Snake River

Peel Watershed (14-18 days)

The Snake River valley is a paddler’s and hiker’s paradise.  In the upper reaches alpine tundra stretches almost to rivers edge, allowing easy access to wildflower meadows and sweeping ridgelines.  The river itself  has carved a path through land slides and canyons, boulder gardens and braids,  until it spills out of the Wernecke and Mackenzie mountains onto the Peel plateau.  It’s the most challenging of the three Peel watershed trips that we offer,  with a fast current punctuated by several class 2+ and 3 rapids.  

The Snake is the furthest east tributary of the Peel watershed, and second in level of difficulty to its neighbour, the Bonnet Plume. It parallels the NWT/Yukon border, draining the west side of the peaks that frame  the border, and the NWT’s Arctic Red River draining the east side.  This is remote country, a 75 minute long flight from Mayo, over the precipitous Wernecke Mountains.

Access to the Snake is Duo Lakes,  on the divide between the Snake and  Bonnet Plume drainages, and 2 to 3 kms from the river itself. The upper river is shallow, and may require lining depending on water levels. Very quickly it enters the first canyon,where a landslide has flowed across the valley.  The Snake picks up speed as tributaries enter, the most notable one from glaciated Mt. MacDonald spilling silt into the crystal clear waters of the upper river.  The Snake continues on at a fast clip, at times braiding out across river flats, at other times confined to a single channel,  with midstream boulders or canyon walls. Once the river leaves the mountains for the Peel lowlands it fans out into a sea of channels, and races along beside rocky cliffs, winding its way to its confluence with the Peel.

Mountain sheep and caribou are the two species most often  seen from the  river and on alpine hikes. Bear and moose  are present throughout the valley, and can be  spotted when least expected, around a bend in the river, or even wandering through camp! Wolves, wolverine and fox are spotted occasionally. Peregrine falcons, golden eagles and other birds of prey nest on canyon walls.

The Snake River is one of 6 Yukon tributaries of the Peel River.  The 77, 000 square kilometer Peel watershed has been the focus of a major wilderness protection campaign, spear-headed by the Yukon Chapter of CPAWS (Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society) –Yukon, and actively engaged in by First Nations communities whose ancestral lands are in the watershed, as well as by wilderness tourism outfitters, many members of the Yukon public, and the Yukon Conservation Society.  

“With its isolation and rugged beauty the Peel River watershed is one of those special places that can influence how we view the world, and our own place in it”  (Sarah Locke from ‘Wild Rivers of the Yukon’s Peel Watershed’)  “The Peel watershed lies at the northern edge of the North American Cordillera, the 5000-km long chain of mountains that form the back bone of the continent.  The Richardsons, Mackenzies, Werneckes and Ogilvies comprise a sea of peaks stretching north to the Arctic. The Peel is a land of mountains and plateaus, rivers and wetlands, boreal forest and tundra – a remote wilderness, accessible by road only in its far western parameter, and still relatively pristine.  It is a wilderness enthusiasts paradise and offers home to barren-ground and woodland caribou, moose, grizzly bear, wolf and mountain sheep, to name a few,  and of course myriads of songbirds, birds of prey,  and  migratory species.”

Trip Details

Dates
Open
Duration
14 to 18 Days
Price
$5500-$6500 (depending on group size and trip length)
Activity
Canoeing or rafting, hiking
Skill Level (minimum)

Detailed Itinerary

(This is a sample itinerary. An exact one will depend on the length of the trip, and the timing of our flight  into the Snake. This itinerary assumes  a 15 day journey.

Day 0:   Make sure you arrive in Whitehorse  by the afternoon so that we can meet (at a pre-arranged time and place) to discuss the trip, and  go over the clothing and equipment lists to make sure you have everything you need for the journey.

Day 1:   There will be time today for you to look around the thriving town of Whitehorse, stroll along the Yukon River, possibly listen to some live northern music, and do any necessary last minute shopping.  There are several outfitting shops in Whitehorse that are well stocked with any gear you may need. We plan to leave Whitehorse by late afternoon to drive to Mayo. It will take us about 5 hours and we’ll stop for supper along the way.  We’ll camp at Black Sheep Aviation’s floatplane base on the scenic Stewart River,  just upstream from town.

Days 2 & 3:   We are booked to fly out of Mayo  in the morning of Day 2, in one or more of  Black Sheep’s aircraft –  a Single Otter, a Beaver and a  Cessna 185.  There is no float plane access to the Snake River itself so we will be landing at Duo Lakes, a few kms west of the river, and a 70 -80 minute flight from Mayo. We’ll set up camp at Duo Lakes,  hiking up a ridge behind camp on our first afternoon, to “get our bearings”,  and the next day portaging all or most of our gear to the river, camping at Duo Lakes again or at the river.

Days 4 & 5 :  Our aim is to get to the mouth of Reptile Creek today, after negotiating the shallow channels of the upper river, and the first canyon. Reptile Creek is the first main tributary coming in from the east, so padding from here on  has plenty of water for canoes or rafts. We’ll plan to camp here for  two nights so we  can  hike up colourfully-hued Painted Mountain on the layover day. Alternatively we’ll hike up towards  Goz Lake on the opposite side of the valley – a route that epitomizes alpine tundra hiking –  gentle gradients with wide open vistas.

Days 6 & 7:  A steady current with riffles, boulders and wavy corners will carry us to our next layover camp, in the Mt MacDonald area. A day hike up to the edge of this  2621 metre glaciated peak with its towering  limestone  walls is not to be missed.  One could spend days exploring the U-shaped side valleys with their towering walls, cascading waterfalls and wildflower meadows.  We’ll hope for good weather, and also a chance to see some of the frequent caribou visitors to this  area. Days 8 –  11:   The remainder of the mountain stretch of river offers a variety of river conditions including a class 3 canyon that we’ll likely portage, wide braided stretches of river with fast flowing currents and boulder gardens,  a section called the  S- bend where the valley narrows between high mountains leading right to rivers edge,  and bouncy sections of river with big waves. We’ll hopefully have time for another layover day to gain one of the ridgelines that lead into sheep habitat  high above the river. We’ll camp near the edge of the mountains, with potentially dramatic sunset and sunrise vistas back over the rocky ramparts of the Werneckes.

Days 12-14:  It takes 2 to 3 days to reach the Peel from the edge of the mountains.  In places the river braids into channels that fan out into the lowlands. At high water this stretch of river can be intimidating, and great care needs to be taken especially when entering new channels cut through the forest by surging waters of spring  melt  or after heavy rain episodes, due to blind corners, sweepers and potential log jams.  Even as a  single channel the river moves swiftly,  often creating significant waves as it navigates sharp corners  along canyon walls.  The river does slow down as it nears its confluence with the Peel.   Taco Bar is a couple kilometers below the confluence.  This gravel bar, on the edge of a vegetated island, across the Peel from high sedimentary cliffs, is our designated pick up spot.

Day 15:  We are scheduled to get picked up in the morning and flown back to Mayo. It  will take us about 2 hours, at first flying over the Peel River lowlands and then rising up and over the Werneckes,  with range upon range of jagged peaks, punctuated by  sinuous creek and  spectacular river valleys,  and then finally over the Beaver and Stewart River lowlands on the final stretch back to Mayo. We’ll unload, pack up, have a bite to eat and then drive back to Whitehorse. *This itinerary may change slightly due to weather or other unforeseen circumstances. 

What's Included

WHAT’S INCLUDED

  • All transportation from Whitehorse and return  (unles we organize to meet you in Mayo), in which case it is the air charters in and out of Mayo that are included)
  • the services of one or two fully qualified guides (depending on group numbers)
  • all river gear, including lifejackets and safety equipment
  • all group equipment including tents, cooking gear, first aid supplies and satellite phone
  • all meals from lunch Day 1 to lunch on the final day

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED

  • transportation to and from your home and Whitehorse
  • personal belongings and equipment as per equipment list
  • any accommodation or meals in Whitehorse

Experience Level

Paddlers need to be comfortable paddling Class 2 waters with some Class 3 experience, with well-developed skills reading moving water. Experience with lining, portaging, and negotiating sweepers is important. Sweepers and even log jams may be encountered, particularly in Elliot Creek and in the braided stretch of the Hart where new channels through the forest may have been cut by high waters.

Like any northern wilderness river the Hart is remote, the waters are cold, and groups need to be self-sufficient.   Water levels can change dramatically with rain, whether it is falling close by or in the distant basins of tributary rivers.  Your guides will ensure you are aware of what is around the next corner and prepare you as best they can for the sections ahead.  River and weather conditions will determine our progress down river and the flow of our days.