Story: Yukon

Photography & words: Justin Hession

Place: Canada / Alaska

Language: Story available in English


There is no better place to experience the wilderness than Canada and Alaska. Sparsely populated, amazing rivers, great fishing and wildlife that keeps one on their toes.

I would be traveling with an old childhood school friend and his partner. The trip would begin in Whitehorse and we would travel the next 40 days to the Dalton Hwy before flying up into northern Alaska where isolation and harshness shaped every day. The idea was to immerse ourselves in the wild, to create a feeling different from a weekend trip. It took a lot of pre-planning because forgetting the puncture kit for ones sleeping mat or the lighter for the cooker could really make life hard.

Traveling by kayak created many challenges. We would have to be self-sufficient which meant all our equipment and food supplies had to be crammed into the tiny storage spaces in the hull. No space went unused. The great advantage of traveling by kayak was that weight didn’t matter just size.
We were living in the bears domain which meant taking precautions when cooking and making camp. Over time we gravitated towards camping on the many islands found throughout the length of the Yukon. Bears can swim but it would take a hungry bear to go to all that effort to get our food. The added bonus was there were a lot less mosquitoes on the islands.

We paddled about 8–13 km an hour depending on the current. The total distance covered from Whitehorse to Dalton Hwy was about 1700km. We were under no time constraint, so we paddled as we wished. The Whitehorse to Dawson part of the paddle was meant to be popular but we hardly saw a person the whole time. We always felt isolated and alone. It was what we came for.
The weather was maybe the toughest part. It rains a lot and then rains some more and that’s before it really starts raining. And it’s hard camping in the rain. And its hard cooking in the rain but the worse was packing the tent up in the rain. Going from completely dry and warm in ones sleeping bag to unzipping the tent and facing the cold spit from the sky.
The wilderness always challengers. To keep positive, we just had to bare a thought to how tough it would be in winter when the temperature is minus 40 degrees and the river is frozen solid.

It was an amazingly beautiful trip. When researching for a potential river to paddle we dismissed the Yukon because it was too popular. What changed our minds was a phone call with an author who had paddle all the great rivers of Canada. She listened to our ideas and needs and suggested we paddle the Yukon. She told stories of its marvelous beauty, it’s isolation, history, changing geography and most importantly, its lack of people.
She was correct on all fronts. As I floated with the current every day I couldn’t help but think what a wonderful recommendation.

Part ll of this trip is found under ‘Noatak’