Tatshenshini River, Alaska
Aug 23 to Sept 4, 2018
By Dave Slover
Here we go again, my 7th trip to a wilderness river in Alaska. We’ve done the Charley/Yukon, Alsek, Happy, Hula Hula, Kobuk, Aniakchak and now the Tatshenshini river. This trip seems like a vacation after the wind swept and cold adventure on the Hula Hula last year.
As always, we have 12 to 15 guys all paddling 2-person Aire Lynx or Outfitter kayaks and we all use Werner Powerhouse paddles. We paddle solo in these boats so there is room for 10 days of gear, food and beverages. The Tat has a permit limit of 15 and so that is our group size for 2018. The great thing about our group is that Jon C, our logistics and planning leader, assigns each team member a specific set of jobs. Everyone does their thing and once again many hands made light work. By sharing the load, we all get to join the trip feeling like a team and knowing and trusting that we’ll get where we need to be, on time (mostly), with the stuff we need to have a safe trip with all the food and beverage a bunch of 54 to 62 year old’s could need.
By our calculations over the years we end up with about 400 lbs of weight per team member. That is human weight, boats & paddles, food & beverage, community gear, personal gear and safety equipment. We are a modified British expedition, far from going ultralight but also nimble compared to taking big rafts and the like. One of the funniest things I hear people say is “you take soft coolers. What about the bears?” Well, last time I saw a bear tear up a cooler was on the Rogue river and it was a stout igloo brand. If the bear wants it there is not much we can do.
Day 0: Hood River to Fall City 265 miles. Leave Hood River to meet up with John M and TK, 3 hours to drive up to the kick off dinner at the Frontier Tavern in Fall City. Not the best steak dinner but the beer and company made up for any food issues. Wilderness Norm Put on a pace and needed a ride home. Funny story of the day…John and TK tell me they just put all their retirement money in T bills and that I should figure out how to do the same. In 2007 we were on the Charley when the stock market fell apart and these guys didn’t want a repeat in 2018. Thanks guys, I am 12 hours from being off the grid and I don’t have easy access to my retirement funds (meager as they are…), I decide to cross my fingers and let it ride.
Day 1: Fly SEA to Juneau to Haines 1624 miles. 4 am frenzy to the airport for the 7 am flight. Weather good, no delays, everybody in Haines by 1 pm. We spend the afternoon finishing our provisioning (John R set us up with great food and lots of it!) and getting personally organized. We have a rambunctious dinner at the Hotel Halsingland, during dinner two tables near us ask to be moved, sorry folks. Peter is the winner tonight as the bottles of wine flow with reckless abandon. Best story from the day is Norm throwing up at the airport in Seattle at 6 in the morning after his big night at the Frontier. 58 and he still can’t hold his liquor…ode to the Rogue…
Day 2: Haines to Upper Tatshenshini river put in 78 miles. Timely start with Alaska River Outfitters transporting us to the put in. Getting to the Tat put in is an issue, Haines is in SE Alaska but the put in is in Canada and we have to register with Parks Canada and Kluane Provincial Park. Gary oversees all this, and he has us all very nervous, no firearms allowed into Canada (remember Mike B), limited alcohol and no weed. Uh Oh, better mind our manners. The guys at the border are very nice and pass us through even with Jimmy and his personal letter of “I need forgiveness”. Canada does not like American Riff Raff. Once across the border we have a decision to make about put ins, choose the traditional Dalton Post spot or go upstream to the Blanchard or the upper Tatshenshini river. Since we come to the Upper Tat first Andy drives us down to look at the river. There is enough water and it looks good, so we decide to go for it right here. Using this spot with our IK’s should be fine, it will give us two days of extra class II & III rapids, a little bit of clear water to fish and make the trip a bit more interesting in the upper reaches. This upper river is not recommended for fully loaded rafts and after doing it I would agree. We pack up, launch and head out for 7 – 8 miles of flat water and easy class II rapids. No issues on the water, spirits are high, and we find a nice camp across from the Blanchard river. Peter wins the contest for a second night, retirement has changed his demeaner a bit! He did go to bed pretty early. For those who got up to pee there was a nice show of the Northern lights.
Day 3: Blanchard to Takahannee 9 miles. This is the upper canyon section with class III rapids and lots of fun paddling. The team is paddling well with no capsizes or other mishaps. Camp on a nice island in front of the Takahanne. So far, some eagles but no bears besides a couple foot prints. Nice music session in camp and we had a group of pack-rafters and hard-shell kayakers cruise by our camp late in the day.
Day 4: Takahanne to Silver Creek – Passing Dalton Post – 22 miles. Great rapids below Dalton Post, 3 swims today. Bill washed off a big pour over and did the fasted self-rescue I’ve ever seen. Then Super G and Bones got caught up in some swirly water at Pirates headwall. Bones rode it out for a while before getting back together but Super G shouted out that he was not going to bump his butt on the bottom of the river so he made three huge back strokes, stood up and pulled his boat out of the water with him. Big move but he was missing 1 thing, his paddle. We had it down stream a bit but he was on an island so he jumped back in his boat, hand paddled near by and I rifled him out the paddle for a perfect catch. He should have been a tight end the way he caught that paddle.
Day 5: Silver Creek to Sediments Creek 22 miles. Rain today, group got split up in the braids, John M got lost in the back (surprise!) and came by about a ½ mile to our left. We got back together and made a nice camp at Sediments. All alone in a big wide-open space, group in good spirits.
Day 6: Sediments to Towagh Creek 29 miles. We have a mellow morning and then a busy afternoon. Two swimmers at Alki creek. River leader failed the group a bit here by forgetting to a) read the guidebook b) keep the team together and c) be in rescue position. Oh well it all worked out. Let me say the side current of Alki Creek flowing in at 90 degrees makes a big boil for a little IK on the Tatshenshini. This day has building water volume combined with strong whitewater. Mark C had a quick self-rescue while Dave W spent a bit of time being chased by Jimmy and John M. It all worked out with no lost gear or damaged bodies, just a fun story to tell on a bright sunny day. Today our average speed was around 8.5 mph and we hit a max of 11.6 at one point. Saw a bear on river right while floating and had some logistical issues getting into camp as there is bank erosion from recent high water.
Quotes from the river:
“This is a bit of a shit show today” Dave S.
“Did you go down the different Channel?” Corriveau to Menefee
“Magic Carpet Ride” Corriveau’s life!
“Am I still your #3 guy?” Menefee to Slover
And for later in the trip…
“Let’s talk about the elephant in the room” Gary K.
Day 7: Towagh Creek to Confluence 15 miles. We camp on the left at Melt creek, again bank damage makes getting into camp a bit of work, but we pull it off. The elephant and his little buddy Jim are in the eddy ready to steer the rest of the “group” into the tricky eddy at camp. Before we leave Towagh creek we see a nice bear walk up the river across from us and then another up Towagh creek wash. After yesterdays debacles we get the guide book out and decide to keep the group together through the S-turns, we have a safe day except we have no idea where Gary and Jim are (outside of somewhere downstream…). The S-turns are no big deal and we all group up at Confluence camp for a big evening. Final four for the evening Kevin, Bill, Gary and Bill (no that’s Bill twice, must have been Jimmy). Peter has faded out of late-night contention. Some evening rain and low clouds around. This place is incredibly scenic! Mike B makes a nice camp fire, like he has done every day of the trip.
Day 8: Layover at Confluence. The Tatshenshini river meets the Alsek river. showers around and then the day cleared. Great breakfast served with a bag of mudslides (patron XO replacing the Kahlua), that’s right we are not out of liquor or beer! Two great hikes, one downstream towards the Alsek and the other up Melt creek. We run into a black bear up Melt creek and after watching him for a few minutes decide to turn around. Big party day & night, music, laughter and the Elephant! Sunny and warm afternoon.
Day 9: Confluence to Walker Glacier 17 miles. We start the day with a paddle over to petroglyph island where we end our trip on the Tatshenshini river, we are now on the Alsek river. We did not see any petroglyphs but did enjoy the big view. Then floated on the Alsek at 8.5 mph to Walker Glacier camp. Had lunch then took the kayaks into the lake for a paddle with icebergs. Very nice day with no wind. I went to bed early so I am not sure who won the final camper up? Gary, Jimmy or the Elephant. Then at 2 am all hell broke loose with a major wind storm. Blew hard all night and pretty much made sleep impossible. Up at 2 am to check boats and gear (all OK) and then turn over the kitchen and pile up all the loose gear. Let it be said that the security team (The Bandits!) warned of camping at the base of the walker Glacier – reference made to the likelihood of Katabatic winds…
Day 10: Walker Glacier to downstream of Gateway Knob 22 miles. Still blowing at dawn so we moved the kitchen behind a berm to keep the stove from blowing out. The day was sunny and the views while paddling incredible. Gathered up at Dipper Creek (better camp than Walker Glacier), stopped at Purple Haze but were disappointed by the huge sand bar in front of the camp area, ate lunch and scouted the three doors at the peninsula hike. Bill and Norm take door #1 and the rest of us take Door #3. We meet in Alsek lake and spend a couple hours enjoying the Mt. Foraker view and paddling around. Camp is below the lake outlet on river right, ready for the morning frenzy.
Day 11: Gateway Knob to Dry Bay 14 miles to Yakutat 44 miles to Seattle 1958 miles. Up at 4:20 am to clear camp and get to Dry Bay to meet Hans and Yakutat Coastal Air for our 9 am hop up to town. This trip we hired Pat Pellit from Brabazon expeditions to take us from the upper take out to the airstrip, this saves and hour and a half of slogging up the slough from the lower end. Using Pat is not a huge time saver, but it does save a bunch of paddling and dragging up the slough to get to the airstrip. The paddle out to Dry Bay starts in the pre-dawn light and we are floating with a bunch of small chunks of ice. There are a couple spots to avoid where the current gets squirrely around a head wall or flows over a shelf. Once at the take out we pack the gear and load the quad trailer for the trip to the air strip. Hans is right on time and takes our group and all our gear back to Yakutat in two flights. We have 8 hours until our flight on Alaska Air back to Seattle. Two choices…Sit in the bar and waste the day or rent a car and go exploring and fishing. We head to Leo’s car rental and get a suburban for the day. Out to the Lost River for a sunny afternoon of Coho fishing. The water is low and the sun is out so fishing is a bit slow but we do hook a few to make the effort worthwhile. Did I mention it was another warm day in SE Alaska with clear blue skys. Wow what a trip.
Day 12: Seattle to Hood River 265 miles. Early morning drive, John M and TK slept most of the way…
Name (boat color) Responsibilities
Jon Corriveau (b) Logistics,Group Gear
David Slover (g) River Leader
John Rouches (y) Food Lead, Stove
Gary Kinner (r) Border, Haines
Kevin Gogan (o) Music, Safety, Reading Material…
Mark Christensen (g) Freight
Peter Jewett (p) Book, Maps, GPS
Bones Corriveau (y) Maps,GPS,BearFence
William Mickel (g) Music, Food
David Worthen (g) Haines
Jim Yearous (r) Repair
John Menefee (b) Music
Thomas Koehler (r) Music
Michael Bray (o) Fire, First Aid
Norm Haynes (o) Fire, Freight
Alaska Air; SEA-JNU, YAK – SEA
Alaska Airline Group Reservations; 800-445-4435
Air: Juneau – Haines, Alaska Seaplanes, 907-789-3331
Air: Dry Bay to Yakutat, Yakutat Coastal Airways; 907-784-3831
Alaska Marine Lines, 5615 West Marginal Way, Seattle, WA 98106
Shuttle Service: Haines – Dalton Post
Alaska River Outfitters/Haines Rafting Company
Andy Hedden, Owner, 907-314-0340
Haines Overnight, Friday 8/24
National Park Service
Yakutat District Ranger, Jim Capra
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve
Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve
P.O. Box 137
Yakutat, AK 99689
907-784-3295; 907-500-5422 cell
BC Parks Fee, Tatshenshini-Alsek Boating Permit
Robin, Tanya Hoesing: 250-847-7260, 250-847-7211
Brabazon Expeditions, Pat Pellit 254-381-3030
Cloudburst Productions Guidebook and Map of the river