Clinic Stories

The End of the Earth - Part 3

Into The Storm

More on Dr. Morris's Yukon River Trip

The challenge on the the Yukon River trip is Lake Lebarge, famous as the site of “The Cremation of Sam McGee” in the poem by Robert Service. Lake Labarge is 31 miles long, about 3 miles wide with icy cold water and violent storms.

Leaving Whitehorse I spent most of the first day approaching the lake reaching it in the early evening. I was advised that if the lake is choppy to wait at the mouth until it is calm. I ignored the advice and headed straight into a storm. For three hours the kayak pitched and rocked while rains came down. About 9 PM it was so rough that waves were crashing into the kayak from both sides and over the back hull swamping the kayak. I decided to head for the shore which, given the conditions and distance, took a strenuous 45 minutes.

I camped and emptied the water from the kayak discovering that the compartments in my rented kayak were not waterproof. Everything that was soakable was soaked, including my sleeping bag. None the less I fell asleep and woke at midnight, looked outside and saw that the water had quieted a bit. I broke camp and got back on the lake with the midnight, cloud covered sun.

My night cruise lasted for about three hours when again my kayak was so swamped that I felt in imminent danger and pulled out. When I woke in the morning I felt physically and emotionally drained, soaked and shivering with no feeling in my toes. I got back on the water. After a few hours I saw a canoe on the bank and stopped. It was past noon and they were waiting out the storm. They told me I had only made six miles of the lake so far, were shocked at how much water I was taking and said that the water when not stormy is perfectly smooth and much easier to paddle. I dumped the water from my kayak and headed on thinking that with 25 more miles of lake this could take days.

On that second day I continued paddling in the storm but could neither drink nor eat. At 6 PM I forced myself to take 3 gulps of water and eat a few crackers. I made a fire and got somewhat dried out. The weather cleared a bit and I headed out once more. Later that evening I hit a dead end. There was no continuation of the lake and I spent the better part of an hour trying to figure where I was and how I went wrong. I reasoned that I was in a side cove, thought it was a good time and place to stop for the night and camped. I pulled off into a mud pit which sucked off both of my shoes and caused me a good deal of exertion to position my kayak on firmer ground and to rinse out my mud caked shoes and socks. I spent a second night in a wet sleeping bag. I thought that it must called the land of the midnight sun because that is the only time you have a chance to see it. I sure hadn't seen the sun so far.

The third day was much milder but I still did not know where I was. I turned back from the way I came hoping that I would find the main lake or see someone coming the other way to indicate that I was on the right path. I went 5 hours, saw no one but was obviously on the main body of water again. It was not raining but was windy so I pulled over, staked out my gear to dry a bit and climbed up a mountain to get a high view and figure out what to do next. Indeed I was on the main lake and came off the mountain to head back once more. Before I could get my gear together the storm kicked up again, this time with hail. I was forced to wait until things were a bit quieter.

It took the rest of the day to get back where I started in the morning. I was just as confused and stopped for the night. It hailed again during the night.

On that fourth morning I was cold, wet, exhausted, miserable and not only did I have no feeling in my toes but my feet were swollen. I decided to would make a good fire, dry out and warm up and hit the lake once again. I didn't have another option. While thawing out I spotted a canoe and was comforted that I was not completely lost. I got back on the water and after about an hour found a narrow passage between the mountains, about 70 yards wide, that was the outlet from the lake. Yes, I had gone much farther than I thought on and wasted a day of hard paddling not knowing I reached I was at the end of the lake on the second night. The folks who said I had gone six miles had misled me badly. All along I thought I had much longer way to go.

Next – Past the Lake

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