When you ask the river guides of the famous Grand Canyon where they dream of, the top of the list is the Yukon’s own Alsek River. This UNESCO World Heritage site is right in your backyard but from the first moment will transport you a world away!
Join us this summer on the most incredible river journey in the Yukon and see what the whole world is talking about.
We travel by raft over eight river days from Serpentine Creek to the Dezadeash River, Kluane National Park and Reserve and end at Turnback Canyon.
Renowned for large rapids, dramatic mountain valleys and glaciers, the Alsek River is a wilderness treasure. Glaciers, icebergs, wildlife, deep canyons and a helicopter portage around Turnback Canyon all add to this arctic mountain river adventure.
We will meet at 8 a.m. and will embark on our journey down 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. Next, we arrive at the edge of Kluane National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site where we transfer to a four-wheel drive vehicle and waiting to take us the final 20 kilometres along a rugged trail to our waiting rafts.
As the 4×4 fords streams and bumps across meadows, we often see our first bears of the trip. Mountain goat and Dalls sheep are frequent sights on the mountain slopes 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 the delicious lunch can do so. At the Dezadeash and the larger Kaskawulsh the Alsek is born. Camp location will be determined by the prevailing conditions.
In the morning we raft past an interesting portion of river with unusual rock formations, dunes of wind blown glacial till known as loes, and lots of bear sightings. Along the way we stop for walks to viewpoints, a waterfall, and a grizzly bear rubbing tree or some other interesting feature. The guides will tell you of the dramatic event in the 1870’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.
In the afternoon of Day 3, the river quickens and in the last couple of kilometres we encounter the trip’s first exciting rapids as the river washes around boulders left behind by the glaciers. Here we get our first view of the white tops of icebergs in the distance.
Though presently receding, 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 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.
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 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: Mount Logan, Canada’s highest and second in North America only to McKinley, lies farther back at 19,850 feet.
Goatherd Mountain is well named and as it 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 also others for a ramble along the gentle iceberg-studded shoreline of Lowell Lake.
On Day 5 we 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.
After about 4 kilometres, 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 encountered below Lowell Lake. 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 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. The Tat-Alsek watershed is the heartland of the largest protected wilderness area in the world.
Massive wave trains and stunning scenery fill this day. This objective of day 7 is to position ourselves to rendezvous with the helicopter for the aerial flight over the glacier and out to vehicles waiting to transport us back to Whitehorse on Day 8. We usually endeavour to get down to our camp at Tweedsmuir Glacier 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. Although it has been kayaked a “handful” of times in low water, it is no place for a raft. After dinner the guides deflate and roll up the rafts and consolidate the gear for the helicopter egress the following day. This camp is spectacular, with a dramatic and imposing sapphire-blue glacier hanging off the nearby mountains.
We prepare the gear for the helicopter flights out. Four people at a time fly over Turnback Canyon and Tweedsmuir Glacier en route to the waiting vans. In the vans it is less than an hour into Haines Junction and another couple of hours back to Whitehorse.
To keep everyone on our trips safe, we will be following these safety guidelines:
Prior to departure it is all of our responsibilities to take extra care to avoid contacts.
Upon Arrival at your Starting point:
While on your expedition:
We take our responsibility to provide the safest experience seriously. We recognize that choice to travel is a personal one and have accommodating cancellation policies to ensure that our guests can book with confidence.
A 30% deposit is required to hold your spot and is fully refundable up to 90 days prior to your expedition start date. On this date, your final payment becomes due and all payments become non-refundable, except for the following circumstances:
On all expeditions, we provide many hiking opportunities from one hour to all day. Participation is entirely up to you – you can lead the group, go only part way, go for a short stroll or choose to relax in camp and read a book. All participants are required to fill out a medical form for their own health and safety. A good general level of fitness is recommended; the trip will be much more enjoyable if you are in good physical condition. Most hiking will not be overly strenuous but we will be walking up and down hills. We recommend regular exercise prior to the trip such as walking, swimming, or participating in a fitness program.
All our expeditions are camping adventures. We provide you with a top quality, free standing expedition tent. Our tents are spacious enough for two people. If you are travelling solo we will provide you with a tent for your self.
Camping on the river is one of the great joys of expedition rafting and canoeing. You can expect all of the comforts of car camping, but you’ll be miles away from crowded campgrounds—and the soothing sounds of the nearby river will lull you to sleep under the stars every night.
On our river journeys you can expect to eat as well or better than you do at home—and we do the cooking! We take special care in preparing nutritious and delicious meals for all of our trips. You’ll be fed meal after meal of impossibly fresh food – pork tenderloin, tabouli, cheesecake, cinnamon rolls – all prepared with a portable camp kitchen and open fire.
With advanced notice we can accommodate most special dietary requirements (some accommodations are subject to an additional fee).
Interested in learning more? Inquire below.