A long, hard road

When I was 21 years old, I worked as a guide for an outfitter up the Stewart River. The year was 1968. It was my fourth year of guiding, having started with Louie Brown when I was 18.

David Johnny

Special to the News

Gary Sam, of the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation, worked as a mechanic, coal miner, outfitter and forester, and served on the Carmacks Renewable Resources Council. Gary died Nov. 10, 2016. His friend David Johnny remembers this story of a particularly tough hunting trip.

When I was 21 years old, I worked as a guide for an outfitter up the Stewart River. The year was 1968. It was my fourth year of guiding, having started with Louie Brown when I was 18.

In early July, it was time to trail out the horses for the start of the hunting season in August. Gary Sam, Stanley Simon, Alec Johnny and I were the guides and we trailed 15 or 16 horses out the road from Mayo to Mayo Lake. With us was the outfitter and one dog. The outfitter’s girlfriend and her daughters were with us as far as the lake.

We were headed for our hunting area along the upper Stewart River east of Mount Ortell, a distance of over 160 kilometres. Beyond Mayo Lake there were no cleared trails. We navigated by landmarks and followed more open areas and game trails through the trees where the travelling was best. As we travelled along, we’d look back along the trail so we’d remember how it looked when it came time for the return trip. The weather was good.

The first stage of the trip, from Mayo Lake to Lansing, took us more than three days. We followed the north shore of Mayo Lake, went up Keystone Creek and Pass, then east along Granite and Roop creeks to Tiny Island Lake.

There wasn’t much trouble along the way. One of our horses got stuck in the mud while trying to eat a plant and we had to pull it out with another horse. Our dog, a German shepherd, had acquired some cuts on its paws and had difficulty walking, so we cut a hole in one of the horse’s pack panels and loaded the dog aboard for the trip.

Travel along the north shore of Tiny Island Lake was precarious because of the lake’s steep drop-off. But the terrain soon flattened out more and we continued east to Penape Lake, where we spent the night, before reaching Lansing.

We rode the horses across the wide Stewart River just north of Lansing. This was a safe place to cross but the water was deep enough that the horses were swimming in places, and their hooves bounced across the river bottom at other spots. We stayed at Lansing Post among the old trapping cabins for an extra day to dry out the horse blankets.

The last leg of the trip, from Lansing to our hunting camp, took three days. We followed the north bank of the Lansing River all the way to its headwaters in the Tasin Range. We set up our camp at a small lake east of the Tasin Range and Mount Ortell.

Starting at the beginning of August, we spent the next six weeks guiding hunts around the area. A cook was flown in and hunters would fly in, two to four at a time, for two-week hunts. We hunted sheep in the Tasin Range and moose in the valleys, and we moved back and forth between our camp on the lake to one on the upper Stewart River. During the hunting season we’d also see a few caribou in the mountains as we hunted.

One day, while hunting along the Stewart River, Gary suddenly jumped off his horse and ran into the bush, leaving us wondering what the heck he was doing. “I got it!” Gary then cried, emerging triumphantly with a goose. We ate well that night.

The hunting season ended in the middle of September. The outfitter and cook flew out, leaving us four guides to trail out the horses. We packed up and trailed down the north bank of the Lansing River toward Lansing Post. Two of the horses carried our food and personal gear. Along the way, several of the horses got lost and Stanley and Alec had to go back along the trail to find them. We never did find one of those horses.

We got to Lansing Post and stayed there for several nights, probably too long. We started getting a bit short on food, so we found some old traps and set them up for beaver. We caught one and ate it the very first night.

We left Lansing Post and crossed back over the Stewart River. From there we intended to retrace our path from July and head to Penape Lake and then on to Tiny Island and Mayo lakes. But we somehow got turned around before we reached Penape Lake and travelled too far north. We camped for the night and I woke up with a wet back, having unintentionally slept in a small hollow. Alec climbed a tree to see if he could spot Penape Lake but he couldn’t see anything. He thought we should keep heading north but I didn’t think this was right and eventually we found Penape Lake and spent the night there.

The next day we continued toward Tiny Island Lake but the going wasn’t easy. The horses, Alberta-bred and not used to Yukon bush life, were weak and we started losing them. We also began running out of food: our supplies of flour, sugar and tea ran out after Tiny Island Lake.

By the time we got to Roop Lakes, just east of Mayo Lake, we started running into snow and as we got into the mountains, it was knee-deep. The Roop Lakes were frozen, so we walked on them. By then we were down to two Yukon-bred horses.

Travel through the mountains north of Mayo Lake was very tough. The snow was deep, we had nothing to eat and we only had rain gear and shoe packs rather than proper winter gear. We dug out snow with a frying pan to make our camp, doubled up sleeping to keep warm and had to put on frozen boots in the morning. During the day we just kept walking to try to get through it. At one point, Gary told everyone that if he fell over, he just wanted us to shoot him.

We made it through though. By the time we started hiking down Keystone Creek, the snow had disappeared. We ate cranberries and I shot the head off a spruce grouse with my .30-30. We boiled the grouse in our teapot and ate it and drank the broth. It had been two days since we’d eaten, so our stomachs hurt with the new food. We got to the west end of Mayo Lake and, even though there were five or six bags of oats that had been cached there, the horses decided they’d had enough and headed on down the road back to Mayo.

We walked down to a cabin where we met Cliff from Stewart Crossing. The outfitter then came by and he was full of smiles to see us back safe. He thought we must have gotten lost further north and had been looking for us with a helicopter from Elsa. Alec and I packed everything up and we went back to Mayo for a big dinner at the Silver Inn. We got paid the next day and that was the end of a memorable hunting season.

David Johnny worked as a guide in the Yukon for 23 years and was the project manager at the Fort Selkirk Historic Site. He lives in Pelly Crossing.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Willow Brewster, a paramedic helping in the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre, holds a swab used for the COVID-19 test moments before conducting a test with it on Nov. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
An inside look at the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre

As the active COVID-19 case count grew last week, so too did… Continue reading

Conservation officers search for a black bear in the Riverdale area in Whitehorse on Sept. 17. The Department of Environment intends to purchase 20 semi-automatic AR-10 rifles, despite the inclusion of the weapons in a recently released ban introduced by the federal government, for peace officers, such as conservation officers. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Environment Minister defends purchase of AR-10 rifles for conservation officers

The federal list of banned firearms includes an exception for peace officers

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: The K-shaped economic recovery and what Yukoners can do about it

It looks like COVID-19 will play the role of Grinch this holiday… Continue reading

Jodie Gibson has been named the 2020 Prospector of the Year by the Yukon Prospectors Association. (Submitted)
Jodie Gibson named 2020 Prospector of the Year

Annual award handed out by the Yukon Prospector’s Association

A number 55 is lit in honour of Travis Adams, who died earlier this year, at the Winter Wonderland Walk at Meadow Lakes Golf Club in Whitehorse on Nov. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
A new take on holiday traditions

Winter Wonderland Walk, virtual Stories with Santa all part of 2020 festive events in Whitehorse

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Colin McDowell, the director of land management for the Yukon government, pulls lottery tickets at random during a Whistle Bend property lottery in Whitehorse on Sept. 9, 2019. A large amount of lots are becoming available via lottery in Whistle Bend as the neighbourhood enters phase five of development. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Lottery for more than 250 new Whistle Bend lots planned for January 2021

Eight commercial lots are being tendered in additional to residential plots

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21. The Canada Border Services Agency announced Nov. 26 that they have laid charges against six people, including one Government of Yukon employee, connected to immigration fraud that involved forged Yukon government documents. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Charges laid in immigration fraud scheme, warrant out for former Yukon government employee

Permanent residency applications were submitted with fake Yukon government documents

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Karen Wenkebach has been appointed as a judge for the Yukon Supreme Court. (Yukon News file)
New justice appointed

Karen Wenckebach has been appointed as a judge for the Supreme Court… Continue reading

Catherine Constable, the city’s manager of legislative services, speaks at a council and senior management (CASM) meeting about CASM policy in Whitehorse on June 13, 2019. Constable highlighted research showing many municipalities require a lengthy notice period before a delegate can be added to the agenda of a council meeting. Under the current Whitehorse procedures bylaw, residents wanting to register as delegates are asked to do so by 11 a.m. on the Friday ahead of the council meeting. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Changes continue to be contemplated for procedures bylaw

Registration deadline may be altered for delegates

Cody Pederson of the CA Storm walks around LJ’s Sabres player Clay Plume during the ‘A’ division final of the 2019 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament. The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28 in Whitehorse next year, was officially cancelled on Nov. 24 in a press release from organizers. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament cancelled

The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28… Continue reading

Lev Dolgachov/123rf
The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner stressed the need to safeguard personal information while shopping this holiday season in a press release on Nov. 24.
Information and Privacy Commissioner issues reminder about shopping

The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Diane McLeod-McKay stressed the need to… Continue reading

Most Read