We paddled the South Macmillan
river in the Yukon Province of Canada in the summer of 2004.
We started at the "VW put in
" and paddled via the Pelly
river and Yukon as far as Dawson. The trip is nearly 850 km
This is my personal diary of the
9th august Camp 1 VW put-in 0
start at .
Still v. little sleep after our long journey to
Jerry has to drive us up to the VW start along the
Final tank stop and shop for matches and zip lock bags in general
store in RossRiver
then ferry across the Pelly. An endless drive brings us in the vicinity of
the alternative put-in about 160km from the ferry but we cannot
find it so continue on to the South Macmillan Bridge 1.
The river looks really inviting apart from the
fact that we are dead beat.
Would be good
fun to paddle with an empty maneuverable boat but due to lack of
sleep the idea of launching a fully laden boat into a sprightly
grade II/III river does not appeal. Decide to drive back and make a
second attempt at finding the put in.
one false start, relieved to find the trail and the old VW bus
hidden away in tall grass. Jerry unloads everything very quickly and
off he goes leaving us at the top of a muddy bank. The bugs attack
right away. The smoke in the area hides the backdrop of mountains
but there is an inviting scene of a pretty river flowing around an
island just as described in the guide book and other trip reports.
We quickly load the boat and traverse across to the island. Finally
after 3 days of traveling we enjoy the peacefulness and the serenity
of our surroundings but fatigue soon takes over. Quick dinner on
Coleman stove and at 19.30 we lie in the tent sweating it out with
just a sheet to cover us. Does not take long to fall into a deep
aug 10 Day 2 river day 1 Camp 2 at beach above first
26°C - 38 km
wakes me after a good nights sleep and against all rules of the
wilderness brings me breakfast in bed. We leisurely get up, pack
everything and are away at 09.30. It is an extremely pretty little
river but we cannot aimlessly drift. To those off-guard sweepers
will give one a quick wake-up. After 10 km a tree blocks the whole
river but a short walk and tug gets us round the obstacle. A good
current helps without much effort to bring us in reach of the first
rapid. Decide to camp and portage in the morning. At 18.30
temperature is 24°C. Main chute is river right. Possible line left
could be considered but awkward as trees block the way for walking
with the ropes. Portage
path is excellent. Evening of chores and
count for today 2 eagles, 1 seagull, and a beaver slap tail
beaver himself not seen.
aug 11 PORTAGES river day 2 Camp 3 forest camp at end
portage trail bit miserable weather some
Cold night which means we can enjoy breakfast
without being disturbed by mosquitos/ A mixed weather day, sun,
rain showers and a thunderstorm threatening close by. First portage
went quickly as we started from our campsite.
The small rapid following the portage was fun.
Not too far the next rapid came into sight a large drop ledge
with run out to a second ledge. Scouted and choose to portage. First
ledge would always need portaging second ledge possible -
certainly if you have backup of other paddlers.
rapid after scouting looked doable and both agreed to paddle. Gave
us a chance to finally use our helmets. Everything went perfectly
started to pour with rain as we set of but did not notice the rain
while busy with steering down the waves nice technical
then right into bend and then left again for the run
portage is the backbreaker. Nice easy tempting start but the cliffs
get high so you have to take out way above the difficult part. 15
minute walk without luggage and 25 mins a trip with packs. 5 donkey
loads (Geoff walked 3 times) and the boat. Pretty exhausting. Nice
forest site at the end of the trail high above the water. Ate dinner
looking at river canyon and the fantastic mountain
august 12 day 4 Camp in forest opposite old burn
day 3 FUN DAY
nights sleep after the strenuous portage. Fine sunny morning. Back
still aches from yesterday. About ½ km downstream the next rapid can
be viewed walking down a path from the camp no problem looks
fun. Slow start and on the water by 11.15. Before lunch lots of
grade II fun rapids. Occasionally need to pull over into an eddy to
Pull in river left above the one really big
rapid. My first reaction is to line the first drop but Geoff
persuades me to shoot on the big green tongues where we will hit one
wave. Waves are as big as the GAT v.d. Durance but surprisingly we
ship less water than in all the previous rapids of the morning. Stop
for lunch at head of an island very few picnic sports as the river
is lined with boulders and runs along at a cracking pace in a kind
of canal feature with high walls. After lunch we continue the
boulder dodge in fast moving water until we reach a good high water
forest camp site on river left. Does not appear to have been used
for some time (the flat camping spots are all thickly covered in a
carpet of pine cones).
Sunny afternoon used for solar showering, washing clothes and baking
a birthday cake.
sultanas, cranberries and dried bananas in hot
mins one side. 20 mins second side. Bake over slow fire in oiled
frying pan with 2 layers tin foil as
evening. At 19.45 it is still 23°C! Observed what may have been a
salmon run today. White tail of water swished and zoomed upstream
like a rocket. Fabulous mountain scenery today highlight was view
of the cirque.
aug 13 Day 5 river day 4 Camp at beach after fright with
day- no clouds no
morning temp. is still 8°C but soon warmed up and at 19.00 reached
19°C. River is small and pretty there are no longer any rapids but
a swift flowing current, islands and many log piles. QUIET. We spent
much time drifting and enjoying the serenity and the quietness of
our surroundings. About 16.00 we land at potential campsite only to
wake up a big brown bear (of was he a grizzly). Retreat gracefully
walking backwards to the boat and traverse to the other side of the
river. Watch him for a while and then continue a further 4km our
hearts beating slightly faster than normal. Chosen campsite is a
good beach site with small pebbles and gravels as ground to pitch
the tent on. Four large logs make for a handy sitting and kitchen
aug 14 day 6 river day 5 Camp on beach with view of mountains
and moose territory
FAIR weather and a light wind all day. Views
are not to good as lots of smoke hides away the mountains. Lots of
smoldering forest fires on the hills surrounding the river. Got out
to investigate one still burning
next to the river. Care to walk on the burnt forest floor
of charcoal and cinders.
River was fun today still small and
pretty. A small canyon with a rapid made for an interesting day.
Goodgrade II. Main current flowed
straight onto rock face so shot river right and made a neat breakout
to avoid the wall.
Next drop viewed from an eddy
above straight line just R of center.
evening have a campsite with view of
Tried some navigation from the map but got confused with the
deviation. Overshot the ideal camping place and Geoff lined the boat
professionally up the beach.
and 20°C at 16.00
august 15 day 7 river day 6 EAGLES and BEARS camp on huge
Bear seen alongside river.
all night. Hop out of tent and set up tarp for breakfast. No
mountain views this morning all is grey temp is warm did not
need to close the sleeping bag all night. It cleared up before
departure. Morning is grey (probably smoke). Sun tries to break
thru. It is the day of the eagle. They are everywhere perched on the
top of trees and occasionally one chooses to fly down with river
with us, stopping in a tree for us to catch up, and then flying on
ahead. Brown-spotted, black and white and bald eagles all on view.
Finally at lunchtime the sun breaks thru and deliver a sunny
afternoon and evening. Late pm round 17.00 spot large black bear
ambling along the river. He jumps over a woodpile and then
disappears into the forest unaware of the watching canoeists. After
a marathon stint of 52km set up camp on a wide open and barren beach.
Warm evening and the time passes quickly. The river is still small
and pretty. There are no longer burns but wooded hills and
occasionally a high walled buff of sandstone or
aug 16 day 8 river day 7
BEAVERS, ARMSTRONG LANDING
Our last day on the South Mac. Beautiful
morning at 7 and than a 8 a cold mist sombers and cools but after 10
a scorcher. Blue skies and we are out of the burn areas. Still smoke
in the air which makes for hazy views of the mountains which
surround this river. Investigate Armstrong landing now abandoned.
Long tall weeds nearly have taken over all the paths a way of life
is disappearing. Various buildings in differing states of repair
but including a workshop, a shower and a modern sauna presumably
installed by the last inhabitants who abandoned the place in
current in the river is not as slow as the guide book suggests. Have
to be active in the cutaways as the river is littered with logs and
sweepers and the main current always takes you into the
41 km have had enough for the day and settle at a camp close to the
river with beavers swimming on the opposite side. A deer also swims
across the river for the evening
aug 17 day 9 river day 8 BEAR CAMP
mother and cub
river is becoming staid in fact the current seems to have stopped.
There are less cutaways and long, long
was livened up by spotting moose with cub very watchful we drift
by and they continue to munch the grass.
lunch, black bear seen next to forest. Suddenly he starts to run
fast but fortunately back into the forest and not towards
we paddle into hidden lake just like the Lion, the Witch and the
Wardrobe you paddle thru a small opening into another world a
world of a tranquil lake with grass lining the banks. Camp tonight
is a short gravel beach opposite a steep sand wall and with forest
august 18th day 10 river day 9 no animals. Lost tent
is a bum day. We both feel sleepy and get up late. Decide to change
the tent packing routine and place dark green peg bag on a log with
km down river realize the stupidity no tent pegs! Check in tarp
bag and count the remaining pegs just enough to put up the tent
but not the tarp. Select a few fresh logs from fallen trees in the
cutaway bends so that Geoff can try and make some sand pegs during
the evening. Current in the river seems to have stopped and
paddling is painfully slow with nonchalant scenery. Manage a poor 41
clatter, bang, bang. I wake with a start and wake up bear. It sounds
like a bear is by the camp and containers. And suddenly it is quiet.
Was it a dream. I am still sleepy.
on our shoes and peer out of the tent. Everything looks OK. Maybe I
dreamed? We walk down to the boat and then realize life jackets
torn to shreds and bag with hardware destroyed! No bear to be seen
but the evidence is two paw prints in the mud. Evacuate pronto.
Takes an hour to take down the tent, pack up and go. Away at 08.30
paddle ½ hr and then stop to have breakfast, wash and calm our
nerves. River is sluggish for the rest of the day. Brightens up in
the afternoon. Lots of wildlife as compensation, elk, caribou, moose
and 2 cubs, beavers and eagles. Lots of discussion in the evening
about how to arrange camp do we want to leave everything far from
the tent at the fate of a bear of have some possessions close at
hand. Finally decide to place canoe next to the tent without a
boat we would be stuck. Slept well. No
aug 20 day 12 river day 11
where is the wildlife today? The moose and 2 cubs we had seen
yesterday swim across the river before we depart. Really hot
afternoon. First real rain and threatening thunder in the afternoon.
Stop at fish camp for washing, repairs and coffee. Wonderful
location. Tables and a bench obviously has not been used for a
stop at Kalzas river. Indian graves at top of hill but due to the
mass of fresh bear prints in the sand at the start of the narrow
enclosed forest path decide to forego the
Thunderstorm breaks shortly after but it
cleared the air so that we could finally see the mountains which
have been absent from vision for the last few days.
was a long 43 km today and the current was practically
aug 21 day 13 river day 12
SUNNING ON BEACH
today we paddled our last 22km on the Macmillan. Highlight of the
morning is a large black bear sunning himself on a beach and he
watches as we glide pass and thereafter he slowly trots into the
lunchtime the muddy water of the Mac (caused by a landslide we
passed earlier in the day) merge with the clear green water of the
Enjoy lunch at the mouth of the Pelly
on a wide shingle beach. Current is faster than on the Mac but
disappointingly slow really not fast enough. River valley in
contrast to the Mac now looks too neat and tidy no log jams and
mainly aspens growing along the banks mingled with small pine trees.
looks as if river has been logged in the past. Relaxing day,
stopping at 16.00 on a large sandy beach (used previously by groups)
with view of high sand walls.
aug 22 day 14 river day 13
slightly colder and peaceful night. Leisurely start at 10 hyped up
for Granite canyon. Scenery good but not stunning. Rapids easier
than expected basically a small splash and occasional rock to
dodge. Pull over at sandy camp site river left where cross is
mounted and a pile of sand dug out in the form of a grave- no explanation. Make all photo
opportunities possible of Needle Rock, before, on and after. Coffee
stop at Needle Rock Creek really lovely spot with a tumbling fresh
water creek joining the main river.
again a bit further on to look at ruins of a dilapidated and
abandoned farm. Floating lunch served by Geoff. Intermittent spates
of strong wind against us this afternoon. Pull into boat dock (grand
word) at Pelly
crossing around 17.00 on Sunday afternoon. Geoff goes off in search
of a general store and telephone to report in. Returns an hour later
with 2 apples (the only 2 available) delicious 2 oranges 1
cucumber 1 loaf stale bread.
comments on the sad state of this small First Nation community log
homes, caravans and lots filled with rusty cars. Paddle down to the
road bridge to discover the campground and the store where Geoff has
just walked to are river Left just under the bridge. There was no
need to walk. The campground pitches are far from the water so we
camp on the river bank of the campground. There is no water
available on the campground but a lot of money has been invested by
the Selkirk First Nation in toilets, camp kitchens with stoves, and
abundant supplies of free wood. There is no charge we are
obviously guests as stated in their charter to be hospitable
to strangers. Tonight we are in the company of 2 motor homes the
site is not busy.
august 23 day 15 river day 14
night so far last night. Thick mist on the river obscuring the
bridge. It quickly warms up and depart at 10 dressed in shorts and
T-shirt lazy day we manage the 45 km without much effort
finally a bit of current. Scenery is also much better than expected.
Pass by Gull Rock without realizing it and stop at creek below this
feature. The creek is freezing cold. Float by
and lunch at yet another scenic creek. Stop at 16 opposite an
imposing large grass hill. Hope to spot Dall sheep to no avail.
Evening spent baking, washing and lazing
august 24 day 16 river day 15
this morning. 6Ί and NW wind now wearing 3 layers of fleece.
Strange site while passing the only farm on the
is a parking lot full of flash cars. We think that there must be a
motor boat service to Fort Selkirk but no this is a day out for
officials from Yukon Tourist Board and Selkirk First Nation
discussing ways that SFN could run and promote the Yukon Tourist
Industry (now in hands of Canadians and Europeans). We are
entertained by an Indian woman preparing salmon for smoking and her
brother roasting a moose head on the fire.
spot a bear fishing about 6km short of stop for the night. He takes
his paw and laps up fish. While making diner a Japancese girl
arrives paddling solo and talking about a bear close by. She is very
frightened and we invite her to put up tent in our camp. An hour
later 2 locals motor by and point out that there is a bear at the
head of the island where we are camped. Take normal precautions and
then retire to tent for a good nights sleep.
august 25 day 17 river day 16
+ 2 cubs
to Selwyn and IsaacCreek
(bear scat on campsite)
skies and cold wind.
early and leave before Miss Tokyo. She appears to be able to solo as
quickly as we can tandem as she catchesus up later in the day. Spot
mother bear and 2 cubs shortly after start on RH shore. Later 2
foxes. Stopped shortly at Selwyn remains of an old hut. Intended
to camp at Isaac creek which boasts a huge campsite up in the wood
and good view over the river. After having carried and humped
everything up to the site, start to put up tent and Geoff goes on a
foray for wood. He finds fresh bear scat just a few meters from
where I am pitching the tent. Dismantle, pack in and plod on.
Brittania Creek is the next potential camp site but it is awful
modern 40/45 year old industrial rubbish and signs of mining deep
recent tire tracks of heavy machines. About 19.45 choose a standard
beach no fire tonight it is too late cook on the
aug 26 Day 18 - River day 17
Los Angeles Creek
v.v. cold. Nice afternoon and fine evening autumn is definitely
here. Slept in till 08.30. Do want to paddle to far to day in order
to remain above the White
cold when we start to paddle put on layers of thermal underwear.
Visited Coffee Creek but there were so many bear prints we decided
to go and drink coffee elsewhere. Got overtaken by the Germans and
then overtook them and Miss Tokyo. Camped around 17.30 opposite Los
Angeles Creek. Fine evening with time for personal washing, baking
and hair washing. Very beautiful setting.
august 27 Day 19 river day 18
special about today. Saw the Germans again this morning but no
longer our Japanese solo super woman. Cold start (6Ί C) but without
wind did not feel too bad. Had coffee before confluence with Whit
and filled up on clear water. Last time when we paddled a trip down
the Big Salmon and Yukon we choose the eddy line. This time avoided
the slot completely.The muddy sludgy water merged with clear
water and the river is now a murky grey sludge. Not quite as high
water level as our previous trip so easier to find a beach. Camped
now on a long
3 meters above water level. Shrubs are taking over but very sandy
and muddy ground. Fortunately it is dry. Fresh breeze died down in
the evening. Sunny afternoon and evening.
august 28 day 20 river day 19
lazy and packing ourselves to Dawson.
Up at 9 and away at 10.45
at 60 mile creek lovely spot and clear brown water to fill up the
water container. Yukon
wild large open lonely landscape. Find suitable clearing at 17.00
for camp but scout reveals deep fresh bear prints in the mud covered
with a few autumn leaves. How fresh are the prints? Think about 1
day and decide to depart. Better site found 30 mins later. Good
beach, pebble and gravel site obviously camped before. As it is our
last night, make a good cooking campfire.
aug 29 day 21 river day 20
to get up early- still
45km to Dawson
but this is counterproductive. There is a thick pea soup mist over
the river and we cannot see the island 20 meters away. Ready to
paddle at 09.30 still pea soup and decide to make our way
tentatively over to the LH bank and follow the bank. As we paddle
mist slowly rises, Coffee at 11.15 still in mist but lunch at 13.00
in the sun. Last lunch with Dawson
still out of site. .and then the last 15 km to
at dock call in at visitors center and helpful lady arranges us a
room for the night. 10 mins later Heidi from the White Ram Manor
(painted pink) arrives in her truck and whisks away all our luggage.
Final hump to the Bunkhouse with the boat and our river trip is over
for this year.