Mosquito Creek and Lake Louise. July 14-15

Our biggest decision leaving camp at the Icefields was whether to try to reach Lake Louise in 80 miles of biking or stop at Mosquito Creek Camp in 62. There are a lot of people here. Most have had reservations for months. A few tenting camps have a first come first serve policy. Those were our best options. Lake Louise town is out of the Park, so without a rez it would be risky counting on accommodation just biking in. We stopped at Mosquito camp and found it full. Now what. A few meters down the road there was a wilderness hostel. Two beds left. Yes.

We met a young Frenchman who is biking across Canada. His quandary was deciding on a route beyond Thunder Bay. He had heard about the truck traffic along the North Shore. Also that there are no shoulders on much of the highway. We gave him our phone numbers to call if he still needed route advice when he arrived. Having ridden that section last summer as well as the South Shore in US, I have a few suggestions.

A middle-aged woman spoke with us at breakfast. She could remember sections of the Icefields in the sixties lying right next to the roadway. As with most of the world’s remaining glaciers, these are rapidly disappearing. Her occupation in Calgary was as a private courier delivering documents for companies around town. Like the glaciers, her work was receding rapidly, not because of a warming climate, but due to paper being replaced by computer communications in business affairs.

When we did reach Lake Louise we found a town bustling with crowds. Truly an international destination, smatterings of different languages assailed our senses from all sides as we sat on a bench in front of the Info Centre. A two mile steep bike climb brought us to the Lake. Initially difficult to even see it through the crowd, our efforts eventually led to the stunning panorama that is Lake Louise. More than worth the climb.

Tonight finds Brian and I in a well laid out Hostel in Banff. Again, there were only a few spots left upon arrival at two. A 1200 site campground outside of town was completely full. The other campground further out was also full. Forget even trying for a hotel/motel without prior reservations.

Tomorrow all that will change as we start our ride south on trails and gravel roads on the Divide.

The Icefield Parkway July 13

We left the grand old Athabascan Hotel this morning after eating a big ole brekkie and adding bear spray and fuel canisters to our bike bags. It’s always an exhilarating feeling to finally get moving on the bikes. No more worries about logistics. What we have now is what we are going to have. Settling in to a simple basic rhythm of life is the real key to these trips. All else is really just more static.

There had been rain in the night which left a low ceiling of mist. The mountains were obscured. The Parkway itself is paved with wide shoulders that gave us some security riding with quite a bit of traffic in the month of July. The beauty of this part of the world is well known internationally. It’s a busy place. Campsites need to be secured by three or four in the afternoon. There are no reservations for our tent sites – it’s on a first come first served basis. The plan was to reach the Icefields 65 miles away. Camping sites are located just a couple of miles beyond.

As we moved past midday the sun had melted much of the fog from the mountains. In the distance glaciers appeared on the slopes rising above the narrow valley the Parkway followed. A glacier fed river moved alongside the same path. These glaciers run out of the huge Columbia Icefield which lies above and beyond these close mountains. Larger mountains rise above the icefield but cannot be seen from our vantage point in the valley below.

We biked over 4500 feet of climbing and reached a high point of close to 7000 feet today. Two pretty tired puppy dogs got their tents put up just before the rains came. The steady sound of drops hitting our tent roofs will make for good sleep tonight. Let the sandman come.

Jasper – July 12, 2018

The dark haired woman leaned across the aisle of the bus and said, “it’s gonna get real pretty now in the next ten minutes. This is nothin’ here but it’s gonna be really pretty soon.” She was right. We dropped down out of the foothills into a narrow heavily wooded valley and around a big bend. Steep-sided sharply rising mountains now dominated the land-scape. Heavy rock slabs jutted straight up out of the black spruce. Impressive. Rocky Mountain country. A glacier grey river snaked along the road-side and spread out into the bends as we continued on toward the town of Jasper. Snow appeared in the higher north-facing elevations.

We had started our day on an early flight out of Thunder Bay, Ontario to Edmonton, Alberta. From there we took a bus to Jasper. Brian and I are heading out on a bicycle journey from Jasper AB to Banf along the Icefield Parkway then getting on the Continental Divide Trail from there to Antelope Wells, NM. It is about a 3000 mile trip. We will be spending about 90 percent of our time on gravel roads and in remote areas. Mostly planning on camping along the way, we each have tents and all the gear for being self- sufficient during the 50 days or so of traveling. We have also mailed food re-supply packages to Post Offices along the way.

In the half-hour between the woman’s comment and getting to our destination, Brian saw a wolf and a big- horned sheep. I spotted a mountain goat and an elk. This should be one interesting ride.

Alsek Lake and the Big Growlers

Days 12-14

June 27-29

Our days of lounging around were over, it was time to move downriver to Alsek Lake, the last of our unknowns on this big river. This lake lies at the bottom of two big glaciers, the Alsek and the Grand Plateau. The river just above this point abraids into a number of separate channels which change every season and even can even do so during a season so river rafters never know what is in store for them as they approach the lake. Jimmy explained to us that typically there are three main entrances to Alsek Lake – Door Number 1, Door Number 2 and Door Number 3. Doors number 1 and 2 are often closed off by icebergs on the lake while Door Number 3 can be too shallow if the water levels are down. If none of the doors are navigable then we would have to portage our gear a distance of just over a mile and drag the boats the same distance. Not something we looked forward to, especially after getting so spoiled by our leisurely last few days.

On our way downriver past the big Sapphire Glacier we stopped a couple of times to climb up on big scree slopes to try to scout our fortunes on our three entrance possibilities. Even from up high it was difficult to be sure about Doors 1 and 2. However, from our second stop Jimmy could see that Door 3 was high and dry. The cool weather we had been experiencing had slowed down the glacial melt thus leaving the river lower than expected. Door 2 appeared to be completely choked off by the wind-driven icebergs on the lake. He thought there might be a small opening near Door 1. With the thought of the mile long portage weighing heavily on our minds we headed hopefully towards Door 1. We were now committed to this little channel through towering icebergs pushed hard into the silt and sand of Alsek Lakes’ shoreline by the prevailing winds. The river water ran hard under and around these behemoths and if that current grabbed our boats we were in big trouble. It could pull us into and hold us against a large berg leaving us stuck or it could suck the boat right under the berg. Jimmy carefully oared us around and through the maze – suddenly we found ourselves in the lake. All three boats responded with a big wahoo! Free and clear. Our last real obstacle on the adventure. Huge growlers in the lake, the huge flowing Alsek and Grand Plateau glaciers plus surrounding mountains provided us with endless photographic opportunities. Ron and I grabbed paddles to help Jimmy get the raft down the lake since we no longer had the river current to speed us along. The Canadian group we had met a few days before were camping on the spit below Pilot Knob Hill so we made for the bay just beyond them. It was foggy and cool but the blue sky down river towards the coast just 12 miles away gave us encouragement. We had been looking forward to views of Mt Fairweather (15,400 ft peak) but the low ceiling kept it hidden. It had been a great day with two great glaciers, a wonderful adventure of paddling through this maze of icebergs, and the communal joy at sharing a big experience here on this great river.

The growlers were banging into each with big loud crunches and thunderous collisions several times an hour. Rock slides roared down mountain slopes. Calving by the glaciers and growler collisions both caused mini-tidal waves to rush across the lake. We went for a walk high up on Pilot’s Knob, the steep high-topped island which we were camping below, to watch these various floating icebergs bumping and banging each other in the water far below. It was fun to make bets on which berg would free up by the wind or current to charge forward and run amok through its neighbors until finding another to crash into. Sometimes a great chain reaction would send bergs every which way and fill the air with the resulting booms of their collisions. We sat there on a small rock cliff for some time despite the constant light rain. It was an experience we may never have again. It had been a steep and wet trip up through the alders to reach this point but so so worth it.. I found myself thinking about tomorrow and the two day trip home.. This life is so comfortable one doesn’t want to think about endings,

No Fairweather that night but there was steak, potatoes, salad and even a Dutch oven cake. Damn good day.

On our last day on the river we awoke early to pack up and head for our take-out point just above Dry Bay. We had some work oaring and paddling to get across the lake and back into the river’s current. This day brought many eagles to the river banks and cottonwoods lining them. The sockeye run has just begun and soon there will be bears in the bends and pockets of shallower water soon. Once we left Alsek Lake we were no longer in Glacier Bay Park and now we started to see a few remote fishing camps along the river sides. These are basic and primitive as the area is not very accessible. We reached the beach were we would be picked up by a local fisherman with a four-wheeler and trailer to take us across this peninsula to a small rugged airplane landing strip. We hauled our gear out and sorted it – Jimmy and Rustin along with our two trainees deflated the boats and rolled them into a manageable state, then we had a small lunch while waiting for our short ride.

Pat Pellet came rumbling up the beach with his 4-wheel ATV pulling not one but two trailers behind it. He is what I would simply describe as a good ole boy with signature bibs and knee high boots. Very comfortable in these surroundings, he has an easy way about him and very colorful language. I liked him right away. He and his wife Pat are two of only 12 people who live here in Dry Bay year round, He has been commercial fishing here for 48 years. Amazing. This year his fishing was limited to just one day a week as they were allowing a number of fish to escape up the river to spawn. We talked fishing for awhile and I learned about the breadth of his knowledge about environmental changes that are affecting the fish and the future of fishing here on the Alsek basin. He may be living very remotely but he sure is connected to the big outside world in every other way. Pat is leaving for the Walker Glacier to remove a small building which had been used in the past for housing equipment used to measure river flow.. It was no longer needed and the Park wished to remove it from the wilderness setting. Pat would be flown up there, take the building apart, and fly most of it back to his place here in Dry Bay. After flying Pat up to the Walker the pilot returned to grab most of our gear and take it and Angie back to Haines.

We were transported to Yakutat from Dry Bay on a single engine Otter. There were eight of us now since Angie had accompanied the gear back to Haines. Yakutat is a vey small town but serves as a hub for smaller jets connecting people back to the rest of Alaska from this long remote coastline. There was a small bar which we took advantage of since we had a couple of hours before flying back to Juneau. While it felt great to celebrate our experiences together with a few beers in a bar setting I know we all were thinking about how we would miss the beautiful simplicity of our two weeks on the mighty Alsek River.

Since we were all spending the night in Juneau before heading in our various directions home we met for a last dinner. The fun was highlighted by Rustin’s mighty attempt to eat an order of fries and a triple burger (one and a half pounds) with everything on it plus sauces and cheese and of course the layers of buns. The challenge was offered by the restaurant. It you could eat this meal within twenty minutes it was free. We just looked at Rustin and laughed. What a great guy. With cheers from all sides Rustin sat down to dig in. He had prior experience in a pie eating contest but this was a little bigger effort. He started out methodically putting away all of the fries and condiments, then hefted up one of the half-pound burgers. When that was gone Rustin looked a little pale and he also had started to sweat, Not easy. He got up and walked a little around the bar. Still had ten minutes. He sat down to try again. Another burger gone but much slower this time. People were making bets. Another break and a big belch. Jimmy told him if he could finish he would buy him a case of his favorite beer. If not, Rustin owed Jimmy a halibut dinner. Rustin plopped down to see what he could manage. Another burger choked down at the thirty second mark. Rustin stood up to cheers then bent down to eat the orange slices – the only thing left on the plate. We all stood up and cheered. Rustin just won a free meal. Of course what he didn’t know was that we clients were buying dinner for Marley, Rustin and Jimmy anyway. What a way to end a wonderful two weeks with great new and old friends on the world class Alsek River.

Thanks for coming along.

Relaxing Days on the Big River

Days 9-12

June 24-27

The days following our trip over Turnback Canyon moved along at a new pace. Relaxing. Once we made our date with the helicopter our schedule was much looser with the guides no longer feeling the pressure that the expensive ride in the big bird brought to the table. The first day we wound our way for three hours through unbroken mountains and glaciers on all sides. I’ve never seen so many glaciers in such a short stretch. While we were marveling at the topography, Rustin remarked quite simply, “It gets better. Just around the corner it gets better.” Ron and I just started laughing. Rustin has been telling us all trip that it will get better all the way down river. But how do you top this? We have been winding around gravel bars and sand spits as this big river separates into many different channels and passageways. They all merged as we rounded what Rustin termed Kodak Point. What a beautiful sight swept into view. Rugged jagged peaks intermixed with hanging glaciers and windswept snow fields then suddenly a view of the snout of Walker Glacier followed soon by icebergs and Walker Lake itself. It was absolutely stunning. OK Rustin, you are a prophet. We pulled the boats up to a sandy embankment next to a blue spring fed stream and clambered up to our camping area located just under the glacial ice. After setting up our tents we took a hike over to the lake for photos. Bear tracks in the soft ground added to our experience. We had traveled in sun all day and now hung out in cotton t-shirts. It was our best weather day yet. It was definitely scenery on steroids here.

Jimmy had found an extra sleeping pad for Ron and also patched my rain bibs with a waterproof sealing tape so no more wet butt for me. I had brought a bug jacket – Ron purchased one specially for this trip. We didn’t need either one as the breezes and cool weather kept those mosquitos at bay. Chili and cornbread with a little of our favorite drinks around the campfire highlighted our evening. Ron and Dan had glacier ice in their Jameson’s and Eric also found room for some in his glass of Chevas Regal.

Our days in the boat now are very short – just three to four hours. After the big drop at Turnback our weather has been warmer and the vegetation more lush. We are all very content in this routine but becoming more aware that we are short-timers on the Alsek now. Alsek Lake is just ahead and not far beyond it is Dry Bay and our take-out. It will feel a little surreal leaving our life here on the Alsek.

Walt Blackadar and Turnback Canyon

Days 7-8

June 22-23

Since we had to wait until the Canadian group camped just below us were helicoptered over Turnback Canyon before we could move camp, the decision was to take a hike down to the “Pearly Gates” viewpoint to the entrance to Turnback Canyon. This trip involved a lot of high rock and cliff scrambling making me a little nervous about 2 or 3 of our group for the trip back. It’s much easier to climb up steep rock than it is to climb down and there was a lot of loose rock and a sharp turn just before the top of this rock knob. The viewpoint exposed us to the opening of the famous canyon but the angle didn’t allow any views of the beginning of the rapids themselves. There were, however, some really beautiful pockets of natives plants in full bloom up high. Marley had come along with us today bringing lunch and prior knowledge of the route up here. After the climb up he scouted unsuccessfully for an alternative route back down. I, too, spent a little time looking around. The obstacle on the far side of the overlook was a clear cold glacial pond which was bordered by a cliff. I could see the possibility of wading the pond alongside the cliff to get back without the danger of someone falling on our prescribed route. Marley was indicating that we should start down the earlier route but I could see from Eric and Nancy’s body language plus hear in Ron’s voice a lot of hesitation. Ron had surgery on his knee just two months before. The drop from where we were was about 175 ft. If one were to fall they would hit the rock face on the way down long before hitting the water. So I told Ron that he didn’t have to go, we could go around and across the pond. He stepped back from the edge and said, “Yes, I’d rather do that.” We turned and made the easier hike down to the water and I led the waist high wade across the beautiful glacial water. Sometimes twenty- somethings (Marley) should be overruled by us old folk. They may be invincible but we know we’re not.

The next day we made the move down to the helicopter portage camp and proceeded to take all the gear off of the boats, sort it out into loads, and the crew flattened the boats themselves. The heli flights are a major expense for the rafting company so being really efficiently prepared before the copter’s arrival can save a good amount of money. We were excited about the big bird’s arrival and our own rides over this amazing canyon.

Dr Walt Blackadar soloed the rapids of Turnback Canyon in his kayak in 1971 during high water after paddling the craft down the same route as we had come, stopping only to sleep in his wetsuit on the ground. He had smuggled a 44 mag pistol across the Canadian border by fiberglassing it into the boat. No bear spray back then. His brash conquest of this seemingly impossible rapids shocked the people of the river world everywhere. Sports illustrated called this achievement the “river equivalent of the first ascent of Mt. Everest.” It brought Dr. Blackadar instant fame. When he ran this section the flow rate of the Alsek was an astonishing 50,000 cubic feet per second. Blackador himself said that nobody else should try this, it was an impossible run. The Alsek River and Turnback were well known even then by the elite of the kayak and rafting communities but now they became famous everywhere. The Alsek was on the map. The mountain just behind our camp has been named Mt. Blackadar. Blackadar himself died in 1978 when trapped by an underwater log and drowned while kayaking the South Fork of the Payette River not far from his home in Salmon, Idaho.

Even today less than fifty people have successfully kayaked this waterway since Blackadar’s achievement. It is considered unraftable. Good enough for me. We’re taking the helicopter.

Jimmy took us on a path behind our campsite to a small shrine to Blackadar on a cliffside shelf. One half of his kayak paddle from his ride was propped up by a large rock on the cliff face. The original inscription on the paddle face was no longer decipherable. There was another shrine just a few yards down from the kayak paddle. “Channel Lock Joe” Loffel and his son Jeremiah were thrown from their raft while running Lava North some years ago. Jeremiah had MS. Their bodies were found downstream. Joe’s wife, along with some friends, survived the ordeal but had to wait two days for help. This was before satellite phones and they had trouble getting through on their radio phone. Lava North is the same rapids we had just run a few days before. There is a pair of rusty old channel locks and an empty wine bottle up on the same cliff as Walt’s paddle.

Jimmy also showed us bear tracks in the ground just beyond the cliffside memorials. He said that bears always take the easiest route, which in this case meant walking in the exact same tracks as other bears had previously. He pointed out a deeply worn set of tracks leading to a large rock which the bears love to scratch their back on. It was really quite amazing. The tracks were imbedded in ground that was very rocky and firm. Who knows how long this had been going on. I followed the tracks a ways beyond the big rock and didn’t see any tracks except these deeply worn into the path.

By mid-morning we heard the thump-thump of the helicopter approaching and watched it set down next to our camp. The pilot was from New Zealand, a country I just love, and very outgoing. After introductions he gave us a safety talk which was basically “stay away completely from the back of the copter because of the small but deadly rotor blade there and also beware of the main rotor blade as the copter is not always level.” We laid out the nets and divided the boats and gear into two of them. After the gear had been shuttled to the other side, six of us climbed aboard for the four mile ride through the canyon to the quieter waters beyond the crazy rapids. The last three people took their turn behind us. One could see why these waters are rated Class VI and unraftable. In places where the river narrowed into tight corners and big drops there was just no way our rafts would get through in an upright condition. It was an impressive ride in the copter. Tried to get photos out of the window but it was quite difficult. You had to admire the audacity of kayaking this canyon river rapids at all, much less alone with no posse coming to help in the event of a mishap.

After re-rigging the boats we had a beautiful ride through endless snow-capped mountains towering over lush green hills and ridges. Sun dominated our day. The rolling boat and heat of the sun made it hard to keep from drifting away but the need to stay in the boat would jar me awake again. Our camp had a great view of two separate glaciers slumping forward out of black and white craggy mountain ridges amidst big snow fields. Dan had his camera out and was absolutely in heaven.

The following morning I was up at 7 and dunked my head in the river for a quick shampoo. Glacial water at 33 degrees will wake you up. Then I grabbed a spare 5 gallon pail, filled it halfway with river water and gave myself a thorough washing. Fresh underwear and t-shirt completed my overhaul. Next job was collecting firewood. We cook all our meals on a grate over a wood fire. There is plenty of dry driftwood to gather and they crew has a well-worn set of Dutch ovens. We went for a long group hike down the riverbank to where the Tatsenshini River joins the Alsek. Marley stayed behind to watch camp and cook dinner. Cottonwoods lined the bank and above them the big round mounded hills were lush with wild flowers in full bloom. Above them was the constant presence of craggy jagged peaks and glaciers. Many tracks along the gravel and sand banks greeted us as we moved down the abraided river. The length of the claw marks in front of the plentiful bear tracks makes one wonder just how anyone survives a bear attack. We also saw moose tracks, wolf tracks, fox tracks and those of birds searching the ground for sustenance. Dan got a great photo of bear tracks and wolf tracks in the same couple of feet of sand. It was a really pleasant way to spend an afternoon here in this wild river basin. NO bears posed for photos.

We had spotted a white 5 gallon pail washed up on a sand bar as we moved down river from the canyon. It was the same pail which was lost from Rustin’s boat when they were caught surfing in that hole in Lava North. Amazing that it had survived the trip down the river and through Turnback’s huge rapids only to park itself right in plain view for us to retrieve. We labeled it “Back from Turnback” and back into Rustin’s boat it went.

Lava North – Big Rapids and Big Relief

Day 5-6

June 20-21

There were a few concerns Ron had about this trip since he hadn’t really camped since his early twenties and had never done a trip this remote and wild. The one worry he talked about the most was sleeping on the ground in a tent. I had verified with the folks at Chilkat Guides that we would indeed have sleeping mattresses and not just pads. So I left my faithful Neo Air at home and both Ron and I found ourselves with thermo-rests of a vintage I had retired some years ago. Ok, well as long as they work it will be fine. Of course, Ron’s leaked. Not quite his worst nightmare……but close. He turned down my offer of using mine even though I can sleep on just about any surface.

I was finding that every time the water swirled up over the part of the tube I was sitting on, I felt cold water seeping into the derriere of my Saloman pants and through to my shorts underneath. That water is around 33 degrees, Gets your attention. How could that be – I was wearing rubber bibs and a Helly Hansen raincoat. Sure enough the bibs had a seam leak just in the right spot to penetrate all that rubber protection. Well, both Ron’s sleeping discomfort and my wet butt were minor compared to what we could have been facing on this day……..

We made a big push across Lowell Lake. The current disappears in the lake and with a 15mph wind in our faces and a fully loaded boat weighing a couple thousand pounds, it was tough rowing for our guides. While in the current both our guides use a rowing technique called portegee. They stand up facing forward and very rhythmically push on one oar and then the other in a ballet like fashion. It becomes almost hypnotic to those of us sitting just ahead of them. This method allows them to see where to go yet still have enough force to maneuver the boats when needed. We have been traveling in a current moving at about 7 knots. Here in the lake, though, they have to turn and power the boats through in the traditional rowing style to have enough force to overcome the wind and lack of current. It was a big effort today. We both grabbed paddles and joined in on the push across this iceberg laden body of water in front of the massive Lowell Glacier. A big relief when we re-joined the current down river.

This steeply sided river has huge mounds of sand left over from earlier glacial lakes. This sand has been wind-driven into big sand dunes. Some of the dunes have become vegetated and even wooded as nitrogen has become introduced to the infertile sands. Towering above these mounds are the constant presence of rugged and snow-striped mountains that line the river on its whole course down to the sea. Two hours beyond the lake we found ourselves at a split in the river. We taok the right-hand course and as we approached the left hand coming back into our flow a few short miles further on, Jimmy told us to look back at the rapids we had just gone around. Sam’s Rapids is a Class V mass of churning frothy white and green frigid charging water that stopped our conversation instantly. Wow. We knew that just a short distance ahead is Lava North, a class IV+ rapids that we will be taking the boats through. It was an eye-opener.

We pulled the boats over to a sand beach as we approached Lava. The guides and clients who wanted to take a look went for a walk through the woods to scout Lava North. I stayed back with Dan to see if I could dry out my backside before we continued. When they returned we all donned our dry suits and jumped back into the boats to see what fate had in store for us. Ron reported to me that Lava looked the same to him as Sam’s had. Re-assuring. Ron and I were riding with Jimmy today and he took us through the protocol on bailing the boat and commands such as “high side” and “hold.” The ride was simply amazing. We were shouting in pure joy as we rolled and rocked our way through this mass of whitewater tossing us up, down, sideways and rolling over rocks, chutes and foam-tipped crests. Marley and Angie had followed Jimmy’s lead just behind us. In just thirty or forty seconds this half-mile ride was over. The first words out of my mouth were, “Let’s do it again.” Jimmy’s eyes were still on the river behind us. Rustin’s boat with Eric and Nancy had not appeared out of that frenetic foamy mass. We couldn’t see them anywhere upstream. The seconds seemed like minutes as our minds raced to what seemed inevitable. They had flipped in the frigid current. We both looked at Jimmy. What can we do next? Jimmy had just started to give us an answer when suddenly Rustin’s boat appeared out of the churning waters. Eric was bailing like crazy with Nancy hanging on to him and Rustin giving his all on the oars. We all just started cheering. Dodged a big bullet today. This is a major river and we had just gone through a very major rapids in glacially hypothermic waters. People die in these situations here.

Rustin related the predicament they had endured with Eric and Nancy interrupting excitedly with their personal stories of the same. They had gotten into a huge hole behind a big obstruction in the river which grabbed the boat and held it spinning around while water poured into it on the front side. They were caught surfing the hole as the water rushed in to fill the void. Rustin jumped on the back of the boat with all his force and Eric bailed in desperation while Nancy clung to him to keep him in the boat. Rustin wasn’t sure if his quick maneuver popped them out of the hole or if it was just a very lucky break but they did spring free and he was able to guide them the rest of the way down to us. Eric had a waterproof camera hanging from his neck that was on video for the ride. Rustin was able to check the time on the video that they were trapped in that hole. That desperate 35 seconds seemed like several minutes or a lifetime to the three on board. Seemed just as long to those of us watching for them in the quiet waters beyond.

Over lunch I questioned Jimmy about how to approach such a powerful rapids. He said, “ The most important factor is where you enter the rapids. Manuevering the boat in that large of a rapids can only happen in the direction the current takes. You really can’t change your position in any other direction. Also, corners lead the boat to the outside closest to the canyon wall so it is impossible to change if you enter at the outside. By rights the boat should have flipped. Rustin did a great job getting the boat out of the hole and so did Eric and Nancy in not leaving the boat. They are tough.” Eric suffered a cut above his eye and Nancy had a swollen hand from one of the table boards which had loosened and struck them. But I heard no whining from either one. They were excited about the ride and happy to be right where we were.

There are at least two major systems for rating whitewater rivers. The one used here has Roman numerals from I to VI with VI being unraftable. The Alsek has three major rapids – Sam’s at Class V, Lava North at Class IV+ (Rustin calls it 4.5) and Turnback Canyon at VI just ahead of us where we will helicopter over. More on this later. The Alsek is a dangerous river. It has 5 times the flow rate of the Colorado. The glacial origin of the waters leave it just above freezing. The three major rapids are world class. National Geographic has called the Alsek the greatest whitewater river in the world. It’s my first rafting trip but I can sure see where that judgement comes from.

We camped at a beautiful site called The Blue Lagoon. Lots of lively chatter after a big big day.

The following day was a travel day. We rode with Rustin. He saw two bears, one of which he took a photo of from a long distance. Neither Ron nor I could see any bear there but later Rustin showed me a blown up version of the photo and sure enough there was a bear sitting on his haunches and looking straight at us. We moved through Class II and III whitewater to the campsite just above Turnback Canyon. It was an overcast, drab day with a low ceiling so not too conducive for photos. As we rounded the corner towards our next camp, Jimmy spotted two orange tents set up at our preferred spot. A Canadian group was already there. We ended up setting up camp a half mile upriver from them. The place

they were at is the helicopter camp where groups are picked up and lifted over Turnback Canyon. They will be gone tomorrow and we will move our camp.