Rapids, Sun, Swimming...Island Paradise

The Yukon Blind..... Canoeing the 'Big River'
Team "Imtiaz and Howard"
Sat 25 Jun 2011 01:13
Rapids, Sun, Swimming...Island Paradise
62:22.401N, 136:30.198W

It was great to get back on the river and into the wilderness again. The first few kilometres were paddling around the large oxbow curves the river takes through Carmacks, under the steel bridge that we had walked over a couple of times in our missions to town, and the only means of road crossing of the river for hundreds of kilometres. Carmacks is the sort of central hub from where road travelers have to chose where they head for the next couple of hundred kilometres, and because of the single bridge there is no chance for correcting wrong choices. The Yukon Territory is a different place. One of the larger Canadian territories in area, but less than 35 000 inhabitants of which more than 32 000 live in either Whitehorse, Dawson City or Carmacks. This is a state of wide open space wilderness.

Leaving Carmacks the river flow slowed to an almost dam like stagnancy, increasing our expectancy for the awaiting Five Fingers Rapid, dam wall that lay some 30 kilometres downstream. Thirty years ago, Imi had had a traumatic experience on these rapids, after choosing the wrong 'finger' of the five, so I sensed a building level of apprehension as we approached them. One kilometre before we stopped to secure all our gear in the boat, Imi removing his potential anchor, walking boots, donning the head video camera, and then we were off for the challenge of the day. Final run through our paddling procedure and instructions for emergency direction changes, and the roar of the rapids became much louder as we came around the last river bend and the significant basalt towers of the rock gates that form the rapids appeared. Calling out what I could see, to try and give Imi the full experience, I shouted "300 metres to go, looking perfect and we must up our paddling tempo to have speed through the waves. It was exhilarating watching us hit the first standing wave, Imi taking lots of water in the bow, but paddling on unnerved, we bobbed and crashed our way, with a course that was straight as an arrow through the few hundred metres of standing waves, most of which were around 1.5 metres. Nothing for the experienced kayak paddler, but a little challenging in a fully laden open canoe with two, more than 90 kilogram, elderly citizens who watched as each wave noticeably added to the quickly rising water level inside the boat. Soon we were through the standing wave section, and as I said to Imi we were through it, he put his paddle down and punched the heavens in a display of both victory and relief. I lent forward and tapped him on the shoulder saying: "Well done mate, we did it", a special moment. As I leaned forward I felt how unstable the canoe was, now half fill with river. We nursed the boat downstream, struggling to paddle across stream to an idyllic island beach that eventually confirmed our endeavors were well rewarded. Bailing all the water from the boat was followed by a well deserved lunch and basking in the glorious sunshine of the day. A chance to dry a few pieces of wet clothing and take in the first real sunny day of our trip.

The rest of day's paddle was extremely pleasant, other than the strong Northerly wind; we enjoyed the ride in the smaller Rink rapids, and ended up doing 58 kilometres on the day. The river snakes its way north, and with the north wind, often as we rounded a bend, the full brunt of the north wind suddenly hit us, seemingly stopping the canoe in its tracks, and leaving me wandering whether there even was any river current helping us. Imi is largely oblivious to our pace across the ground, maybe a blessing in disguise on these headwind sections.

At around 5pm we beached on a small island, two hundred metres long, and right mid river, with gurgling river flowing both sides...the perfect overnight camp spot. Once the tents were up, coffee made, we had both stripped down and were enjoying skinny dipping in the still high in the sky, and quite fierce, sun. We both warmed up to the point were a swim in the icy water became a virtual 'next step'. It was a shock to the system, but a great way to celebrate our own special island paradise. What a difference the sun makes, this is just such pleasant canoeing and camping.

Still no real animal life, although we do see lots of ducks, birds and squirrels.

Conversation on the canoe has noticeably matured, and is more about looking for common ground of our initially thought, seemingly diametrically opposite person life philosophies. Imi has now conceded that my Life is a Series of Adventures approach is an attempt to establish a virtually continuous Zen like life. The setting and planning of the adventures although seemingly anti Zen, non now activities, being critical for delivering the 'in adventure' huge Zen moments, like we are now experiencing in the days on the river. Anyway, I hope this makes a bit of sense to some readers....It's hard to capture days of debate in a few lines. It's all been great fun though!

Imi's Moment of Reflection:

Nature's Beauty

What makes Nature so great?
Unquestionably the immensity of life forms and the multifarious strategies for survival are astonishing. However, this could be a cosmic accident brought about by natural selection over billions of years. But I'm not so sure. It appears to me that life is a creative upward moving force. Whenever life is given free reign nature in all its beauty and diversity finds _expression_. How rich, how beautiful are the coral reefs, the Amazon forests etc. The balance that nature achieves which we can only disturb and impair is exquisite and grand. This, however, doesn’t have to be so. Algae blooms, bacterias, and fungi could have predominated, but life aims for diversity and richness.

Leaving aside these metaphysical musings, what is undeniable, for humans who are receptive is that Nature speaks and responds to what is pure and grand in us.

Words of wisdom from an amazing blind outdoorsman.

Finally, another nature wonder: I described the island we are on, and its pretty much in the middle of a fast flowing part of the river 300 metres to either shore, definitely not swimmable for a human, unless you have a wetsuit and are ok making it to the river bank kilometres down stream. The island is really small, with no trees, just scrub. Well at the northern end I found reasonably fresh moose hoof prints, less than a week old!

That's it for today, time too pack up and head off, with another perfect looking day ahead. Over the next few days we will switch our day routine, so we get to paddle through the night for a unique experience. While it's night it's not really dark up at these latitudes, but we will share the story soon...

Thanks for all the emails, sorry satphone time means we can only respond when back in normal land. Keep them coming though; it motivates us to enrich these blog postings. Imi would love ANY questions, and he means ANY!

Take care

H + I