North

Belgian adventurers face harsh conditions in Yukon wilderness

One of the two Belgian adventurers who trekked into the Yukon mountains in the dead of winter has returned to Whitehorse to tell the tale of hardship they encountered.

Gilles Denis back in Whitehorse to give talk and slideshow on trip

Gilles Denis and Antoine Gérard on their trek in northern Yukon this past winter. (submitted by Gilles Denis)

One of the two Belgian adventurers who trekked into the Yukon mountains in the dead of winter has returned to Whitehorse to tell the tale of hardship they encountered.

Gilles Denis and Antoine Gérard planned to walk from the Dempster Highway 360 kilometres to Keno City, on a roundabout route through the bush.

They set out from the Dempster on a nice day, on a packed snowmobile trail in late January and everything went as planned, says  Denis.

That night, however, about six inches of snow fell and the next day they found it impossible to drag their sleds.

Denis says from that point on they often had to walk every kilometre three times as they moved their food and gear, But that was just one of the challenges they faced.

"We had a new problem to solve every day, either gear breaking or dealing with the solitude or choosing your way  through the ice and the forest and everything. So there was a lot of learning," says Denis.

Not far into their trip, temperatures dropped into extreme cold.

"It went to minus 35, then minus 40," he says. "The next day, it was minus 45 and eventually it got to minus 55 for about a week or so. In between minus 40, minus 55 — for three weeks." 

After that, temperatures flipped to unseasonably mild, with lots of snow.

The difficult conditions forced Denis and Gérard to hunker down at the Hart River, in cabins belonging to trappers they had met.

"We decided that we would spend some time in different cabins, a little ways from each other to have a little solo experience, it was very interesting, very challenging morally, but interesting," he says.

They later retraced their steps to the Dempster after spending 57 days, covering 220 kilometres on the trip.

Denis says they also found out how little choice they had when dealing with weather and terrain conditions.

"We learned patience, I would say one of the biggest lessons we got was to accept to be slow and accept the conditions they way they are." says Denis.

"You're not the one doing the choosing," he says.

Denis will be telling their story with a slideshow at the Baked Cafe in Whitehorse late Tuesday afternoon.

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