2010 – Wind River, Yukon Canoe

The Yukon Territory in Canada has a well deserved international reputation for having several outstanding rivers for canoeing.  One of these is the Wind River which has long been on our list of trips to do.  The Wind is normally a class 1-2 river suitable for paddlers with intermediate-level skills.  It’s fair to say that before the trip we were beginner paddlers so the trip was going to be a challenge for us.

We had a strong team.  Marilyn is an expert canoeist having been a professional instructor at one point.  She gave us lessons when we first arrived and was our unofficial canoe guide for the trip.  She is now an elementary school teacher and so had the right skills to make us feel comfortable through the whole trip even when we were pushing our limits of ability.  Thanks Marilyn, you were a key factor in the success of this trip!

We also had two strong intermediate paddlers: Helen and David.  They were a big help too of course.  Irene, Liz, and Manrico were beginners at start of the trip but got a lot better by the end.

The trip is done by chartering a float plane in Mayo for the 45 minute flight to the start point at McClusky Lake.  There are two alternative endpoints.  Taco Bar is the normal end point for canoe trips on the Wind, Bonnet Plume, and Snake rivers.  These three rivers all join the Peel River which eventually flows into the Mackenzie River and then the Arctic Ocean.  There is about 190 km of paddling on the Wind followed by another 90 km on the Peel to reach Taco Bar which is just after where the Snake River flows into the Peel.  The charter company will pick up groups at Taco Bar and fly them back to Mayo.

Some groups choose to continue paddling the Peel for another 200 km to Fort McPherson, a village in the Northwest Territories.  Fort McPherson is on the Dempster Highway so no charter flight back is required.  The Peel is big and flat after Taco Bar and therefore less interesting to paddle.  We pulled out at Taco Bar.

The first and maybe biggest challenge of the trip is to get people, canoes, and gear to Mayo and back.  This is a tiny community with no commercial airport, bus service, or canoe rental agencies.  The nearest canoe rentals are in Whitehorse.  The most reasonable options are probably:

  1. Drive to Mayo in your own vehicles from wherever you live in North America.  Bring your own canoes.  Mayo is a five hour drive from Whitehorse and Whitehorse is a multi-day drive from most places in North America.  There are good, paved roads right to Mayo.
  2. Fly to Whitehorse, rent canoes and a vehicle.  Drive to Mayo, leave the vehicle there, and drive back at the end of the trip.
  3. Fly to Whitehorse, rent canoes, and hire the canoe rental company to transport the group to/from Mayo.  They will do this but the cost seemed high.
  4. Fly to Whitehorse, rent canoes, and charter the flight directly from Whitehorse to McClusky Lake and back from Taco Bar without having to go to Mayo.  This is the simplest, fastest, and likely most costly alternative.

We were very lucky in having a friend, Kirstie, who lives in Whitehorse.  She couldn’t come on the trip but very kindly offered to come with us to Mayo and drive the rental vehicle back.  Three weeks later she rented another vehicle and came to pick us up.  Kirstie is what you call a good friend.

The canoe trip can be broken into three main sections: upper Wind, lower Wind, and Peel.  The upper Wind is where the river travels through the mountains and is the most scenic part of the trip.  Almost all of the good hiking is in this section.  There are many ridges that provide excellent hiking opportunities.  You can spend anything from an hour walking up a couple of hundred meters to see a view to a full day hiking the 1,200+ meters to a summit.  There are also opportunities for multi-day hikes starting from various points on the river.

The lower Wind is the section starting from where the Wind leaves the mountains (just after where the Royal River flows into the Wind) to where the Wind joins the Peel River.  There are at least two very nice hiking opportunities on this section.  There is a minor peak on the east bank of the Wind just before where the Little Wind River flows into the Wind.  This is a nice half day hike.  The second hiking opportunity is Mount Deception.  A two hour hike will bring rewarding views but it’s worth allocating a full day to ramble along Mount Deception’s ridges.

The section on the Peel River does not have any good hiking opportunities, at least none that we are aware of.  The Peel is a big, fast moving river.  There are rapids in one section: the Peel Canyon just after where the Bonnet Plume River flows into the Peel.  In normal water these are no more difficult than those on the Wind.  We ran those rapids in full flood; portaging or lining the canoes were not realistic options.  The only way we were able to get through safely was by rafting the three canoes together.  Marilyn sat in the middle canoe and gave instructions to paddlers on the two outside canoes.

The whole trip can probably be done in a week or so by a strong, experienced team.  Guided groups typically take two weeks.  We planned on three weeks so we could do lots of hikes.  We wish that we had given ourselves four or even five weeks for the trip; the hiking was that good.  We suggest spending most of the time on the upper Wind section.  We took four reasonable days to paddle the lower Wind and Peel sections plus two day-long hikes and another day sitting in camp on the Peel waiting for the high water to drop.

Below is a set of video clips from our trip followed by a slide show.  Press the buttons on the lower right to get a full screen view and to improve the resolution.

Now the slideshow. Press the white button on the top right to get a full screen view. Select the first photo and then click the arrows on either side of each picture to scroll through the set.