Yukon: 11-day Pelly River Expedition
Yukon: 11-day Pelly River Expedition
2 nights in Whitehorse, and 9 days on the river!
Price Includes Tax
As your plane starts its descent into Whitehorse, you see the endless forests, rivers and lakes, and you start to really feel the excitement. Nine days in one of the most remote places in the world, passing through unimaginably beautiful mountain scenery, tackling epic whitewater under a sun that never sets. This is the Yukon, and you’re about to experience one of Canada’s most amazing hidden treasures. Travelling the ancient routes of the fur traders by canoe really gives one the feeling of travelling back in time. Gone is the technology and luxury of the modern world, leaving only you, your group, and the river.
Locations: Yukon RiverActivity: Canoeing, Hiking, Photography Difficulty: Beginner/Moderate
Ever since we started paddling, the Yukon has been a dream of ours. The natural beauty and remoteness of the territory has an appeal that drives both amateur and experienced wilderness enthusiasts alike. We often talk about getting away from it all, and the Yukon is about as away as one can get. It’s just you, your group, and the vastness of the Canadian north while you paddle through hundreds of kilometers of untouched scenic paradise.
Welcome to the Pelly River! Originating West of the Mackenzie Mountains, we’ll be taking this winding river 260km, past mountain range after mountain range. The first road we’ll see on this river is the one from which we’ll put-in at the small town of Faro. The second road we’ll see will be when we finally leave the river 9 days later at Pelly Crossing, where the river intersects the Klondike Highway. Between those two roads, we’ll travel through the remote wilderness of the Yukon plateau, where wildlife such as migratory birds, sheep, muskrats, beavers, foxes, wolves, bears, and eagles are in abundance. The river has a wonderful flow to it, and at times, we’ll be able to raft up, pull out the guitar and put our feet up as we let the current take us down stream. Other times, we’ll need to grip our paddles a little harder in order to navigate some whitewater sections. Don’t worry though, this trip is more about the beauty of the wild space, and the whitewater sections are feasible even for beginners (up to Class III with guidance and instructions).
This trip is an expedition. Plans and itineraries may change without notice depending on the skill level of the group, the circumstances of the trip, and the discretion of the guide. Then again, if you wanted predictable, you wouldn’t be heading to the Yukon! Beginners and expert both welcome.
Day 0 – Meeting in Whitehorse
As you walk out of the airport, you can feel something different in the air. Perhaps it’s the laid-back feel the locals have, perhaps it’s the view of the mountains, perhaps you’re just making it up because of how excited you are. Either way, you smile. You make your way to the hotel you’ve booked and throw your bags down on the floor by the bed. You know you’ve got the meet-and-greet at 7pm, but that’s still a few hours away. Nothing else to do, but explore and discover the historic sites of the Yukon in its capital. You’ve got a few last-minute questions, but you’ll ask them to your guides when you see them at dinner. Tonight is the last night of civilization for the next week and a half. Better enjoy that flush toilet while you can. An extra long hot shower never hurt anyone either.
Day 1 on River
By the time you wake up, it’s already quite bright outside. Although still early, the sun’s been above the horizon since 6am, and there’s been light out for an hour before that. You take a quick last hot shower, grab your stuff and head to the meeting point where your guides are waiting for you. They go over the gear list once more with everyone, and once they feel it’s all good, you throw your stuff in the back of a van, hop in and you all take off for the town of Faro, where the adventure truly begins. As you drive along the highway, you stare out the window and watch the mountain ranges go by. After 4 hours of driving, you get to the put-in point, unload the gear and canoes, and get kitted up. Before loading the canoes though, the guides go through a canoe school. This is good. Although you’ve done your fair share of paddling, it’s never a bad idea to get some tips from the pros. It also seems like there’s a few folks who haven’t really paddled before. The canoe school is definitely a good idea.
Once the canoe school is complete, your guides show you how to load a boat for an expedition and away you go. Today is a short day – only a couple of hours of paddling down river. You and your guides decide on a place to set up camp at the base of the 6500-foot tall Rose Mountain to the north, and the Genlyon Mountain Range to the south. That evening, while eating dinner and staring up the mountain, you think you see a mountain sheep enjoying an evening stroll.
Day 2 on River
You wake up and stretch out in your sleeping bag. Outside your tent, you can hear the others starting to stir, and can smell the coffee percolating. You make your way outside, and see the rising sun illuminating the mist on the water. After breakfast, your guides give you an intro to whitewater paddling. Today we’ll tackle the Little Fishhook Rapids, they say. An easier set, they say. Shouldn’t be an issue, they say. Still, you’re focused on every word, and can feel your heart beating a little faster.
As you start paddling, you smile as you see nothing but mountains in every direction. In fact, when you check the map, you see nothing but mountains on either side of the river for the next long way. You end up enjoying lunch on a nice sandbar as the sun shines, still surrounded by mountains.
In the early afternoon, you come across your first set of rapids. Everyone gets out of the boats and the guides go through a much more thorough lesson then they gave you this morning. They walk up and down the river and show you all the things you need to be aware of as you navigate this first set. Stay River Left, they say, or you may hit those rocks and those standing waves. It’s only class II, you think, so no big deal. River Left, river left. Ok. Cool.
You and your canoe partner strap yourselves in to the boat, and start to make your way down the set. As you hit the waves, the cold water jumps up over your gunnels and splashes your face. Shockingly cold, but refreshing! You make it down the set without too much difficulty. You look around, and you notice that everyone has. Everyone’s smiling and you can see some peoples’ adrenaline were revved up pretty high for this one. The group decides to camp at the bottom of the rapids to have the sound of whitewater put them to sleep. A few folks even decide to play in the rapids after dinner. Others go fishing and catch some Arctic Grayling. Dinner tonight is going to be magnificent!
Day 3 on River
Waking up on Day 3, you start to really get into the groove of this trip. It took a couple of days, but you’ve finally left your city world behind and you’re now fully immersed in this expedition. This is important, because the day starts off with Big Fishhook Rapids, which is the start of the Fishhook Canyon. Slightly more intense than Little Fishhook Rapids, this set requires your full attention. Paddling the set first thing in the morning is a better wake up call than any cup of coffee, and now that you’re at the bottom, you’re wide-eyed and awake!
While paddling down, you can’t help but be amazed by the feeling of awe of paddling within a canyon. Yesterday’s gradually sloping mountains have transformed into taller and steeper walls. You imagine yourself over 150 years ago, as a voyageur, navigating these waters in order to fulfill orders for the Hudson Bay company. That night, you sleep inside the walls of the canyon.
Day 4 on River
By this point, everyone in your group is in a groove. Waking up and packing out go smoothly, and people are feeling more comfortable with one another. The cameras are documenting, and the jokes are flowing. With the long days and warm sun, today feels a lot more relaxed. Still paddling within a canyon, you guys decide to have a floating lunch. All the boats raft up and allow the current to take you, as the food gets brought out. Your guide pulls out the guitar and starts playing as everyone shares a meal. You lie back in the canoe and feel the warmth of the sun on your face.
Day 5 on River
Today is filled with the opportunity to Choose Your Own Adventure. The river splits off in many places and every time we reach a fork, we’ll have to decide which way to go. Sometimes it’ll be obvious that a particular path is unnavigable. Other times, you’ll get to choose the path that looks the most appealing. After the first few choices, you start to wonder about the routes you didn’t take. Was there a group of caribou and wolves playing poker together? You’ll never know for sure, and somewhere in the back of your head, you kind of hope that’s exactly what you missed. You end the day downstream of Safety Pin Bend overlooking the Pelmac Ridge – a steadily elevating slope. Although you can’t yet see it, you know that on the other side of the Pelmac Ridge, the Macmillan River is flowing its way to meet with your group by tomorrow’s end. This is one of the major Tributaries of the Pelly, and you’re excited to meet it.
Day 6 on River
As you awake and crawl out of your tent, you look up, North and West towards the 4300 foot Pelmac Ridge. Over 14kms wide and 27kms long, this amazing geological formation is millions of years old. To the North of that, is the MacMillan Mountain Range, standing at over 5300 foot. They used to be one in the same, but over millions of years, the powerful MacMillan River has carved a path intersecting these two ranges. At the end of today, you meet where the MacMillan River, that has cut through mountains, meets the Pelly River, and where the Pelly River engulfs the MacMillan River and makes it a part of the Pelly. Looking back East at that juncture, you see the behemoths ranges. To the North, you see the continuation of the never-ending MacMillan Mountain Ranges. All around you is nothing but mountains and river. It’s hard to have a bad day when you’re surrounded by mountains.
Day 7 on River
Today, you wake up to your guides talking about Granite Canyon and Needle Rock. They go over river safety with you and explain that you’ll be going through 3 sets of rapids today in the canyon, the largest of which is a Class II+. Going over river signals and safety procedures is both reassuring, but also a little bit nerve wrecking. They did this for the other set too, and your skills have increased over the courses of the trip. Still, you can’t help feel a little nervous, and very excited.
As you enter the canyon, you notice the interesting rock formations. Granite Canyon is exactly that – a canyon made from pure granite. Its sheer ridges rise 300-400 feet from the water, and then start to ease up in their elevation gain, but continue to rise another 1200 feet in elevation. To the left and the right of you, all you can see is sheer cliffs. In front of you are rapids. In your boat, are two very excited people.
In the last 2 kilometers of the canyon, you start traveling due south with the Ptarmigan Mountain, rising to 4879 feet, straight ahead. Before you can really appreciate the view of the mountain, you need to get past Needle rock island – the last major obstacle of the river.
About 1 km south of Needle Rock Island, you exit the canyon and make camp. Guides tell you that you’ll be spending an extra day there. After 7 days of paddling, you’re happy for a rest day.
Day 8 on River
Today is a rest day, and as such, you sleep in a little bit and are very appreciative of that fact. The canyon from yesterday was quite the exciting ride and you are happy that you don’t need to paddle anything today. After a later breakfast, it’s time to decide on what to do for the day. You listen to the options – hike along the creek, try to get to the top of Ptarmigan Mountain, stay behind and relax. You decide to hike to a viewpoint on Granite Canyon. The view at the top is quite stunning and you’re happy with your decision. That evening, you lie on the rocks with the folks in your group and think about all that you’ve seen and accomplished over the past 8 days. Tomorrow is the last day on river, so you know you need to make the evening count.
Day 9 on River
Waking up this morning, it seems like you, and everyone else, is moving a little slower. It takes a little longer to tare down camp. Most people opt for a second cup of coffee. A few more pictures are being taken. It seems that nobody really wants to set off, because everyone knows that the next stop after that is the Klondike Highway and the end of the trip. Eventually, your guides subtly suggest that boats get loaded. You say goodbye to the camp and the canyon and take off downriver.
After a few hours, you arrive at Pelly Crossing. This is where the famous Klondike Highway crosses the Pelly river and the point where your shuttle meets you. The driver asks you how it was, and although your mind races with all the events and sights of the past 9 days, all you can say is, “Amazing!” because somehow, you know you’ll never be able to properly describe all the subtleties that made this trip what it was.
You get to Whitehorse and check in to your hotel and take the longest shower you’ve ever had in your life. Later that evening, you meet up with the rest of the group for dinner. You barely recognize these clean-shaven, well-dressed individuals. Over dinner, you recount your trip and smile. E-mails are exchanged and pictures are shared. In the back of your mind, you think back to the caribous and wolves playing cards and laugh.
This package does not include
Transportation to and from Whitehorse
Personal gear (clothing, toiletries, camera, etc...)
Food and drinks in Whitehorse
This package includes:
Price Includes Tax
Accomodation in Whitehorse
Whitewater Canoe Instruction
Camping Equipment (Tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, etc.)
Canoe Rentals, life jackets, paddles
(Personal equipment can be used pending conversation with Overhang)
Transportation from Whitehorse to Faro
Food, Drinks (non-alcoholic), Snacks on trip
All safety and First Aid Equipment