bennett Lake. I have to disagree somewhat with ppine about the Yukon being pushy. Certainly, depending on the time of season, you can have flows in the range of about 5 or 6 km and maybe a little more, above Dawson. However, wind is always a major factor, and it is usually blowing upstream. Below Dawson, the Yukon becomes more braided as you approach what are called the "Flats". Current slows a lot and a raft would take months rather than weeks to go from Dawson to the Bering. Even canoes take months to cover the distance. Since break up is in late May and freeze up starts happening in September/October, you would risk being frozen in on a raft. Perhaps you should start your trip in WH and paddle to Dawson. Some of the most historic places on the river are there. Then you will have a better idea about how long a journey the lower part is. For an historical account, you should read Warburton Pike's "Through the Sub-arctic Forest". Also, there are several recent accounts of paddling to the Bering. One, by a fellow in a kayak, took several summers to complete the journey. Just a caveat, the Yukon is very lake like in the lower sections and it is thousands of miles long.

11:06 p.m. on October 28, 2012 (EDT)
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I don't have a raft style in mind. And yes I feel that a small outboard can be of immense help negotiating some of the river channels. So many things to consider...

I don't have any plans the fire. But am willing to discuss possibilities, approach, actual put in and haul out locations with a small group of like minded souls.

I have no illusions about the length of the Yukon. but.... There is much I don't know. I don't have any info on flow rates. I don't know what the "rapids" shown on the charts are really like. Still, I think it's possible.

Also...I agree with Erich ... the wind can be an enemy.

Last comment: While I don't expect that anything will really ever come as a result on these discussions, I am serious on my part if a suitable opportunity does arise within the next year or so.



11:52 p.m. on October 28, 2012 (EDT)
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Hi Phil,

Yes, it is possible, though not with a raft of any sort. Why? Because of the speed factor. A raft has so much windage that you will spend weeks wind bound in any type of raft, either like the one pictured, or an inflatable. Taking an outboard on such along trip, isn't good idea unless you have lots of money. You would need a lot of fuel drops. Those barrels under the raft pictured, were either flown or barged in and contained fuel, either for powering aircraft, or the river skiffs the locals use. What most folks use are canoes. Not grandpa's Grumman, though they are still used. But perhaps a 17 or 18 foot Prospector type that can carry that much food and gear. You will still need food caches. Pike used a 22 foot dug out that he had brought up the Stikine, but he was a very hard man. He and his companions also had to paddle the Bering coast to get to St. Michael. The trip took him two years. You might check into Verlen Kruger, legendary paddler. His last trip was on the Yukon, I think he did the whole distance. 

I really would consider doing the more interesting part first. That is from WH to Dawson. It takes two to three weeks and touches some of the great history of the North. You'll cross Lake Leberge of  Robert Service fame, see a couple of old steamer wrecks and one derelict steamer, the Norcom. You'll see old posts, and visit the abandoned town of Fort Selkirk. The only rapids are the Five Fingers and Rink. They are not hard, if you stay to RR at the Five Fingers. You will see lots of other paddlers, most from Germany and Japan, a smattering of Canadians and a few Americans.

Although ppine is right, in that there are places in the north where you will see the local aboriginal people fishing and staying in wall tents, it is infrequent. It also depends on the season. When you see them, it is best to stop and talk, and if invited, to come into camp and share tea. ALWAYS bring something to offer as well. Tea, chocolate, though refrain from offering the kids candy. Though many of the First Nations lead a subsistence lifestyle, many have done it by choice, eschewing many of the commercial foods coming from both the US and Canadian governments. They are also very internet savvy, having web pages, satellite dishes and watching hockey or football as the case might be.

I have only paddled the Yukon to Dawson, the Snake, the Wind, the Teslin, the Peel, the Dease, the Pelly, so if you want more detailed info the Yukon from Circle down, you should go to www.myccr.com. It is a great website, now administered by the Wilderness Canoe Association. Sorry Alicia, to give plug to another great site. On the site, you will find a veritable plethora of information on canoe trips in the North. Though most info is about Canada, there is information about the Noatak, routes on the Kenai, and the lower Yukon.

What do I like about the North? Being on a river that has been used by aboriginal people for thousands of years. Being 100 or 200 or 300 or more miles from the nearest road or track. Being days away from any airplane. Being in a place where I am the interloper and the natural world and species in it still hold sway.



11:01 a.m. on October 29, 2012 (EDT)
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Thanks for the first hand accounts.  I could listen to you all day.  Rivers of the Arctic have always been on my list for canoeing, but I am not getting any younger.  A lot of my time in Alaska has been work trips.

I have thought about the Yukon a lot, and decided that I would take a drift boat with a motor or a large freighter type canoe if I ever made a long trip on it.

12:32 p.m. on October 29, 2012 (EDT)
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Hi Phil and ppine, 

Age should not be a factor, at least not your age. I know of a woman in her eighties who did the Nahanni a few years ago, and while she wasn't as spry as she once was, she completed the trip in fine form. I also have a good friend who is a little older than you are, and he and his wife take several months each summer to paddle Arctic rivers. They have done the Horton, the Elk-Thelon and a smattering of other NWT and Nunavut rivers, always just with another couple. You might also want to check out RM Patterson's "Dangerous River". It is probably his best known work. He was an Englishman who trapped and prospected up the Nahanni in the twenties. The Nahanni was the first UNESCO World Heritage site in the Western Hemisphere. As far as boat type, I can't say that I've ever seen what we call drift boats or Mckenzie River Boats here in the PNW, on any Yukon rivers. The high bows and sterns just aren't necessary. Many locals use square stern skiffs, usually aluminum, with something like a big Johnson on the stern. But that will be overkill for your trip and fuel will be a problem. Sometimes you'll see a twenty foot skiff headed up or down some river, with a 55 gallon drum of fuel in the back. But these are working folks and for the recreational stuff you're talking about, a paddle is the best way to see the wildlife and the area. Size and weight are other factors for a boat. While the Yukon between WH and Dawson only has two real rapids, and those were named by steamer pilots, other rivers do have rapids that need to be carried, making a canoe the best choice. Put in and take out are also reasons to take a canoe. A 185 can take one canoe on the floats, though fuel is a factor. A Beaver is the most common type of aircraft. A single Otter can take three canoes, if two nest. A twin Otter is a real luxury, as the canoes will go inside, but the cost is way up there. In Alaska, external loads are restricted. Canada is less of a factor. 

9:55 a.m. on October 30, 2012 (EDT)
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Nice to hear from someone who's been there, Ehrich. Excellent, and very comprehensive, advice!

While it doesn't sound like Phil wants to race, there is a lot of helpful information here, too. On the other hand, if he wants to join one of the teams...


It's a 715 km downstream ride from Whitehorse to Dawson City. A friend of mine did it last year, and she said it was great. Check out the times, though - they're doing it in just a few days!

If you're into arctic rivers, you might also find this interesting. Just a personal project by one of the locals, but pretty cool.


12:31 p.m. on October 30, 2012 (EDT)
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Thank you Peter. A friend of mine paddled the Yukon River Quest three or four years ago. Yes it can be done in a few days if you are a strong marathon paddler. Voyageur boats do it as well. There is a mandatory break at Carmacks, about the half way point.

The Mackenzie is a mighty river. On the lower part, there will be tugs and barges. Last year, I paddled the Finlay from the headwaters at Thutade Lake. The Finlay's water feed the Peace, which then feed the Mackenzie, so our group was paddling water that was the source of the Mackenzie.

In the US, it is not possible to get further than 20 miles from the nearest road. In the vast natural areas of Canada's north, there are hundreds of lakes and mountains that are simply known by their map coordinates or a number.

6:46 p.m. on October 30, 2012 (EDT)
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I alomost rafted the Yukon in the late 1970s with a friend but it didn't work out as I could not get to Dawson via hitchhiking the year we were going to go.

Read "Yukon Summer" by Eugene Canton. I read it in 1978 and its a very good book about his trip down the entire river.

9:12 p.m. on October 30, 2012 (EDT)
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Here's a 27ft X 8.5ft  pontoon currently on ebay at $1700 (no trailer now but I could trailer it easily enough). I'm thinking a boat like this might be sturdy enough with deck space adequate for storage, comfortable sleeping, cooking & shelter from the bugs. I'd be inclined to cut off the fluffy "recreation" features & build something more practical (&cheap) for weeks, more likely months out on a river.

Below, These two paddled down the Yukon river, hauling out here, Circle Ak. 2005. They said they had put in at Dawson City in the rental canoe, partly visible behind him. They had many interesting experiences to share. Unfortunately I can no longer even remember their names. I remember their hospitality... offering to share their remaining oranges & bannocks for breakfast. By comparison I thought I was living like a king in my pickup camper.

God bless them!

9:14 p.m. on October 30, 2012 (EDT)
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Well so much for technology...the photos didn't post ##$!#.

10:41 p.m. on October 30, 2012 (EDT)
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This is the pontoon boat mentioned above. The entire top side was vandalized. The floats have been repaired.


Yukon Canoeists, end of their journey, Circle Ak, July 2005.


1:42 a.m. on October 31, 2012 (EDT)
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Thanks for posting, Phil. Go for it! And when you go, be sure to stop at Braeburn Lodge for cinnamon rolls as big as an entire baking pan. The Klondike BBQ in WH is in a wall tent, has great beer and good food. Johnson's Crossing also has good cinnamon rolls. If you start in WH and need supplies, check out Kanoe People. Scott and Joanne will fix you up well, including a canoe, if you need it. Joanne's Grandfather was Frank Slim, one of the famous steamer pilots. She is Northern Tutchone. At Dawson, a GREAT place to stay the White House Cabins. They are at the north end of town, old mining offices and an assortment of other old structures. Good rates and very pretty.

2:55 p.m. on November 1, 2012 (EDT)
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Mr. Palmer, I found the book & have ordered. $0.01 + $3.00 shipping, Amazon.

Enjoyed photos of your solo bike trip: Wyoming to Az.


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