Running with the Wind
The Wind River of the northern Yukon is a wild and beautiful place. When I began looking for such a river in the early Fall of 1998 there was little first hand information about the trip. Below is a brief review of my trip, equipment, and the conditions that I found. I hope it will provide anyone interested with at least an overview of what to expect when the bush pilot leaves them at McClusky lake. (Note: This narrative is based on ONE trip. The river was low due to lack of snow during the winter of 1997. Given how fast and dramatically things can change in the Yukon, one should not consider anything here as an absolute.)
Time: From Lake McClusky to the Peel River is a good 7-day paddle. 15 - 18 miles per day is fairly easy and can be done by the average paddler. 10 days is probably better because it gives the paddler a day or so to lay over and ponder, read, hike, fish, or bathe.
River Conditions: The upper section is rather dry and one should keep a sharp eye out for the best water as well as tree strainers and undercut banks. The entire river is braided to the max. You will have to pick the best course through gravel bars all the way but after a day or so the course becomes more easily readable as more water joins the Wind. The water is very clear and cold. The most challenging water is about a mile above to a mile below the confluence of the Wind and the Little Wind. I saw nothing higher than a strong Class II and most of the river was high Class I and low Class II. As always, good river reading skills are a valuable asset. A good paddler can skirt any rapid that will put water over the gunnels. We felt no need of a spray deck for our canoes.
Weather: We got some rain almost every day, usually in quick showers (Keep the raingear handy). A light rainsuit over Polypro will keep you warm and dry. Temperatures varied from mid 40ís in the morning to near 80 degrees in the middle of a sunny day. Even with the rain, the climate is dry. After a good rain it only takes 15 minutes of sunshine and you can build a campfire easily. There is daylight almost all of the time. From 1:00 AM until 4:00 AM you canít read a book (even if you wanted to) but you can find a stick of firewood. Flash lights and extra batteries are simply extra weight.
They donít call it the "Wind" for nothing there is usually a stiff breeze. Be sure to stake your tent down if you have any aspirations of sleeping in it that night. During the day our Wind wind was down river, which is always a good wind.
Scenery: Excellent. There are lots of alpine hiking opportunities. You can see for miles most of the time. Wild flowers, clear water, blue skies, high mountain vistas, and boreal forest are hard to beat. Carry your camera and lots of film (in a dry bag).
Animals: We saw sheep, goats, caribou, elk, beaver, eagles, geese, squirrels, and bear. Make no mistake: There are Grizzly bears there. We saw five during the ten days. One of the bears was a lot closer when we saw him than a grizzly bear should be. We were, however, never threatened in any way. The general consensus was that the bear were more frightened of us than we were of him. (Thatís a judgment call that I am not at all sure of ).
Insects were there too but they were not bad at all. Carry some insect repellant and the back up bug net for your head, and you may not get even one bite.
Maps: Topo maps are available and highly recommended. With a compass and a little practice you will know where you are at all times. Be aware that magnetic north there is 41 degrees East of true North.
Day Hikes: Alpine and creek hiking opportunities are endless but, I recommend the areas around McClusky Lake, Bond Creek, Bear River, and the Little Wind River. Climb at least one mountain. The view is magnificent.
Clothing: Layers of clothing are the key to comfort. A rainsuit is a must and it will also serve as a top layer to cut both wind and rain, and splashes. Several layers of polypropylene will allow you to shed or add to as needed. If you donít mind wearing dirty outer clothes, one extra set is enough. Rubber boots, or neoprene booties will make wading in 40 degree water bearable. Take a good hat with a brim and a pair of sunglasses for the sunny days.
Fishing: Not bad. I caught nothing but Arctic Graying but I caught plenty of those. Spinner bait and light tackle are the key to good fishing.
Camping: You can find lots of rocky sand bars to camp on. There are far more rocks than sand so carry a good self inflating air mattress. Firewood is abundant. Carry plenty of food and a water filter. Some say that you can drink the water safely but why risk it?
Take out: Keep up closely with the days. Its easy to miss a day in the mountains and that can be an expensive proposition if you are late at the pick up point.
The Wind River enters the Peel River in a stark black and white canyon. The Wind Tís into the Peel and it is hard to miss, but it has been done. Donít miss the take-out and paddle on down the Peel unless you are planning to go on to Fort McPherson, or have big bucks to pay the bush pilot to come back several times to hunt for you. Our pick-up was used to also pick up two guys who had missed the Peel two days earlier. Before it was over their pockets were pretty empty.
Time Frames: Plan for a leisurely paddle down this river. 7 to 10 days is fine but any less time will mean you have to paddle hard and will miss the joy of being there.
This is an excellent wilderness river. I would recommend four people in at least two boats. Plan your trip well by getting in hiking/paddling shape (if you are not already in shape). Research what equipment that you will need, make sure you have it all, pick your companions carefully, and you will have a great time.
If you would like to more information you may contact me at [email protected]