I’ve been paddling at the Yukon River intake for decades. It has always been a popular play spot for Whitehorse paddlers, particularly beginners. In the late ‘80s I co-authored a guidebook called Rivers of the Yukon that encouraged paddlers to hone their skills there.
The intake was built to cover pipes where the city once got drinking water directly from the Yukon River. It’s a pile of boulders and concrete blocks that extends perpendicular to the river bank for a hundred metres or so. Downstream of the intake are surf waves and other features that attract paddlers. However, upstream of the intake is an eddy that at certain water levels can be a swirling mess.
At higher water levels, if you were to jump into the river you would be surprised by the force of this eddy. You would be whisked upstream and trying to stand would be difficult or even impossible. Within seconds you would be swept towards a boily eddy line. As you hit the eddy line you would stop abruptly and submerge in its aeration and current. You may even be held under as you tumbled uncontrollably in the deeper water. The eddy would pull you away from shore and when you came up for a breath you would be surprised to be a long way from shore. You would also be confused to see yourself being washed back downstream at the swift rate of the Yukon River. However, before reaching the concrete and boulders of the intake, you would likely be dragged towards shore and then back upstream to recycle once more in this gigantic swirl. For the inexperienced these forces are disorienting and shockingly powerful. Add to this the coldness of the water and the probable lack of a personal flotation device and you have the recipe for disaster.
Since the Millennium Trail has been built there is increased visitation to this area and in recent years there have been three fatalities upstream of the intake. It’s time for the city to make the Yukon River safer and remove the intake entirely. Without this obstruction the eddy will diminish in power and size. Moving water is always dangerous and without the intake this popular area will be safer.