North

Travellers' gear stolen in Whitehorse, midway through their epic adventure

Australian Leigh Swansborough and her American travelling partner, Clarissa Black, were camping at the Robert Service Campground when thieves evidently opened the vestibule of their tent early Friday and made off with three of their packs.

Two women paddling and hiking to Tuktoyaktuk woke Friday to find their load lightened

American Clarissa Black and Australian Leigh Swansborough at the scene of the crime. Someone took gear from their tent vestibule while the women slept. The women's Whitehorse guide book was left behind. (Jackie McKay/CBC)

Australian adventurer Leigh Swansborough said she had just told someone in Whitehorse on Thursday that "the only thing that the Yukon could steal from me was my heart."

She was wrong.

Hours later, someone was making off with a bunch of her travelling gear while she was asleep in her tent. She found out what had happened when a police officer woke her early Friday morning.

"I thought, 'Oh God, what have I done?' And he's like, 'No, we found your passport on the other side of the river,'" she said. "We sort of jumped out of bed and we woke up — and our bags were gone."

It was heartbreaking. It was, 'Oh my gosh, is our trip done?- Clarissa Black

Swansborough and her American travelling partner, Clarissa Black, were camping at the Robert Service Campground in Whitehorse when thieves evidently opened the vestibule of their tent in the wee hours of Friday, and made off with three of their packs.

"It was heartbreaking. It was, 'Oh my gosh, is our trip done?" Black said. "We still have two months left, and half of our gear is missing, Leigh's ID is missing. The pit of your stomach just hurts."

The women are midway through an epic adventure. They started in Skagway, Alaska, and hiked the infamous Chilkoot Pass, then paddled inflatable packrafts to Whitehorse.

Swansborough and Black on Marsh Lake's Army Beach, in Yukon, last week. The two had paddled from Bennett Lake and planned to keep paddling to Dawson City. (Sandi Coleman/CBC)

"We went from Bennett Lake, we made it to Carcross, we paddled Nares Lake, Tagish Lake, Marsh Lake, survived several nasty wind storms," Swansborough said.

From Whitehorse, their plan was to keep paddling down the Yukon River to Dawson City, then hike all the way up to Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., from there. They expected to finish the trip in September.

Now, they're trying to figure out how and when they might keep going. 

Some gear found, most still missing

Besides the passport, police found Leigh's green card and a few other things. Some items were scattered in the campground.

Police say they're still investigating the theft.

"[The thieves] had taken a few of the bags about 50 feet away, to a bench, and sort of opened them up and rummaged through," Black said. "We found a few things there, but we're still missing the bulk of our gear."

The thieves didn't take everything. This is what was left of Swansborough and Black's stuff on Friday. (Jackie McKay/CBC)

"The only clothes I have now are what I'm wearing," Swansborough said. "So yeah, this is our outfit for the next 60 days!"

Swansborough is clear though — their trip will continue. 

"I'm going all the way to the Beaufort Sea. I'm not sure how we're going to pull that off just yet," said Black.

"We're resourceful and I think, you know, we've battled through a lot obviously, in the lakes with the wind storms. You can't let something like this stop you."

The two adventurers are determined to continue. 'You can't let something like this stop you,' Black said. (Submitted by Leigh Swansborough and Clarissa Black)

They're also not letting some bad luck alter their impression of Yukon.

"Yukoners embraced us — they took us into their homes during wind storms, they fed us, they showered us," Swansborough said.

"The spirit of the Yukon reminds me a lot off rural Australia, where I grew up. People, they embrace you not as a stranger, but as a family member."

With files from Dave White and Jackie McKay

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