Misadventures on Alaska’s Tatshenshini River
I’m drawn to the untamed, rugged places that dare to be explored, and for this reason (plus the fact that it’s every river guide’s dream), rafting Alaska’s wild and remote Tatshenshini River was high on my bucket list. So when my chance to run “the Tat” finally came, I went for it.
It was everything I expected…and nothing I could ever expect. Sure, the scenery was breathtaking and the landscape was beyond my imagination—spectacular icefields, glaciers and grizzlies running around. But the adventure factor is what surprised me most.
I’ve dealt with flips, swims and injuries in my river career, but icebergs, fifteen year floods, and helicopter evacuations? Obviously, these things were not the norm, but by chance, I guided two trips that season where the Tatshenshini’s adventure level was taken to a whole new bar.
During my first trip in mid-August, our group got stuck behind an impassable wall of icebergs in Alsek Lake. What are the odds? And, when it came to deciding whether or not this made the experience a trip-of-a-lifetime, the group was split. For some people, it was a major hiccup in the relatively fair-weathered, smooth sailing trip. For the other half, this experience made the trip a true adventure, cementing it as one of their favorite trips ever.
In another unlikely turn of events, and after much deliberation, we ultimately had to leave via helicopter so some of the guests could get back to work, and several guides could launch another trip. As we chatted with a ranger while we waited for a take-out plane to arrive, he told us that in the twenty years he had been working up there, a situation like ours had never happened. I was sure that our next trip would be much less exciting.
Thankfully, on the second trip we didn’t get caught behind an impenetrable wall of icebergs. But that’s because the Tatshenshini River had a different kind of adventure in store for us. This time around, we experienced the river during a fifteen year high flood stage. Again, what are the odds?
Rain had already been coming down steadily for 24 hours straight. Nothing new for coastal Alaska, an area that receives rain 300 days a year. But after a night of little sleep, we woke to find a whole new river.
Tree debris moved swiftly down the river, creating moving hazards to avoid. The icebergs that were piled on top of each other during the last trip were now massive features in newly formed rapids. Waterfalls poured off of every overhang on the river corridor. The river itself seemed to pulse with life, and needless to say, we had ourselves one wild ride.
As with any adventure travel trip, there are always influences that are out of our hands and beyond our control. Sometimes, no matter how prepared we are, Mother Nature has bigger things in store. But that’s what makes it an adventure, right?