By Janelle Eklund
This day after the encounter with the root wad challenged us once again, but lucky for us, it was not our raft this time. At a bend in the river the water rushed against a high vertical wall of rock decorated with a tree snag that jutted out into the river. This surprise made for an unavoidable encounter of the cataraft with the other raft. Too close to avoid each other they collided right at the snag, breaking an oar and wrenching the shoulder of the oarsman. Everyone managed to stop at a gravel bar a short way down river. The oarsman seemed OK, oar repairs were made, and we were on our way. Another potential disaster avoided.
Our destination was Melt Creek, just above where the Alsek River meets the Tatshenshini. On river left the landscape became a parade of white mountain peaks. Tongues of jagged glaciers carved their way between each mountain. On river right luscious green slopes were dotted with bright pink fireweed. Ahead, on a gravel bar, a grizzly bear reared up on its hind legs startled at these strange out-of-place aliens floating down the river. We must have looked pretty scary. He plunged into the river and headed for the bank. The next thing we saw was lots of moving brush - and it wasn't wind. We never saw the bear again and he was probably glad not to see us again.
As we got close to Melt Creek the river started braiding and fanning out, making for a very confusing situation. We didn't see the cairn that marked the campsite for Melt Creek and before we knew it we were at the Alsek, where we were able to stop and discuss what to do. The only course was to move on to Walker Glacier, as there were no campsites between the Alsek and Walker. Since the river was moving pretty fast we figured it wouldn't take long to get there. When we came down what is known as the 'Wind Tunnel' we were pleasantly surprised that the wind wasn't so bad. It could have been a lot worse.
Glaciers melted their force creating raging streams that rushed into the main river. Bald eagles waited for the salmon run. Rounding the bend at the end of the 'Wind Tunnel' Walker Glacier finally came into view. Through binoculars we could see our friends camped there. Here the river is at least a mile wide and it was a challenge getting through shallow areas to our destination. This one we definitely didn't want to miss. Our friends were there to help us dock.
Three hours from the Alsek and 44 miles from our morning launch, at 8:00pm we finally arrived, bone tired and chilled from glacial wind and water. Too exhausted to cook, our dinner consisted of salad, cheese, crackers and snacks.
Our tales of the root wad were conveyed to our friends and negotiations began for trading Oreo cookies for TP. It was a hard bargain on how many Oreos we had to sacrifice. This, after my failed attempt to sell the paper towels (I meticulously dried for TP) for $1 apiece. Guess my price was worse than sacrificing Oreos.
We are held in the arms of mountains and glaciers, with one like a wave on the ocean shore, frozen in time.
We will sleep good tonight snuggled in our bags with bed time stories of glacial creaks and groans and the lull of the river.
To be continued
From my light to yours-
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.