Rush Redux

Remote float: rafting the Alsek River

May 1, 2003
Outside Magazine

Ice capades in the Tatshenshini-Alsek Wilderness Park

Not too long ago, the Alsek River didn't really exist. A "surging" glacier—capable of lurching several hundred feet in a few days—had plugged the course of the glacial runoff. Then about 150 years ago the glacial dam burst, loosing a 100-foot, landscape-scouring wave that wiped out entire villages. Start rafting what is now the Upper Alsek at its headwaters in Kluane National Park and Reserve and you'll see signs of the damage. Ancient driftwood lies strewn about, vegetation is sparse, and the valley remains eerily bare. While massive, the river is a mellow ride. You'll encounter only a handful of Class II-IV rapids, allowing you to safely focus on everything else: the calving icebergs in Lowell Lake, hiking in the toothy foothills of the St. Elias Mountains, and snapping hero shots of the grizzly bears, mountain goats, and moose that prowl the valley.
OUTFITTER Canadian River Expeditions (800-898-7238, runs six- and eight-day trips down the Upper Alsek River to Turnback Canyon for $2,155 and $2,480 per person, respectively. Its 12-day trip heli-portages Turnback, then continues down the Lower Alsek. The cost is $2,940, and the payoff is 57 more miles through the steep-walled canyons and towering peaks of British Columbia's Tatshenshini-Alsek Wilderness Park.