Locals return to Yukon River for another canoeing trip

Published 2:17 pm Friday, July 5, 2019

Editor’s note: Henry and Barb Initili are Bainbridge residents and also avid travelers and adventure seekers. Their most recent adventure was a canoe trip from Dawson, Canada, to Eagle, Alaska.


By: Henry Intili

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In 2016, Barb and I canoed 160 miles on the Yukon River from Eagle, Alaska to Circle, Alaska. This year we canoed another section of this mighty river from Dawson, Yukon Territory in Canada to Eagle in Alaska.

We took a commercial van from Fairbanks across the border on a 12-hour drive to Dawson, Canada. Two days later, stocked and ready, we loaded our canoe, secured our gear in rubber dry bags to canoe structure with straps, and cast off in lovely weather.

What looked like an easy paddle turned into a five-day demanding, frightening adventure.

On day one we paddled 35 miles in sunny weather, set up our tent on an island in the river, and enjoyed the 24 hours of light. We thought the trip was going to be a piece of pecan pie with vanilla ice cream.

On day two, we had some head winds but still enjoyed the fast flowing, wide river as it flowed between massive, green mountains. Now and then a passing dark cloud sprinkled us with rain before the sun graced us again. Once more we found a lovely camping spot on an island, lit an evening campfire, and settled in under blankets like little kittens.

Our luck ran out on day three. The north wind kicked in so strong we struggled for every mile. At one point the wind blew so hard that the river developed white caps as high as the sides of our canoe and the top layer of river water reversed direction, spun us around, and developed huge whirlpools that we paddled with all our might to avoid.

Day four we couldn’t leave the tent in an unrelenting rain. Twice we had to move the canoe further up the bank as the river rose. We tied the tent down, securing it to beached logs and ate a cold lunch and dinner of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Day five was pure disaster. We woke to blue skies to the south. The rain stopped while the wind from north blasted worse than ever. We tried to paddle against the wind and heavy waves until we were exhausted. Seven hours later, three miles from the US border and twelve miles from Eagle, we gave up the effort.

We flagged a passing johnboat. The Canadian driver gave us a ride to Eagle. On the way we saw two miles of river with waves higher than our canoe in an area with no place to beach. We would have been swamped. We would have died.

The original plan was to spend two nights at Falcon Inn in Eagle and then continue on the Yukon River. We were so shaken that we scrapped the plan and returned to friends in Fairbanks.

We may be crazy, but we are not stupid.