The following is a tentative itinerary and has been designed with much thought to capitalize on the most scenic and exciting parts of the river, while making time on other sections. Your guides will adjust the schedule to make the best use of river and weather conditions.
Trip length: 12 river days
Breakfast = B | Lunch = L | Dinner = D
Your journey north from your home will be refreshing departure. You will fly over the largest expanse of wilderness in the world with stunning views on cloudless days, pass through quieter and friendlier airports, meet friendlier and less harried service personnel and generally begin to immerse yourself in the wilderness experience that is about to unfold. This is the arrival day and is the first day listed for your trip. The scheduled flights arrive in Whitehorse throughout the day. Aim to arrive by 6 p.m.
Please make your way to your hotel and plan to rendezvous with your guides in the lobby of the High Country Inn at 8 p.m. for an orientation meeting with the trip leader. There will be a chance for last-minute questions concerning clothing, gear, packing and other details. Whitehorse is a great place to spend a few extra days and there are local day hikes, bike, canoe rentals, dog mushing kennels to visit as well as a National Historic Site and several museums. Renting a car for a day trip through the White Pass to Skagway Alaska is a popular outing.
Day 1 (L/D) ALPINE SCENIC DRIVE TO THE RIVER
We will meet in the hotel lobby at 8 a.m. following breakfast (not covered) and we will embark on the Alaska Highway for the 1½ hour van ride to the small community of Haines Junction. There we will visit the Kluane National Park Interpretive Centre.
The next leg of our journey will take us through the stunning scenery of the Haines Pass to US customs. Our objective is the US Customs Post at Pleasant Camp where we clear US Customs before the trip. You may be tempted to have an afternoon nap during the drive, but the scenery will keep you riveted! Later in the afternoon we arrive at the edge of Kluane National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site where we transfer to a four wheel drive vehicle waiting to take us the final 20 km along a rugged trail to our waiting rafts.
The next leg of our journey will take us through the stunning scenery of the Haines Pass. Our destination is the U.S. Customs post at Pleasant Camp. You may be tempted to have an afternoon nap during the drive, but the scenery will keep you riveted! Later in the afternoon we arrive at the edge of Kluane National Park and Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site where we transfer to a four wheel drive vehicle waiting to take us the final 20 kilometres (12 miles) along a rugged trail to our rafts.
As the 4×4 fords streams and bump across meadows, we often see our first bears of the trip. Mountain goat and Dall sheep are frequent sights on the hillsides above. The valley floor is also excellent habitat for moose, beaver, songbirds, terns, swans and other waterfowl.
The “road” fades out at the braided alluvial fan of Serpentine Creek. Here the rafts are rigged and waiting on the banks of the Dezadeash River.
Here you will have time to make final adjustments to your pack, the guides will introduce you to the finer points of the day’s journey. Here on the edge of Kluane National Park you embark on a gentle piece of river, winding through the broad valley, as it flows into Alsek Pass. Initially the Dezadeash River, one of the two sources of the Alsek, flows quite slowly. We carry paddles (in addition to the guides’ oars) and anyone who desires to pitch in and burn off those delicious meals can do so. At the confluence of the Dezadeash and the Larger Kaskawulsh the Alsek is born. Camp location will be determined by the prevailing conditions. Keen eyes may spot Dall sheep and mountain goats grazing on the slopes.
Day 2 & 3 (B/L/D) LOWELL LAKE AND GLACIER
Our destination on the third day is a camp on the edge of Lowell Lake between massive Lowell Glacier and the foot of Goatherd Mountain. In the morning we will find that the river is very slow moving for the first few miles, but after the confluence with the swift Kaskawulsh River, the resulting swift moving river is named Alsek. This is an interesting portion of river with unusual rock formations, dunes of windblown glacial till known as loes, and s when this portion of the river was flooded by a massive lake, caused by the surging Lowell Glacier blocking the river. The lake flooded hundreds of square kilometers. When the dam broke, the ensuing flood was greater than the volume of the Amazon. Throughout the valley you will see remarkable remnants of the lake and flood.
Looking up, it’s easy to see how the land is layered into the four main zones: a largely unforested open band reaching a few hundred vertical feet above the river where the old lake once lay; a dark green carpet of spruce up the mountain sides; then the brighter green of alpine meadows and scrub; all topped off with rocky glaciated peaks.
In the afternoon of Day 3, the river quickens and in the last couple of kilometers we encounter the trip’s first rapids as the river washes around boulders left behind by the glaciers. Here we get our first view of the white tops of icebergs protruding up in the distance.
Though presently receeding, massive Lowell Glacier still spills into the lake that is carved out at its toe. Like the other glaciers of the St. Elias Mountains, Lowell is a remnant of the last ice age. Lowell Lake is an iceberg-filled spectacle similar to the larger one on the lower Alsek made famous by books and posters. We camp on the flats at the base of the cliffs against which Lowell Glacier, once pressed during a surge, sealing off the Alsek’s flow. This is a natural place to spend an extra day to hike or just soak in the sights.
Day 4 LAYOVER AT GOATHERD MOUNTAIN
We layover at Goatherd Mountain. For two nights we camp next to Lowell Lake with Goatherd Mountain rising up behind us. Goatherd Mountain is a superb destination for hikers – truly a world-class hike with fantastic wildlife. Even those who don’t choose to go to the top can get a marvelous view from its base. One can look out over the jewel-like icebergs of Lowell Lake and see 50 or more kilometers up the ice falls of Lowell Glacier to 13,905 foot Mount Kennedy (named after JFK and climbed by his brother Bobby). Other peaks surrounding Kennedy – Alverstone and Hubbard – rise up to over 15,000 feet: Mt. Logan, Canada’s highest and second in North America only to McKinley, lies a bit farther back at 19,850 feet.
Goatherd Mountain is well named as is home to over 100 mountain goats, some of which graze the slopes right above camp. Ptarmigan, horned larks and pipits nest and feed in the high country. Golden eagles soar over the slopes looking for unwary Arctic ground squirrels. A rainbow of wildflowers carpets the alpine meadows. The guides will split up to accompany some to the top of the plateau, others to the lower flanks and meadows and still others, for a ramble along the gentle iceberg-studded shoreline of Lowell Lake.
Day 5 & 6 – ICEBERGS, RAPIDS AND DOWNRIVER INTO BRITISH COLUMBIA
On Day 5 we usually break camp and continue on through Lowell Lake, paddling and rowing through a maze of icebergs, which have calved off from the face of Lowell Glacier. The bergs range in size from minute to massive – some are the size of entire apartment blocks! Periodically one rolls over with a resounding thunder, exposing its freshly washed, sapphire blue underside. (Occasionally, strong afternoon winds can be an obstacle to crossing the lake so we may elect to get an earlier start this day).
After about 4 kilometers, the lake narrows and becomes a river again with its characteristic speed. The bigger bergs get hung up in the shallows of Lowell Lake’s outlet but many smaller ones (up to the size of a van) can escape and we may bob and weave downstream with them.
The major rapids of the trip are located below Lowell Lake. The amount of time we spend on Lowell Lake will decide whether we run the big rapids of the trip on Day 4 or Day 5. There is one tight spot where, in most water levels, the guides will line the boats or run them through empty. It’s easy to walk downstream a few hundred metres and meet the boats once they’ve negotiated this spot. Don’t worry, you won’t have missed anything. The fun rapids continue below.
Shortly below these rapids, we meet the first drainage of the Fisher Glacier on the right. Here the terrain begins to close in and the river valley becomes more confined. Waterfalls plummet off the rugged mountainsides as the river races underneath. It’s a very imposing, awe inspiring landscape. A number of fun rapids and wave trains await downstream!
A second layover day is spent at a camp somewhere below the Bates River. There are a number of possible layover camps well-positioned for alpine hikes, glacier walks or simply relaxing with a great view.
About a day before Turnback Canyon we leave the Yukon Territory’s Kluane National Park and enter British Columbia’s Tatshenshini-Alsek Wilderness Park. In June 1993 the BC portion of the Alsek and Tat was preserved with the declaration of the Tatshenshini-Alsek Wilderness Park and has since been designated a United Nations World Heritage Site. The Tat-Alsek watershed is the heartland of the largest protected wilderness area on the continent. Alsek Wilderness Park and has since been designated a United Nations World Heritage Site. The Tat-Alsek watershed is the heartland of the largest protected wilderness area on the continent.
Day 7 (B/L/D) TO TURNBACK CANYON & TWEEDSMUIR GLACIER
After a few days of unstructured itinerary, this day’s objective is to position ourselves to rendezvous with the helicopter for the aerial portage over the glacier on the morning of Day 8. We usually endeavor to get down to our camp above Turnback early enough to allow a few hours exploring the start of Turnback Canyon that afternoon or evening.
Turnback consists of several kilometers of some of the ugliest, most tortured and turbulent whitewater you’ll see anywhere. Not only does it stop humans floating the river, it’s so bad that it even blocks most salmon from migrating any further up the Alsek. Tweedsmuir Glacier still sprawls right into the valley and it is very evident how, held against the flanks of Mount Blackadar, the Alsek has carved a formidable wild canyon in the bedrock. Tweedsmuir has surged in recent years threatening to cut off the river flodd valley. Although it has been kayaked a “handful” of times in low water, it is no place for a raft. For this reason we employ the exciting “heli-portage” strategy the following day! After dinner the guides deflate and roll up the rafts and consolidate the gear for the heli-portage. This camp is spectacular, with a dramatic and imposing sapphire-blue glacier hanging off the nearby mountains.
Day 8 (B/L/D) HELI-PORTAGE OVER TURNBACK CANYON
Immediately after breakfast a helicopter will rendezvous with us and begin one of the highlights of the trip – the heliportage right over the canyon and glacier.
It takes 4 or 5 hours to shuttle everyone and everything over the canyon. After lunch we get back on the river and float down to a spectacular camp right at the confluence of the Tatshenshini and Alsek Rivers. At this point the two rivers swell to stretch nearly three miles wide, surging through braided channels that criss-cross the valley. The resulting union bears the name Alsek River and soon enters the State of Alaska and Glacier Bay National Park.
Day 9, 10 & 11 (B/L/D) INTO ALASKA ALONG THE LOWER ALSEK
For those who have already traveled the Tat-Alsek with us, this is an opportunity to revisit the spectacular 55 miles of the lower Alsek from the Tat-Alsek confluence down. For those new to the lower Alsek, it’s a chance to see the many hanging glaciers of the Pentice Ice Cap and the Brabazon Range.
On a giant river bend that can be seen from space, we are encircled by peaks in a stunning amphitheater of glacial ice and rock. From this point we view the crystal blue hues of Walker Glacier, a place where we actually hike on the surface of this ancient ice and experience the unique environment of deep crevasses and jagged seracs and ice falls.
Floating downstream we have a view of more than 20 glaciers as we make our way down to the place where the Alsek and Grand Plateau Glaciers come together at the river to form an eight mile wide face of ice.
Alsek Lake was formed by the gouging action of the glaciers resulting in the largest lake found anywhere in Glacier Bay Park. The only thing breaking the mystical spell of the iceberg filled lake with the mountain backdrop is the frequent explosive crescendos of calving glaciers spawning multi ton icebergs. Overseeing the phenomenon is Mt. Fairweather whose ice clad summit soars over 15,000 feet above our camp. Enjoying and exploring the lake is a delight to all of the senses.
Day 12 (B/L) DRY BAY, GULF OF ALASKA AND BACK TO THE YUKON
The final leg of our memorable trip is from Alsek Lake to Dry Bay on the Gulf of Alaska. At the tiny commercial fishing enclave we are met by small charter planes for the flight back to Whitehorse with a plane load of memories.
On the way to Dry Bay the Alsek passes through a transition from the tallest peaks on the continent to the broad flat Pacific coastline.
In this valley we have a vertical distance of over 15,000 feet between us and the highest peaks, an overall elevation difference greater than that of the Himalayas. At the Dry Bay air strip the aircraft will pick us up and fly us back through the Coast and St. Elias ranges to Whitehorse. Upon landing in Whitehorse, we clear Canadian Customs. After unloading you will be transported to your hotel. Following welcome showers, the group may want to gather at a local eating establishment (not included). Whitehorse is a lively town and it will not be difficult to find a way to enjoy the evening!
Day 13 HOMEWARD BOUND
After goodbyes and a last look around Whitehorse, we will head for home with a cargo of fond and spectacular memories. (We recommend you consider another day in Whitehorse in case of a rain delay from Dry Bay).
The voyage of a lifetime info the silent beauty of the Yukon wilderness. Life’s magical stillness envelopes you from the moment you enter the vastness of the waters. – Cynthia S.
The Alsek River trip is a feast for the senses. You are treated to panoramic Mountain View majestic glaciers and towering icebergs. Eagle swoon above your head, a bear may make a guest appearance, and fireweed paint the landscape. The guides are some of the nicest and most capable people you’d ever want to know, not only do they make sure that you get the utmost out of your visit to this wilderness paradise, but also serve you some of the best meals you’ve ever had!
Regina R. Germany
The Aslek River is one of nature’s wilderness wonders, and Nahanni River Adventures are the perfect ambassadors for this journey.
Malcolm R. Guelph, On
If you really want to see the land before man made his presence know, the Alsek trip is for you. There were times you half expect to see a wooly mammoth walking by.
Susan L. Apo, USA
The Alsek River is already an amazing river in itself with so many beautiful sceneries, but add to that the professionalism and expertise of NRA guides and you’ve got the perfect recipe for an amazing journey that you wont forget anytime soon.
Stephane V. Vancouver, BC
This was the trip of my life. I look forward to going back on another trip in the next couple of year’s. Thanks to Nahanni & the great guides that contribute the most to ensure we all had a great time.
Karine L. Vancouver, On
The Alsek River trip was a great experience. It is for those who truly want to get away!
Gary G. Apo, USA
I have now interacted with 11 guides from Nahanni River Adventures, and I am very impressed by the professionalism, competence, safety conscience, and knowledge of native and natural phenomena that they all possess.The equipment provided by Nahanni River Adventures is very good, but the really superior quality is found within the guides.
Claude P. Ottawa, On