Alsek River, Alaska
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When I Left Reality and Became Part of the Food Chain
In July of 1995, I went to Alaska for the first time to run the Alsek River. Having never been to Alaska before and only began serious rafting in Oct. 94, I had no idea what to expect. This was a commercial trip with Mountain Travel Sobek. One of the guides had been on the past 2 commercial trips I did which were the Bio Bio in Chile and my first Grand Canyon trip, so he was absolutely convinced that this was a trip that I HAD to do. Let me tell you, he was right big time.
We met in Haines and drove 3 1/2 hours to the Yukon to the put-in which was the Dezadeash River and floated to the confluence with the Kaskawulsh where the true Alsek begins. This was a 12 days trip that ended in Dry Bay which is a short plane flight to Yakutat. We had amazing luck with the weather, the only hard rain was on the last day which was only a 3 hour float to the takeout.
We camped near the Lowell Glacier, part of the vast St. Elias icefields, then floated through giant blue icebergs in a lake-like section of the river. It's a surreal scene, this very blue ice and the sound of ice calving off in the distance. The guides had their fingers crossed that these icebergs would not rollover while we were floating by. We then ran Lava North which is class IV and the biggest water on the trip. Along the way we have seen moose swimming and had found plenty of black and grizzly bears along the shore. This is very amazing to me being a city kid that grew up in Chicago!
At one point, Turnback Canyon , the river is unrunnable, it becomes only 30 feet wide, so there is a portage. But this no standard portage, this is by chopper another amazing experience. As we were preparing for the chopper which would take 6 trips to transport all people and gear, a grizzly started to approach. All the gear was packed and the boats unrigged, this bear was walking in the area where only an hour earlier we had our tents setup! The clients were excited to see a grizzly this close, the guides were not exactly sharing this excitement. We were told to jump up and down, make noise to scare him off. To see 15 people jumping up and down yelling was pretty funny to me. It didn't effect the bear either. He kept coming and even stood up . When you see a 900lb. animal standup to get a better look you really know you're out there. The guides started to load guns. But like right out of rescue911, off in the distance you could hear the chopper. The guides radioed "bear on the pad" so as the chopper was coming in he buzzed the bear and sent him running for the hills. Can this get better you ask? Absolutely! The chopper ride was like an Imax movie. The chopper had to fly sideways to show us why the canyon was not runnable. It was only 15 minutes but wow!
As we continued down the river we saw flowers in bloom, we camped by a glacier 9 miles wide, camped by 11 glaciers, saw eagles. We also hiked on the Walker glacier, this was the first time we actually hiked on a glacier, to be walking on this mass of ice and hear rivers rushing underneath your feet is something you will never forget. It was at this point I threatened to implode from sensory overload! After all this the actual river became incidental to the whole experience. I could go on and on about this experience but you will just have to see my pictures.
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