Jun 232012

Exiting the S-Curve rapids and leaving the Yukon in Canada on the Alsek River

Woke up to a damp tent. Turned out that the lowland Caroline and I had originally setup on was not a great location, as the area must have had a low water table which couldn’t be seen on a casual glance. By morning the field had some obvious pooling going on. Lucky for us that we noticed some mushy spots where small amounts of water were collecting and decided to move our tent to higher ground before we went to sleep. After breakfast and packing up camp it was time to get back on the river as we had a good amount of river miles to cover today. First up we had to finish the series of s-curve rapids, here we are near the end of them.

View from hillside overlooking the Alsek River in the Tatsheshini-Alsek Provincial Park in British Columbia, Canada

Welcome to the Tatsheshini-Alsek Provincial Park in British Columbia, Canada – we have arrived. We were two hours down river from last night’s camp before we pulled over to take a break, have lunch, and go on a short hike. Not much to see here, besides the stupendous view, snow spotted mountains, spectacular colors of early summer, and the wild Alsek River slicing through it.

On the Alsek River in Tatsheshini-Alsek Provincial Park in British Columbia, Canada

And back onto the river. Somewhere here on our journey down the Alsek we learn that some of the turbulence of the river comes from the heavy load of silt that it carries downstream. What happens is that as the silt settles on the river bottom, it builds up temporary berms until the force of the flowing water collapses the underwater hillsides and water crashes down into where the silt had been. We of course will never see this action, as the water is so turbid and full of sediments that as our rafts glide down the river, their rubber bottoms amplify the sandpaper-like sounds of a trillion grains of former mountains that scratch at our boats.

River left on the Alsek in Tatsheshini-Alsek Provincial Park in British Columbia, Canada

Every view is magnificent, every angle worthy of a photo. Deciding which images to share with you is more difficult than choosing the words to describe where we were and what we did.

A hanging glacier on the face of Mt. Blackadar in Tatsheshini-Alsek Provincial Park in British Columbia, Canada

This is the first hanging glacier that we’ve seen on this river trip, it is one of the faces of Mt. Blackadar. From Wikipedia: A hanging glacier originates high on the wall of a glacial valley and descends only part of the way to the surface of the main glacier and abruptly stops, typically at a cliff.

Mount Blackadar in Tatsheshini-Alsek Provincial Park in British Columbia, Canada

I am looking back up river at Mt. Blackadar, named in honor of Dr. Walt Blackadar. Back in 1971, this adventurous doctor became the first known person to have run a kayak through Turnback Canyon, which is what we will be approaching shortly. We’ll stop well before that canyon, as it is not possible for rafts to successfully navigate the four miles of river that squeeze between the Tweedsmuir Glacier and a lot of rock. We would most certainly die if we were to try. Even in a kayak, one must be familiar with extremely cold water, be expert in rollover recovery, and as the doctor was: be prepared to die in your kayak. To read more about Dr. Blackadar’s Alsek run, check out “Fast & Cold: A Guide To Alaska Whitewater” by Andrew Embick.

Camp at the northern end of the Tweedsmuir Glacier in Tatsheshini-Alsek Provincial Park in British Columbia, Canada

We are about 65 river-miles from where we began, this is home for the next two days. Seems like a great place to take a pause and enjoy the scenery. Behind the tent is Tweedsmuir Glacier and to the left of it is the beginning of Turnback Canyon – no, this is not the end of our trek down the Alsek.

A typical kitchen on an extended river trip. Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park British Columbia, Canada

Caroline is helping Martha Stewart prepare dinner – no, it’s still not that Martha Stewart! Don’t let the daylight fool you, it is 6:45 pm when I snapped this photo. Dinner got a late start as making camp has been a more laborious bit of work this day. Not only did we have to set up the kitchen and pitch our tents, but the rafts were pulled out of the river and dragged ashore.

Rafts on shore before deflating them as we get ready for a helicopter portage over Turnback Canyon and the Tweedsmuir Glacier in Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park British Columbia, Canada

We need to empty the rafts of all of their contents and then deflate the rafts, we are getting ready for a helicopter portage that will take place the day after tomorrow. After we break all of this equipment down, we’ll stack it up on netting that has a connection for a cable and hook that hangs from the bottom of the helicopter for picking up our gear and moving it 8-miles down river.  Until then, we’ll chill out and admire the Tweedsmuir Glacier.

The Tweedsmuir Glacier in Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park British Columbia, Canada

Our view of the Tweedsmuir Glacier, pretty nice place this British Columbia! Thanks Canada for the good times.

A juvenile bald eagle in Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park British Columbia, Canada

We must be approaching salmon country, as this juvenile bald eagle is the hint that good fishing is just around the corner. In Turnback Canyon the Alsek can flow up to 25 miles per hour, too fast for salmon to swim through, so eagles have little reason to go much further upstream of here. Like this majestic bird, we have little to do but look around our surroundings.

A Northern Blue Butterfly in Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park British Columbia, Canada

From high in the sky, to down here resting on a bloom, my gaze shifts from the mighty eagle to the fragile Northern Blue Butterfly, aka Lycaeides idas. On the day I was inspecting this guy, I had no idea what kind of butterfly I was looking at, nor did I know that between 75-80 species of butterflies live in the Alaska area. Want to know more about Alaskan butterflies before you visit? Try the pages of Mary Hopson’s TurtlePuddle.

Watching the Alsek River flow in Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park British Columbia, Canada

Dinner is finished, nothing left to do but watch the river flow, and hope for the glacier to calve off a new iceberg. If all of this sounds oh-so normal, forget it. Caroline and I are in a constant state of astonishment. None of this feels normal. There is nearly no way to give sense of place while one is on this river. No single moment feels like any other. Not a single part of the scenery looks familiar, nor does it become so. Every minute is a new series of images and sensations that vie for a place in our memories. It is as though one were watching a 17 hour a day surrealist art film that continually puts on display an ever changing motif. Just as the splashing flow of water never repeats an exact pattern, so seems the rest of the environment that surrounds it. Long live bewilderment.

A sun dog in Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park British Columbia, Canada

So it’s not a rainbow, but who cares, we’ve already had plenty of those. Now it’s time for a sun dog and a perfect end to another perfect day on the river.

  One Response to “Rafting The Alsek – Canada To Alaska Day 8”

  1. A butterfly and a sun dog – a perfect day indeed!

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