The Teslin River, Yukon        


Note: This is Stephen's account of the trip. For a completely different viewpoint of the same trip have a look at Devon's version.

While working over the winter, I meet an excellent fellow by the name of Ben Kostner who, along with a friend of his, was organizing an 8 day trip down the Teslin River starting June 21, 2004. Not being organized enough at the time to commit, Carol and I waffled back and forth saying maybe, then no, then with only days to go before leaving, yes. We thank Ben and the crew for their patience with us.

The crew was a big one and consisted of Ben, Kateri and Kym Kostner, Ashley Camille, Ted, Devon and Ellen Hancock and Wes and Andrew Thompson. Eleven people and five boats with lucky Kateri acting as rather bouncy luggage in Ben and Ted's 18 foot boat. It was a fun and active (except when it came to paddling) crew and together with the consistently fine weather and fast flowing water, it made for a memorable trip.

The river itself was unlike any Carol or I had seen. The fast and friendly current measured 12 km/hr in places and averaged in the 8 km/hr range (as measured by GPS). Seventy km days were definitely do-able and 370 km was covered (200 on the Teslin and 170 on the Yukon) in 7 days without undo hardship being placed upon our crew of mostly teenage girls. Our trip was more or less centered on the June solstice and being in the land of the 24-hour sun created some interesting possibilities. The sun did set at our latitude but it never got close to dark as the light moved quickly from dusk back to dawn. Together with the fast current this allowed for all kinds of options as to when and how (or even if) to paddle.

The stretch we did (from Johnson's Crossing to Carmacks) had no rapids at the high water levels we encountered. The only dangers were frequent shore line sweepers, log jams and the girls propensity to raft-up and stop paddling all together, preferring instead to drift the entire day away, throw pistachios, harass Andrew (or was Andrew harassing the girls - I never did figure out which way it went) and sleep. Still, when the strong current threatened to push us into log jams, they could move their boats with surprising speed, rallying to Kateri's battle-cry of "paddle like a schoolgirl". As the 11th person in our entourage, Kateri sat in the middle of Ben and Ted's 18 foot canoe and kept busy rolling, twisting, turning, flopping and otherwise de-stabilizing their boat. Kateri's other job was the distribution of food and snacks during our frequent drift sessions and this she did in much the same way I imagine an Afghan warlord hands out guns, ammunition and drugs. Although one suspected a measure of favoritism, hoarding, bribery and the lining of one's own pockets was taking place, you dared not say anything to save from being disfavored and cut off. The constant commotion which occurred during these raft-ups pretty much precluded seeing any wildlife save for one big but deaf moose and a bald eagle who was so amused he flew down river 100 feet to watch us go by again. Adult intervention was minimal with Ted sinking so low into the bow of the canoe that only the brim of his hat hanging up on the gunnels prevented him from disappearing, Ben remaining his quiet self and Carol only intervening when she felt her quota of chocolate was being unfairly handled. Least anyone think I am painting a bleak picture, I hasten to add that this was all quite a bit of fun.

On shore, the roles changed somewhat with Ben leaping into a flurry of tarp erecting and biffy building activity (I have never sat on nicer outdoor toilets than the ones he constructed). Devon was transformed from a somewhat reluctant and very sarcastic paddler into a highly effective and still sarcastic campsite and dinner organizer. This being Carol's traditional role, it left her wandering aimlessly at times but she did her thing here and there when no one was watching. Ashley was usually found reading and while I never saw it, the evidence would point to Kym spending the majority of her time wetting her socks, rolling them in the mud and sand and them placing them in the bottom of various canoes. I suspect Kateri may have had a hand to play in this whole sock thing but due to her position as food/snack warlord, I didn't want to say anything least I be cut off. Ellen generally looked quiet but this is suspect as well... the five girls slept together in a large tent from which all kinds of noises would emanate deep into the night. You could never be exactly sure what was going on inside or what plots were being developed.

Constantly in the mix of girls was Ted's nephew Andrew. I am not sure if Andrew wouldn't leave them alone or if the girls wouldn't leave him alone or some combination there of. In any case, Andrew handled his vastly outnumbered position with aplomb, keeping the five girls on their toes. His abundance of energy even allowed time for fishing and dam building. Never for a single moment did he appear to tire except for a brief moment after Ben and Ted raced he and Wes in the canoes! Andrew's canoe partner and older brother, Wes, numbered with the adult crowd and for the most part stayed out of the teenage fray.

Aside from the antics, the river itself was amazing both geologically and historically. Never had we been on a river that offered such a constant and consistent gradient. Kilometre after kilometre passed beneath our hulls at the steady rate of 8 km/hr or so. No rapids to scout, no portages to carry... amazing! Of course, had we had to go upstream, it would have been impossible for our group to paddle. Historically, the river is of great significance both to the natives and to the gold-seekers that followed. By our trip it had almost reverted completely back to its pre-white man state and what little remains was slowly being taken back by the land. This made for some fascinating sights which included old trapper cabins, gold dredges and paddlewheel river boat remains. The latter were particularly interesting as the Yukon and it tributaries were home to some fairly unique shallow draft stern paddle wheelers. These large boats would burn a cord of wood every half hour and would make the trip from Whitehorse to Dawson City in 36 hours downstream and 4 to 5 days upstream! The S.S. Evelyn sits exactly as it was left decades ago when it was hauled out of the water in preparation for the winter months. It remains untouched, still sitting on the original cradles and is located on an island just minutes downstream from the old village of Hootalingua near the intersection of the Teslin and the Yukon.

Forest fires provided another memorable moment during our trip. We left with no fire ban in effect only to return to an extreme fire ban (that had been on since the day after we left - unbeknownst to us) and over 75 forest fires burning in the territory with the numbers increasing daily. Little did we know that one of them was to be right in our path. On day five we had planned to camp at the Historic Big Salmon Village but upon our arrival, it was apparent that a fire was burning immediately around the next river bend. Because the fire looked relatively small and because the wind was very light, we decided that this was the time to pass it. Canoeing around the corner and into the flames and smoldering bush was a bit surreal but proved our decision to be the right one. The fire had largely backed onto itself and was at the time working against what little wind there was. It had at some point jumped the river and the only place it was really threatening was up the valley side to the north and east of us. We camped in its path but well down river and kept watch of the smoke. Later in the evening a good wind blew up and we could really see the black smoke building upwind of us. This indicated the fire had found some new fuel and when we awoke we had ash on our tents and no sun. The rest of the trip was done in a thick haze of smoke with an occasional orange sun trying to push through.

  • Day 1
  •    Johnson's Crossing to camp 1   200 km to 163 kmhard to find due to high water levels
  • Day 2
  •    to Boswell River97 kmgravel bar, good creek, one grayling, unfriendly beaver
  • Day 3
  •    to Mason's Landing30.5 kmold cabins with nice beach
  • Day 4
  •    to Hootalingua0 km on Teslin/170 km on Yukon   nice camp, telegraph station, needed more time to explore
  • Day 5
  •    to 4th of July Bend96.5 kmCyr's dredge
  • Day 6
  •    to Twin Creeks75 kmexcellent site, nice creek, another grayling, huge burn from 1995
  • Day 7
  •    to Carmacks0 kmdone

    Fishing was moderately successful if you take an optimist's viewpoint. If you are of the pessimistic type, we had a $45 fish meal that worked out to about $8.00 per inch. And that was only for the licenses. A summary of fishing events:

  • one 8" grayling (eaten)
  • three lost lures
  • one 4" grayling (released)
  • one rod thrown in the water (later recovered)



  • Rafting up

    Hoodoos

    Ellen cooking dinner

    Old cabin
     

    Part of Cyr's drege

    Hanging out

    Old cabin at Hootalinqua village

    Oh the smoke!
     

    Forest fire

    S. S. Evelyn addlewheeler




     

    Luxurious campsite

    Collapsing cliffs

    Near the start of the Teslin


     

    Ben's biffy



    Old Hootalingua village

    Expressions
     

    Big Salmon Village



    Lunch break

    More rafting
     

    Kym

    Ben

    Ashley the book worm

    Kateri
     

    Wes using the 'cook stove'



    Lost paddler

    Grub time
     

    Devon's favourite position

    Coffee time

    S. S. Evelyn

    Peaceful contemplation
     

    Ted

    Wes gold panning

    Time to clean my feet

    Smokey morning
     



    Fireweed



    Andrew
     
     
    Ted moulds into the boat

    "I have to finish this!"
     




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