We are traveling with three rafts, all 18 feet long, bucket bailers, and none with air compartments in the floors. The latter means that you feel the 33 degree water right through your boots. Since they are not self-bailing there is usually some water on the boat floor which also adds to the chill on the feet. Our third boat is manned by two guide trainees – Angie and Marley. They are not being paid for the trip but are expected to do all the chores guides do on the river as part of our team. It is an opportunity for them to show our lead guide, Jimmy, that they are capable of being leaders on these trips. They are both in the twenties and are now day-trip guides. Now they would like to move up to long-trips with better pay and bigger rivers. The Alsek will be a big big notch in their belts.
Ron and I are riding with Jimmy every other day. He has the lean musculature of a true athlete and an easy efficient manner in moving us along. As the head guide he leads the other two boats downstream, following the “grease” as it rambles along in erratic fashion. His experience and knowledge are obvious to Ron and I as we gain respect for this former Minnesotan who left a great paying job in the wind industry to follow his love of the outdoors to Alaska. His girlfriend Kate is of like mind. They have traded security for a life style that fits their passions. Jimmy’s boat is set up for three clients so Dan joins us in his boat. Dan’s hobby is photography. His technical skills in his aeronautical career transfer well into his hobby. He rides in the rear of the boat where he is free to focus on shooting pics. However, whenever we are in rougher waters we all put the cameras away.
Yesterday we made it down to the Lowell Glacier. It is a massive river of ice and has created a lake full of ice bergs which the Alsek must find its way through. Three times the glacier calved with a big rumble and a sharp crack while we were approaching in the rafts. The sound was big enough to bounce off the mountain cliff walls a good mile and a half away. We pulled over to scout the river for the best way to get to Lowell Lake. Getting out of the boats we found ourselves beset by two Merlins with their “Chirr Chirr” of distress at our appearance. They must have a nest really close. Relentless in their attacks, they only stopped when we had walked far enough away to appease them. Earlier we had seen a Kestrel and a Peregrine Falcon so quite a day for spotting falcons along the river. There was a small rapids to navigate before the lake which Jimmy handled easily in the lead boat. We found a great campsite in full view of the lake and glacier. All was well in our world.
In 1852 the Lowell Glacier surged forward and caused a tremendous wall of water to roar downstream completely overwhelming a Tlinget village below. All people were swept to their deaths. It is interesting that scientists were able to pinpoint this date by collecting stories passed down by Native people plus studying the geologic signs left behind in the natural world. We are now camping where the glacier had been at that time. It left behind pyramids of gravel with cores of ice which when melted created little kettle lakes such as those just behind us.
Today we spent the day climbing up Goatherd Mountain which overlooks Lowell Lake and its parent glacier across the river. Marley stayed behind to watch the camp and cook dinner. The route was challenging for several of the people but it was a beautiful hike over geological surfaces of rock which triggered the imagination with the layers of lines, colors and swirls. Lots of erratics along the way as well. Stopping at a waterfall two-third of the way up we were treated to the presence of a mountain goat below us who decided that we were interesting too and parked there for awhile. The views of Lowell Glacier and the resulting ice bergs gave us a great perspective of the lay of the land which we couldn’t experience from camp. Spectacular.
It was a very good day.
Rustin spotted a mama grizzly and two cubs. He has a real knack for spotting animals and birds which he attributes to his recent Lasik surgery which left him with 20/10 vision in both eyes. I tried very hard to see the bears as did Ron with no avail. We have been seeing tracks everywhere. This area has the largest concentration of brown bears in North America. The presence of these bears is not to be taken lightly. We are being very careful with our food and making sure to leave nothing behind that might interest them and start to associate people with food.