By Janelle Eklund
We emerged from our tents at 7:30am and prepared for the last day on the river. The heavy clouds were spent and the day dawned with sun and high slender clouds. All the mountain peaks had taken most of the day off from cloud making. Light from the sun glistened off glacier pinnacles and iceberg sentinels. We froze them in time with our cameras – treasures to share and store in our memory bank as time marches on. Driftwood lay on the beach, white skeletons bleached and stripped of their skin by relentless forces of water, wind, ice and sun. Roots creating geometric shapes, beauty in death as in life. They made an elegant frame for mountains, glaciers, icebergs, and lake.
As we rowed across the lake dodging icebergs, this majestic river gave us its grand finale. The last sets of rapids with their big holes only captured a portion of the river and allowed us to float by in safety, enjoying its last bit of fury. The mountains along this stretch of river were green covered spilling dramatic long waterfalls.
Signs of man’s technology reminded us that we were returning to a different world. A world not as sacred as where we had just spent the last ten days. Four wheelers and motor boats used for ease of access came into view. Although our experience wasn’t totally devoid of these technological toys and modes of transportation. The roar of commercial jets could be heard now and then as they flew, high overhead, small planes ferrying rafters like us, and a rescue helicopter all made their appearance on the lower stretch of the river. I wonder how it is that man has made such advances in technology over such a short period of time. Technology we have become so dependent on and seemingly can’t live without. Visiting such a sacred place as the Tatshenshini/Alsek reduces a human to their lowest terms. With all our gadgets and controls, Mother Nature still rules. We owe our earth the greatest respect.
We ate our last Tatshenshini lunch on a sand bar in the warmth of the sun, leaving cool glacial breath behind. Scouting the channel leading to the take-out point was a must to be sure there was enough water without getting stuck. The way was clear and we rowed the last bit to the landing strip without incident. A group picture was first on the list, then unloading gear and setting up camp. The Park Ranger took our permit and then the more unpleasant job of toilet dump duty was assigned to yours truly and one other person. Our River Bank toilet system worked well – a necessity for leaving no trace. Not the best job right before dinner but we got it done.
Ocean clouds swept in and out blessing us with wind and rain off and on through the night. Late the next morning two planes arrived to take us to Haines and our vehicles. A lot of power lifted us into the air. We climbed about 3,000’ and flew along the coastline since the mountains were having a cloud making day. The view of the coastline was spectacular. Long and flat – wave after wave pounding the shore. The peak of Mt. Fairweather shown clear, surrounded by thick layers of clouds – an island in the sky. Glaciers marched to the sea exposing massive lines of time. They each had their own personalities. One, a frozen rivery waterfall, hanging straight down from the mountains grip. Two bears were making dinner of a dead whale on the beach. As we flew over the sound live whales surfaced and spouted great columns of water. With a head wind it took almost two hours to arrive in Haines.
Throughout the long drive home to the Copper Basin and Anchorage we reflected on a journey that gave us unsurpassed beauty, ancient moving forces, and the camaraderie of friends to share this place in time.
THE END of this journey. We seek not the end of the journey but the gifts it gives us in each moment along the way. And then to take those gifts and weave them into our life.
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.