National Geographic : 1957 Aug
Squaws Along the Yukon 245 Following the Fabled Gold-rush Route, Six Venturous Young Women and a Lone Man Paddle by Foldboat from Whitehorse to Eagle BY GINNY HILL WOOD ANY a flotilla as strange as ours had sailed the Yukon from its head waters in Canada to Alaska. Ex plorers, fur traders, Klondike gold rushers, homesteaders, and adventure seekers before us had braved the mighty river in all kinds of craft. We were not even the first to navigate it in foldboats. Yet our expedition was different from all the rest: its members comprised six women and a lone man, my husband, Morton Wood. The reactions of other males could not have been stronger had Woody deliberately planned to herd a harem down the river. "Pretty lucky!" cried some. Others commiserated. Actually, Woody never planned it at all. Adventure Eight Years in Coming Our trip sprang from student days at the University of Alaska. Not to be outdone by schemes of others to drive jeeps to Argentina or to bicycle the new Alaska Highway, Woody, a friend, Celia Hunter, and I promised one another we would paddle down the Yukon someday (map, page 251). "Someday" was almost eight years in com ing. By then our number had grown from three to seven: two young geologists with the U. S. Geological Survey in Fairbanks, Alaska, Florence Rucker and Florence Robinson, and two foldboat enthusiasts from Seattle, Susan Hull and Muriel Thurber, who had asked if they could join our adventure. That fine June morning our jumping-off point above Whitehorse, capital of Yukon Territory, must have resembled a girls' club camp-out. Gear, grub, and tents lay scattered on the riverbank as we assembled our flotilla - three double foldboats and a single-and began stowing our equipment aboard. As a craft, the foldboat is a simple and ingenious improvement on the Eskimo kayak. Its wooden frame comes apart in a great many pieces. With rubberized canvas hull and deck covers, the whole thing packs into two duffel bags. In a matter of minutes an expert can assemble the numbered parts, lock ing them together with metal hooks rather than screws or bolts. Decked over for several feet in both bow and stern, a foldboat affords a lot of space, but it is frustratingly inaccessible. Anyone passing by that day would have seen seven rears of assorted sizes all pointed skyward, with the rest of the owners' bodies burrowed molelike under the decks (page 261). By 4 p.m. everything was packed and stowed, and our flotilla was ready for launch ing. One by one the boats slid into the water. Wet paddles flashed in the sunlight, and someone shouted "Hurrah!" as we headed to ward Whitehorse.* In a few minutes we were floating past the town itself. From our boats we could see signs of the new boom this '98 gold-rush center is enjoying, thanks to its huge airport and the Alaska Highway.t Quonset huts, left behind by U. S. forces after World War II, were filled with new families; old pros pectors' log cabins had been rejuvenated and occupied. One of these cabins had housed the hero of Robert W. Service's poem, "The Cremation of Sam McGee." Service himself once lived in Whitehorse. Stern-wheeler Recalls Bygone Era Below the town we passed the stern-wheeler Whitehorse, one of the last of the river boats which, for more than half a century, plied the Yukon between Whitehorse and Dawson in the heart of the gold country (page 246). She was loading for her first trip of the sum mer, the last summer of her active life. As we passed, crewmen and passengers crowded her rail to cheer and wave us on. Since then the Whitehorse has joined her sister ships that we saw sitting like ghosts along the riverbank, silent witnesses to the end of an epoch (page 250). New roads have linked Dawson with the Alaska Highway, and buses, cars, and trucks now are carrying passengers and freight along the Yukon. We paddled another 20 miles downstream, aided by the river's six-mile-an-hour current. Then, on a grassy bank above a driftwood strewn beach, we made camp. * See "Along the Yukon Trail," by Amos Burg, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, September, 1953. t See "Alaskan Highway, an Engineering Epic," by Froelich Rainey, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, February, 1943.