Jeff has been talking about taking a trip on his ATV to Matson Creek for months. It started as an idea of where to hunt this fall, but then a couple of his friends decided they were in for a trip to Matson. Every weekend the trip was planned for fell through for one reason or another, but mostly because of the high river we had to cross. It has been such a wet summer.
By the time this weekend rolled around, we were up to a dozen people willing and wanting to make the trip. Even I was up for the trip and arranged a pet sitter for Hank. I knew it was going to be a long haul, and I’d surely be ridiculously sore, but I’m up for an adventure!
By 7:30am Saturday morning, we were on the ferry heading across the Yukon River to the Top of the World Highway. Five of our friends headed out the night before to camp and wait for us at the 60 Mile River where we’d switch to our all terrain vehicles. Three others were finishing their breakfast at the Eldorado restaurant.
Now the “middle of nowhere” is probably an overused phrase, especially when describing places in the Yukon. But if there was a real middle of nowhere, Matson Creek flows through it.
The red symbol on this map shows where it is. The vertical line to the west is the International border with Alaska. There is a road there, a really old one, that is so very rarely used. Other than that road, nothing is anywhere around there. That road was what we were taking.
We drove west from Dawson City on the Top of the World Highway, and turned south on the road down to the Sixty Mile River. It was about 90 minutes in the truck. And during that drive we saw TWO wolves! The first was a light white and blonde wolf that crossed the Top of the World Highway in front of us.
Closer to the Sixty Mile River, we turned a corner and saw this dark animal on the road that was so big, my mind went to a pony at first. My jaw actually dropped. With my mouth wide open, I realized I was looking at the biggest, darkest wolf I had ever seen. It sauntered off into the woods.
By the time we hit the Sixty Mile road, after a night of rain, my quad that was riding in our trailer behind our truck was completely mud covered. Judging by how grumpy I was by the state of my pretty quad, Jeff stopped in a river and used a bucket to clean it off.
Thirty minutes later we were parked, off loaded the quads and trailers and packed up our supplies. We caught up to our friends who camped out, and they were already plotting our path to ride across the Sixty Mile River. The river had come up over night so we sent one of our friends out to walk the path in his hip waders.
Jeff went over first and took pictures of us coming across. Here’s Kevin and Kerry and their pups.
Here’s Liz coming across.
Here’s Shane and his wagon coming over.
Rick and Robin got stuck in a hole in the river and needed to be winched the rest of the way across.
I have the smallest size quad of our posse, and have never tackled a river like this. I sat still (in total terror) while my experienced rider friends went ahead. Half of them got stuck and had to be pulled the rest of the way with a winch.
We have friends who gold mine nearby and they came down to watch us try to tackle the river. Out of what was either pity, amusement, or just desire to get us on our way, they pulled me across the river while I was sitting on the quad with it in neutral. I am pretty sure I was floating at one point, but only the right side of my butt got wet! Jeff took a video:
Then they went back and pulled our buddy Gerry across, because his side by side sits really low too. He took out his windshield and rode on the hood!
After we all crossed the river, we were ready to get started. Jeff prepped all summer for this trip and had his GPS with the trip plotted. We knew it would take about 6 hours and was just over 90 kilometres. And it isn’t a through road. It just goes to Matson Creek, where people used to mine for gold. Actually it is still active from time to time. We knew there was a mining camp there that hadn’t been used for about 6 years, so we set that as our destination.
There were at least 3 high ranges we crossed, where there are no trees at all. Just scrub, and in some places, nothing but rocks. Occasionally a subarctic flower would be blooming in the middle of the road. So pretty.
More than once we wondered about how severe the gold fever someone would have to have to build this road for 90+ kilometres to a creek where there may or may not be gold.
Once in awhile signs of those adventures from days gone by could be seen. Like this piece of equipment, left out on the tundra.
We had 4 of us on quads, 3 more on quads pulling trailers, and 3 side by sides. One of them had 2 people and 2 dogs sharing one bench seat! The trailers were full of gas cans with our extra fuel, lawn chairs, sleeping bags, tents, air mattresses, and coolers. And they bounced like you wouldn’t believe. More than once they rolled over along the way.
There were large puddles on most of the road, and you never really knew how deep they were going to be. Sometimes it was just a splash as you rolled through. Sometimes you better have your feet up in front of you because you are about to get soaked.
The higher terrains were windy and really cool. Between the wet puddles and the cold wind, we all started putting on more and more of our rain gear and warmer clothes to try to stay some what dry and warm.
After we came down over a peak, we went down into a lowland where we found a camp along a river. No one was there, but it was a perfect place to stop for lunch and use their outhouse.
After lunch, the road headed right back up to the high terrain again, and the road was rough, being mostly sharp and jagged rocks. Jeff’s wagon bounced out half his load as we went up and over this peak, and when we stopped for a break, one by one everyone brought Jeff back items that had bounced out that they picked up.
As we travelled over this peak, we hit a bit of rain and hail. With no trees here to tinkle behind, I peeled off my rain gear and squatted right beside my quad. I mean, what’s a girl to do.
We were told to expect to meet up with two doctors and a police officer from town who were hunting out on the tundra. We found them, and surely the noise of our posse coming through ruined their hunting for hours. They said they had seen several grizzlies in the area. We didn’t see the bears, but we saw their huge piles of berry poop all over the road.
In some places, you could see the road go on for miles and miles in front of you, across the peaks and down into the valleys. Most of the time we were only able to go 30-40 km/hr at a time and even that felt fast. I mean, for a road in the middle of nowhere, it was in great shape. But it was really rocky, covered in water holes, but it wasn’t dusty! It wasn’t even really muddy, because there wasn’t much dirt.
Every time we stopped, we’d look at each other and say, “Wow, is this amazing!” “I’m having such a good trip!” “This is such a cool trip!”
Another relic left behind was this fuel tank that once said “White Pass” on the side. It was torn apart on the far side, like it must have been on its side, or somehow was gouged by big boulders, and was left behind forever.
We’d stop every 10-20 kilometres to make sure everyone was okay, and make sure we weren’t too stretched apart. Everyone would grab a snack or drink and adjust their clothing.
Finally around 5pm we pulled into the Matson Creek camp!
There were lots of bunks and old camp buildings around, all unlocked, which is the Yukon way. You need a place to stay? Are you cold? Come on in.
There is an active mining license here, but this particular camp hasn’t been used in about 6 years, other than by hunters in the fall and by some exploration companies that drill for quartz and minerals.
There were probably bunks for 20-30 people here. The trailers are aging, and getting water and small animal damage. Like every other old camp we find on our adventures, there were clothes here, and old food, books, movies, tv’s, movies, and sofas. Can you imagine all of this was hauled in on that road we drove? My goodness, what a ride that would be hauling these in there. All the trailers once had running water and sewer with power from a diesel generator.
There is a small air strip near the camp, so I suspect employees were flown out at the end of the season. I imagine them each just taking a duffle bag out. These camps always look like the people expected they’d be back. But you never know when the gold pay streak is going to run out, or your boss is going to go belly up, or sell the claim to another miner. Or maybe the snow just came early one year.
We all spread out and got into dry clothes and started setting up their tents. Our tent was wet, as was most of everything in our trailer, so we eyed up a couple of the bunks in a trailer.
Before supper, everyone decided to jump back on their quads to go check out the airstrip, but there was just nothing left in me. I stayed behind at the camp by myself and got a fire started with the firewood our friend Kevin had just cut down and bucked up.
Dinner that night for us was a dehydrated Mountain House chili mac in a bag, supplemented with hot dogs and whisky. Our cheese and meat and crackers were ground into a mucky ball of grossness by the roughness of the drive in. All the paint was warn off our beer cans that were in our cooler. 4 were punctured. As were several of our water bottles. Some were somehow drained of water and refilled with brown soupy mud water. The tarp covering the wagon was full of holes that had worn into it from all the rubbing and shifting.
Our friend’s dinners ranged from moose sausage to some sort of clam/sundried tomato/red wine reduction with gnocci. We have a wide range of tastes when camping I suppose!
After supper, the fire grew taller.
Something I’ve always liked in the Yukon, is how social groups pay no attention to age. The twelve of us easily ranged over 5 decades in age and it never even matters. We all just have a similar love for adventure. And I just love how good these people are. Helping each other, waiting for each other, sharing food and drink, respecting the camp, cleaning up after each other, and leaving firewood behind for the next adventurer.
By the time we starting turning in, our friend Tim found some old rotting gigantic timber pieces in the trees and decided there was no better way to guarantee he wouldn’t need to restart the fire in the morning. (Despite the over night rain, he was right. They burned all night.)
Everyone put their food in a bunkhouse trailer to keep us bear safe and retired to their tents.
Jeff and I crawled into our sleeping bags in a bunk house and tried to sleep. But then I said, “Are we alone in here?” “We’re not alone.”
I could hear something rustling around. And then scratching at its ear. What in the … Jeff!
“I think it’s just a squirrel under the table.”
Uhm, no. No. There is a squirrel in here with us!?
Jeff, I’m going to another trailer.
Grumble grumble grumble. You are not.
I am so.
I packed up my stuff and dragged my sleeping bag into the next trailer.
Just as we were drifting off, rustle rustle. AGAIN!
I crawled into my -40 double layered sleeping bag and zipped it up over my head to drown out the noise.
Shortly after. AHHHHHHHHHH I shrieked.
Jeff said, “WHAT!?!”
“Oh, sorry, just the sleeping bag zipper tag fell on my face”.
Jeff responded with “I think I peed when you screamed”.
Somehow we drifted off, about 10 minutes after I asked Jeff if I could share his bunk so he would keep me safe. (He said no.)
It was windy over night, and according to our tented friends, it poured rain. I heard nothing more, and slept. My arms felt like they were 100 pounds each by this point. Your arms take a great force as you brake and squeeze your handle bars bracing yourself going down the slopes so you don’t fly over your handbars.
Jeff had a couple breakfast MRE’s for me. Some old dehydrated meals in bags, emergency rations he was given from a Ranger friend. Mine turned out to be some sort of apple oatmeal I couldn’t eat past the first bite, another that actually contained a poptart, and another that had a super sugary muffin top. How odd! I picked away at it, and then ate a delicious apple that somehow survived the peril of most of our other perishable food that was all wet or smashed to bits.
It was a cool damp morning, with a low cloud hanging over the Matson creek, and it was already getting breezy. We took turns in the outhouse and packed up our gear.
Everyone was curious how a white Jeep was a 2019 license plate sticker was parked here in the camp. It was missing an alternator, so we can only guess what the rest of the story is.
After we packed, we spent a few more moments by the fire discussing where our next great trip could be. Some of these friends take overnight snowmobile adventures in the winter too.
I used the last of that fire’s heat to try to get as dry as I could (my boots were still wet but whatever, I was going to get them wet again shortly anyway) and headed out on the trail north around 9:30am.
It was incredibly windy as we headed back up toward the peaks. The camp was around 2100ft in elevation, and the highest peak we crossed was about 5700ft. It was so cold, especially on my forehead with the wind blowing into my helmet. I pulled out my winter balaclava I usually use under my snowmobile helmet. It was so nice and warm to have an insulated cover over my head (under my helmet!). I was happy I packed it!
The wind was so strong it pushed me across the road a couple of times!
The absolute best upgrade installed on my quad is my heated hand grips. (Thanks Jeff!). By this point in the trip I had soaked three pairs of work gloves and had even tried liner mittens inside the rubber type of gloves you’d use for doing dishes. Now I switched to mittens. The headed handle bars have different settings. At times I had them cranked to 100% which was almost too hot to hold with mittens on! It was marvelous!
We saw a huge male moose with his enormous rack off on a hill in the distance! Too far for a good shot, but Jeff was able to pass his binoculars around so a few of us got to see him closer up. Good eye guys!
We stopped at most of the same spots again on the way out to make sure everyone got to stop and explore and take photos.
It is funny how still these photos look, but trust me, that cold arctic wind was wild. Speaking of arctic feeling, there were still a few snow banks on these peaks from last winter! I guess they’re going to hang on until the next winter, because the signs of fall are upon us already. The trees are changing colour on the Top of the World Highway and the ptarmigan we spotted on this trip already were morphing back to their white feathers from their summer brown. I can’t imagine if we had snow over night how we’d ever find or follow the road back out. Maybe that is what happened to the dude in the white Jeep.
Knowing that the valley where we had lunch the previous day was warmer, we headed there for a lunch spot again.
I had a pop tart, chocolate chip cookies, and a half dozen Yukon grown carrots. These adventures have the oddest diets. Usually a lot of sugar and meat sticks.
While we stopped for lunch, we could see that one of the wagons had a twisted axle and the front of one of the side by side’s had wheels pointing in slightly different directions. Nothing that was going to slow us down too much!
Heading back up in elevation from that camp is this army fuel tanker truck that had rolled over who knows how many years (decades) ago.
If I ever have to roll over on my roof, I’d want to be driving a truck made out of metal this solid!
As we were nearing the Sixty Mile River again, there are certainly more signs of human activity. There were geology exploration camps once here so you can find rock cores from drilling, and wooden tent platforms. There was even an outhouse out on the tundra left over from a camp, and this weather station that Jeff hiked over to check out.
Soon enough we were back at the river. Everyone was in agreement the river looked a bit lower (well everyone but me? I swear it looked the same deathly height to me, but whatever). I pulled my legs up and hit the river way too fast and the river’s splash went over me, my legs came back down into the river. I brought a wave with me that had Jeff running back from the shore. But I did it!
We got everyone across the river, and then loaded the trucks and trailers up.
There was some mining equipment sharing the parking spot with us, like this ginormous truck.
We were all in agreement that this was a tremendously fabulous trip and nothing went wrong. Then our friend Tim realized quite how lucky he was, as he went to unhook his wagon trailer. It came right off his quad, with the ball still attached. The nut holding the ball hitch attached to his quad was GONE! He was pulling that wagon with that bolt and no nut!
How did that wagon not come loose!? Imagine if it had come off while crossing the river? Or if he saw it pass him on one of our steep descents? We couldn’t believe it!
The climb out of the river valley is a long and steep one, so we waited as the next couple trucks came up the climb behind us to make sure we were all good. Shane and Harley pulled over to check their load, and Shane yelled out, I’ve got a tire going down, get back in Harley, we’re going to get to the top of this hill first!
Jeff helped him patch the tire, but it wouldn’t hold the air pressure so he ended up switching to a spare tire. Rick behind him had a flat on the way in, so he was making sure someone else was behind him because he was already on his spare.
Over an hour later, we were the first on the ferry to come across to town and within the hour we’d all made it back.
Everything’s been pulled out to dry or has been thrown into the washing machine already. Nothing came home clean or dry.The moans and groans each time Jeff or I have to get up is rather humorous. Every part of me is sore.
And Hank had a fabulous weekend with his pet sitter Stephanie. Apparently he even went for a run with her! He seems tired and happy so what more could we ask for!?