RubiKon Adventures

Tales and travels of "GrizzLee", "Looksha Lori" & "Yukon Johann"

Friday, August 21, 2015

Solo Beyond the Northern Hinterlands 2015: The North Canol

Survival: The North Canol Road 
More Adventure than my shorts can take!!!

The next leg of my adventure was to travel the North Canol road. The South Canol Road was awesome. My hope is that the North Canol would be as wonderful.

North Canol Road from Ross River to the  North West Teritories

The North Canol road is marked as hwy 6 on Yukon Maps. To call it a highway in terms of what most of us are used to is a big stretch of imagination. Much of it is a single-wide gravel road. This holds especially true the farther north one travels.

Crossing the Lapie River on the South Canol

Approaching Ross River - The Landscape changes dramatically

When I arrived at Ross River, I checked the weather conditions. The forecast … 30% chance of rain. My experience with forecasts in the Yukon hasn’t been very positive. I knew there was 50/50 chance that it could go either way. I was looking at a 300 mile round trip this time around without fuel on one of the remotest roads in all of north America. Just before I gassed up my bike, I chatted with a resident native about the road conditions and the weather. “yes” he said, “the road can be tough when wet; but are you going to let a little rain stop you from enjoying the country up there”. He then continued to describe to me about the beauty, the wildlife and his personal experiences up there. SOLD!! I gassed up and headed for the ferry crossing. The ferry is operation is a bit quirky. The ferry only operates between 9:00 am to 4:00 PM. It is a one man job. I crossed the Pelly River and the road conditions quickly changed. It was clear to me that the gov’t gave little attention to this “highway”. It paralleled the Ross River near a cliff bank. The bank was exclusively comprised of glacial silt compacted from the ice age. As a result, the road was very “powdery” and “rutty” in places. In places my bike sunk up to the axles in powdered sand. With my legs sprawled, it was all I could do to keep the heavy bike from falling down. After about 10 miles of this the road conditions began to improve as I gained elevation. Around 25 miles in, I began seeing black bears in droves. Every ½ mile or so, I would come upon a Black bear either on the road or on the side of the road. Most would run away. At one point I came around a blind curve and surprised a sow and her cub. The cub immediately ran off, but he so held her ground and began trotting towards me. A quick beep of the horn followed by an engine rev, scared her away.

North Canol Road ~ 50 miles in

The burnt landscape adds an eerie beauty

Awhile later, I stopped for lunch and began to doze off for a quick nap at a pull out along side the road near Majorie Lake (?). In any event as I began drifting off, I saw fresh bear scat out of the corner of my eye and I quickly jumped up, realizing that this was no place to nap. I made my way further north, just past a highway maintenance camp where I came across 2 conservation officers. They said that I may see a black wolf on the road ahead. To which I replied “cool”. They said, “not cool”. Apparently they were up there trying to ride the animal as it had no problem interacting with people and was becoming a nuisance. They were concerned that I was alone and told me to be careful. They stated that as far as they knew, no one else was up there that day and I was probably the only one.

Fireweed Lined the roads everywhere form past fires

Arrival at Dragon Lake ~70 miles

I stopped for a quick nap at Dragon Lake about 60 miles up the road. By this time, it was around 5:00 in the afternoon. My plan was to push on up to the NWT border and spend the night up there. 24 hours of daylight and such, I wasn’t worried about darkness. I could see Sheldon mtn in sthe distance and it grew bigger with each passing mile.
Add some fire weed accoutrements

Gretchen posing

As I passed Sheldon mtn, I could see into the vally below where the MacMillian River flowed. I should have been pretty excited at this point. However, beyond I could see DARK, DARK clouds and rain. I figured the road passed that way. I decided to ride as far as I could and if need be, make camp if the weather got too bad. The road (or highway as it is called on the map) began to deteriote quickly here. I crossed several big puddles and streams with the bush closing in on me on both sides, creating a narrow track. When I arrived at the Mac River, it began to rain, no worries I thought. I will ride through this and up to the border. The farther north I rode, the worse the weather got. It got DARK. As dark as night. It began to hail and rain hard. Lightening and thunder cracked all around me. At times I could see the lightening strike the ground not too far from me. I began to get scared. Although I was getting wet, I wasn’t cold… yet. I thought that maybe I could ride and find shelter. I made my way through the swelling creeks and puddles and eventually turned around at a place called pump station 7. I finally had enough. I couldn’t see a damn thing. Now I was getting cold and the ground was turning white from the hail, my face shield was misting, etc... The creeks were beginning to swell into rivers and the puddles were quickly becoming ponds. I freaked and turned my tail around and headed south, trying to outrun the storm. The problems was I could only do about 10-15 mph because of the road conditions and my lack of visibility. I was certain that I was going to dump in one of the ponds or creeks on the way back. I arrived at the base do f Sheldon mountain and I “popped” out of the curtain of darkness. It was incredible to see light again. There was literally a black, dark wall of clouds that I can only describe as being akin to the images I’ve seen of the dust storms during the great depression. No pullouts of camping here. I attempted to make my way down to Sheldon Lake, but the road (more of a trail) was littered with brush and fallen trees. TO make things worse, it was muddy and rutty. I got stuck and had to drag my bike in a near 180 degree position to point it back up hill toward the road. Once back on the road, I saw numerous bears again for the next several miles. It was like they were running form the storm. I arrived at Dragon Lake just ahead of the black wall. I began to setup my tent in ferocious winds. I was in a race against the impending storm. A race I lost. No sooner had I gotten my tent staked out then the deluge arrived. Everything got soaking wet ... not just damp, but WET!!!. I was unable to set the tent up as the winds were hurricane force. The best I could do was tie the rain fly to my bike and stake the other end to the ground and then throw my loose gear underneath. I sat underneath a tree thinking that I would have to wait out the storm all night. After about 20 min, it stopped raining. There was a strong breeze, so I finished setting my tent. The winds, actually did a fantastic job of drying out my tent. No sooner did I get my tent up when the wall of darkness returned. Inside the tent I dove. It was a miserable night. Hard rain and at one point … I heard wolves just across the road from me. Sometime during the night there was reprieve in the rain. Very cold, but it stopped raining a bit. I filtered water formt he lake and made a late night/early morning dinner. I was starving. My biggest fear was the road conditions. With all this rain, I would be riding through shit on the way out, especially the closer I got to Ross River. I got up very late in the morning to cloudy skies and a light brezze, but no more rain. It was really cold though … Like fall cold conditions. The thing was, as I go farther south, the weather improved dramatically. It was very cold, but it was sunny. I didn’t rain at all 20 miles south of me. As I looked north at Majoire Lake, I could still see the darkness. I am glad that I turned around.

Dismal Nitch: Surviving the Storm

I did have an event on my way out towards Ross River, but I will let my email account tell that story.

Dragon  Lake in the wee hours of the new day
The following email is real (complete with spelling and grammar mistakes) 

Survival: The North Canol Road... More Adventure than my shorts can take!!!
From: Grizz Lee <>
Date: Wed, Jul 8, 2015 at 10:10 PM
Subject: Survival: The North Canol Road... More Adventure than my shorts can take!!!

On my list of places to do was the South and North Canol Roads.

It is marked as a hwy on the Yukon Maps. A highway?  That’s a stretch. A gravel road?!?!  Hell no!! I’ve travelled unmaintained logging roads that were in better condition. These roads are the epitome of wilderness travel. The South Canol at least has “Some” maintenance. I camped at Quiet Lake. A must see place, a huge lake and a starting point for many paddlers who wish to paddle to many unknown lakes in the interior and ultimately end up on the Yukon River. Can you say Bucket list item? Damn right right. Put it on the list. The next day I traveled north on the South Canol and visited Lapie Lakes and Lapie Canyon. Holy smokes!!! It turns out that Quiet Lake is a teaser for what was to follow. Real gems.

I finished the South Canol Road and then ended up in a native village called Ross River. I gassed up every fuel nook and cranny I had with me. I was heading up the North Canol Road. 300+ miles round trip and not gas station out there. I took the ferry across the Pelly River and my adventure began. Within 20 miles I popped out into tundra-like country. Bears… WOW… Seems like there were bears every ½ mile or so!!! As quickly as I saw them, they disappeared. Save for one bear and her cub. I came around a blind corner and surprised them. I stopped just 10 feet of the mother; She began walking towards me. A quick beep on the horn and a loud rev of the engine made her turn around rather quickly. The only other people I saw were 2 gov’t land mgmt. employees at 50 miles into the road. They warned me of a black wolf that was on the road. I said cool, and they said “not cool”. This particular wolf has apparently been harassing the people up there (mainly native hunting camps). They told me to be careful. As it was, I never saw a wolf. But I heard a pack of them later that night across the road from my camp (it was incredible). As I made my way north, the road deteriorated rather quickly. It became a 2 track road with creeks crossing it and large puddles… later they would become ponds … on my way out.   The sky clouded up and in the MacMillan river valley it was pouring buckets… even some hail. My thought was to ride through it to the NWT border and then turn around. I was at the 90 mile mark and the border was still another 50 miles away. Doesn’t sound far by pavement, but when you are traveling at an average of 10 mph picking your way through mud, creeks and puddles, it was going to take a few hours to still get there. At around 120 miles in, I had enough. The relentless rain and a chill was setting in. I was in the middle of f!!!ing nowhere without any means to get help. At the old pump station 7 (Original oil pipeline pump station from 1943). I turned and headed south with my tail between my legs. When I got back to a place called Sheldon Mountain there was reprieve from the rain. But not for long. I could see a gray sheet of rain chasing me. It looked like a wall of slate and dark as can be. I went as fast as I dared, back through the former puddles and creeks that were now swelled up to the size of small rivers and ponds.  This ain’t no hwy. Who the hell calls this wilderness road a highway!! I’ve seen better back packing trails than this!!?!?!?! I made it back to a place called Dragon Lake and quickly attempted to set up my tent in a hellaceous wind. It was all for not. I got tent all staked out and the wall of rain caught me. It turned almost to night-like weather in an instant. I put the fly on and shoved my bag underneath. I then went and huddled underneath a tree. Lightening, hail and thunder… I was in the middle of it. I have never heard thunder crack that loud. I was scared. After about 20 minutes, the wind died down and the dark cleared.  No rain. I quickly pulled out a towel and dried the tent. I had a nice breeze, so I removed the fly and dried it all out. Worked really well actually. Then another wall of gray was approaching fast. Into the tent I dove and never came out for several hrs. Another break in the rain and I went out to get my stove and make some dinner. No water. I had to pump some more out of the lake. I was shivering and HUNGRY!!  I inhaled my dehydrated food and dove back into the tent. At 4:00 am I awoke, surprisingly from a sound sleep to birds singing outside. Out I went for my morning pee. COOOOLLLDDDD!! But I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Dark clouds, but no heavy stuff. I crawled back in and went back to sleep. At 7:00 am, I could see the sun behind the clouds. I made some hot coca and breakfast. The sun broke through and I made a run for it. I dismantled the tent and dried it out as best I could. My fear was the clay had turned to muck in the rain near Ross River. It would be 20 miles of hell to ride through that. It turned out that it got drier and drier the closer I got . I don’t think it rained at Ross River at all. Cool beans. But, it was cold … felt like fall weather with a nippy breeze. However, at one point  my GoPro was malfunctioning. I stopped to get off my bike to take the battery out and reset it…I kept getting a formatting error and it would lock up. As I got it working, I decided to do a quick commentary and a black bear popped out the bushes RIGHT IN FRONT ME!!! HOLY SHIT!!! I turned and ran back to the bike to hit the horn. Probably the wrong thing to do..  but I was scared!! However, when I turned around the bear was gone and it took a big dump… more like a big squirt on the road. It squirted it’s shit nearly all the way across the road. I guess I scared it as well. I had to do a self check of my own breeches as well. All dry :-)

In any event, I went to Faro, a place I had never been. The sky was full of smoke and I really couldn’t see much. I learned that they are one of the largest lead mines in the world. 1 of 6 batteries in every automobile contains lead from the mines at Faro. Amazing. The town has a population of 400 people. Still trying to track down where the fires are ...
I then headed over towards Carmacks and passed through Little Salmon Lake. This lake is 37 kms long… I almost camped there, it was absolutely beautiful… but I wanted a burger from the Coalmine Campground. So off I went AND just 15 miles shy of the campground, the sky poured buckets of rain on me. I shouldn’t have made that stop to look a the Yukon river for that extra 10 minutes to re-live some of my fondest paddle memories when Johann and I passed this way when he was 11. I looked down upon a camp we had made on an island. In any event,  I arrived soaking wet. Thankfully they have a cabin available, warm showers and a washer/dryer. My clothes are all wet and stinky. The internet was a bonus!!
Lapie River as seen from a bridge on the Robert Campbell Highway

Looking northward

Arriving at Faro - A mining town of 400 people.

Heading North to Dawson City I detour through Frenchman Lakes

Inviting waters and an island

Canoeist on the Yukon River (Minto)
Stay tuned for the next chapter of the story...

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