Friday, July 19

Lava North

The rapids called Lava North are challenging because there’s no room for error and the consequences would be catastrophic if there were an upset, with a cliff on one side and a huge hole on the other, and then nearly a mile of additional rapids before a chance to eddy out. So the guides had us walk along the side while they donned drysuits, scoped out the rapids and ran the first section themselves. 

It turned out that the water was high enough that the rapids weren’t as bad as sometimes, so they had us climb aboard and ride the fun roller-coaster waves of lower Lava North.

Our favorite whitewater shot of the trip: Angie’s portrait of Nick.

Thursday, July 18

Goatherd Mountain Hike

We took a challenging hike up Goatherd Mountain—up and up and up. Steve and Angie went further than I did, and Nick joined a party that went further still. The reward: incredible views of Lowell Glacier and Lowell Lake spread out below, with all those icebergs, and beyond the dark snow-streaked peaks , and beyond those snow-covered Mount Kennedy, Mount Alverson and Mount Hubbard, close to the border with Alaska.

Our home for two nights on Lowell Lake. We pitched our tents on the ridge  with a commanding view of the lake. And after the forest fire smoke blew away, we had an outstanding view of the mountain peaks. 

Life in camp: gin & tonics made with glacial ice, Greek Night with lamb & vegetable kebabs on couscous with Greek salad, and a rousing game of travel Pictionary.

This is Lowell Lake, afloat with icebergs that calved off of Lowell Glacier. The water was quiet and blue compared to the choppy brown Alsek River that flows in and out of it. A surprisingly warm day for camping on a lake filled with icebergs. So, yeah, we went for a dip. A really cold dip.

Lunchtime Hikes

The Alsek River valley was flooded just 150 years ago when Lowell Glacier surged across to Goatherd Mountain and backed up the river all the way to Haines Junction. When the ice dam broke, the wall of water destroyed several native hunting camps downstream. Now, it’s a wide open, rocky place with few trees but plenty of flowers, where we can hike most days on our lunch break as well as in the evening. This hike, on Wednesday, July 17, took us up on a ridge for a lovely view of the river, the rafts far below, and off in the distance, the icebergs of Lowell Lake.

Quicksand!

Quicksand!

I woke up before sunrise, which could have been 3:30 AM, crawled out of the tent and enjoyed a magnificent Northern sunrise with delicate pinks reflected in the mirror-calm water of the Dezdeash River. 

We enjoyed a breakfast of eggs scrambled with veggies, plus bacon & fruit. Soon we were on the water, passing the confluence and starting our journey on the brown, choppy Alsek River. It was a fine day. There was river beauty (dwarf fireweed) blooming along the shore, and rugged cliffs and snowy peaks ahead. I loved seeing all this through Nick’s eyes, his first time in this environment.

We stopped for lunch at Lava Creek, where the flowers along the creek were so lovely. We shot a lot of photos atop one of the basalt formations. After lunch, we all took a hike with Alan over rocky slopes, across a creek and up to a ridgetop for a fine view of the river and the mountains. I was amazed that Ione Christenson was able to get up there. She turns 80 in the fall. Gives me hope and inspiration.

We camped near Marble Creek on a beach where grizzly bears had dug holes for horsetail roots. Played euchre with Angie & Nick and ate a chicken stir fry with chocolate mousse. This is the life!

The first day’s journey was on the slow-moving Dezdeash River, which joins the Kaskawulsh to form the Alsek. Fortunately there were no headwinds, but no current either so we all paddled as we got to know Lil’ Tyler again—he was one of our guides three years ago on the Firth River in the Arctic.

The first camp, at the confluence of the two rivers, was just gorgeous with late evening sun lighting up the seedheads of dryas, and all those mountains all around, and a spectacular sunset.

Monday, July 15

Getting to the River

We rode in a 15-passenger van far out of our way to get to US Customs at Dalton Cache, Alaska, because we’d be spending about 24 hours in Alaska at the end of the trip. Got our passports cleared and retraced our journey on the Alaska Highway, with lovely views of the snowy mountains of Tatshenshini River Provincial Park and Kluane National Park.

Then it got interesting. To get to the Serpentine Creek put-in, we rode in the back of a 4x4 pickup that jounced down a dirt road, through creeks, up and down hills and under branches. What a hoot!

At the put-in, we met the other two guides, Big Tyler Garnham and Lil Tyler Dinsmore, who were busy loading the rafts. Alan gave his safety spiel and we shoved off.