Paddling down the Yukon River

Whitehorse offers spectacular lakes and mountains, a rich culture, and a thriving craft brewery scene.

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As we climbed aboard the canoe to paddle down the legendary Yukon River, guide Tom Dyers calmly offered us practical advice.


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“We paddle into the current at about 45 degrees and let it carry us downstream. If you come straight off shore, it can turn you around, ”he said.

We were in the heart of Whitehorse, just steps from where we met Tom at Up North Adventures, who had organized our day of canoeing. The river is central to the history and very existence of Whitehorse, a First Nations highway for millennia and a gateway to the Klondike gold rush just over a century ago. Once packed with paddle wheels, it is now celebrated by the 21st century city with a beautiful landscaped waterfront with walking paths and gazebos.

Upon reaching the territorial capital, my brother and I walked to the Yukon and wondered how we could get on a canoe. The current was particularly strong after record spring runoff that caused flooding in other parts of the territory – not whitewater by any means, but impressive.

As we pulled away from shore, we briefly wondered if a chilling dive awaited us, but Tom’s advice was effective. After a couple of paddles the current carried us gently north and we were on our way. It quickly became clear that the river was our friend. With virtually no turbulence, the Yukon took us without even the need for much paddling, other than driving.

“If you wanted to, you could fall asleep and the worst that could happen is that you bump gently against the shore,” said Tom.

Tom, a former RCMP officer whose career led him to positions in Ottawa, Alberta, and Yukon, chose to retire in Whitehorse and took a part-time job as a guide at Up North, allowing him to pursue his passion for the outdoors and get paid for it.


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“I am living life!”

Whitehorse has a lot to do in a small town, with a lively food scene and thriving craft breweries. But interestingly, this land of spectacular mountains and lakes, rich indigenous culture, and the latest accounts of the gold rush, attracts more foreign tourists than Canadians. Americans are the most common, mostly on the Alaska Highway heading to its northernmost state. But also Europeans, mainly Germans.

Hardy Ruf fell in love with Yukon when he first visited it from his native Switzerland in the 1970s. He returned several times on fishing trips before deciding in 1987 to quit his job as a certified public accountant and move in with his wife Trix and their three children. small in northwestern Canada to become a nature lodge operator. Over a few beers at a bar near Haines Junction, he learned that a place on Lake Dezadeash was for sale. Previously owned by Chicago interests, with rumors of possible mob connections, it had been vacant for a decade.

Hardy bought it, spent a year restoring it, and now the Dalton Trail Lodge offers cozy accommodations, both in the main lodge and in cabins like ours by the lake, along with hearty, delicious meals and guided fishing excursions.

“I would have made more money if I had stayed in Switzerland, but I’m very happy with my life,” he said over a Yukon Gold beer at the Lodge’s bar.

Our guide Marek took us on a windy day to fish in nearby Lake Kathleen, with crystal clear waters surrounded by mountains in Kluane National Park. We welcomed the locked cabin in the boat as we bounced through the choppy waters to a spot Marek promised would be quieter (after we stopped to fish for his blown baseball cap).


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True to his word, we were able to comfortably catch lake trout, catching a few, including one that the Lodge’s chef expertly prepared for dinner.

This particular brand of deep lake fishing was new to both of them. We benefited from an informative introduction a couple of days earlier, further south on Tagish Lake from Charlie Widrig of Tagish Big Bite Charters.

Having grown up using small weights on our lines, it was a revelation to see him put a 14 pound (6 kg) “cannonball” into a downrigger, which in turn broke on our line to drive the lure into the depths. where the lake trout live. Charlie was constantly on the move, adjusting the depths, directing the boat to the best spots and yelling, “FISH, FISH” before my brother or I noticed we had a bite. Following his instructions, we twisted four to five times to regain tension, gave it a vigorous tug to break down the downrigger, then four or five more reels before another tug to set the hook.

On a cold, rainy morning in August we managed, (with great help from Charlie), to bring in half a dozen fish. We also appreciated your recommendation for lunch of the house specialty, breaded pork tenderloin schnitzel at the Southern Lakes Resort, where we were staying in a beautiful lakeside cabin.

The fishing, food, and scenery were fabulous, but Yukon also provided a memorable morning of storytelling, courtesy of Harold Johnson at Long Ago Peoples Place. Based on long interviews with elders, he recreated an indigenous settlement, where he shows the techniques of his ancestors to survive in a harsh climate.

While demonstrating a “dead drop” trap that was used to catch wolves, foxes, and wolverines, Harold recalled: “I once asked my grandfather, ‘That’s clever, who thought of that?’ ‘Children today!’ he said. ‘It came from the Creator’ “.

– Sean Mallen is a Toronto-based communications consultant and author of Falling for London-A Cautionary Tale. He traveled as a guest of Travel Yukon, who did not see or comment on this story prior to its publication.



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