Monday 3 August 2020

Along the Yukon River & through the Klondike Goldfields. Stage 4 of my Yukon walk, July 13 - August 3, 1990

Beyond the little settlement of Carmacks (see my last Yukon post) I would not cross a road or pass through a village or town for twenty-two days. Yet during this long remote section of the walk I met more people than on any other. This was because for half the time I followed the Yukon River, down which a procession of canoes and small boats drifted and paddled, pulling into the bank to camp, and for much of the second half I was in the Klondike goldfields where there are still miners working.

I was still alone most of the time though, only camping with others on a few nights. The river is the way to travel here. I met no-one else on foot. I could see why. The land is forested and gently rolling. I could walk all day and see little change. The walking was tough at times too. There were paths and old tracks in places but sometimes I was bushwhacking through dense spruce forest.

This forest was beautiful in a soft, subtle way though, and there was much wildlife. That included bears. I never saw one but I saw plenty of signs such as droppings and tracks. I made sure to cook and eat well away from my tent and to hang my food in the trees, though few of these had branches long enough to stop a determined bear. Usually I set my kitchen up by the river, my bedroom back in the woods.

The first half of the walk was hot, very hot, with temperatures in the 30s Celsius every day. Even in the shade of the trees I sweated continuously. At dawn and dusk there were mosquitoes. Drifting down the river did seem appealing.

After a week I arrived at the abandoned settlement of Fort Selkirk, which was being restored as a historic site. Here was where I was meeting the Youcon Kat tour boat, which was bringing my supplies from Whitehorse. I was two days early however so had time to relax, watch the river, and talk to people. I laid out my gear and photographed it. An awful lot, I thought. It was.

My pack was about to get much heavier though. The Youcon Kat arrived. I unloaded my food box. I had packed enough food for fifteen days. I knew I'd need it but I wasn't looking forward to carrying it all.

At Fort Selkirk I left the Yukon River, having been advised that following it would be difficult. The alternative route wasn't easy at first though, with more dense forest to negotiate and several rivers to cross. After six days the first signs of the Klondike began to appear. Ruined cabins in the trees. Old roads. Then blasted terrain. Working gold mines. The romance of the 1890s exists in the tourist area around Dawson City. Beyond it is the reality of an environmentally highly damaging process, the land stripped bare, great gouges hacked out of the earth.

I was relieved to reach Dawson. I had a bad cold, which didn't help my feelings in the goldfields. I was tired too. From here I would be back in the mountains. But first I needed a rest.

I wrote a book about the walk. It’s long out of print but I expect there are second-hand copies around.

Photographic Note: I carried two SLRs, the Nikon F801 and FM2, plus Nikkor 35-70, Nikkor 24mm,and Sigma 70-210 lenses, plus a Cullman tripod. Films were Fujichrome 50 and 100 slide ones. The total weight with padded cases was 4kg. To digitise the slides I photographed them on a lightbox with my Sony a6000 with a Sony E 30mm macro lens.


  1. Based on what I have seen on bear population maps, I think this area has one of the most dense Grizzly Bear populations. I would be quite concerned about accidentally surprising one in these dense forests!

    From your pictures it also looks like it could be quite a challenge to find a suitable tree to reliably hang your food, and losing it in such a remote place would be a disaster. Did you have a plan-B in case you would lose your food? Like getting back to a river and signalling a boat?

  2. Having walked through grizzly country before I was less worried than I had been in the past. I knew that the chance of even seeing a grizzly was low. The more usual wilderness dangers - river crossings, thunderstorms, an injury or fall in a remote area - were far more concerning.

    Mostly I couldn't hang my food the way I'd done in areas with bigger trees. Black spruce are quite small with short, down curving branches. Hanging my food in them would probably protect from grizzlies but not black bears, which climb well. I didn't really have a plan B. If all my food was lost I'd have headed for the nearest place I might find other people, which could have been several days away. I'd walked for a week in the Canadian Rockies with little food on a previous trip so I reckoned I could manage without food for a while if I had to. Further north I was in areas with no trees. There I split my food into two bags and placed each a hundred metres or so from my camp in opposite directions. I never lost any food.

  3. I found a copy of this one a few weeks ago and am enjoying reading a chapter each morning over coffee. Thanks for posting some photos to go with it!

  4. I have a copy of this book I bought and read a couple of years ago. I thought this particular trek a very eccentric undertaking if I am honest. I did a road trip through this part of Canada a few years ago and I thought it a very depressing and bleak part of the world with all that claustrophobic forest. I much prefer deserts and mountains myself.

  5. Eccentric? Probably! But an enjoyable trip, and with a fair number of mountains. No deserts of course. I like forests too. Maybe the area looks better away from roads.