Back

Trail River

Camping in the Canyon


The rhythm had changed. The crystal bubbling waters of the Wind had been traded for murky turbulent flow of the Peel. Looking flatter than anything we had paddled thus far the grey surface belied the true force of current effecting our little boat.

Endless Cliffs
High cliffs lined either side of the river. Our work alternated between hard paddling against the headwind and narrower sections when we had little sway over our direction. The boat was too heavy to maneuver in the stronger waters but we could just about ride the edges of the rapids. During the winter the river would freeze solid. This natural conduit between Dawson and Fort McPherson predates both towns. It was, and is, used by Native American tribes, such as the Gwitch'in, as a means to follow and hunt the Caribou herds and find the best spots for fishing. When the North West Mounted Police began to make regular patrols across the territories they would often employ local guides to show them the best routes. We were traveling through one such connection. Giving its name to the map sheet we were using the Trail River would have been transited from the Peel then an over land portage would get you onto the Wind and ultimately over the Richardson Mountains to Dawson City.

Memorial to the Lost Patrol
In the Winter of 1910 a four man patrol set out from Fort McPherson, tragically never to return. They let their native guide go after the first section preferring to go by one of the Constable's previous experiences of a patrol. Unfortunately he had only done the trip once before, and in the other direction, from Dawson City. They only had 30 days of supplies and used up most of this trying to find the creek that would lead them to Dawson. Somewhere by the Little Wind River their leader, Inspector Francis Joseph Fitzgerald, took the decision to try and make it back to Fort McPherson. Their progress was slow, limited by frostbite and lack of nutrition, making only a few miles a day. They had to resort to eating 10 of their 15 dogs.

Canadian Flag Flying Proudly Over the Memorial to the Lost Patrol
On day 47 of the patrol Fitzgerald made his last diary entry. Meanwhile concerned that the patrol hadn't turned up, the Mounties launched a relief patrol from Dawson, lead by Corporal William John Dempster, for whom the Dempster Highway was later named. When they found the lost patrol it was too late. Constable George Francis Kinney & Constable Richard O’Hara Taylor were the first to be found. Kinney appeared to die of starvation, Taylor from a self-inflicted bullet wound. Further down the river Fitzgerald and Special Constable Sam Carter's bodies where discovered just 40km short of Fort McPherson.

The Lost Patrol
For us it was a chilling reminder to by careful. This is a serious landscape that needs to be treated with respect. The smallest mistake had the potential to cascade into something life threatening. We were certainly grateful to have the support of modern mapping, GPS and Satellite rescue technology should we need it. I couldn't help but wonder though, what it would have been like striking out up some of these creeks in winter, not knowing what was on the otherside.

Fish Dinner
We moored on one of the most impressive campsite to date. A beach within a canyon. It was both intimidating and welcoming at the same time. The rocks rose vertically and displayed their tectonic scars proudly. The wall straight over from camp looked like a giant's thumb print. After amusing ourselves skimming stones and throwing echos down the canyon we cooked up the Grayling we had caught earlier. Well fed, I lay awake in my tent, coming to terms with how far we had come and listening to the eerie shrieks of some kind of bird of prey magnified by the Canyon itself.

Getting Comfy in the Canyon