Jun 222012
 

Caroline Wise reading the paper early in the morning while taking care of business in Kluane National Park Yukon, Canada

Reading the Chilkat Valley News out in the wild is a solo experience, the only real negative being that you have to read the same edition every day. This lone paper was our reading material while visiting the facilities, the only delivery in these parts is from helicopter. Your next question might be, so what does the local paper have to tell us we may not already know? Well for starters, there was a recent explosion of dandelions. Nursery owner Toni Smith of Haines said of the problem, “It’s horrendous.” Vinegar seems to be the all-natural weed killer in these parts. In other big news the end of a three-year study came to a conclusion with results showing that 7.1 million eulachon, a smelt-like fish had returned to the Chilkoot River. The study was administered by the Takshanuk Watershed Council for the Chilkoot Indian Association. Apparently this was great news for the locals as eulachon are known as, “Tlingit penicillin,” and it’s not every fish in the wild that gets that honor. As for the other part of the photo featuring my wife, tell me some of you weren’t curious as to where this was taken care of when on a whitewater rafting trip?

A grizzly bear swimming across the Alsek River in Kluane National Park Yukon, Canada

When the previous photo was taken, we had already been awake for an hour and were the only ones wandering about. After Caroline finished her business we walked over towards the kitchen to start the fire with hopes our camp would start to shake itself awake and we could get our first cup of coffee. As I got the fire going, I thought I heard something on my left. I looked over to see a log floating in the distance. There, I heard it again! This time I saw that the “something” was not a log, it was a snorting grizzly bear swimming directly toward Caroline and I. Mesmerized and for a moment uncertain about which way to go or how much noise to start making, we hesitated. In that time I could see that the bear was going to be picked up by the current and would not be able to make it directly to our shore. As the grizz was jettisoned downstream, some of the others in our group had started emerging from their tents. Caroline stealthily went over to tell them to peer into the river. On my right, Bruce and Shaun also were moving about. I got their attention as quietly as I could and gave them the signal that a bear was nearby. No, the signal is not one of turning around and pointing to my backside suggesting I had did in my pants what Caroline did in the can. The guys asked in hushed tones, “Where did you see it?” It is in the river on the other side of the tents.

Behold the mighty grizzly bear in Kluane National Park Yukon, Canada

We waited for what felt like minutes. And then there he was about 50 yards from camp and too close for comfort, but we remained quiet. He lumbered up the beach paying no attention to us, until he reached the area adjacent our toilet; where Caroline had been sitting less than 45 minutes earlier! It is just on the other side of these bushes that today’s first photo was taken. This big old bear then started to shake the water from his coat. Talk about a moment of wow! And fear. Fear because there were still some campers in their tents between the bear and us who were watching his moves trying to decide if we needed to start making serious noise. He sniffed around, turned, and continued on his way into a side canyon. Okay, now I’m ready for my Wheaties.

The rapids of Lava North in Kluane National Park Yukon, Canada

After breaking camp we had a relatively short ride down the river to a pullout where the boatmen needed to scout our next dangerous move; Lava North. Named after the mother of gnarly rapids, Lava Falls in the Grand Canyon, this churn of ice water is not for the timid. After much deliberation and finger pointing, the boatmen apparently have a bead on which track we’ll be traveling, as they round us up to head back to the rafts. Once there, it is time to suit up. Packed away in one of the rafts was a bag of dry suits, each one tagged with a passenger’s name. We are warned to be gentle with these fragile life-savers, if they tear, they won’t seal and that will not be good should we find ourselves in the tumult. The guides are serious about putting these on right, serious that we pay attention, and serious when they say this rapid can kill, and it has. We struggle to get our limbs through tight fittings, but after some rolling around and grunting, we are finally suited up and ready to conquer Lava North.

A wave kicking up in the rapid known as Lava North in Kluane National Park Yukon, Canada

I would love to share photos with you taken while in the rapid, but that can’t happen because we were holding on for dear life as we skirted the Monster Hole and slid by the Haystack Wave on a path that took us straight down the middle of Lava North. The tension was high as Shaun had the lead position, he made it through without a hitch. Next up was Martha, right on track as she guides her raft and passengers safely to the other side of this beast. We are last with Bruce, the cleanup crew now with nothing to do but pass over Lava as safely as the others before us. The river is pumping and we are racing full bore ahead. We are going so fast that the markers I spotted while on shore as the boatmen were scouting, are not able to be seen. The scale of our environment overwhelms the senses until we are pressed deep into reality. The reality of being so very small on such very large water. What looked almost quaint from above, now looks incomprehensible from down here. Bruce hollers, “Did you see that hole?” Har, it wasn’t a hole, it was the pit of doom. When we passed that Monster Hole, it looked as though the river dropped over six feet and nearly disappeared before the water crawled up the other side to lose momentum and crash back onto itself. I’m sure that hole is a great place to get a raft stuck as it violently flips and flops to disgorge its self of passengers and contents before spitting out the shreds of what had been a raft. And then before we know it, we are on the other side of Lava North and the water is starting to calm. Phew!

Caroline R., Carol and Harris, and Bruce Keller in dry suits after running Lava North in Kluane National Park Yukon, Canada

Dry suits get hot in the sun, and when they do, they inflate. Every so often we had to break the neck seal to allow the hot air to escape. By the time we get far enough down river to pull over for lunch and get out of the rubber gear, we are close to overheating. The boatmen encourage us to enjoy the protection the dry suits offer and to immerse ourselves in the river. We all do. Then, for the adventurous, they are shown a place on the tributary we have paddled up where they can easily enter the river and float downstream through some fast moving water. I pass, certain I’d miss the pullout and enter the Alsek, never to be seen again.

At the confluence of a side tributary and the Alsek River in Kluane National Park Yukon, Canada

The unobstructed view of our mid-day sojourn off the Alsek River. We’ll spend a couple of hours here just chilling out enjoying the perfect day, happy that we weren’t eaten by the bear or Lava North.

Glacial ice picked out of the stream off Alsek River in Kluane National Park Yukon, Canada

After lunch some of the others napped, Caroline and I explored, this is a little something Caroline found. Glacial ice that had been floating downstream. To the best of our map reading ability, it appears that the tributary we have stopped at is a flow coming from Fisher Glacier that is north of us and out of sight. The real beauty found in these sculptures are lost in the photograph. They are difficult to find the perfect angle to show you, they are even more of a problem to hold with already cold hands. Looking like glass art there is the inclination to want to stroke its sensuous curves and soft features, until the freezing ice starts to do the same to your hands and a dull ache sets in.

A swallowtail butterfly on shore near the Alsek River in Kluane National Park Yukon, Canada

A swallowtail takes a break from pollination duties, landing long enough for me to get one almost reasonable photo. A few minutes earlier a skittish ptarmigan was moving about, but he was having nothing to do with a busy guy trying to snap pictures of everything that moved, and didn’t move.

A waterfall in the cliff next to our rest stop in Kluane National Park Yukon, Canada

Our afternoon break is nearly over, the tables that had been brought out for lunch are being put away. We sweep the beach to ensure we are not leaving anything behind. This is especially important where wildlife is concerned, as if bears identify locations as being good foraging areas and then equate humans with those food sources, all of a sudden that bear gets a case of the smarts putting two-and-two together and us in danger. Scoured and clean, boats packed, passengers and boatmen ready to get on board, we push off. Our camp site is not too far away, just some miles down river near the foot of the mountain seen four photos above. Feeling refreshed and energized by our encounters with the cold water earlier, Caroline and I opt to not put on our water proof layer or the rubber gear for the rest of the river day, instead we are in shorts and shirts and ready for it.

The view from Blue Lagoon campsite in Kluane National Park Yukon, Canada

We were good up until the turn in the river when the shadows bore down on us. Oh it was easy out in the sun, after being splashed by the small rapids we warmed quickly. Bruce warned us that we had one more large set of rapids yet to deal with and thought we might want to throw on our rubber gear, he was right. Good thing too because that water came right up and over with some mighty splashing action. Also on the way to camp we stopped next to a gravel bank and collected fire wood. Shaun has rafted this river more than any other in his career and has a pretty good read on what we’ll find as we move down river. He thought we’d have trouble collecting enough wood at Blue Lagoon; our home for the night. He was right about the lack of drift wood, he was also right in choosing our campsite. If you look at that golden yellow mountain side, you should be able to recognize it as the mountain we were looking at during lunch.

Our rafts tied up for the night at Blue Lagoon camp site in Kluane National Park Yukon, Canada

We were almost tricked into thinking we were having sunset this early evening. With the sun reflecting off the golden mountains behind us, a warm sunset light was cast down upon us. Caroline learned a new trick today, one of the straps on a dry bag I carry for storing a camera broke. Bruce explained to her how to fix it when on a river – you need floss. Like all good boatmen, these folks travel with emergency supplies to fix just about anything that might break while on a river trip, a needle was found in a quick minute. Now armed, Caroline got to work reattaching the strap of my dry bag fixing it to our delight. Dinner was lasagna, the entertainment was a blazing fire, and dreams played second fiddle to the extraordinary view of nature we have been experiencing.

Jun 202012
 

Looking at blue ice of an iceberg in Lowell Lake at Kluane National Park Yukon, Canada

What an exciting night, not a great one for sleep, but the sounds of icebergs rolling and the glacier calving was an experience that I hope to never forget. I’d tell you that we woke at the break of dawn, but it was never night, this is such a strange phenomenon. When we finally do shake ourselves from our tent we see that we are apparently the first to emerge. Our first point of business is to head to the lake to see what changed overnight. On the right of the nunatak was this iceberg now showing part of its blue underbelly. The wave created when this giant started to roll must have pushed the other bergs out of the way because we have a beautiful view of this berg that was obscured last night. I wait, I sit, and I try to remain patient, hoping that it will continue its rollover. It didn’t budge.

Swirly patterns on rock in Kluane National Park Yukon, Canada

Coffee was ready before the majority of the camp was awake. This is a time of day on river trips that I truly appreciate: while my senses are again focused and aware, the voices of the others remain silenced. The driftwood that had been collected yesterday continues to snap and crackle as the fire works to turn it to ash. I sip my coffee, look and listen, as details are found and bookmarked. Soon, others are stirring. I may never understand those travelers who wake with an explosion of energy that is best released through the gregarious noise of announcing they have arrived. Maybe it’s a biological holdover from our distant primate ancestors who reveled with loud celebratory screeching at the Sun that it indeed had returned to reanimate us with a new day. Surely my ancestors were from a branch of life that did not draw attention that they were ready to sacrifice themselves as a meal to the next predator.

Heading up Goatherd Mountain across from Lowell Lake in Kluane National Park Yukon, Canada

Today is known as a “layover” day, meaning we are staying put. Well not really staying in one place the entire day, but we are staying in the same camp for two nights. The reason for our layover is that our boatmen have a special adventure mapped out for us, we are to hike Goatherd Mountain. Only the “we” will be minus “me,” though I won’t be alone because fellow passenger John Hoffman has decided to stay back too. The hiking group gets started around lunch time, the weather had been questionable up until that time. Caroline takes one of our cameras with her, good thing we brought two DSLRs. Quiet once again overtakes the lakeside.

Another group of rafters entering Lowell Lake in Kluane National Park Yukon, Canada

With the others gone, it was time to sit peacefully at the lake. For hours I watched the play of clouds hug and release mountain tops. In the distance the roar of a thunderous calving would elicit my standing attention to try and find precisely what was occurring, nothing could be seen. I walked the shore looking for a better vantage point for the next performance of ice ballet, but that spot was never found. As the sun peaks out from behind the clouds, the lake’s surface becomes a mirror, while the moments of silence are the mirror that reflects my inner voice. How does one question the enormity of what in comparison is actually a very small space, this lake and glacier of infinite detail that for the majority of time goes unobserved? How many fantastic scenes of beauty are never witnessed by the curious minds of those with the ability to recall and tell of the serenity that can be found in that which overwhelms our senses? I become smaller as I recognize the immensity of time and how nature does not care if it is the center of attention. How petty are we humans when compared to the generous magnanimity of our Earth.

The view of Lowell Glacier and its lake from Goatherd Mountain in Kluane National Park Yukon, Canada

Meanwhile, Caroline is high up the slope of Goatherd Mountain, that’s me on the shore far to the left! This overview represents approximately 8 miles from side to side and 40 miles of depth to the most distant peaks of Mt. Kennedy. From up here it doesn’t seem so far-fetched that a massive wave could throw rafts up a hill, heck, it almost looks flat down there. Upon getting back home, it would be this view that we placed upon our desktops to bring us back to the Yukon and our Alaska adventure every day in the months that followed. Do not wonder if I am or was disappointed in not seeing this view. We humans cannot do it all, not even when right at the place to “do” something. While those who took the hike have this memory embedded in their imaginations, they did not see what I saw. How do we rank what is more valuable to our experiences than something else? How is amazing more amazing than amazing?

Orange lichen in Kluane National Park Yukon, Canada

Orange lichen, because orange is way more exotic than plain old green, and this place is nothing if not exotic. Wikipedia calls this, ‘common orange lichen,’ the contributor to that entry obviously does not live in a desert. The trail up and down Goatherd is not for those out for a stroll in the park, it is hard work. The payoff for your efforts are sights like these, though I suppose this might only appeal to those who are not only interested in the big picture.

Swirls of rock patterns on Goatherd Mountain in Kluane National Park Yukon, Canada

Mmmm, Candy Mountain. I licked it and can attest to the fact that it is indeed taffy, stone flavored taffy! Seriously though, this was part of Caroline’s hike on Goatherd, so to be truthful I didn’t taste it, but she did and insists that is just like candy. Oh how I wish to be the all knowing geologist with a scope of knowledge that could tell you (and myself) how these formations have come to be, but I cannot. If anyone reading this can offer up some insight, I would gladly plagiarize your comment in order for me to appear more knowledgeable than I am right now.

More Candy Mountain swirls on the trail in Kluane National Park Yukon, Canada

After my wife finished eating Candy Mountain, she got busy on wearing down Candy Slope. By this time I was starving back in camp. It was already after 6:00 pm when Caroline snapped this picture of what she was leaving for other sweet-tooths who might visit this sugar laden sight for the eyes. My hunger was probably amplified due to my shivering. You may know that shivering burns a lot of calories and I had good reason to be so cold. With Mr. Hoffman well out of sight and no one else around, I stripped down to the bare essentials, that being what hair I have on my body, and bathed in Lowell Lake. No, I did not go for full immersion, sadly I could only stand in the lake for moments, just long enough to pour a few gallons of ice water over myself. Yowza that was cold, but it was also exhilarating. Now fully adrenalized I was ready to start washing up. Being the environmentally aware folks that we are, and that we had a good amount of Dr. Bronner’s left from our rafting trip down the Colorado, I got to lathering up with spearmint soap. Now likely looking like a cross between Santa Claus and a polar bear with severe hair loss, it was time to rinse off. Back into the water with my bucket. Ooh that water’s cold. Oh no, I still have bubbly suds in my hair, suds that a second bucket doesn’t fully clear away. My head is starting to shrink. This is like an ice-cream headache I’ve never known, the entire skull is writhing in pain. A third dousing and I have to pause, I’m out of breath and squealing while small chunks of iceberg float by. Reduced in appearance to a sex neutral, fat Ken doll, I go for the forth and final rinsing. I am now squeaky clean and thrilled that at least this once I will have had the luxury of bathing in a lake of giant ice cubes on a spectacularly sunny day while standing naked in the Yukon. I hope I didn’t just admit to breaking any Canadian decency laws.

Halfway between Goatherd Mountain and Lowell Lake in Kluane National Park Yukon, Canada

One view is not like the other, nor is any view like another. Perspective changes, even small incremental shifts have the ability to bring into focus scenes that leave us in astonishment that a head turn should deliver so much new to see. What is hard to see are the animals. Signs of them are everywhere, we see bear, wolf, and moose tracks, just nothing to attach them too. Good thing the sights are able to make up for it. Excuse me while I ooh and aah at the scenery, while watching out for bear.

Our camp on Lowell Lake in Kluane National Park Yukon, Canada

It’s after 7:00 pm when the first wave of hikers re-enter camp, it will be another hour before the rest of our group come home. While the fire is ready to start cooking up them burgers and dogs we’ll be having tonight, we’ll have to wait on the others. Meanwhile, we are getting guests from a nearby group of campers who are on the same journey as we are. They arrived earlier in the day, see photo above, and are setting up camp just up the road. This is a favorite stop for travelers on the Alsek River as it is the first glacier encountered and groups are well situated to take the hike up Goatherd Mountain.

A small piece of clear ice from the bottom of Lowell Glacier in Kluane National Park Yukon, Canada

With time to spare I go right to work on Caroline telling her how invigorating my bath was; she’s hooked and soon follows my steps. Armed with a bucket, soap, and a towel, she’s just as eager as I was to throw off the clothes and take the plunge. Between my hysterical laughter and her yips of reaction to the cold, I manage to help slowly rinse away the soap. I admit that I languished in slow motion pour, allowing every drop of water to roll down her back as she believed there was still more soap to rinse off. Don’t go thinking I was mean about this, it is our normal.  If you asked her, she would tell you too, that she wouldn’t trade it for anything. The piece of ice in the photo? I had to break that out of Caroline’s hair.

Piece of iceberg slowly floating on a journey to somewhere. Kluane National Park Yukon, Canada

With nothing else to do, we meander up and down the shore. Both of ensure each other that our day was nothing less than spectacular. Caroline tells me I’m lucky I didn’t go on the hike as my vertigo would have likely gotten the best of me, I tell her how lucky I was to have the day to watch the comings and goings of ice as it drifts across the lake. I also remember to tell her of a particularly attention grabbing lake event that happened a few hours earlier when something large and unseen turned over. While I couldn’t manage a glimpse of precisely what it was, its affect was unmissable. Following the rollover, a large wave kicked up radiating from the iceberg’s location and sent a short foot and half wall of water toward a nearby cove. The wave mostly dissipated before reaching me, but maybe even more interesting was the fluctuation of the lake level. Slowly the lake level went down and then sloshed back up. Back down and then up again, this happened a good half a dozen times before leveling off again. I try to imagine how big does the iceberg have to be that can affect that much water displacement, especially considering that I couldn’t see it with all of the other icebergs that were blocking the view. Obviously it wasn’t the biggest of the big, I can only wonder what that would have looked like.

Our shadows, except strangely enough, our shadows have shadows. On Lowell Lake in Kluane National Park Yukon, Canada

In all our lives, neither Caroline or I could remember our shadows having shadows. No need to correct me, I understand that one set of shadows are those made directly by the sun and the others from the sun reflected off the water. Enough of science, I’m going to stay in self delusion and choose to see this as a special glacial phenomenon that only occurs on select days when the sun is in a particular spot in the sky and enough ice melt has occurred. Double shadows all the way!

In the late day sun this small piece of floating ice from an iceberg looks amber. Kluane National Park Yukon, Canada

It took the other group of hikers longer than expected to return from their hike to the arctic, not that it much mattered, sights like this satiated my appetite. As 10:00 pm approached we were finally sitting down for a bite to eat. After a cloudy start to the day, the long afternoon sun and almost clear sky has been dreamy. We too have floated on the surface of perfection just as this ice has, only difference being, you can be sure we are not as beautiful as this amber ice jewel.

Shortly before midnight on Lowell Lake in Kluane National Park Yukon, Canada

It’s not long before midnight when I snap my last photo. With countless days of adventure still ahead of us, it’s hard to let go of this one. The layover will be finished in the morning. We’ll pack up and if ice doesn’t block our way, we’ll leave the lake for a new destination further down stream. I can’t help but wonder if I have really seen anything that was here.

Jun 172012
 

Passing a lighthouse on the Inside Passage after leaving Juneau, Alaska on the way to Haines

This trip to Alaska is more than just a vacation, we are getting started on another big adventure. While today is a part of the journey, it is really about getting into place for the action to get underway. This wasn’t a spur of the moment, “Let’s get out and do something,” kind of trip either and NO, we are not here for a cruise! Planning for our introduction to Alaska started last summer with us weighing options between two different rivers and available dates. We ended up opting for the Alsek River over the Tatshenshini River, which is just a mountain range over from where we are heading today. We start early and take a shuttle to the dock where we will board a fast catamaran operated by the Alaska Marine Highway for our two-and-a-half-hour ride up the Inside Passage. Fog obscures the view that we are certain is nothing short of spectacular, but those sights are not to be seen by us today and will require another visit to delight in its certain beauty.

John and Caroline Wise on the Alaska / Canadian border

We dock in Haines Junction and are greeted by Andy from Chilkat Guides. Andy is the company rep I’ve been talking to for the past year about this grand outing. A few minutes later, with our gear loaded on the van, we are on our way to the company warehouse. Some of the other passengers we’ll be traveling with are already here, some are yet to arrive. A few minutes later a big truck pulls up, out steps Bruce Keller, one of our boatmen. This is not just any old boatman either, Bruce was with us on our 18-day dory trip down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon a year and a half ago. He is here at our request, after all, it was Bruce on Day 1 of that Grand Canyon adventure who told us a story about a Tatshenshini/Alsek trip he had been on in years past. The flames of our curiosity were stoked. There’s another reason we wished for Bruce to join us here, but I’ll get to that later.

On the Haines Highway going north

Once all of us guests are assembled, the briefing begins. We are introduced to our other two boatmen, our trip leader is Shaun Cornish who also goes by the nickname “Corn”, next is Martha Stewart – no not that one. Dry bags are handed out for packing our gear into, along with a sleep kit, and fisherman’s rubber overalls and jackets. Packed up it’s time to hit the road in our school bus. Not so fast, we still need heavy rubber boots and felt liners to keep our feet dry and comfy once we get to the river, that and some alcohol. Once that’s done we are ready to get underway and drive north up the Haines Highway. A peculiar situation occurs on this type of river trip; we do not start our river journey in Alaska, but in the Yukon Territory of Canada. The river will take us out of the Yukon and into British Columbia before shoving us across the U.S. border in the middle of nowhere some days further downstream. But we still have to check in with customs, so at the U.S. / Canadian border we first file into the U.S. crossing station and surrender our passports for checking into the U.S. although we haven’t even left yet. Then it’s time to check in with Canada, once more the passports are handed over and we wait a few minutes. We are clear and again are heading up the highway.

Side of the road off the Haines Highway

The trek out of Alaska and the way into the Yukon are well deserving of all the superlatives offered by the many travel writers and poets who have attempted to convey a sense of the beauty that exists within this landscape. Words like “heavy”, “large”, “expansive” quickly come to mind. “Overwhelming” soon tramples the senses leaving me to shake my head in disbelief that I am even here. I want to feel cheated that we are not stopping at every pullout to stand in awe of all of this, but I understand that we are on our way to something really big.

A lumbering grizzly bear makes his way across a meadow off the Haines Highway

Not to say we can’t stop, and after spotting a grizzly bear, well that demands we pull over. Oblivious to our presence and not caring a lick about our need for photos, this famous lumbering creature turns his back on us and wanders away from the meadow it was grooming, to disappear into a thicket of trees. As far as wildlife was concerned this day, the bear would be the only encounter we’d have. Like the bear, we too need to keep on moving.

Roadside mountain and lake view off Highway 3 in the Yukon Territory of Canada

Photographing this environment is difficult.Clouds change quickly and the land is so expansive that getting it “all” into frame becomes an exercise in frustration. If I were driving and getting to a destination in any particular time was not a factor, I would pull over every two minutes to insist that this was going to be the photo that would define our trip. Instead, I frantically shoot photos out of the window of the school bus and assure myself that I am coming back some day to linger while we mosey down the road.

Off-roading in a school bus requires a full 90 minutes to travel but 5 miles on this poorly maintained road to the Alsek River

It’s already 5:00 pm by the time we leave the road near Haines Junction for a bumpy ride down a narrow, poorly maintained scratch into the earth. It will take 90 minutes on this rut to travel just 5 miles. The adventure has now begun. Just as quickly, it nearly comes to a standstill. Flowing water goes where it wants to out here and when it does so in random ways, it can cut banks into the gravel, and that’s just what our bus got stuck on. But we are traveling with pro’s and in an instant, Corn has us off the gravel bar and bumping wildly on our way to our campsite.

On the way to our campsite down a poorly maintained road in the Yukon

Onward we crawl. From this location back in 1850, we would have been submerged below a very large lake. In 1725, Lowell Glacier surged forward creating a temporary 125-year dam that blocked the flow of the Alsek River. During those formative years, a lake over 30 miles long had collected, until in 1850 the glacier broke. When those waters were released, a massive flood scoured the landscape clean, as it made its way to the Pacific about 150 miles downstream. The shoreline of that lake can still be seen in the mountain sides next to our route.

Snow covered mountains in early summer line the primitive road that is delivering us to the Alsek River

We have fallen in love with the terrain. Pinching ourselves will not waken us from this dreamscape. It is now incomprehensible how this can get any better. The idea that we are just at the beginning of a two-week rafting trip down a wild, infrequently traveled river only builds the sense of excitement that tingles the eyes and accelerates the heart with anticipation. As it was with our rafting trip down the Colorado, we cannot fully comprehend that we are so fortunate to be here, but so it is. Shortly, we will exit the bus. Our gear will be thrown onto the sandy soil and we will from that point on, only move further and further away from civilization and the modern world. We are entering a place where few dare enter, a primitive land lost in time, carved during the epoch known as, the Pleistocene. Do not cue Twilight Zone music here.

Setting up camp on the Alsek River in the Yukon, Canada

What happened? Were we afraid that in a space so large we would feel isolated, distant, alone? Maybe the others thought I had made a sound judgement when scouting the location to set up the first tent. I had chosen this spot for Caroline and I because we were camping close to some obvious runoff that had poured over this drainage in the last days and this particular location looked to be an inch or two above the rivulets that can be seen in the bottom of the photo. Still, I wasn’t so sure about my logic and wondered if we should have searched for higher ground, I was sure the others would after having witnessed my poor judgement. No one else pursued that line of thought though, they simply huddled around us. I agonized about moving the tent to find some ‘open’ space, but was certain that would have been perceived as anti-social. On the other hand, who needed a tent when the plan was to stay up all night? To experience a 24-hour day seemed like a great idea, before a full stomach after dinner changed the equation.

Looking downstream on the Alsek River in the Yukon, Canada

This is the direction we’ll travel in the morning. Three inflatable rafts, three guides, twelve passengers, and 184 miles between us and the ocean. What is it that lies in front of us? What kind of wildlife will we see? Will a rapid spill one or more of the rafts and its human cargo into these icy waters? Might we witness calving glaciers or rolling icebergs? Standing on this shore there are no answers, but there is an abundance of curiosity, trepidation, enthusiasm, and outright bewilderment. Today we have placed ourselves at the precipice of adventure whose grandeur exceeds our ability to comprehend even a fraction of what’s to come. It will take months, if not years into the future, to fully appreciate where this river will have taken us.

A double rainbow greets us at camp where the Dezdeash River is becoming the Alsek in the Yukon Territory of Canada

The last act of this momentous day occurred under a rainbow. In the beginning of this day’s recounting I mentioned there was more to the story as to why it was important for us to have Bruce along as one of our guides. It was here on this day next to the Alsek that I presented Bruce with the first copy of my book titled, “Stay In The Magic.” One month following the completion of our November 2010 Colorado River rafting trip I took the opportunity to phone Bruce. Just prior to leaving the Grand Canyon the boatmen told us that the worst part of these big river trips was about to begin, the phenomenon known as re-entry. Upon returning to “normal” life after an extended stay in the amazing, it happens that what was once normal and routine, now seems out of place and peculiar, at best. We were reassured that this passes after a few days. Well there it was a month later and Caroline and I were still deep in the Grand Canyon, and were not making a very elegant departure from the experience we had marveled in. It was towards the end of that phone call that Bruce reassured me that we were truly lucky, that we should enjoy our extended stay in those memories, be happy that they didn’t disappear moments after our return, and that we should, “stay in the magic.” At the time I didn’t know yet that I was writing something that was going to go beyond one of my usual blog entries. As my writing continued and I realized that I was indeed on my way to authoring a book, I voiced a rhetorical question to Caroline one day, “I wonder what I’ll call this if I ever finish it?” Her reply: “What about that phone call with Bruce a couple of months ago where he told you to, “Stay In The Magic!?” And that is where we have stayed, in the magic.