Canol Trail ATV Adventure: How to Cross a Swollen River

Anytime we asked anyone back in Whitehorse about the weather, they had one word: wet. We launched this epic ATV adventure at the tail end of the wettest summer anyone up North could seem to remember.

It rained as we prepped our gear in town. It rained as we moved down the Canol Road to the trailhead. It rained when our ATVs finally touched trail dirt and it kept on raining. With three rivers to cross and dozens of ancillary creeks, water levels quickly became our No. one concern.

Creeks felt like rivers and rivers felt BIG. Having to cross them, we learned a thing or two:

Know your machine. It's essential to know where the air-intake is located on your quad. This cannot go underwater. If water is sucked into your engine the game is over.

Scout. Scout. Scout. Every time we got to a deep crossing, Mike and I got off the bikes and poked around. We looked for the most shallow lines and good anchor points, should the quads roll in the current. Before we were confident eyeballing depth (something that would haunt me later in the trip) we slow-rolled in, plumbing the bottom with long-cut sticks.

Aim up river. These mountain rivers are cold and fast. It was nothing for them to move 1,200 pounds of quad and trailer, fuel and gear. We quickly learned that aiming 50 yards upriver of the intended beaching spot was not unwise.

Gas it. With the current and the cold and the deep bottoms, momentum is your friend. Hope you strapped down your gear properly and give her all she's worth. To watch your quad being swept down river in the swift current would be a terrible, terrible thing.

Safety first. If the river looks too risky, turn back. I've spent years whitewater canoeing across Canada, so much of what we attempted on ATV was buttressed with this experience. Know your bike. Know the river. And consider all the risks carefully. Take precautions such as double or triple dry-bagging your survival equipment and sat phone. But no matter what you do, if you think it's too risky, it is. No adventure is worth an emergency evacuation or worse. Stay safe out there.