Yukon River (The Thirty Mile)

Location: Whitehorse, Yukon
Region: Outside Ontario
Character: Heritage River
Length/Size: 48km of 3200km

The Thirty Mile (Yukon River)
By The Canadian Heritage Rivers System

River of Gold

The Thirty Mile, a section of the Yukon River between Lake Laberge and the Teslin River, is a rich hunting and fishing area for its original inhabitants, the Ta'an Kwach'an (People of the Flat Lake Place). For the captains of the paddlewheelers who plied the Yukon, the Thirty Mile's swift waters and ever-shifting sand bars were a constant challenge. Many mighty sternwheelers were lost here. Native settlement sites, abandoned gold rush towns, the hulk of the S.S. Evelyn Norcom - what stories the waters of The Thirty Mile could tell of ancient spirits and legendary creatures, of gold-crazed prospectors headed north to the Klondike, of dreams won and lost.

The Yukon River is the tenth longest river in the world and the fourth longest in North America. The Canadian section comprises the upper 35% of its 3200 km length. Near the southern end is "The Thirty Mile", the historical name given to a 48 km section of the Yukon River between Lake Laberge and the mouth of the Teslin River in Yukon Territory. This short segment is a fascinating microcosm of the Yukon River as a whole.

In the era following the 1897 Klondike gold rush, the captains of paddlewheelers who plied the Yukon River referred to this reach as 'The Thirty Mile'. To them, this swift, winding section was the most treacherous of the river and many ships were wrecked on its shoals and rocks.

Today, this part of the river is easily navigated by modern recreational craft. Travellers of the Thirty Mile can view and photograph wildlife along its wooded riverbanks. They can also step back into the past at the abandoned gold rush era settlements of Lower Laberge and Hootalinqua. Here, deteriorating wooden buildings and ships call to mind an era during which 250 paddlewheelers churned the Yukon waters, transporting settlers, goldseekers, and supplies up and down the river until the late 1950s.

To protect these and other heritage features along the river, the Yukon Territorial Government and the Federal Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development jointly nominated the river to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System (CHRS) in January, 1988. The Yukon River was designated a Canadian Heritage River in 1991.

More than half of the Yukon Territory is drained by the Yukon River. Fed by tributaries from the St. Elias, Coast, Cassiar, Pelly, Selwyn, and Ogilvie Mountains, the Yukon River originates only 25 km from the Pacific Ocean in a chain of lakes close to the B.C.-Alaska border. It meanders northwest for 1140 km through the boreal forest of Yukon's central lowlands to the Alaska border. From here, it courses westward for another 2,060 km through central Alaska to empty into the Bering Sea.

The Thirty Mile is a relatively narrow (50-100 m wide) but uniform river channel comprising a 48 km segment of the Yukon River in south-central Yukon. It begins at the outflow of Lake Laberge, 96 km north of the Yukon's capital, Whitehorse (population 18,385), and ends at the confluence of the Teslin River, 176 km south of Carmacks (pop. 408) and 488 km south of Dawson City (pop. 1553).

There is no road access to the Thirty Mile and the shores are now uninhabited. Virtually all lands to the river are under federal Crown ownership, managed by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. Signs of contemporary human activity are minimal. A few mineral claims exist, two trappers hold leases, the federal government has some unmanned water monitoring stations, and the territorial government maintains some historic sites. Actually, the shores are in a more natural state today than during the paddlewheeler era when long stretches of timber were cut to provide the ships with fuel.

Natural Heritage
Nomination of the Thirty Mile to the CHRS was also based on its outstanding natural heritage. Perhaps the most scenic segment of the Yukon River, it represents well the landforms, hydrology, vegetation and wildlife of the river as a whole. Its main features are:

the clearest water of the Yukon River - the Thirty Mile's blue green waters are important to the river's salmon migration;

interesting exposures of white volcanic ash in the river banks, deposited over southern Yukon by a major eruption more than 1200 years ago;

moraines, eskers and other evidence of glaciation;

deeply incised tributary channels, slumping and undercut river banks, almost perpendicular sand and gravel bluffs 100 metres high, hoodoos, and constantly changing gravel bars - all typical features of the Yukon River shorelands and islands covered in sub-arctic forests of aspen, birch, and poplar with large mature stands of pine and spruce, habitat for important Yukon furbearers: muskrat, beaver, weasel, red fox, lynx, coyote, wolf, mink, and black bear; and

endangered wolverine and rare grizzly, bald and golden eagle, and trumpeter swan found here beside large populations of migrant waterfowl, bank swallows, and diving ducks.

Human Heritage
From prehistoric times until the late 1950's when all-weather roads were first built and air travel became common, the Yukon River was the region's highway for settlement and development. Nomination of the Thirty Mile to the CHRS was based largely on its close connection with the famous Klondike gold rush and paddle-wheeler eras on the Yukon River.

At its peak in 1898, the Klondike gold rush saw nearly 30,000 gold seekers in 7,000 boats travel the Thirty Mile en route from Bennett, B.C. to the goldfields near Dawson City. Although Hootalinqua already existed as a stopping place for Teslin River miners, both it and Lower Laberge took on great importance during and after the gold-rush. At Lower Laberge, there was a telegraph station, a North West Mounted Police post, supply depots, and later a roadhouse for travellers. At Hootalinqua too there was a telegraph station and police post, and later, on nearby Shipyard Island, slipways and a winter storage yard for paddlewheelers. Located between the two was 17-Mile Wood Camp, one of many along the river which supplied the insatiable boilers of the paddlewheelers.

The settlements of Lower Laberge and Hootalinqua and the 17-Mile Wood Camp still contain the remains of the log buildings constructed for these purposes, in varying states of disrepair. Of particular interest to visitors are the remains of the slipways and winter storage facility on Shipyard (or Hootalinqua) Island. Built in 1913 by the British Yukon Navigation Company, it is the last such site in the Yukon. It is still occupied by the S.S. Evelyn/Norcom, built in 1908, and now a hulk slowly disintegrating where it was hauled at the close of the 1913 shipping season.

The swift, narrow channel of the Thirty Mile was the most difficult part of the sternwheelers' run between Whitehorse and Dawson City. Its strong current, shifting shoals and treacherous rocks claimed more ships than any other stretch of the Yukon River. Simply marked gravesites are found along the Thirty Mile, and some locations are named after the boats wrecked there - Domville Creek, Casca Reef, La France Creek and Tanana Reef.

The Thirty Mile was also nominated to the CHRS for the outstanding wilderness river touring experience it provides. Each year up to 350 river tourists travel the Thirty Mile in canoes, kayaks, powered boats and rafts between Whitehorse and Carmacks or Dawson City, and in doing so re-create the experience of the gold seekers while enjoying Yukon wilderness. The Thirty Mile offers river travellers opportunities for:

good camping, with plenty of water and firewood, the best sites being Johnston Island and Hootalinqua;

viewing and photographing Yukon wildlife, undisturbed by human activity;

hiking up nearby hills for views of the river and Yukon wilderness below;

very good fishing for migrating salmon, grayling and large northern pike, lake trout, whitefish and inconnu. (The required Territorial fishing licences are available at most

sporting goods stores, department stores, convenience stores and lodges in the Territory);

visiting historic ruins at Lower Laberge and Hootalinqua, the 17-Mile Wood Camp, and Shipyard Island.

Canoeing: With no rapids and only a few riffles, the Thirty Mile is an easy day's paddle, suitable even for novices in open canoes, provided they have some wilderness experience or are accompanied by a guide. Water levels are usually high throughout the early June to mid-September canoeing season and the summers are often dry and warm. In the event of an emergency, assistance may be available from occasional summer work crews at Lower Laberge and Hootalinqua, or from other canoe parties on the river. Trip plans should always be registered with a responsible person before departure.

Visitor Information
Access: The nearest permanent road to The Thirty Mile is the Klondike Highway (Hwy 2) which passes through Whitehorse, Carmacks and Dawson City. While all three communities areon the Yukon River, currents of up to 10 km/hr make travel upstream virtually impossible for all but powered craft. For this reason, the only feasible approach to the Thirty Mile by water using non-powered craft is from upriver.

For a canoe trip on the Thirty Mile, most travellers prefer to start at either Rotary Park or the Robert Service Campground in Whitehorse, 96 km or 2-3 days upriver of Lower Laberge, or from the road-accessible Deep Creek Campground on the western shore of Lake Laberge, 32 km or 1 day upriver. Both routes involve crossing Lake Laberge, a strenuous and sometimes difficult journey. To avoid this, and to enable the trip to be completed in one day, visitors can travel by float plane to Lower Laberge in the morning with pre-arranged evening pick-up at Hootalinqua. Access to the lower end of the Thirty Mile is also possible by taking a 190 km trip from Johnson's Crossing down the Teslin River to Hootalinqua.

Since egress from Hootalinqua requires pick-up by float plane, trips down the Yukon are often extended past The Thirty Mile. Pick-up by road along the Robert Campbell Highway can be arranged at Little Salmon Station about 100 km downstream, or at Carmacks another 64 km further. A trip from Whitehorse to Carmacks, the first re-supply point, is 320 km and generally takes 7 days. Some travellers make the full 10-14 day, 736 km trip from Whitehorse to Dawson City. Daily air service from Dawson, air charter service from Carmacks, or several times weekly bus service from both communities to Whitehorse is used for the return trip.

Accommodation and Services: There are no accommodation or visitor services along the Thirty Mile. Whitehorse is the primary service centre with accommodation, services and all supplies necessary for a trip downriver. Commercial accommodation, supplies, guiding, outfitting and air charter services are also available at Carmacks, Teslin, and Dawson, but for visitors from outside the Territory, Whitehorse is probably the best location for organizing a trip.

Topographic Maps: The Thirty Mile is covered at the 1:250,000 scale by Map 105 E - Lake Laberge, and at the 1:50,000 scale by maps 105 E6, 10 and 11. National Topographic System maps may be purchased from any of over 900 map dealers across Canada, the United States and overseas. To find map dealers in your area, please consult the Yellow Pages under "MAPS", or contact any Regional Distribution Centre through the maps.nrcan.gc.ca web site.

Further Information
Yukon River - Services, Permits and Regulations: Yukon Department of Environment, Parks and Outdoor Recreation Branch, P.O. Box 2703, Whitehorse, Yukon Y1A 2C6.

Tourist Information - Accommodation, Outfitters, Guides, and Visitor Services: Tourism Yukon, P.O. Box 2703, Whitehorse, Yukon Y1A 2C6, or at www.yukonweb.com/tourism, Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon, 1109 - 1st Avenue, Whitehorse, Y1A 5G4 (867-668-3331;, www.touryukon.com; Wilderness Tourism Association of the Yukon, 1114 - 1st Avenue, Whitehorse, Yukon Y1A 1A3; www.yukonwild.com

Canadian Heritage Rivers System: National Manager, Canadian Heritage Rivers Board, c/o Parks Canada, Ottawa, Canada K1A 0M5. Tel. (819) 994-2913, Fax (819) 953-4704. E-mail address: donald.gibson@pc.gc.ca; or Member for Yukon, Canadian Heritage Rivers Board, c/o Yukon Department of Environment at the address mentioned above.