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Tatshenshini Expediting In Canada.

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SURVIVING WHITEWATER IN THE YUKON

Owner/Guide At Tatshenshini Expediting Talks Safety & Fun On Wild River

Hitting a trough on the Tatshenshini River. [Photo Credit: Tatshenshini Expediting]
Owner/Guide Bob Daffe helping clear an obstruction on the Tatshenshini River in The Yukon. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]
Owner Daffe & Editor Wassberg hitting a rapid on the Tatshenshini River. [Photo Credit: Tatshenshini Expediting]

Rafting has, at times, become a ubiquitous sport but not in The Yukon. When doing an expedition down the Tatshenshini, one has to don a full wet suit and clasp boots even in the summer because of the water temperature. The rafts also offer lock braces for the feet which is useful in the bigger rapids. It is still a wild river unfettered by dams. Owner and guide at Tatsenshini Expediting: Bob Daffe, a nearly 40 year veteran of whitewater, sat down at the edge of the river after an expedition to talk to The Buzz about adventure and experiencing the river.

The Buzz: You have been rafting everywhere between Africa and South America. Can you talk about that experience and how you got into it?

Bob Daffe: Well, I started rafting in Yukon. And in '91, we went to the World Rally in Costa Rica as a Yukon team. We finished 15 out of 51 teams. So for self-taught guys from the north, I was pretty happy. And in '89, I started rafting in Chile and I rafted in Chile for over 20 years. [But then] I saw in Chile change from where rivers that we used to raft were being dammed and I got a chance to go raft in Nepal. And in Nepal, every time I went there, there was new dams being built. Same in Africa. And so it's changed a lot across the world, but the Yukon itself hasn't changed. We still have the same river, the same nature.

The Buzz: How is rafting different in some place like Nepal or Chile, from your point of view, compared to something like the Yukon?

BD: The rafting is pretty much the same. You're reading water and you're going down the river. White water is white water. What has changed in a lot of countries is the atmosphere? What we still have here [in the Yukon] is wilderness and open space and a lot of freedom because we have the open space and not that many people, right?

The Buzz: Can you talk about the Tatshenshini River, the one that we just went down?

BD: The rapids on the Tatshenshini are two and three. In higher water, in flood water, it could be an easy four. But it's a classification of the skills that you need to go down the river. It does not always represent danger. As you saw, when we stopped in the middle of the river, we moved a sweeper, and a sweeper can cause entrapment so we were trying to remove that. The Tatshenshini itself is not a threatening river. You can swim a lot of places. The only problem we have on the Tatshenshini is that we have a wall that is undercut. So when the water hits the wall, some of the river actually goes underneath the wall. We don't know what's underneath there. So if somebody was swimming there and they go under, then it's possible that you would never see them again. But it's an easy place to avoid. It's probably a great one in that section of river but it's really easy to underestimate it. This is why I'm saying the grade of the water does not always reflect the danger.

The Buzz: What made you want to start this operation? Was it just a natural progression after being all around the world?

BD: No. I started here in fact. I started canoeing and then I started kayaking. I was kayaking this river a lot. And then rafting became a means to support my habits, really. I had a friend that bought some rafts but he needed somebody to take the people down the river so I started working with him. We were partners for awhile and then he moved on. And I stayed running the rafting.

Running down the Tatshenshini River. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]
Owner/Guide Bob Daffe at put in site of the Tatshenshini Riverin The Yukon. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]
Leaning out during the Big Turn on the Tatshenshini River. [Photo Credit: Tatshenshini Expediting]

The Buzz: Is it now instinctual? You have to know the river. You probably know the river inside and out. But you can play with it a little bit in terms of how you can ride those certain rapids.

BD: I've been rafting for 40 years. And after 40 years if you're not good at it, you should change your job. Today, there were people from Belgium on the river which is where I was born.

The Buzz: How has the Yukon changed and specifically here during that time?

BD: The Yukon hasn't changed in a lot of ways. Whitehorse has changed is become a bigger city. What we saw when I started rafting is that it was a semi arid climate. What has changed now is the weather environment. We've got more growths. The winters are not as cold. The summers are more rainy. When we go down the river, there are a lot of glaciers. And we see the glaciers melting quite a bit. It's pretty amazing how it is changing. I didn't foresee the environment to change that much. But I'm not the man I was four years ago. And so I've changed. So everything is changing. Nature is changing

The Buzz: What do you look for when you're recruiting your guides?

BD: We've made a point of hiring and training newcomers. And that gives us a base. If they like nature – and you have to like water and you have to like people. Then the rest we can teach them. They progress at 15, 16 year old. They take pictures. They get used to people. Then by the time they're 18, they know what a river inside and out. And they know what needs to be done. It makes our lives really easy.

The Buzz: There's such beauty going down this river but it's very diverse.

BD: The river is just curved through a canyon. But there's a lot of shell-type looking rock and also some type of granite deposit in there. We're going right along the major fault in the earth. We had a big earthquake here in April, a 6.2. But it's the beauty of the scenery really that makes it.

The Buzz: Rafting is a dangerous sport on certain rivers. But the thing is you also I like how the fact today you stopped when you saw that there was that tree blocking. I mean you guys stop and make sure of that.

BD: We watch for what can cause accidents. And some times it's what's obvious. You can swim the big rapids and it's not a problem. But a single tree can have somebody falling in and getting foot entrapment. And so we try to remove those and then keep it as clean as possible.

The Buzz: That one spot you stopped so people could jump off and enjoy it. And the guides are flipping off and you're throwing yourself in the water. Can you talk about having fun?

BD: The main thing is I'm 68 now. So I still do back flips (laughing) Alot of people are saying no swimming in the river [because it's too cold] and you're dead. It gives them a lot of confidence in their ability. And the wet suits keep you warm (laughing).


Tim Wassberg

A graduate of New York University's Tisch School Of The Arts with degrees in Film/TV Production & Film Criticism, Tim has written for magazines such as Moviemaker, Moving Pictures, Conde Nast Traveler UK and Casino Player. He enjoys traveling and distinct craft beers among other things.

Million Dollar Falls Campground

Make Sure To Stay At:

Million Dollar Falls Campground,   which has 34 non pull through campsites as well as a group camping area and 2 kitchen shelters. There is also a carefully crafted boardwalk leads to a lookout where visitors can watch the Takhanne River drop from a height of 60 meters. 

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