Yukon Territory

Rafting the Alsek River - August 2000
Haines Junction YT to Dry Bay AK

During our September 1997 RV trip we had a spare day while in the Haines Junction area. On a whim, we chartered a helicopter and took a flight-seeing trip along the Alsek River. The scenery was amazing, and upon learning there were rafting trips on the river, we decided to make this trip in August 2000. More info: Wikipedia - Alsek River.

The trip started Friday, August 11 on the Dezadeash River at Haines Junction. Our fellow travellers were from the UK, USA and Canada. 

Start of the Alsek River, Haines Junction, Yukon Territory
Loading the rafts at Haines Junction

The first day was very pleasant, with slow moving meandering water. Most of our companions rented their equipment from the expedition guide and enjoyed having bright yellow tents. We took our own tent, which was roomier and the more subtle colour of blue.

Overnight stop on  Alsek River, Yukon
First overnight stop. The yellow spots are most of the tents. Our blue tent is on the right side.

Last night everyone realized that we were in the middle of nowhere. The howling wolves sent a chill down most spines and most of the campers refused to use the bathroom facilities after dark!

Lunch stop on the Alsek River, Yukon
Lunch stop with wide open scenery

Lunch stops were relaxing events; the guides brought out various cold cuts, veggies and finger foods. Everyone helped themselves. It was delightful!

Overnight spot on the Alsek River, Yukon
Campsite the night of August 12 along the Alsek River, at Lava Creek.

Seeing grizzly bears along the river bank turned was common. During the trip, 26 bears were seen.

Grizzly along the Alsek River, Yukon
One of 26 grizzly bears spotted on this trip

On Sunday August 13, the group stopped for morning break at some sand dunes.

Desert area on the Alsek River
Desert-like area near the Alsek River

Recent bear tracks were evident in the sand. The picture on the right, shows a bear path that led to a rubbing tree. Each bear places paws in the same spot, year after year, resulting in a deep imprint.

Grizzley tracks near Alsek River    Grizzly path near Alsek River
Grizzly tracks - on the left in the sand and on the right a well worn bear trail where the bears use the same paw print over and over and over

The afternoon of August 13 we arrived at a very windy Lowell Lake and Lowell Glacier.  It was sunny on our arrival; however the next morning we woke to overcast and damp.

Kitchen on the Alsek River
Kitchen tent near Lowell Lake in the morning

After breakfast, the guides took those interested on a climb up Goatherd Mountain. The group climbed 2,700 feet in 3 1/2 hours.  The descent took only 2 hours.

Lowell Glacier and Lowell Lake, Alsek River
Overlooking Lowell Glacier and Lowell Lake

Our lunch stop was quite inspiring! That apple tasted great!

Lunchstop on Goatherd Mountain, above Lowell Lake
Lunchtime on Goatherd Mountain

Later in the day, and higher on the hill, herds of goats were munching their own lunch.

Mountain goats on Goatherd Mountain, Alsek River
There really are goats on Goatherd Mountain!

That evening some of us had refreshing baths in the small lakes near our campsite. The lakes were COLD!

The morning of August 15 the rafts were loaded and headed into Lowell Lake. The lake had numerous icebergs, ice that had calved from the glacier. The overcast skies provided a surreal feeling to the landscape, and the silence was stunning.

Icebergs on Lowell Lake
Rafting through Lowell Lake

Our camp on night #5 was just south of Lowell Lake. Most people spent their time drying clothes by the fire. This was to become an evening ritual and our primary social activity!

On August 16 the guides abandoned their guests on the shore while they took the rafts through some Class 4 rapids. Every raft made it through successfully. Apparently a raft from an earlier trip was not as successful and occasionally we found some gear washed up on shore.

Class 3 rapids on the Alsek River
Navigating Class 4 rapids on Alsek River

After the Class 4 rapids there was some Class 3 water. We were in the raft with the lead guide, and he realized the "boys" enjoyed some good fun. Both boys had white water canoe and kayak experience. Thus, the guide frequently set the raft up to give a good soaking to those in front, while they did their best to paddle through without getting wet. It was a day of laughter that resulted in some very wet men...ah...boys!

Alsek River rafting
More scenery while the boys make every effort to stay dry

Our sixth evening was at Plug Creek.

On the morning of the 17th, one of the guides had an unexpected visitor at his tent - a grizzly bear. Fortunately, the bear wasn't in the mood for more socializing and skedaddled away quickly. The bear's exit route took it by the "bathroom", which happened to be in use. This person was quite startled to see a bear running by being chased by two guides ... and she was in no position to pull up her pants!

Alsek River scene
Scenery along the river - Yukon or British Columbia?

Today the expedition would leave the Yukon and enter British Columbia. It was soothing to see some blue sky again. The colours of the landscape were bright and clear!

Glacier & mountain on Alsek River
Glacier along the river

During the lunch stop we enjoyed another swim/bath in a clear crisp lake. Only five of us took advantage of the water though. The others preferred to stay bundled up in their warm clothes.

The evening camp was at the head of Turnback Canyon, about 95 miles from the start of our adventure. The weather was warm and folks were able to get out in shorts and t-shirts. Most of us did housecleaning and clothes drying! The clear skies certainly provided a boost to all of our spirits, as did the dinner of steak, potatoes and salad!

Top of Turnback Canyon
Overnight camp at the top of Turnback Canyon

Heli-portage through Turnback Canyon, Alsek River
Heli-portage through Turnback Canyon

All of the rafts needed to be deflated and packed, and all supplies readied for the helicopter portage through Turnback Canyon. The canyon cannot be rafted. We were told that a few people have successfully kayaked it when water levels were optimum; however, we were also told some kayakers have lost their lives making the attempt.

It was difficult to get a picture from the helicopter as it moved quickly through the canyon. We were the first group taken through, and had to be ready on the other side for the gear to start arriving. All the rafts had to be re-inflated and reloaded.

While we waited, a grizzly paid a visit. He was an insistent fellow and not shy. He continued being curious and insisted on moving closer to the four of us there, despite our use of bear bangers. Then the helicopter returned. Unfortunately, the pilot had to be aggressive and herd the bear away into the bush.

The 8th evening was near the confluence of the Tatshenshini & Alsek rivers, about 125 miles from the trip's starting point. Rafting the Tatshenshini is more popular with people than rafting the Alsek. We chose the Alsek because we understood it to have more spectacular sights and rougher water.

Tent at confluence of Alsek River and Tatshenshini River
Overnight accommodation near the confluence of the Tatshenshini and Alsek Rivers

Most of the group camped close to the kitchen. We preferred to camp a bit further away, and have more privacy. The folks in this yellow tent (above) were our long-time friends.

Near Alsek & Tatshenshini confluence
Fog provided an eerie feel to one of the days

The next day was foggy and overcast. The river widened significantly, up to 3 miles wide, with the addition of the Tatshenshini's waters.

Rafting on Alsek River
Raft moving along the Alsek River with a mountain range as backdrop

Lunch break included a hike on Walker Glacier. Another tour group was in the area. That evening we camped at a damp spot along the river.

In the morning it was a steady hard downpour. The guides decided we would stay put. Some headed out on a hike, others played cards, and some of us took nice warm snoozes in their tents.

Kitchen on the Alsek River
Kitchen, tents and people

I haven't said too much about the "facilities". Each evening, a toilet seat was set up over a large ammunition can, usually in a fairly private area and sometimes a bit of a hike from camp. There was a smaller blue ammo can that held the toilet paper...if the blue can was at the kitchen the toilet was available. If the blue can wasn't available, you had to wait for its return.

Towards the end of the trip, potty-humour was common. It became a sport to sneak a picture of a friend taking care of business. To the best of my knowledge, there isn't a similar picture of me.

Bathroom facilities
The bathroom facilities - all waste had to be transported and disposed of at the river's end

Alsek Lake is the last stop before the trip's end at Dry Bay, Alaska.
Even though it was overcast, there wasn't any rain.

Alsek Lake
Alsek Lake
 

Sue at Alsek Lake
Sue at Alsek Lake

Some took a hike with a guide to the top of Gateway Knob, a hill alongside the lake. The goal was to make radio contact with the outside world in an attempt to confirm the charter flight for the next day.

View at Alsek Lake
Alsek Lake from Gateway Knob

View from above Alsek Lake
View of Alsek Lake from Gateway Knob
 

Rainbow at Alsek Lake
Rainbow and glacier near Alsek Lake

It rained all night. The next morning there was mixed feelings. We were anxious to get out of the damp, but also sad that the trip was nearing an end.

Rafting through Alsek Lake
Last day on the river, rafting through Alsek Lake

Upon reaching Dry Bay AK, all the gear had to be readied for loading onto the plane. The rafts, once again, were deflated. The clouds were thick and there was some concern the plane might not be able to land. The gravel runway had numerous puddles.

Even so, Air North was able to meet up with our group.

The plane!
The Air North plane on a VERY wet day!

Air North flew us to Whitehorse. That evening, all the group joined together for dinner at a local eatery. Of course, that was only after we had all soaked for hours in hot showers and tubs. After dinner, when we returned to the hotel room, we were struck by the strong scent of wood smoke.