Wind River

Peel Watershed  (12 to 16 days)

The Wind is a gorgeous Class 2 river,  fast flowing, shallow and with crystal clear waters.  The jagged spires and serrated ridges of the Wernecke Mountains beckon, luring hikers with the promise of expansive vistas.  The broad sweeping valley of the Wind makes easy traveling for wildlife and humans alike.

Mountain sheep  scamper across steep talus slopes, descending to the river to access mineral salt licks.  Moose  are often  sighted  in the shallows of  McClusky Lake, our put in site near the river.  Caribou scamper along rivers’ edge, the bulls displaying their impressive racks of antlers.  The Wind is also home to grizzly and black bears, wolves, wolverines, fox  and other small fur-bearing animals, as well as variety of bird species.

This river is rich in human history as well. First Nations people used this area for hundreds of years, following the animals and the seasons. During the great Klondike goldrush of 1898, a group of about 80-100 stampeders were forced to spend the winter on the Wind River. They created a temporary community which they dubbed Wind City. This river was also on the overland route between Fort McPherson and Dawson City. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police used to make patrols between the two communities by dog team.  Author Dick North recounts in “The Lost Patrol” the story of the last patrol taken where all members  perished within a couple of days travel of Ft. McPherson.

The Wind River, which has its beginnings in the magnificent Wernecke Mountains, about 135 kms (85 mi) northeast of the small village of Mayo in the central Yukon,  drains into the Peel River, 200 kms (120 mi) to the north, which itself empties into the mighty Mackenzie, and the Beaufort Sea. We travel for 70 km (45 mi) on the Peel to reach our pickup site near the mouth of the Snake River.

The Wind 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
July 11-25,  2017
Duration
15 days
Price
$5700
Activity
Canoeing, hiking
Skill Level (minimum)

Detailed Itinerary

(This is a sample itinerary. An exact one will depend on the length of the trip,  as well as our floatplane access and egress schedule.

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 early afternoon to drive the 5 hours to Mayo. We’ll camp that night 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 Wind River itself so we will be landing at McClusky Lake,  a couple of  kilometers east of the river, about a 45 minute flight from Mayo.  We’ll either camp at the lake for the first night, enjoying some lake paddling, and possibly moose watching,  or spend the day  portaging our gear to nearby McClusky Creek and then lining  our fully laden boats part or all the way down to its confluence with the river, where we’ll camp .  Either way we’ll be aiming to have our second night a few hours down river  in the vicinity of “blueberry hill”. These first few hours  on the river may well be the trickiest paddling of the trip. The  channel is narrow and many of the bends are accompanied by sweepers (trees hanging low over or in the water) so we’ll need to be cautious.

Days 4 -10:  Our day to day itinerary will vary depending on weather and water conditions.  We aim to spend the bulk of our time in this stretch of river, the  mountain stretch, where the views and hiking possibilities are best.  We’ll  have a few  double overnight camps where we can enjoy some hikes into the high country, and along the tundra reaches beside the river.   After “bluebery hill” the  river slows down for a stretch,  to and beyond Bond Creek, a large tributary coming in from the west.  The river soon picks up speed with some shallow braids, gravel bars and the occasional riffle as we pass Bear River,  entering from the east.  The river speeds up again with riffles and shoots and occasional rock dodging. It´s an exciting section that´s a great chance to practice your canoeing skills. The crystal clear water gives you the impression you´re “flying’ over the gravel bars!  Royal Mountain begins to dominate our view, on the west side of the river, as we enter this final stretch of mountains flanking the river. Hiking is spectacular in this stretch and we’ll be sure to plan one or two day hikes up onto ridges.

Days 11 & 12: We leave the main rampart of mountains today,  and the landscape gives way to spruce forests dotted with individual mountains belonging to the Illtyd Range. The river becomes extremely braided, requiring some manoeuvring and possibly lining. We´ll camp  the first night where the Little Wind enters the Wind, picking up on the old trail of the Mounted Police. With the addition of the Little Wind River, the Wind  increases in size, becoming  more braided. On day 11 we´ll pass Mount Deslauriers and Deception, and will likely camp in the vicinity of coal seams exuding from shale cliffs on river right.  This coal has been the subject of mining interest, and if the Wind River is not protected from mineral development this is one of the areas of the watershed under threat.

Days 13 & 14:  We´ll pass by the site of the historic Wind City. There is no trace left of the shacks that protected the would-be goldminers from the elements in 1898 – the river has taken it all away.   The Wind empties into the Peel today, after 250 kms  from McClusky Creek. We plan to continue on for another few hours to make camp just below the mouth of the Bonnet Plume River, in  the spectacular Peel Canyon.  Another full day on the river, racing along between  rocky cliffs in places, slowly meandering through braided stretches in others we eventually pull into our destination, just below the mouth of the Snake River, a gravel  bar/poplar forested island  dubbed  Taco Bar years ago by paddlers enjoying  mexican-inspired cuisine.

Day 15   We are scheduled to get picked up in the morning and flown back to Mayo. It  will take us about 2 hours to cover the 280 kms, at first flying over the Peel River lowlands and then rising up and over the Wernecke Mountains,   with range upon range of jagged peaks, punctuated by  sinuous creeks 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

  • Transportation from Whitehorse to Mayo return  (unles we organize to meet you in Mayo)
  • Air charters in and out of Mayo
  • 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 cooking gear, first aid supplies and satellite phone; tents can be provided for nominal fee
  • 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 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 the narrow upper stretch of the river, and in the braided sections lower down where new channels through the forest may have been cut by high waters.

Like any northern wilderness river the Wind is remote, the waters are cold, and groups need to be self-sufficient.   Although the Wind is the "easiest" of the Peel watershed rivers, and doesn't have any water classified as "rapids" it is still a fast flowing river, requiring constant navigating by paddlers. Water levels can change dramatically with rain, happening nearby or in the distant basins of tributary rivers.  Heavy rains can transform the normally clear waters into muddy torrents,  and the shallow braids into a sea of silty  waters carrying  logs and uprooted trees that are normally "high and dry" on gravel bars.

Your guides will  prepare you as best they can for the sections ahead.  River and weather conditions will determine your progress down river.