By Steve Hubrecht

The big trip is finally over. Invermere resident, Heather Waterous, and her Yukon-based friend, Amaya Cherian-Hall began their months-long, human-powered traverse of the Yellowstone-to-Yukon (Y2Y) corridor way back in spring and at last completed their mind-boggling journey earlier this fall.

The Pioneer ran a report on Waterous and Cherian-Hall in early May as they began their traverse at a snowbound trailhead near the tri-state border of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. It was just before they set off to hike, bike and paddle their way north from West Yellowstone all the way up to Dawson City, Yukon. 

Another report followed in mid-summer, not long after the women crossed the U.S.-Canadian border and took a break in Invermere.

As reported in the summer, Waterous and Cherian-Hall had to make significant alterations to their trip during the first segment (through the U.S.) owing to the huge volumes of snow still blanketing the high elevation sections of their planned route in late spring and early summer. Adapting to the conditions on the fly, they dealt with this unexpected twist by choosing to cycle tour instead of hike. 

After their break in Invermere, the two were finally set to stop biking and begin hiking, from Waterton National Park up to Kananaskis Country, west through Banff National Park, into Kootenay National Park (via Ball Pass and Hawk Creek), along the famous Rockwall trail, then on the Iceline Trail in Yoho National Park and beyond to Jasper. 

But once again the women had to alter their itinerary, as both had to separately deal with injuries. Cherian-Hall had to stop for two weeks right after crossing the Canadian border, to rest an inflamed Achilles heel. Waterous hiked solo through Waterton National Park and nearby stretches of wild lands, until a knee injury forced her off the trail.

“By day three it was clear I had an issue with my knee,” Waterous told the Pioneer. She fashioned an impromptu brace using tape and a tensor bandage and managed to hike on for a few more days until she came to the nearest town with a hospital.

There she got an ultrasound done, and saw a physiotherapist.

“The verdict was that if I kept hiking, I might further damage my knee and would face a long recovery,” said Waterous. “I knew it was smarter not to push it, so had to stop hiking for a few weeks.”

By this time Cherian-Hall’s achilles heel was better, so now it was Waterous’ turn to rest while Cherian-Hall began solo hiking. Cherian-Hall strode through the heart of the Rockies, including the Rockwall and Iceline trails. “Those were major highlights for Amaya,” explained Waterous.

Waterous’ knee was still problematic by the time Cherian-Hall had finished hiking, so the pair had to cancel their plan to bike north along the Alaska Highway from Jasper to Whitehorse, Yukon. They opted instead to simply start the final stretch of their trip — a paddle along the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Dawson City — earlier than expected.

“With the injuries, with each of us doing our hiking solo, and with then not being able to bike the Alaska Highway, we just had to adapt to our circumstances. We still got to visit all the landscapes we had wanted to see, just not the way we planned,” said Waterous. “It was completely different, but that’s okay. It was another lesson in being flexible.”

In the end, the paddle down the Yukon was the only section of the traverse that went to plan. And what a section it was – with the women (plus Cherian-Hall’s dog, Jasper) covering the 800 kilometres of river in less than a week and a half.

“It was great. Amaya and I had both done a lot of long canoe trips growing up, so it was something familiar for us,” said Waterous. “It was also one of the most beautiful parts of the trip. Aside from a few historic sites or old trading posts it is very wild, and it felt remote in a way other parts of our trip did not. You had the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere.”

Spending 10 hours a day paddling a canoe was also a pleasant switch from biking and hiking, giving their arms a good workout while giving their feet and legs a break.

“It was at the same time both slower and faster than other parts of our trip,” said Waterous. “We were covering almost 100 kilometres a day, so we were moving through the terrain more quickly, but you are sitting in a boat as you do that, so you have a lot of time to think, to talk, to sing songs, so in that sense, it seems slower.”

Waterous will always particularly remember the women’s first night camping on north end of Lake Laberge.

“We tucked into a little cove, and it was glassy calm. There was one of the most intense sunsets I’d seen in a while, and it was reflected perfectly in the water,” she said. 

On the final morning of the trip Cherian-Hall created ‘finishers medallions’ out of driftwood. The pair paddled into Dawson City and celebrated the end of their traverse by dancing until 3 a.m.

Days later both women were back to everyday life: Waterous returned to Invermere, where she works as a geomatics technician with Parks Canada and at the local veterinarian clinic, while Cherian-Hall took up a new post as an environmental monitoring coordinator for a First Nation near Carcross, Yukon. 

“It’s strange to go from being on the move every day for months, to being back to work almost immediately. It took a bit of adjustment, but of course I’m happy to be back to Invermere, back to my friends and partner,” said Waterous. “It’s funny. Nothing really went to plan, but I think it went how it had to go. We both learned things that we didn’t expect to learn. That’s the beauty of a trip like this.”

Waterous expressed gratefulness to the pair’s sponsors, in particular to the Royal Canadian Geographic Society Women’s Expedition Grant, which made the traverse financially feasible for them to do.

What’s next for the pair? Waterous conceded that she and Cherian-Hall had plenty of time on their long paddle to dream up all sorts of new, multi-month trips.