Well... after many months of excited anticipation, I, along with my good mates Bosh, TJ and Duke boarded a 4:40pm Air Canada Jazz Flight from Vancouver to Whitehorse this afternoon. Marking the beginning of our "Yukon Rush 2007" trip, we were all pretty pumped which made the flight literally fly by.

With wheels safely down in Whitehorse, we met the fifth member and fearless leader of our traveling party, Chad, at the airport arrivals lounge. We all squeezed (I still don't know how we did it) into his Cavalier and headed to the Westmark Hotel, our accommodation for the night.

🗺 Day 1 - Arriving in Whitehorse

Dropping off all of our gear, we headed straight to Chad's place to meet his Dad (a DIY expert) and see how the renovations on his place were coming along. Having developed quite a thirst between us, the next logical step was to make the short walk into town to the famous (only because Chad has been banging on about this place for ages) "Taku Arms" for a cold bevvy or two.

It turned out that Chad's ultra energetic (at home we'd say she has "ants in her pants") friend, Becky, picked us up a couple of blocks out from the center of town and gave us a lift the rest of the way.

Over the course of the evening, we met "Shmeric" a mate of Chad's and the fella responsible for developing the map book that we're going to use to navigate on the canoe trip down the Yukon River. That was pretty cool. If we get lost now, then we know who to come chasing after.

Really looking forward to getting on the road tomorrow and taking the first steps to actually hitting the river!

🌅 Day 2 - Sunset over Minto

With a good night's sleep under our belts, we headed to Chad's place first thing this morning to load up the truck and rental car. We tied down the two canoes and Chad's kayak, headed out to pick up a few last minute essentials (like beer and ice... what did you think I meant??), and got on the road heading North towards Minto.

The sudden realization that we were without tunes led to us pulling over at a gas station and making the most of a pretty ordinary selection of CDs. TJ and I ended up with the Def Leppard Greatest Hits 2 CD pack – a brilliant, albeit desperate selection, if I may say so.

After driving for what seemed like a lot longer than I think any of us had anticipated, we eventually arrived in Minto, packed the rental up with all the gear we didn't need for the canoe trip and made the decision as to who was going to make the 3+ trip further North to Dawson City (our take out point), to drop the extra vehicle. Duke lost the quick and nasty game of 'rounders' (the equivalent of drawing a short straw), buckled up in rental car and headed back onto the road following Chad northwards.

Meanwhile Chris, TJ and I set up camp on the banks of the Yukon River and tried to fend off the relentless dusk onslaught of mosquitoes with a purposely smokey fire, and witnessed a truly stunning sunset.

At 11:30pm as the sun was finally kind of falling in the sky, a weary Duke and Chad returned and we all called it a night.

🚣 Day 3 - First day on the river

Ahhh yes our first day actually on the river paddling has now come to an end and we're all feeling pretty good.

We kicked off the day with an early start to load up the canoes and launch. Chad has already begun to impress with his catering prowess if this morning's breakfast of bratwurst sausage with lemon and soy sauce was anything to go by.

Pushing off, the initial current was pretty strong. The river is in flood and at the highest level it's been for a good few years so we got off to a good start. With a little help from Chad's GPS, we figure even with paddles up (drifting and drinking beer) we were still traveling just shy of 10km an hour.

Wildlife viewing on day one was pretty good. Dall Sheep, mother and baby Moose and a Black Bear – not bad! The Moose encounter was the one that got my heart beating fast. Try as I might to get Bosh to paddle me in closer, he kept a level head and me at a safe distance while I snapped away.

Pulling off the river for lunch, we stopped in at a former trading post and now historic site – Fort Selkirk. Our first stop to lunch and stretch our legs also marked the first signs of beer and time in the sun taking its toll, as TJ literally fell out of his canoe – pretty funny. There's no photos unfortunately... I guess you had to be there.

While at the historical site, we met some kids that were literally pulling fish out of the river off a dock with nothing but a bit of hand line. We also met a couple who were planning on completing the same trip down the Yukon River as us, but ended up tipping their canoe on the first day and subsequently gave the adventure away thinking it's too dangerous.

A solid afternoon of paddling and conversation finally delivered us 71km down the river at our first night's camp. Our ongoing strategy is to camp on islands in the middle of the river to avoid wildlife (namely bears) during the night. Funny thing was, all the wildlife we saw during the day today, WERE ON ISLANDS! Ha! Could make things interesting.

We can't believe Chad's culinary preparations. On the menu tonight was Moose buritos with home made guacamole and re-fried beans that were literally ground up with an axe handle. That's right... MAN FOOD!

🎣 Day 4 - Fishing success!

Day four of our journey down the Yukon River involved a quick brekky, followed by some expert canoe loading and we were off.

Chanced our hand at a bit of fishing along the way today. As opposed to the rest of us, being in the Kayak Chad had the luxury of being able to cast his line and let it trail as he drifted. His efforts eventually paid off, landing a good sized Grayling at a tributary opening.

We pulled onto an island to scale, gut and cook up the Grayling as part of our lunch. While a fish that size didn't stretch far between the five of us, what we did get each sure tasted good.

The rest of the day involved plenty of paddling, the odd beer here and there and plenty of laughs – just what we were aiming to get out of this trip.

After completing some 73km down the river, we found another suitable island to camp on for the night. We set up camp and set about preparing for dinner – some amazing moose steaks and our prized bottle of Penfold's Shiraz which we'd brought along on the trip. I'm actually surprised the bottle had made it this far without being smashed over some rocks somewhere already.

As we sat back and enjoyed our meal, the near silent wilderness air was disturbed from time to time by the splashing sound of a resident beaver smacking it's tail on the surface of the water making sure we knew it was upset that we were in its neighbourhood. Ahhhhh... Canadian wilderness at its best!

Here's a few more snaps from today's journey...

🚣 Day 5 - 100km of paddling

Well I guess it was too much to expect our stella run of weather (so far) to continue. We poked our heads out of our tents this morning only to be met with dark clouds, and inevitable rain moving in on us. With some moose meat steak left over from last night, we quickly cooked up the left overs in an omelet before pushing off.

The rain moved in pretty quickly, so we made haste in taking down and packing away our tents, packing everything away into our dry bags and made sure that all our important gear was safely and dryly stowed before the wet stuff started falling.

We needed to make up a little ground today, according to Chad's careful map calculations, so we aimed for covering an ambitious 100km on the river before calling it a day.

As it turned out, the rain stopped mid-morning. We broke up our 'harder than usual' paddling with plenty of good ol' rafting stints. To keep us on our toes, we were joined by a storm in the evening that tested our abilities to keep the canoes upright as we battled large waves that were being whipped up and forcing us up against cliff faces. That was fun... something different anyway.

In the afternoon we passed the mouth of the White and Stewart Rivers. The White River which, funnily enough, is an off-white in colour to look at, pours tonnes of volcanic sediment into the Yukon River. As a result, the Yukon's water became murky and thick, rendering it useless as drinking water – a luxury we had become used to up until today. Chad, bless him, warned us to fill our drink bottles with but seconds to spare.

As we eventually hit the desired 100km mark, we pulled up on a sand bank, decided that it really wasn't suitable, headed down the river a little further and settled for a small beach on the bank of the river. We set up camp and got stuck into some Caribou and Bison smokies with sauerkraut for dinner. I'm still wondering where the hell Chad is pulling all this amazing game meat from each day?!?! Not that I'm complaining... the meals so far have been amazing!

🍻 Day 6 - A big night in Dawson City

Woke this morning to some pretty heavy fog that was somewhat limiting the visibility in and around the river bank we camped on overnight.

Nevertheless we were confident that there was going to be no danger in heading down the river, so we threw together a fantastic breakfast of bratwurst, noodles and oranges and set about packing up camp which was all soggy from the heavy overnight rain.

We pushed off and leaving the fog behind us after a few hours of somewhat blind paddling, we were left with a stunning afternoon with which to paddle (and mostly drift) into Dawson City – the end point to our river adventure.

We marked the closing kilometers and completion of our journey down the Yukon River, by smoking some Cuban Cigars donated to us by Chad's Dad, for this very purpose, before we took off.

It was an amazing experience paddling into Dawson City, a charming Gold Rush town that hasn't lost any of it's character from yesteryear. We hit the riverbank around 2pm and took our time loading up the truck up with everything we pulled out of the river.

Heading into the center of town to the Downtown Hotel we checked in at around 4pm and crawled into the ‘Sourdough Saloon’ for a celebratory pitcher or two. The guy on the desk told us there was a jacuzzi in our room complex across the road (we didn't believe him at first), and also about his passion for winning scrabble words (yes, very random I know) – his latest being 'QOPE', supposedly the 19th letter of the Hebrew Alphabet???

The boys and I headed up to our rooms and individually indulged in some long overdue showers. All refreshed and smelling more like human beings, we headed up to the local mountain affectionately referred to as The Dome to take in some views of the town and take some shots. It was pretty surreal being able to view from high above, the massive river we had just semi-tamed over the past few days.

But we couldn't be sitting on a mountain all evening. We had some serious partying to do in a northern town that is well-known for its Summer nightlife. Stop number one – Klondike Kate's for a good feed.

Having not seen a female for a good few days, I was wrapped that we were graced with the gorgeous Ashley who waited on our table while we had a damn good feed. The restaurant had a massive map on one of the walls that was littered with push pins marking the home towns of visiting patrons. The paper around South East Queensland was surprisingly clear so I obviously did my bit and punctured the Brisbane dot on the map with a shiny yellow-balled pin.

Next stop on our whirlwind Dawson City pub crawl was a swanky little martini bar called Bombay Peggy's. We relieved this neat little watering hole of a quantity of their liquid stock and moved on to The Pit – a low-roofed, rustic live music venue that was pretty empty. Marking it down for a return visit later in the evening, we moved on to the crowning jewel of the town – Diamond Tooth Gerties.

Here, Chad bought a round of scotches and Duke, Chris and TJ hit the $5 Blackjack tables. Duke lost $40 pretty smartly, as did Chris. TJ, on the other hand, put everything he was tinkering with on his last hand... and WON, taking away $110! Some people are just born lucky.

I couldn't believe I was getting away with taking photos in the casino. Try that stunt anywhere else (Vegas, Treasury Casino in Brisbane) and you'd be out with a swift kick up the ass by some bouncer's size 11 boot.

Having so much fun, we realised that time was getting away from us, so we scooted back to the Sourdough Saloon to experience a legendary tourist attraction in Dawson – the infamous "Sourtoe Cocktail". I don't even know where to start in explaining what this was all about. Perhaps a little help from the official Sourtoe Cocktail Club website is in order here:

Established in 1973, the Sourtoe Cocktail has become a Dawson City tradition. The original rules were that the toe must be placed in a beer glass full of champagne, and that the toe must touch the drinker’s lips during the consumtion of the alcohol before he or she can claim to be a true Sourtoer.

The rules have changed in the past twenty-seven years. The Sourtoe can be had with any drink now (even ones that aren't alcoholic), but one rule remains the same. The drinker's lips must touch the toe. "You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow – But the lips have gotta touch the toe."

The Sourtoes are actual human toes that have been dehydrated and preserved in salt. Swallowing one is not suggested.

If you're game enough to want to know more about this quirky tradition, check out this video which runs through the entire experience from head to TOE. Haha, I kill me!

With this life-altering experience out of the way, it was straight back to Diamond Tooth Gerties to catch the midnight (and supposedly more risque) Cancan show. We were quite the rowdy bunch of lads and got a few laughs from the audience ourselves. Something tells me they won't soon forget the night the "Yukon Rush" boys came to town!

Ended the night back at The Pit which seemed to be the happening spot after hours... in fact it seemed everyone and anyone we had come across in town throughout the night ended up back there...

Oh what a big night in Dawson!

🥾 Day 7 - Trekking to Tombstone

With almost guaranteed sore heads on the cards following yesterday's Yukon River trip completion celebration, we all enjoyed a bit of a sleep in this morning electing to rise at 10am for an 11am check-out. Chad and Duke initially chose to beat their hangovers by soaking in the hotel hot tub, but it wasn't long before we were all in on the act.

Food was needed in our bellies, so it was off to the River West Bistro for brunch. I scoffed down my meal and madly ran around town snapping off a few frames to document my mad 24 hours in Dawson City.

With that all out of the way, I joined the lads to purchase some groceries, fuel and the odd souvenir. Being a historical gold rush town, we popped in and out of a few gold stores including one where we had the chance to hold a $16K nugget. I think there's a photo somewhere below where Duke has the rather pricey yellow rock in his mitt.

With a tick placed in the Dawson City box, we hit the road again and headed for the Tombstone Interpretive Centre, an hour out of town, to get permits and bear barrels for the food we were planning to carry on our hike into the wilderness. Following, it was back to the Tombstone National Park trail head where we organised our packs for the hike ahead of us, and secured the truck with all of our un-required possessions stowed away.

Minutes before setting off, we chatted to some German fella who was coming off the trail brandishing a huge .45 calibre Magnum sidearm and claiming he was a guide. Chad questioned the guy's story, citing that no Canadian citizen can legally carry such a weapon either concealed or unconcealed, but he stuck to his unlikely story.

Around 4pm, quite a lot later than we planned, we finally got on the trail with an estimated 6-7 hour hike ahead of us to get to the proposed camp site at the base of the Tombstone Mountain Range. The opening section of the hike we managed to conquere without too much trouble. It's a mildly tough climb into the mountains, but it's so beautiful you kind of forget about how strenuous it is.

Reaching the approximate half-way point of the journey, we stopped at a pass between two mountains affectionately (and not surprisingly) nicknamed "The Saddle". We stopped here for dinner and had our first encounter with a hiking group of Czech nationals.

The Saddle was also where we witnessed some amazing occurrences weather wise. Being a hot and humid day, there were thunderstorms moving all around us including over the top of Mount Monolith ahead of us, creating a scene not unlike something out of a "Lord of the Rings" movie. There was one picture in particular that I took, nicknamed "Mordor" (see below) that illustrates this spectacle fairly well.

Confident that the stormy weather had passed, we made our way down to Grizzly Lake at the foot of Mount Monolith with a little light remaining and we set about pitching tents etc around 11:30pm. Not a bad day's effort on the trail all things considered.

We headed down to the stunning lake to start making our pasta dinner, but were interrupted mid-prep by the need to run back up to the tents to make sure everything was covered as the remnants of one of the earlier storms passed over. Not exactly what 5 pairs of weary legs needed, but it was necessary just the same.

Completely zonked, we called it a night for a well-earned sleep.

⛰ Day 8 - Hiking into Twin Lakes via Fox Pass

With a decent night's sleep behind us, we awoke this morning to the unexpected voices of two park rangers who were in the campsite area conducting some surveying as part of an impact study on the surrounding area. After some conversation, we found out that there had been no Grizzly sightings in the area for the past two years. Sad to hear, but somewhat comforting at the same time.

We ran our intended day hike plan by one of the rangers – a plan that was met by some rather off-putting laughter. As it turns out, we would have ended up being completely stuck on the top of a ridge without any safe option for getting down. One of the rangers instead suggested that we hike over "Fox Pass" on the other side of the range, and down into the picturesque Twin Lakes. This would allow us to blaze a rarely trodden trail, and be able to spend some of the day at a pretty spectacular turquoise lake with an up-close view of the impressive Mount Monolith.

Setting off on the climb up from Grizzly Lake, we caught a glimpse of a wolverine on the way up through the pass, and snapped a bunch of pics of some curious Hoary Marmots along the way.

Instead of taking a milder route down into the valley destination, we opted to hike to the very top of the range and headed along a ridge as far as we could safely go before descending down to the lake. Doing so afforded us views of a fantastic cave and some amazing vantage points of the surrounding landscape.

We had to have our wits about us during the descent, as the slope leading to the lake was loose slate. Rock slides were numerous, and had we not proceeded in a fanned out line, anyone who had gone on ahead down the slope probably would have been hurt.

Upon arrival at the bottom of the valley, we set down on the edge of the larger lake, ditched our shoes and soaked our feet in the cool, clear glacial waters for a spell. We relaxed for around 90 minutes, had lunch and contemplated our route back to the tents.

Surprisingly, we made the decision to return the same way we came down. The crazy incline, coupled with the soaring heat and a poor drinking water management decision made it really tough going, but we got there in the end – a roughly 8 hour round trip and a pretty solid day hike.

Somehow we gathered the strength to prepare a serving of "Annie's Organic Pasta and Cheese" for dinner... then we zonked big time!

🥾 Day 9 - Back to Whitehorse

Bit sad this morning with the realisation that we had reached the final day of our Yukon Rush 2007 adventure. But, we still had a big day of hiking and driving ahead of us, so it was an early start to have breakfast and break camp before hitting the trail again for our return back to the vehicles.

With less food items etc on board, our packs were noticeably lighter and therefore made for easier going. We made a cracking pace up to "The Saddle", despite the heat, and took a little time to soak in some unforgettable views of the Tombstones one last time, before heading down the long wind-less slope to the trail head. Soooooo hot.

We literally all bathed in the running creek that ran alongside a portion of the trail once we hit the forest terrain again. The last section seemed to drag on forever and it's over those last few kilometers, knowing that the end was so close, that our respective injuries, both big and small (blisters, knees, ankle sprains etc) really hit home and began to take their toll.

TJ and I made it to the truck first. It was literally almost like a race to see who could achieve "nirvana" first through the removal of suffocating boots and sweat-soaked clothing. Once all back off the trail, we threw everything in the back, used a now customary game of "rounders" for seat placements, then hit the road for the 5 hour drive back to Whitehorse and the end of what has been a once-in-lifetime experience.

With a little time left in the evening to enjoy this amazing part of the world, we headed just out of Whitehorse to a local river bend and threw in a few lines just for the heck of it. Came up empty for all our last ditch efforts, but what a way to close the book on our little adventure!

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