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Alaska: Rafting & Hiking the Alsek River

Trip Length 13 days

From $4,595

  • Join this expedition praised by both National Geographic Adventure and Men’s Journal, with the Alaska adventure pioneers since 1972
  • Raft Class II-IV rapids on the Alsek River through one of the largest protected wilderness areas in the world, created on the grandest scale imaginable
  • Enjoy delicious meals and tales of the river told by our professional rafting guides around a crackling riverside campfire beneath the stars, or maybe even the Northern Lights!
  • Take an exciting helicopter portage to catch a bird’s eye view of Turn Back Canyon, the Alsek’s most treacherous canyon of Class VI whitewater
  • Enjoy optional hikes in search of wildlife
  • Float past the largest icebergs in all of Glacier Bay National Park in Alsek Lake

To ride down the Alsek River is to enter a wilderness of unparalleled beauty and scale. The Alsek runs through the largest contiguous protected wilderness on the planet, encompassing Kluane National Park Reserve (the Yukon’s premier wilderness area), the Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Wilderness Park, and Glacier Bay and Wrangell-St. Elias National Parks. This is truly one of the earth’s last great frontiers! Praised by both National Geographic Adventure and Men’s Journal, this is a worthy pilgrimage for thrill-seekers of all kinds. Raft down Class II-Class IV rapids watching glaciers calve into the water and spot tremendous array of wildlife on its shores. Camp by the river each night and enjoy delicious meals while listening to river legends and lore told around the campfire by our professional rafting guides. Take an exciting helicopter portage over a treacherous stretch of river, enjoy optional day hikes up mountain peaks, float past the dense canyon forests, and see largest icebergs in all of Glacier Bay National Park. With raw nature on display at every bend of the river, you’ll end your adventure feeling like a true explorer.
 

Day 1: Arrive in Haines, Alaska

Arrive in Haines, Alaska by 3:30pm to have enough time to check in and clean up for your 5:00pm pre-trip meeting at the Halsingland Hotel. We have reserved rooms for our group at the Halsingland Hotel. Just mention you are part of Alaska Discovery group. This room is included on the price of your trip.

  • Accommodation:Halsingland Hotel

Day 2: Travel to Haines Junction in Yukon Territory, Canada

After breakfast on your own, meet at the Halsingland Hotel lobby at 8:00 a.m. and board a van for a beautiful 3½-hour drive (155 miles) up the Chilkat River Valley, across the border into British Columbia, and on to Haines Junction in Yukon Territory, Canada. En route we’ll stop at the Kluane National Park visitor’s center to learn a bit about this vast wilderness. After lunch, we drive to the put-in point on the Dezadeash River, about an hour from Haines Junction. (There is an opportunity to hike part of the way to the river; this is an easy hike with good views of the surrounding mountains.) Launch rafts and begin river trip, floating down the Dezadeash to the confluence with the Kaskawulsh River, where the true Alsek River begins. (If it’s very windy, the guides may elect to stay at this campsite overnight and put in on the river early the next morning.)

NOTE—Because we are making a border crossing into Canada, you will need a passport as proof of nationality. Please check visa requirements for entering Canada if you are not a U.S. or Canadian citizen. If you are traveling with children and both parents are not present, Canadian customs requires a notarized letter from the child’s absent parent(s) saying that they are aware of their child’s whereabouts. A photocopy of the absent parent’s ID(s) and phone number are needed. Minimum age for child participation on this trip is 14.

  • Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:MTS Private Camp

Days 3-5: Rafting and hiking along the Alsek River

Continue downstream, passing through mostly Class II rapids and enjoying the vast scenery. As the river current speeds up we’ll begin to realize the volume and force of the Alsek. We’ll pass large bedrock islands and possibly have time to stop and hike up into the heights above the river for spectacular panoramic views.

We float further into the wilderness and may camp near the Lowell Glacier, part of the vast St. Elias icefields. The river flows into Lake Lowell, formed by the terminal moraine of the glacier, and we will camp on that moraine for a beautiful view of the glacier. A good hiking option from this area is a scramble up 3,500-foot Goatherd Mountain. Wildflowers bloom here all summer long, and the alpine tundra turns to bright autumn colors in August. It’s about four hours to the summit, where we’ll be rewarded with outstanding vistas of the St. Elias range and the huge, spilling Lowell Glacier. On clear days, it’s possible to see Mounts Kennedy, Hubbard and Alverstone, over 35 miles to the west. Mountain goats are often seen on the cliffs and in the meadows along our route.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:MTS Private Camp

Day 6: On the Alsek River

Launch the rafts into the river and navigate through the icebergs at the snout of the Lowell Glacier. It’s a surreal scene as the icebergs calve off the glacier and float in this lake-like section of the river. The river picks up speed dramatically as it begins to cut through narrower canyons and increase in volume. We take easy routes through some of the rapids; by mid-afternoon, though, we encounter “Lava North,” a challenging section of Class IV whitewater that’s exciting and thrilling. Our guides will scout the rapid beforehand and determine the best route through; you’ll be in the most capable of hands (in fact, they make running this rapid look easy).

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:MTS Private Camp

Days 7-9: Day hikes along the Alsek – Helicopter portage

For the next few days the water is swift with continuous small rapids as the river cuts through the Alsek Range. During these days on the river, we’ll take several day hikes to explore the area. We may spot grizzly bear, moose, mountain goat, beaver, wolf, muskrat, wolverine, mink, weasel, snowshoe rabbit, hoary marmot, and Alaska red fox along with numerous species of birds. The scenery changes constantly until we come to the Tweedsmuir Glacier, which has forced the river up against the walls of Mt. Blackadar, forming Turnback Canyon, filled with sharp drops and horrendous currents. We may take a relatively easy hike to the canyon, and once there, the impossibility of rafting this section of the Alsek is apparent. Only 30 feet wide in places, the river becomes a boiling cauldron of unnavigable rapids.

We’ll prepare our gear for transport, and a helicopter will fly in to ferry us and the equipment to the gravel flats south of the canyon. From the chopper you can see every hairpin turn and the churning water crashing into the canyon walls. This is the narrowest part of the river, and once on the other side the scenery changes. The river is wider and there are numerous braided channels. There is more vegetation, and bald eagles perch along the mossy cliffs of the Icefield and Noisy Ranges. We’ll relaunch the rafts and drift through the wide valley towards the majestic confluence of the Tatshenshini and Alsek Rivers.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:MTS Private Camp

Day 10: Tatshenshini River

On the southern horizon, a dozen or more glaciers flow down from the summits of the Fairweather Range, while the Alsek disappears back to the north and east into the symmetrical peaks and waterfalls of the Noisy Range . To the west, the main channel of the Alsek flows into the Fairweather Range, where it seems to sink into the forest. The river below its confluence with the Tatshenshini is a vast, gravel flat, braided with constantly changing channels and ringed with forests of willow, birch, and alder. We continue down the river through the deep forested canyons toward the coast. The climate becomes more maritime as we get closer to the Gulf of Alaska and the glaciers more numerous. Farther down the river, we will pass the “Walker Glacier”, which has sprawled down its valley and is visible from the river. Its blue and white shape dominates the view for quite some time.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:MTS Private Camp

Days 11-12: Alsek Bay

We continue to float towards Alsek Bay (also known as Alsek Lake), spotting many species of birds, including bald eagles, semi-palmated plovers, spotted sandpipers, northern phalaropes, American pipits, and more. The Alsek and Grand Plateau Glaciers flow into Alsek Bay, and we’ll watch and listen as giant chunks of ice calve into the water from the seven-mile face of the Alsek glacier. Some icebergs are 75 feet high, indicating a depth below the surface at least twice as great. The guides will row among ice floes sculpted into bizarre, fluted, ever-changing phantasmagoric shapes—a veritable “iceberg garden.”

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:MTS Private Camp

Day 13: Dry Bay – Departure

After floating into the flat, forested plains beyond Alsek Bay, we arrive at the Dry Bay Fishing Company outpost along the estuary of the Alsek River. (Dry Bay is named for the mud flats in low tide, certainly not for the weather patterns here.) Small aircraft will meet us for our spectacular charter flight to Yakutat in time for the scheduled Alas­kan Airlines service to Juneau (we have tailored this trip around this flight, and Juneau is your gateway city to other destinations). Most guests choose to return to Juneau this night. We recommend you stay in Juneau this evening as some flights homeward necessitate a forced overnight in Seattle before connecting with onward-bound flights. We’ll provide you with a list of hotels in the pre-departure information booklet.

Please note—There is only one Yakutat/Juneau Alaska Airlines flight a day, and you must arrange for this flight on your own as it is not provided by Alaska Discovery. Alaska Discovery will meet you at the airport in Juneau and take you to your preferred lodging. We will also bring any excess luggage you may have had shipped from Haines. If you are planning to fly to Anchorage, you will need to stay overnight in Yakutat and catch a flight to Anchorage the next morning.

  • Breakfast/Lunch

Jun 19, 2017 - Jul 01, 2017 (Jul 5) 17 Days Hiker's Special

Jul 01 - 13, 2017 Kevin McDermott as Trip Leader

Jul 19 - 31, 2017 Bruce Keller as Trip Leader

Aug 19 - 31, 2017 Private charter for Visionary Wild

pricing

2017 Prices
$4,595 + tax (5–12 members)
$300 single supplement
Internal air included

Jun 19 Hikers Special
$5095 + tax
Internal Air Included

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Halsingland Hotel — Haines

This Victorian-era hotel offers all the amenities of a modern stay in historic surroundings. Now a National Historic Landmark, the Halsingland was once the Commanding Officers Quarters of Alaska's notable Fort Seward. Many guest rooms are adorned with the original decorative Belgian fireplaces or claw-footed bathtubs.

MTS Private Camp

  • Join this expedition praised by both National Geographic Adventure and Men’s Journal, with the Alaska adventure pioneers since 1972
  • Raft Class II-IV rapids on the Alsek River through one of the largest protected wilderness areas in the world, created on the grandest scale imaginable
  • Enjoy delicious meals and tales of the river told by our professional rafting guides around a crackling riverside campfire beneath the stars, or maybe even the Northern Lights!
  • Take an exciting helicopter portage to catch a bird’s eye view of Turn Back Canyon, the Alsek’s most treacherous canyon of Class VI whitewater
  • Enjoy optional hikes in search of wildlife
  • Float past the largest icebergs in all of Glacier Bay National Park in Alsek Lake

To ride down the Alsek River is to enter a wilderness of unparalleled beauty and scale. The Alsek runs through the largest contiguous protected wilderness on the planet, encompassing Kluane National Park Reserve (the Yukon’s premier wilderness area), the Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Wilderness Park, and Glacier Bay and Wrangell-St. Elias National Parks. This is truly one of the earth’s last great frontiers! Praised by both National Geographic Adventure and Men’s Journal, this is a worthy pilgrimage for thrill-seekers of all kinds. Raft down Class II-Class IV rapids watching glaciers calve into the water and spot tremendous array of wildlife on its shores. Camp by the river each night and enjoy delicious meals while listening to river legends and lore told around the campfire by our professional rafting guides. Take an exciting helicopter portage over a treacherous stretch of river, enjoy optional day hikes up mountain peaks, float past the dense canyon forests, and see largest icebergs in all of Glacier Bay National Park. With raw nature on display at every bend of the river, you’ll end your adventure feeling like a true explorer.
 

DAILY itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Haines, Alaska

Arrive in Haines, Alaska by 3:30pm to have enough time to check in and clean up for your 5:00pm pre-trip meeting at the Halsingland Hotel. We have reserved rooms for our group at the Halsingland Hotel. Just mention you are part of Alaska Discovery group. This room is included on the price of your trip.

  • Accommodation:Halsingland Hotel

Day 2: Travel to Haines Junction in Yukon Territory, Canada

After breakfast on your own, meet at the Halsingland Hotel lobby at 8:00 a.m. and board a van for a beautiful 3½-hour drive (155 miles) up the Chilkat River Valley, across the border into British Columbia, and on to Haines Junction in Yukon Territory, Canada. En route we’ll stop at the Kluane National Park visitor’s center to learn a bit about this vast wilderness. After lunch, we drive to the put-in point on the Dezadeash River, about an hour from Haines Junction. (There is an opportunity to hike part of the way to the river; this is an easy hike with good views of the surrounding mountains.) Launch rafts and begin river trip, floating down the Dezadeash to the confluence with the Kaskawulsh River, where the true Alsek River begins. (If it’s very windy, the guides may elect to stay at this campsite overnight and put in on the river early the next morning.)

NOTE—Because we are making a border crossing into Canada, you will need a passport as proof of nationality. Please check visa requirements for entering Canada if you are not a U.S. or Canadian citizen. If you are traveling with children and both parents are not present, Canadian customs requires a notarized letter from the child’s absent parent(s) saying that they are aware of their child’s whereabouts. A photocopy of the absent parent’s ID(s) and phone number are needed. Minimum age for child participation on this trip is 14.

  • Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:MTS Private Camp

Days 3-5: Rafting and hiking along the Alsek River

Continue downstream, passing through mostly Class II rapids and enjoying the vast scenery. As the river current speeds up we’ll begin to realize the volume and force of the Alsek. We’ll pass large bedrock islands and possibly have time to stop and hike up into the heights above the river for spectacular panoramic views.

We float further into the wilderness and may camp near the Lowell Glacier, part of the vast St. Elias icefields. The river flows into Lake Lowell, formed by the terminal moraine of the glacier, and we will camp on that moraine for a beautiful view of the glacier. A good hiking option from this area is a scramble up 3,500-foot Goatherd Mountain. Wildflowers bloom here all summer long, and the alpine tundra turns to bright autumn colors in August. It’s about four hours to the summit, where we’ll be rewarded with outstanding vistas of the St. Elias range and the huge, spilling Lowell Glacier. On clear days, it’s possible to see Mounts Kennedy, Hubbard and Alverstone, over 35 miles to the west. Mountain goats are often seen on the cliffs and in the meadows along our route.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:MTS Private Camp

Day 6: On the Alsek River

Launch the rafts into the river and navigate through the icebergs at the snout of the Lowell Glacier. It’s a surreal scene as the icebergs calve off the glacier and float in this lake-like section of the river. The river picks up speed dramatically as it begins to cut through narrower canyons and increase in volume. We take easy routes through some of the rapids; by mid-afternoon, though, we encounter “Lava North,” a challenging section of Class IV whitewater that’s exciting and thrilling. Our guides will scout the rapid beforehand and determine the best route through; you’ll be in the most capable of hands (in fact, they make running this rapid look easy).

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:MTS Private Camp

Days 7-9: Day hikes along the Alsek – Helicopter portage

For the next few days the water is swift with continuous small rapids as the river cuts through the Alsek Range. During these days on the river, we’ll take several day hikes to explore the area. We may spot grizzly bear, moose, mountain goat, beaver, wolf, muskrat, wolverine, mink, weasel, snowshoe rabbit, hoary marmot, and Alaska red fox along with numerous species of birds. The scenery changes constantly until we come to the Tweedsmuir Glacier, which has forced the river up against the walls of Mt. Blackadar, forming Turnback Canyon, filled with sharp drops and horrendous currents. We may take a relatively easy hike to the canyon, and once there, the impossibility of rafting this section of the Alsek is apparent. Only 30 feet wide in places, the river becomes a boiling cauldron of unnavigable rapids.

We’ll prepare our gear for transport, and a helicopter will fly in to ferry us and the equipment to the gravel flats south of the canyon. From the chopper you can see every hairpin turn and the churning water crashing into the canyon walls. This is the narrowest part of the river, and once on the other side the scenery changes. The river is wider and there are numerous braided channels. There is more vegetation, and bald eagles perch along the mossy cliffs of the Icefield and Noisy Ranges. We’ll relaunch the rafts and drift through the wide valley towards the majestic confluence of the Tatshenshini and Alsek Rivers.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:MTS Private Camp

Day 10: Tatshenshini River

On the southern horizon, a dozen or more glaciers flow down from the summits of the Fairweather Range, while the Alsek disappears back to the north and east into the symmetrical peaks and waterfalls of the Noisy Range . To the west, the main channel of the Alsek flows into the Fairweather Range, where it seems to sink into the forest. The river below its confluence with the Tatshenshini is a vast, gravel flat, braided with constantly changing channels and ringed with forests of willow, birch, and alder. We continue down the river through the deep forested canyons toward the coast. The climate becomes more maritime as we get closer to the Gulf of Alaska and the glaciers more numerous. Farther down the river, we will pass the “Walker Glacier”, which has sprawled down its valley and is visible from the river. Its blue and white shape dominates the view for quite some time.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:MTS Private Camp

Days 11-12: Alsek Bay

We continue to float towards Alsek Bay (also known as Alsek Lake), spotting many species of birds, including bald eagles, semi-palmated plovers, spotted sandpipers, northern phalaropes, American pipits, and more. The Alsek and Grand Plateau Glaciers flow into Alsek Bay, and we’ll watch and listen as giant chunks of ice calve into the water from the seven-mile face of the Alsek glacier. Some icebergs are 75 feet high, indicating a depth below the surface at least twice as great. The guides will row among ice floes sculpted into bizarre, fluted, ever-changing phantasmagoric shapes—a veritable “iceberg garden.”

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:MTS Private Camp

Day 13: Dry Bay – Departure

After floating into the flat, forested plains beyond Alsek Bay, we arrive at the Dry Bay Fishing Company outpost along the estuary of the Alsek River. (Dry Bay is named for the mud flats in low tide, certainly not for the weather patterns here.) Small aircraft will meet us for our spectacular charter flight to Yakutat in time for the scheduled Alas­kan Airlines service to Juneau (we have tailored this trip around this flight, and Juneau is your gateway city to other destinations). Most guests choose to return to Juneau this night. We recommend you stay in Juneau this evening as some flights homeward necessitate a forced overnight in Seattle before connecting with onward-bound flights. We’ll provide you with a list of hotels in the pre-departure information booklet.

Please note—There is only one Yakutat/Juneau Alaska Airlines flight a day, and you must arrange for this flight on your own as it is not provided by Alaska Discovery. Alaska Discovery will meet you at the airport in Juneau and take you to your preferred lodging. We will also bring any excess luggage you may have had shipped from Haines. If you are planning to fly to Anchorage, you will need to stay overnight in Yakutat and catch a flight to Anchorage the next morning.

  • Breakfast/Lunch
lodgings

Halsingland Hotel — Haines

This Victorian-era hotel offers all the amenities of a modern stay in historic surroundings. Now a National Historic Landmark, the Halsingland was once the Commanding Officers Quarters of Alaska's notable Fort Seward. Many guest rooms are adorned with the original decorative Belgian fireplaces or claw-footed bathtubs.

MTS Private Camp

Dates and Pricing

Jun 19, 2017 - Jul 01, 2017 (Jul 5) 17 Days Hiker's Special

Jul 01 - 13, 2017 Kevin McDermott as Trip Leader

Jul 19 - 31, 2017 Bruce Keller as Trip Leader

Aug 19 - 31, 2017 Private charter for Visionary Wild

pricing

2017 Prices
$4,595 + tax (5–12 members)
$300 single supplement
Internal air included

Jun 19 Hikers Special
$5095 + tax
Internal Air Included

Activity Level Moderate to Strenuous
Trip Length 13 days

From $4,595

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