From a Different Environment…back to civilisation!

The Yukon Blind..... Canoeing the 'Big River'
Team "Imtiaz and Howard"
Thu 23 Jun 2011 23:30
From a Different Environment…back to civilisation!
62:06.63N, 136:16.03W

Today I sit here writing this blog in such a different 'space' to that of yesterday:

We reached the town of Carmacks at around 3pm, well the main campsite, invitingly named, Coal Mine campground, about a two kilometre walk to Carmacks. A really canoe friendly place, right on the river, and with just one vacant cabin left to rent, it seemed to be made for us. It wasn't that easy a decision though, so we grabbed a cuppa coffee, two delicious cinnamon rolls and thought through our options testing them against the original overall adventure mission. Would two nights in a cosy cabin versus tenting detract from our experience, and our sense of personal triumph. Was this a copout we would later regret. Imi has this powerful concept that we need a personal 'struggle' (challenge) and that the sense of personal triumph we get from overcoming the challenge gives us 'personal height', and the main goal in life is to increase one's personal height. Very importantly this height is within and is not relative to others. So....

We both agreed the cabin option was right in line with our adventure goal, acknowledging it would reduce our level personal struggle, but would enhance our overall experience by providing us with two relaxing days immersed in the Carmacks and campsite community.

The deal was done, and so last night saw us going to bed on normal beds with fresh clean sheets and a mosquito free environment. As fate has it, by the late afternoon the clouds had moved off, replaced by blue sky and a delightful sunshine, so the roof over our heads never got the chance to bring back thoughts of the challenges of all too familiar pitter patter of our tent days.

A bit about yesterday's canoeing on the river:

For those that are following our adventure on Google earth, you will see the tortuous path the Yukon takes. Even with its power and size, the mountainous terrain mostly dominates, forcing the river around its many bluffs, and ranges. Often the river has a small win breaking through less robust land areas forming islands that provide evidence of the ongoing battle of nature. Yesterday's river section was prominent in both the plethora of islands we encountered and the impressive bluffs. The islands providing us with route choices that often saw us virtually having to paddle up stream to reach our chosen channel. I think Imi thought I chose these canoeing challenges on purpose so I could move our team into 'maximum power', fastest paddling cadence mode to satisfy my speed / competitive needs! Often I'd be shouting: "Faster, faster, we are only just going to make it" I was always impressed by the power the two us paddling at full speed were able to produce, but how long it was sustainable for, was something I didn't dare suggest or test...This wasn't what Imi signed up for! Sensing I needed to assist with motivation I'd call out the metres we still had to go before we were 'safely' across the counter flow and in our current of desire. Imi would always ask, what was that all about, and I guess I had to admit it was not a critical, or necessary excursion, rather an irresistible challenge to take a seemingly better inter island channel. Better, sometimes being faster flowing, but other times being more scenic, and even other times being more tranquil. These options providing decision freedom from the rigor of racing where the search is only for the quickest route, being the fastest flowing, most direct channel. The river is fascinating in that its size makes for complexity of flow patterns that often defy the flow rules of lesser size rivers.

One of the truly dominant bluffs, that will forever remain in charge of the Yukon's course is the very impressive, probably 800m high Eagle's Nest Bluff, which we passed yesterday. A huge piece of impressive, light grey granite like rock, scarred with orange rock caves, with a singularly huge cave right below its peak....Maybe the home of the eagles! Interestingly, I saw only my second bald eagle of this trip, perched in a tree at river level just below the cave. Running down from this apex cave almost to river level was a narrow gorge, packed with spruce completing this vibrant grey, orange, and green piece of nature's special artwork.

Twice we were surprised by the 'plop' and large splash of a sizeable fish jumping out of the water quite near us, but both times we were too late to see what it was.

Generally though I have been disappointed in the amount of wildlife, the best being the water birds.

On approaching Carmacks, we encountered our first signs of present civilisation in the form of sporadic hill billy housing next to the river, and a fisherman, standing knee deep on the side of the river bank. The map wasn't 100% clear on which side of the river the town of Carmacks was and so I decided to pass close buy this guy and ask him. After a brief exchange about his lack of fishing success, he told us confidently that Carmacks was on the right river bank. This confirmed what Imi's 30 year memory bank recalled, so this set our approach and campsite selection. The river is so wide and fast flowing that correcting a wrong approach choice, would see one missing Carmacks and beaching somewhere undesirable downstream.

On landing at our campsite, and walking to the office, lo and behold we bumped into our fisherman, who has turned out to be our cabin neighbour. Small world, in a real small world, but it was to get even smaller..... His name is Don, and on establishing I was South African and clearly making some assumptions about Imi, when we asked him where he came from, he started by describing Canada, and laboriously 'taking us' to North West Territory, say he lives 'there'. Surprising him I said I have spent a lot of time in Yellowknife, in NWT, he then, still not expecting me to know where it was, said he was from Hay River. Well when training for the North Pole, I used to ski from Yellowknife across Great Slave Lake to Hay River. Hmm, now this is a very small, difficult to access village that attracts a unique type of person...Don! We shared a few stories about the area, and he then wanted to know about our canoe trip and how we had managed the UPSTREAM paddle from Whitehorse!! He seemed very surprised when we told him the river flowed the other way, North. A very nice, basic good bloke, as they say in Aussie, and we bade him a temporary good bye as we moved into our 'luxury' cabin, and then headed off on the 2km to explore 'town'.
An interesting walk past an Athabascan settlement, but then suddenly before we had hit town, the road connected to the huge steel bridge that crosses the Yukon, and the town isn't yet in sight.... It's on the other right bank, the one called the left one! Don must be upside down in his world, definitely not a good trait for a tour guide job! I guess he does come from Hay River!

Town was as expected of a town of around 600 people. Imi and I had a very memorable dinner at the Carmacks Hotel's, very rustic, and true to character, Gold Panner Restaurant. The dinner being memorable in our light hearted reflections of the journey so far, the observations of the rich characters in the restaurant, rather than the quality of the food, and the far from adequate service from our irritatingly, nervous and unapologetic German waitress. Not taking it all too seriously we truly, often breaking out in loud laughter, had a fun evening. I sense we both felt highly content and hugely satisfied with how the adventure had so far panned out, and how our friendship had progressed.

Imi has been getting to appreciate the role of this blog in our adventure, and after a few days of thinking through how he would like to contribute directly, today he brings you what will be a regular contribution: (Below I have typed exactly the words he dictated to me)

Imi's Wondering as a Wanderer:

Today's Reflection:

The Fullness of Living and the Presence of Danger

"Yes, I felt the fullness of the present, the pregnant, throbbing present, as I experienced the wind and the waves, the vastness of the ever fresh nature. The kind of fear we experience in cities bars us from experiencing the fullness of the living present. In cities, requirements and conditions have to be met, goals achieved, and expectations fulfilled, for securing even our basic needs. In nature I can experience its glorious-ness now. The fear that we may not come up with what is required for us to succeed, demoralizes humans in cities, but vast wilderness is also scary. This fear somehow does not paralyze. Rapids, freezing rivers, lurking bears, and hurricane winds are a constant threat in the wilderness. No preparation can provide adequate defenses against these, but this fear is a spur, whose overcoming, empowers and is the source of personal triumph. The consciousness of our helplessness in the presence of this vast cosmos only adds to the fullness of the present. "

Back to our canoe trip:

We will spend another night in our cabin, then head off tomorrow, with the first day going to present us with our biggest white water rapid challenge: Five Fingers rapids, where an error in theory could be fatal, but more likely adventure ending with the loss of the canoe, something I, and a few of you readers would have had the misfortune of experiencing in the past! This won't happen this time!

More from Carmacks, including a few rare and collector potential blog photos, tomorrow...!

Be good

H + I