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Home arrow Features arrow Outdoors arrow Down the Yukon River

Down the Yukon River

Family friends Steve Minor and Terry Watson joined the Shoreys for 460 miles on the Yukon River. (Photo courtesy Eli Shorey).
Family friends Steve Minor and Terry Watson joined the Shoreys for 460 miles on the Yukon River. (Photo courtesy Eli Shorey).

By LISA BRITTON

Eli Shorey can't help but chuckle at the photograph of a man named Billy Rioux, one of the many characters Eli and his dad, Doug, encountered on their 1,000-mile trip down the Yukon River.

Rioux, a 24-year-old from Quebec, was floating the river to historically reenact the gold rush of 1897.

But the Rioux in Shorey's photo looks uncapable of traveling even one river mile — his raft, a bunch of logs lashed together, more resembles a Huck Finn contraption than that of a burly gold-seeker.

"Adventurer — that's what he called himself. He was about as green as they come," Shorey says with a laugh. "He didn't know to build it out of dry wood — he used green wood so it kept sinking. He and his gear couldn't be on the same side. He had so much enthusiasm though, you had to admire him."

The Shoreys left Baker City on June 9 and headed north hauling two water-worthy vessels — a dory built by Doug and a three-person kayak built by Eli.

The reason for the trip is two-fold: Doug, 62, a retired biology teacher, had learned a little about floating the Yukon River 40 years ago when he was logging in southeast Alaska.

"He'd met a guy who'd just gotten off floating the Yukon River," Eli said.

Eli, on the other hand, wanted to celebrate his 30th birthday.

"I wanted to go have a long adventure to celebrate turning 30 — it took two months to do it," he says with a laugh.

The pair returned to town on Aug. 7.

Eli will present a slide show and story about the trip — he took a bunch of photographs — at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at The Little Pig, 3685 10th St.

After leaving Baker City, the Shoreys met up with their traveling companions, Steve Minor and Terry Watson, in British Columbia on June 10, and by June 17 the four launched their vessels on the Yukon River at Whitehorse, Canada.

They averaged about 25 miles a day. Doug charted their progress and camps on a map, and Eli recorded the mileage in his journal.

"I had a GPS, and that was the only sure way to know how many miles we did," he said. "I didn't have a map for much of it — Dad had it — and that was fun because I didn't know what was around the corner."

Well, maybe not so fun when his first encounter with a major tributary was a bunch of trees — roots and all — whooshing by on the current.

The official start of the Yukon River is at Whitehorse in Canada, and then it flows to Dawson City, then across the border to Alaska and on to the Bering Sea. The total length is more than 2,000 miles.

The Shoreys rode the Yukon River from Whitehorse to the Dalton Highway that hits the river about 100 miles north of Fairbanks.

"It's the last highway on the Yukon," Shorey said.

The Shoreys' friends Minor and Watson completed nearly 500 miles before returning home. The Shoreys were also joined for four days by Eli's two aunts and a cousin.

Other than that, it was Eli, Doug, and the river.

"As you go down the Yukon, it gets more remote," Eli said. "You don't see a lot of people, so when you run into someone, they're pretty friendly. And our boats were pretty unique."

Most who travel the Yukon River rent or buy a canoe in Whitehorse, he said. Those who make it all the way to the Bering Sea usually just abandon their boats due to the remoteness — and lack of roads — of that area.

Though his photos capture majestic mountains and a sprawling river, Eli and his fellow travelers also ventured inland a little to explore the ghost towns that sprung up during the 1897 gold rush and were abandoned when the miners left.

Some ghost towns have been well-preserved, and one even has a caretaker.

Eli's favorite part, though, was the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, which encompasses 128 miles of the Yukon River between the towns of Eagle and Circle.

"It was isolated and beautiful," Eli said.

His least favorite section was the last stretch through Yukon Flats where the river widens to 20 miles and the current slows.

"And we had ferocious winds," Eli said.

He'd like to, someday, float the rest of the Yukon River.

But he can live without another trip through Yukon Flats.

"It's like spending the winter in Antarctica — I did it once, but I don't want to do it again," he said with a laugh.

Shorey spent , from Feb. 14 to Oct. 4 in 2005, working for Raytheon Polar Services on a construction project for NASA's Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility.

On Oct. 17, Shorey will fly out for another stint in Antarctica, this time to spend four months — it is summer in the southern hemisphere now — at the South Pole. He will be working as a carpenter helper.

"Last time I was an unskilled laborer. This time I'm a barely skilled laborer," he says with a laugh.

 
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