Snake River: Think the North is Out of Reach?

“This is where my ashes are going,” says guide Al Pace as we eddy out of the Snake River where Milk Creek pours its white, silt-laden water into the icy green flow of the Snake. Looking around the incredible canyon, with green-, orange- and grey-streaked mountains stretching off in all directions, he adds, “I haven’t found a prettier place.”

We’re five days into a trip down the Yukon’s class III Snake River—a trip that takes us 12 days, covers 300 kilometers and drops 1,100 meters. I was totally unprepared for this trip; I had no idea it would be so beautiful. Other than that, the guides take care of everything.

My buddies hate traveling with guides. And I understand it. Between us, we have decades of outdoor experience, some of it pretty risky (stupid, actually), but we’ve survived to this point. So what’s the point of tripping with an outfitter?

Well, the logistics of a trip on the Snake are staggering: researching and planning the route; booking shuttles, flights and rentals; gathering satellite phone, stoves, fuel, food, bear bangers, tents and boats; humping it all to the Territories and then cramming it into a floatplane is a daunting endeavor. It’s an incredible thing not having to worry about any of it.

I arrived in Norman Wells, Northwest Territories, without paddles, lifejacket, first aid kit, maps or even a dry bag. Canoe North Adventures supplied the barrel; I shoved all my stuff in it and stepped aboard a Twin Otter bound for Duo Lakes in the Yukon.

The Peel River watershed is an absolute gem of the Canadian North. The Wind, Bonnet Plume and Snake rivers are legendary experiences for good reason. Each offers a unique whitewater adventure in a pristine and vast wilderness. We spot caribou, grizzlies and mountain goats and even inexperienced fly fishers amongst us are catching Arctic grayling.

As we settle down around a campfire, complete with lawn chairs for all, one of Pace’s regular clients steps out of her tent, dressed in a bright pink boa, red satin gloves and oversized earrings. She’s calling herself Madame Zoom, and passes around a Nalgene of Black Russian. As she begins to read Robert Service’s Cremation of Sam McGee, everyone hushes, listening attentively.

The moment is radiant with a sense of privilege and largesse that I have only found in Canada’s North. The snowcapped Mackenzie Mountains tower over us as we contemplate all that is the Yukon and how it is changing us. When she reaches the final stanza we all join in, raising our glasses to the wilderness, and shout, “There are strange things done in the midnight sun!”  



Rivers of the Yukon, by Ken Madsen and Graham Wilson, Primrose Publications


Three Rivers, forwarded by Juri Peepre, Harbour Publishing


Canoe North Adventures, Norman Wells, NWT, 519-941-6654

Canadian River Expeditions, Whitehorse, Yukon, 867-668-3180

Black Feather, Seguin, Ontario, 888-849-7668 

This article on the Snake River was published in the Early Summer 2012 issue of Canoeroots magazine.

This article first appeared in the Early Summer 2012 issue of Canoeroots Magazine.



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