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.
The first day was very pleasant, with slow moving meandering water. The first night's camp is pictured below.
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.
Last night it seemed to sink in with everyone -- 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 stops were relaxing events; the guides brought out various cold cuts, veggies and finger foods. Everyone helped themselves. It was delightful!
Seeing grizzly bears along the river bank turned out to be fairly common. By the end of the trip, 26 bears were seen.
On Sunday August 13, the group stopped for morning "coffee break" at some sand dunes along the river.
Recent bear tracks were evident in the sand. The picture on the right, shows a bear path that led to a rubbing tree. Apparently, each bear using the path places his paws in the same spot, year after year, resulting in a deep imprint.
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.
After breakfast, the guides took those interested on a climb up Goatherd Mountain. The group climbed 2,700 feet in 3.5 hours. The descent took only 2 hours.
Our lunch stop was quite inspiring! An apple never tasted so good!
A bit later in the day, and a bit higher on the hill, several herds of goats were munching on their own lunch.
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.
Our camp on night #5 was just south of Lowell Lake. Most people invested the evening in drying the clothes over 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.
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!
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 skeedaddled away quickly. The bear's exit route took him (her?) right 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!
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!
During the lunch stop we were able to enjoy 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, which is 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!
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 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 few 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 spent 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.
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.
The next day was foggy and overcast. The river widened significantly, up to 3 miles wide, with the addition of the Tatshenshini's waters.
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.
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 ... and so I did. To the best of my knowledge, there isn't a similar picture of me.
Alsek Lake is the last stop before the trip's end at Dry Bay AK. Even though it was overcast, there wasn't any rain.
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.
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.
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.
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.
All of our gear was filthy and damp. And we just didn't care!
Note: We took this trip with Canadian River Expeditions in
2000. This company is online at
The guides were excellent, the meals absolutely wonderful, and the
expertise to be admired. We hope to take another trip with
this company ... maybe the Firth River in Yukon, or perhaps the
Nahanni River, NWT.