Have you ever been faced with a situation where you needed to have the skills to survive? I have.
Bushcraft, Self Reliance, and it’s meanings. Bushcraft is the use and practice of skills, thereby acquiring and developing knowledge and understanding, in order to survive and thrive in a natural environment. Being able to rely on only one’s own knowledge and ability is the Self Reliant part.
So now to be honest, most of my life I have been a camper, (a wilderness fishing guide?) yup, sure was. But I’ve only had to put my knowledge of the outdoors to use on a couple ventures in my life. Excursions that actually could have been the difference between life and death. All the other excursions have been for fun and no imminent danger was at hand like it was when I was in my teens.
A good friend Brian Dickenson and I took a trip on the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Dawson City in a canoe. Then continued along the river after gathering supplies in Dawson to head into the wilderness of Alaska.
This was an epic adventure, one I, (nor my good friend) will ever forget. This river trip spanned some 714KM (444 miles) for the first leg between Whitehorse to Dawson city and then another 411 KM (255 miles) from Dawson to Circle Alaska, & all by canoe.
This trip took my friend And I deep into the wilderness of some of the most unforgiving lands throughout the world . The river itself is only classified as a class 1 river which is a relatively slow and calm river ( between 5 to 8 knots). Yes there are a couple rapids you have to canoe through, the five finger rapids being one of them, but to be honest I don’t remember those rapids being all that bad, and most definitely manageable. I had heard some people have flipped canoes and even people have died going through those rapids but I don’t think really any water even came into the canoe we were in.
Now Brian and I were no expert canoeists, Infact this was probably my first trip in a canoe, EVER. Lol for me anyway and probably for Brian too. Well maybe we had paddled around a small lake before with our parents at a cottage or on a camping trip a few times but nothing like what we were about to do in the Yukon.
When my friend and I embarked on this voyage, we knew nothing of the outdoor experience we were about to encounter. We were not outdoors men, we did not have any idea really what we were doing and we were fully under prepared for this type of adventure. 2 kids that grew up in Toronto Ontario. (City kids) no Hunting, or outdoors experience, other than camping in provincial parks with our parents as kids.
It would not be until years later that my love of the outdoors and self drive to become a true outdoorsman would teach me the life skills one should have to be able to do a trip like this to begin with.
It was irresponsible of my friend and I to have embarked on this trip but was also a very teenage, and Canadian thing to do. As it so happens it was also a very US, Japanese, Russian, German, and Swedish thing to do. Infact it was a trip I would come to find out later on that people from all over the world come and spend tens of thousands of hard earned cash, to come and experience.
For my friend Brian and I tho, this was just a crazy Idea we had one night to go and try and find a good friend of mine by the name of Joe Glynn whom I was told by his parents back in Toronto, that Joe had headed up to the Yukon and was working on a gold claim.
Well we thought we should go and surprise him. Young dumb and a pocket full of cash from a few months of working on a Bee farm in Saskatchewan, we decided to take a bus to the Yukon and go looking for MR Joe Glynn.
Here’s a link to a video I made 24 years later of the same farm when I went back to visit.
All I had been told was that Joe was along some river in the Yukon working on a gold claim. (That’s it) I was not told what river it was or what area of the Yukon, just that it was the Yukon.
Brian and I had no idea what was in store for us. But we knew we wanted adventure, and what better way than to go look for Joe in a land we could only dream of visiting one day. It was going to be like finding a needle in a hay stack.
So we arrived in Whitehorse and found an outfitter that was willing to rent Brian and I a Canoe for a reasonable price. He told us that when we got to Dawson City to leave the Canoe at a certain location and he would be up there to pick it back up in a few weeks.
We thought that was pretty trustworthy of the outfit and so Brian and I went to the local grocery store picked out 10 packs of MR Noodles, as a back up plan to hunting our food since we had just bought a rifle with a few boxes of rounds and a slingshot with some marbles. We were ready to tackle the Yukon ( I mean let’s face it, we were in the Yukon, this place must have a plethora of available wild game right?). So we put the canoe in the river loaded it with our gear & our 10 packages of noodles and set out on my first ever wilderness experience. What could possibly go wrong?
With no knowledge of Bush-crafting or previous hunting experience for the first few hours Brian and I were so excited just to be out on our adventure that we really didn’t think about how far we wanted to get, or when we should stop for the night, or even when we should just stop for a rest? Nope We were told lake Labarge was not too far down river so that was our plan, make it to Lake Lebarge and we will set up a camp there for our first night.
Well lake Lebarge took us the entire day to get to. So at the entrance to the lake we pulled over and I went into the woods to grab some dinner. I was looking for anything at all. I armed myself with a slingshot and a few marbles and went for a walk.
Pretty soon I could no longer hear the water of the river behind me and things became very quiet. I remember yelling Brian’s name to see if he could hear me, but I got no response. Still I had a job to do, get dinner.
So I slowly stepped through the Forrest trying not to make any noise. I remember stepping on sticks and leaves and the only noises heard, were the noises I was making.
Trekking through the Forrest, any animal at all would have heard me miles away lol. (Stalking is a hunting technique and you must be very skilled in order to be successful at it).
Still I did come across a little grouse. I scrambled to get my slingshot out, and just as I was taking aim, the grouse started fluttering around, all crazy like, and making a hissing noises, then the frigging thing charged right at me.
I let out a scream, like a little school girl, the next thing I knew. I was running back from where I came until I eventually was back at the canoe and Brian with no Grouse or dinner in hand. It was the end of Day 1 both Brian and I were starving, & we resorted to a couple packs of the MR noodles we had brought with us as a last resort if we could not hunt our food. Lol.
There is an old poem of a tale about lake Lebarge (where Brian and I were camping at our very fist night on the river). and the cremation of Sam McGee, and this is how it goes.
There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.
Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows.
Why he left his home in the South to roam ’round the Pole, God only knows.
He was always cold, but the land of gold seemed to hold him like a spell;
Though he’d often say in his homely way that “he’d sooner live in hell.”
On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way over the Dawson trail.
Talk of your cold! through the parka’s fold it stabbed like a driven nail.
If our eyes we’d close, then the lashes froze till sometimes we couldn’t see;
It wasn’t much fun, but the only one to whimper was Sam McGee.
And that very night, as we lay packed tight in our robes beneath the snow,
And the dogs were fed, and the stars o’erhead were dancing heel and toe,
He turned to me, and “Cap,” says he, “I’ll cash in this trip, I guess;
And if I do, I’m asking that you won’t refuse my last request.”
Well, he seemed so low that I couldn’t say no; then he says with a sort of moan:
“It’s the cursèd cold, and it’s got right hold till I’m chilled clean through to the bone.
Yet ’tain’t being dead—it’s my awful dread of the icy grave that pains;
So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, you’ll cremate my last remains.”
A pal’s last need is a thing to heed, so I swore I would not fail;
And we started on at the streak of dawn; but God! he looked ghastly pale.
He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day of his home in Tennessee;
And before nightfall a corpse was all that was left of Sam McGee.
There wasn’t a breath in that land of death, and I hurried, horror-driven,
With a corpse half hid that I couldn’t get rid, because of a promise given;
It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say: “You may tax your brawn and brains,
But you promised true, and it’s up to you to cremate those last remains.”
Now a promise made is a debt unpaid, and the trail has its own stern code.
In the days to come, though my lips were dumb, in my heart how I cursed that load.
In the long, long night, by the lone firelight, while the huskies, round in a ring,
Howled out their woes to the homeless snows— O God! how I loathed the thing.
And every day that quiet clay seemed to heavy and heavier grow;
And on I went, though the dogs were spent and the grub was getting low;
The trail was bad, and I felt half mad, but I swore I would not give in;
And I’d often sing to the hateful thing, and it hearkened with a grin.
Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge, and a derelict there lay;
It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a trice it was called the “Alice May.”
And I looked at it, and I thought a bit, and I looked at my frozen chum;
Then “Here,” said I, with a sudden cry, “is my cre-ma-tor-eum.”
Some planks I tore from the cabin floor, and I lit the boiler fire;
Some coal I found that was lying around, and I heaped the fuel higher;
The flames just soared, and the furnace roared—such a blaze you seldom see;
And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal, and I stuffed in Sam McGee.
Then I made a hike, for I didn’t like to hear him sizzle so;
And the heavens scowled, and the huskies howled, and the wind began to blow.
It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled down my cheeks, and I don’t know why;
And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak went streaking down the sky.
I do not know how long in the snow I wrestled with grisly fear;
But the stars came out and they danced about ere again I ventured near;
I was sick with dread, but I bravely said: “I’ll just take a peep inside.
I guess he’s cooked, and it’s time I looked”; … then the door I opened wide.
And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar;
And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: “Please close that door.
It’s fine in here, but I greatly fear you’ll let in the cold and storm—
Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it’s the first time I’ve been warm.”
Now right at the other end of Lake Lebarge where the River starts up again, there is an old wreck of a ship, just the rotten hull of the boat buried, half in the water and half in the sand. I believe this to be the old ship where old Sam McGee was cremated. At least that’s what I’m choosing to believe lol, Of course Brian nor I knew this at the time but both of us had lunch on that old wreck. On our 3rd day on that old river. Yes it took us 2 days to cross Lake Lebarge in that Canoe. The lake is 50 miles long. And only a mile or 2 wide at its widest point.
It took Brian and I approx 10 to 12 days to reach Dawson City. We did manage to do a bit of hunting and fishing along the way but without much success. I managed to kill a seagull for food one day. Oh and a ground squirrel, Plus we caught a few arctic Grayling along the way, which I dropped in a fire while trying to cook it. We were miserably failing at hunting and gathering. Plus we focused only on meats. We were not focused on the plentiful bounty of wild fruits and vegetables lining the river banks. We knew nothing of how to survive and most certainly were not thriving lol.
If it wasn’t for running into what have now become life long friends to this day 2 brothers from Wisconsin Lyman and Jeff Elliott who had over packed enough food, for their river adventure. They were there doing the exact same thing we were except they had no idea who Joe Glynn was at the time, lol. Brian and I couldn’t believe our luck, that these 2 guys, were willing to part with some food, for Brian and I.
They gave us, 10 lbs of individual backed bags of 2 people portion size pasta, some cheese and some sausage. If it had not been for these 2 brothers, Brian and I would have more than likely starved. The food we got from Lyman and Jeff got us comfortably to the half way point in Carmacks where Brian and I were able to restock some food. Only this time we were much smarter about how much we needed for the next leg of the trip to Dawson City.
The trip took about 10 to 12 days in total. Stopping every day to make camp collect enough fire wood. Cook dinners, clean up and get some rest for the next day. We made approximately 60 to 70 miles (96 to 112 KM) per day in a canoe. Not bad for a couple kids in my opinion. To be honest I’m not sure I could do that today anymore.
(Now that said. There is a race from Whitehorse to Dawson via Kayak every year and the fastest time to go that entire distance, I think, is approx 42 hours lol)
Now in all honesty, the average time it takes most people to do the trip from Whitehorse to Dawson is this.
Most people nowadays, hire guides to take them, they take a 2 stage trip. With each stage taking around 8 days. The first break is half way in Carmacks . The only town along the river, on the way to Dawson. Well, there is a small abandoned town that has been up kept by the territory parks commission, called Fort Selkirk. It’s now a tourist spot. When we came through it had been pretty run down.
People usually take a day or 2 to recover and then another 8 day journey to Dawson City. So in reality, we made great time. Lol
There were so many small adventures between Whitehorse and Dawson I can’t even write about them all. We did see some pretty amazing wildlife along the way tho. I can remember so many bears along the way, all making their way to the rivers edge to take a drink,
as well as an amazing site, a mountain lion / (cougar) also came down to take a drink one day.
I think he/she was pretty surprised to see us quietly slipping by during an afternoon drift lol.
Now since Brian & I had restocked on food in Carmack’s, our attempts at hunting were dwindling, there was no need to shoot any animals for food anymore so hunting was no longer a necessity, we did however occasionally throw in a fishing line but generally came up empty handed. I believe we caught a few Grayling along the way.
Once in Dawson City I called my friend Joe Glynn’s parents back In Toronto to see if they heard from Joe? They told me that only a couple days prior, Joe had called from Dawson City but had plans of traversing the river and headding into Alaska from there. However as I was talking to them I looked over my shoulder and witnessed Mr Joe Glynn himself holding several bags of groceries as he was actually heading down to the river at that very moment to get into his row boat and head down stream. I wish I had the vocabulary explain Joes face when I called out his name and told his dad on the phone that I just found their son. I hung up the phone and gave Joe a huge hug lol.
We all, (meaning Brian, Joe, myself and the 2 Wisconsin Brothers who we had also met up with in Dawson City. Apparently they got there only a day (or so) ahead of us. Since They had already spent a couple days in Dawson,
We had some drinks at one of the local pubs (the Sourdough Saloon, home of the Sour-Toe cocktail)
This place was straight out of an old western movie. In an old wooden hotel designed to look the time period, as was the entire town come to think of it. Laced with wooden sidewalks, dirt roads, and a tie-off rails, and water troft for locals to tie their horses. Set outside almost all the bars and the local grocery store. A Swing gate entrance to the old downtown hotel and pub, and inside the Downtown Hotel, was the Sourdough pub, the home of the sour-toe cocktail. (You’ll have to Google that one for the explanation! And yes I did do it, we all did).
One of the days in town, all of us decided to hike up the famous mountain that overlooks Dawson City. The mountain called the Midnight Dome, has provided the backdrop for one of the craziest migrations in human history…the Klondike Goldrush. Between 1897 and 1899 roughly 50,000 people descended on the area around Dawson City, to stake claims in the Klondike Goldfields. This was a hard days hike up and over the peak of the mountain only to realize at the top there was an elderly lady , well dressed standing at the top overlooking the town of Dawson below taking pictures. We asked her how she got up there as it was a gruelling hike for the 5 of us and we were all young and were completely winded by the time we reached the top. She smiled and said she drove up, lol. Then she kindly asked us if we would all like a ride back down to the town, we gladly took her up on the offer lol.
Again my lack of understanding the seriousness of the wild on this hike and being completely unprepared was 1- a huge learning curve. & 2- gave me even more respect for the wilderness and being prepared. I would soon find out just how unprepared I really was.
I decided it was a good idea to continue along the Yukon River with Joe on his adventures into Alaska and I parted ways with Brian as he made his way back south and headed towards Vancouver BC. The rest of this story is for another post.
To date Joe Glynn still lives in Whitehorse Yukon and has become a successful business man and is a Partner and founder of his own contractors business called Evergreen Homes and Construction.
Visit their website to have a look.
Part 2, travel into Alaska soon to come
Let me know your thoughts on this adventure so far.