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Yes, You Can Take Your Toddler on a Fly-in Canoe Trip

At least we did. Here's a quick recap of our adventure far from any hint of civilization.

The night before we left, I was literally sick to my stomach. Sick with worry about the bears, the bugs, the remoteness of where we’d end up, and whether we had made the right call in booking our backcountry adventure. We have done countless backcountry adventures in our home in the Yukon and abroad, but this was going to be our first fly in trip and I felt the weight of worry. 

The morning we woke, with our gear packed up and loaded in our car, the sky was anything but clear. Rain and heavy clouds skewered the view of the mountains that even surrounded our house. By the time we made it to the float plane base in Whitehorse, we were loading up our canoe onto the floats and heading into the alpine and the pilots were warning that it was going to be a bumpy ride and we were in for some weather. 

We bobbed and weaved over the river valleys with steep mountains rising so high and so close, I felt like we could lean out and touch the rocky slopes and jagged edges. I tried hard to shut the thought that bush pilots have the highest fatality rates of any career out of my mind.  I snapped some photos and then cuddled my toddler as we finally spied our turquoise coloured lake we were getting dropped off at. 

The wind howled from the north, the opposite direction of what we expected, the pilot remarked the cross wind had been so severe he had the rudder in a fully engaged position just to keep us on track.

Once we landed, I huddled and shivered on the beach, face full blast into the wind while all our gear spread out like a yard sale around my daughter and I. I piled on our snowsuits, an oddity for anywhere but the north on our July 1st adventure. And not before long, the pilot departed leaving us on our sandy spit of lakeshore, without a way to reach the outside world and all the gear we believed we would need. A hint of dread crept in, but I pushed the thought that maybe we were on too extreme of an adventure for our little one and got to work in setting up camp.

In our search for a windbreak, we followed the moose tracks in the sand to a small patch of alpine trees. The spruce that grows horizontally and the pine that is so spindly, it could hardly qualify as a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. 

We found a bit of shelter, set up camp and watched the clouds roll by, and the sand that blasted out into the water. For a place of refuge, it was sure stunning. As the clouds began to lift by the late evening, we were treated to glacially capped peaks with waterfalls spewing out in every crevice in every mountain we could spy. The tree line was not far above us, and the lake shimmered a green that only a glacially fed water can do. 

Not a sound in the world interrupted us, save for a few sparrows and pipits calling out in curiosity of who would dare interrupt their solitude. 

We made plans of paddles, first to the south, to explore the glacial peaks in closer detail, meander with the braiding of the lake as it snakes more like a river than a traditional lake and would follow up with a northerly direction to our next camp. Our pilots knew we were aiming to head north, so we had to make it some distance to reach our pick up point in four days.

We woke to a howling wind that wouldn’t relent. Traded paddling plans for hiking plans. Passing boulder fields with a toddler and stopping to smell the sage made it for a longer hike with less distance covered than hoped. But spying our white capped waters from above and feeling the sun and wind on faces was still a good day as any.

It was a day of extremes. In the wind shelter, it was stifling hot, yet as soon as you came face to face with the elements, it was freezing. The bugs and the bears weren’t with us as I feared, but the wind was so fierce it would be nearly impossible to canoe. So we waited.

Luckily on our third day, we awoke with glass like conditions and absolutely no wind. Kieran snuck out early for a paddle in the buttery waters. Elena spied him from the tent and demanded a ride before breakfast. It was joyous, it was serene, it was exactly what we hope for.

We devoured a quick meal and after a mad dash to take down camp, we were loaded up and venturing north. We passed sand dune after sand dune, following the lake as it turned to no wider than a few canoe lengths across and was shallower than the depth of a paddle. If the water hadn’t been so frigid we would have walked our boat through the water.

After about an hour and a half, we spied a wildflower covered mound that jutted out into the lake and provided cover in each direction. The wind had already been picking up, with glass conditions turning to regular ripples and eventually into decent gusts that tried to turn our canoe. We decided not to push our luck and pulled the boat over to an expansive beach and set up camp right in the sand. 

We buried our feet in the sand and followed the caribou tracks along the bends of the beach, looking for evidence we would be sharing our visit with more ferocious neighbours. No signs of bears, we fell into a beach filled day routine of burying each other in sand, digging out lagoons and rolling down sand banks. If we weren’t in so many layers, you’d have thought we were somewhere tropical. 

By dinner time, we ended up with a visitor, the same caribou whose tracks were all over our beach. Searching for a meal of his own, the massive creature stared at us from 20 m away, before dining on some willows not far from our tent. Elena was elated, pulled out her horse stuffed animal in an offering to become friends with this new furry creature. And as we played until the late evening, with the sun still high in the sky till 9:30 and finally setting closer to midnight, we partied in the tent like toddlers do when all things are new and exciting. 

The next morning, I could hardly contain my excitement with the perfect conditions and pushed the canoe out again for a quick paddle before breakfast. I bobbed in the water, my canoe creating the only ripples visible and waited until I could hear the faint evidence of my adventure partners rising with the sun cresting over the mountains. Our breakfast was once again interrupted with a caribou, and our day again was about as near perfect as a day as I could imagine. 

When we finally spied the orange plane coming down the valley late that afternoon, we were almost in the completely opposite of mood than how it was when we were dropped off. Content yet wishing we had more time. And as we bobbed and weaved through the river valleys that opened into alpine lakes that beckoned to be explored, we made plans for our next adventure into the backcountry.

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Want to know more about this trip in the Yukon, or gain some more backcountry inspiration for your family adventures? Follow along in real time (@meandertheworld) as we keep trying to make sure that family life is anything but boring. 

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Rachel Bertsch Explorer

Mom | Adventure Seeker | Tour Leader | Find me regularly @meandertheworld on Instagram.