A Journal From Dawson Overland Trail

A Journal From Dawson Overland Trail
I recently hiked a 100km section of the Dawson Overland Trail, an old wilderness road from Whitehorse to Dawson City. The trail was created in 1902 as the first land connection between the two cities in the gold rush era. It allowed for year-round access to Dawson when the river was too frozen for boats, but not frozen enough for travel on the ice. The trail is maintained and is part of the Trans Canada Trail, popular by snowmobile in winter and cyclists in summer, but I found very little information about hiking the trail. Wanting a bit of a challenge, and to experience true wilderness I decided to hike the trail over four days. During this time I saw no other people, just clues to the history of the trail. Below are some thoughts I jotted down at the end of each day.

Day 1

7.5 hours, hot! IMG_1179 We spent last night camping at Fox Lake close to Braeburn, but overslept. Once Carly left me I lost the trail almost immediately! Once I picked it up again, the trail was easy to follow and only a little muddy, despite the recent rain. It was flat to start, cutting through the forest with only a few river crossings to make things interesting. Eventually the trees thinned out to reveal some big lakes, I enjoyed taking in the silence. Eventually some hills and views to boot. No animals sighted bigger than a rabbit. Lots of wolf (I think), bison (I think) and huge grizzly (unmistakable) tracks. I did look behind me pretty regularly to ensure a bear wasn’t stalking me. I have no way of gauging distance but I was pushing on in the hope of reaching the cabin. Though accounts conflicted as to how far along it is, so I will probably reach it tomorrow. I estimate I hiked around 30km, so my body is sore. I hung my food up in a tree away from camp which took some effort. Now I shelter in my tent from the bugs but it is rather hot in here!

Day 2

6 hours, another scorching day IMG_1109 I forgot the coffee! Great view for breakfast though over valley. Quite hilly start. Came across a few abandoned camps, one of which had thousands of boxed rock samples. I got confused by a couple of forks in the trail and walked for four hours without seeing a marker. I eventually rejoined the main trail to my relief, the first indication that I was back on the right track was a dog bootie obviously lost during the Yukon Quest, which uses the trail. Came close the a grizzly on the trail, about twenty meters away. Must not have heard me coming, but bolted when I came across the corner, hissing, grunting, and knocking trees over as it went. I grabbed by bear spray and bear banger which I dual wielded until I left the area, while checking I wasn’t being followed. Beautiful spot over a river flowing through a wide valley for dinner and made camp near by.

Day 3

7 hours IMG_1163 Woke up to a thunderstorm though luckily it stopped raining the moment I left the tent. Mostly flat day. I have some bad blisters despite my boots being very comfortable. I forgot how much of a battering my feet take on this sort of thing. I walked for a couple of hours in my flip flops to give some relief to my feet. I came to the cabin just after lunch. Very nice and well maintained. I took a break to read and sign the guestbook. The last entry was from three months previous. Soon after the cabin a large section of the trail was underwater, consumed by a lake. I had to detour into the bush and was surrounded by mosquitos which have been especially bad today. Thank goodness for DEET! It has been a little frustrating not being able to track my progress. The maps of the area are not detailed enough to be of much use so I can only estimate how far I have walked each day. Hopefully I will finish tomorrow so I can have a dip and a beer at the hot springs while I wait for Carly. It took a long time to string up my food tonight, but finally I am in my tent. Feeling beat and ready for sleep!

Day 4

7 hours IMG_1180 It was a strange feeling waking up not knowing if it would be two hours of two days walking to the finish. This wilderness hiking is a very different experience. After a few hours I crossed Little River which was named, and this finally allowed me to accurately pinpoint my location on the map for the first time. I would make the end this evening. The trail started to deteriorate into bogs, mud, swamps and at times rivers. Negotiating this made for interesting hiking, but progress was slow. I also broke a flip flop crossing a river which meant no more breaks for my blistered feet. The boots had to go back on. The last three hours seemed to drag on forever as the trail followed a track, which too was in poor condition. Corners brought hope of an end, but time after time only revealed yet more long straights. I have felt this way before, just wanting to finish. My feet were agony. When I eventually reached the end of the trail I couldn’t find a sign to mark the trailhead, and was too tired keep searching. There were however more markers where the Trans Canada Trail continued on it’s journey. I met a local farmer near the trailhead, my first human encounter for four days. Once I had reminded myself how to formulate words he gave me a lift down the road where we met up with Carly coming the other way to pick me up. Her embrace felt magical.
For those looking for more details about the trail, I found the following useful:

6 thoughts on "A Journal From Dawson Overland Trail"

  1. Joey Marcoux says:

    Nice trek! I stumbled upon your page thanks to Google images; thought it was kind of neat to see another Joe with a Safari and the same taste for adventure. Happy travels man!

    Joe from Vancouver

    1. Joe says:

      Always good to meet another Joe! Thanks for the shout out.


  2. Jessica A. Hawes says:

    What an experience! My favourite pic is the one of the bear prints. I think you are very brave. love, Grandma

  3. mum says:

    Joe I really wish I could walk long distances still ,I did a lot of walking as a younger women ,see you soonish, Love mum xxx .

    1. Luke Hyde says:

      What an inspiring read mr hawes! I liked the part where you killed that bear. I plan on doing a hike this summer but havent yet found the perfect 4 day trail in the uk. Any recommendations?

      1. Joe says:

        Thanks Luke, I highly recommend any stretch of the Offa’s Dyke which is in your neck of the woods: