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“Here we go.” I hear Ernie the pilot and now I can see it: the Wind River. It looks like a snake from up here, smaller than I imagined when I was at home. We’ve been in the air for about an hour, flying over spectacular mountain ranges and breathtaking valleys. We started in Mayo, a village in the Yukon Territory, the land of the midnight sun, legends and traditions. This northwestern corner of Canada borrows its name from the 3,600 km long Yukon River.

Earnie's WasserflugzeugI once read Jack London’s books. Who doesn’t know them? The thrilling tales of characters like 'Alaska Kid' and others. Deep down, I always had the wish to get to know the land of my dreams. Now I’m already deep into my first Yukon adventure. My palms are wet. Sitting in the floatplane, next to the small window, I’m pressing my nose against the glass. Our canoes are tied to the floats of the plane, all other luggage is inside.
Finally! We smoothly land on a small lake that’s connected to the Wind River through a creek. We unload our equipment and the plane disappears into the horizon. The noise of the engine fades away and silence soon surrounds us. In eleven days we will be picked up at the confluence of the Wind and Peel rivers. A strange feeling for us city folks but this is exactly what I wanted.
I decided to see the Yukon after seeing a documentary on the great Klondike Gold Rush. I was enraptured. This time, there was no way I would delay a trip! What can be more appealing than to discover a country the way the old timers did – by canoe? As I had no experience canoeing, I decided to join a small group, accompanied by a guide.

An expedition like this one, organized by pros, doesn’t only provide a feeling of safety but also has the advantage that one only has to bring personal items like clothing, sleeping bag and bed roll. This makes the planning stage very convenient, as all equipment and food supplies are provided. The planning and logistics of such a trip would have been too challenging for me. The better the trip is organized, the higher the chances that my beloved office will see me back in top shape after the vacation. Similar thoughts must have gone through the heads of the other members of my group: Ralf from Munich, Georg from Luzern in Switzerland and Tim and Beatrice, a couple from Toronto. 

Ufer am SeeOur first night on the Wind, we camped on the shore of the lake where we landed. This was an ideal place to get familiar with our canoes, which was my biggest concern. But I was not the only one of the group who had not been in a canoe before: Georg was also a greenhorn. Others had paddled at least ‘a few strokes’ at home. Jim had reassured us it would be no problem. Many travelers on these trips are greenhorns - ‘cheechakos’, as they are known in the North.

We spent time practicing before we got going. Safety first! After a few minutes we made progress and became eager to try our new skills in moving water but this would have to wait until the next day.
We prepared our first meal – juicy steaks – on the campfire. We spent time around the fire and talked about everything we expected to happen over the coming days. I thought about the 11 days that lay ahead and the distances in this country. Imagine, we were 300 km away from Dawson City and we were to travel even further north! The locals call this ‘the middle of nowhere.’ My main motivation for this trip is to forget all the stress of my day-to-day life in ‘civilization’ and to live in harmony with nature. There couldn’t be a better place than this.

Even my most distant hopes were topped in the following days. What we experienced is hard to express with words. Absolute pristine wilderness, wildlife, crystal-clear emerald waters and rugged alpine mountains reaching right to the river. It’s a fascinating and beautiful landscape.
The Wind River can be categorized as a swift but easily maneuverable whitewater river. A tour on this river is an adventure full of discoveries. At the start, the river is quite narrow and on the first days we spent time wading in the water pulling our canoes. Eventually the water gets deeper but hardly wider. Rapids are category II and there are no slow and boring sections. There was always fun and action.

Frühstück im CampWe were blessed with many opportunities to see moose, grizzly bears, caribou and Dall sheep up close. Male caribou sometimes came as close as several metres to check out our tents. One morning, a group of caribou ran through our camp while we sat stunned at the campfire drinking coffee. These animals don’t know humans, as hunters are unknown to them. None of the locals use this area for hunting because the river is too inaccessible. An isolated population of Dall sheep also lives in the Wind River valley. The first time we saw these usually shy animals, they came down the mountain to see who we were – stopping only about 10 metres away from us!

Grayling swim in the crystal-clear waters and even for us rookie fishermen it was no problem to catch them for supper. During the days, we took it easy. The scenery moved by like a movie. I can’t imagine a more beautiful way to explore nature than by canoe. The water around us was perfectly flat, mirroring bush, hills, mountains and the sky. The line between real and mirror image was hardly noticeable. Silently, we floated downstream in this steady transition between the elements. Sometimes I forgot that we were drifting on a river.

Our schedule allowed us to stop at many places. We spent two nights at a campsite and explored the mountains surrounding us with short hikes. We watched a bald eagle feeding its young and saw a caribou herd swimming across the river. The hair on our back stood up as we watched a pack of wolves move by us just a stone’s throw away. And during the second last night Beatrice woke everyone to a spectacular event. The Northern Lights!

Green lights moved across the clear night sky. The light danced erratically, split into isolated rays of light, took on a yellow glow and grew together into a fan of light. An other unforgettable moment I cherish for the rest of my life.
We began the last leg of our journey but I felt like I wouldn’t mind paddling forever. Our strokes melted into the harmonic diversity surrounding us. No longer were we foreign objects but part of nature moving around us. As promised, Ernie picked us up with his floatplane and we had a breathtaking two hour flight back to Mayo.

Back in Whitehorse it’s time to say good-bye to our guide Jim and also to Georg, who stays for an other week at a Wilderness Fly-In Fishing Lodge. Finaly we met for one last dinner together. This night was a great evening because everyone had such fond memories and was so full of excitement about our adventures. After a hearty meal and a few beers at the best restaurant in Whitehorse, Ralf admitted that for the last two weeks he felt like he was in paradise. This statement summed it all up for us. The evening, like our trip, was over too fast. I already decided to come back again to this terrific wilderness with a new group of adventurers. In the stairway on the way to my room, I saw a poster with big bold letters: ”Don’t just dream it - do it“. For a moment I paused and then I smiled.

By Stephan Hoffmann