When There’s No Turning Back

April 4, 2019 by Kristin Wagner

At Turnback Canyon, the formidable Alsek River narrowed to a stone’s throw between banks, resulting in harrowing rapids that would certainly devour boaters attempting the treacherous descent. To experience the remainder of this stunning river before it emptied into the Gulf of Alaska, however, turning back was not an option.

The night before, we huddled around a fire listening to tales of dauntless adventurers who braved this canyon. Our guides shared the lore of Walt Blackadar and how he narrowly escaped death. They spoke of this feat with awe tempered by respect for the river.

For the past 82 miles, our three boats had been immersed in the remote wilderness of the Yukon and British Columbia. This was nature on a whole different scale, overwhelmingly vast in magnitude. Each day had intoxicated our senses with pristine beauty; expansive glaciers, curious erratics, cerulean ponds, and grizzly bears. At night, we had camped next to glaciers, listening to explosive thunder of their calving.

Our three guides shared a contagious passion for the Alsek. We found ourselves eagerly formulating more and more questions, and their extensive knowledge amazed us. They were naturalists, geologists, storytellers, as well as gourmet chefs. Swiftly catering to the need of each guest, they were compassionate and sincere as they revealed the treasures of the river.

We were a group of twelve intrepid travelers who, along with our guides, would become lifelong friends. Our ages spanned four decades, but in spirit we were kindred. In camp, 20-somethings taught 60-somethings to play Ninja, we shared stories and books, and all danced the hokey-pokey in the pouring rain. The challenges this rugged wilderness presented were greeted with smiles and camaraderie.

Turnback Canyon roiled at our feet, yet we were thrilled knowing a turn back was not in our future. The following morning, a helicopter whirred through the low fog and landed on the beach ready to portage us downriver for the next 92 miles of adventure. Giddy with excitement, we were able to see the power of the river and the expanse of the glaciers from a new perspective.

The MT Sobek Alsek River trip surpassed all expectations for my husband, our adult nieces, and me. It was 17 days of being consumed by, immersed in, and a part of a stunningly dramatic landscape. It was delighting in new knowledge and stories of the land. It was creating bonds of friendship that have endured beyond our goodbyes at Dry Bay, Alaska. It was an adventure into life with a resounding yes, when turning back was out of the question.

Kristin Wagner, MT Sobek Guest

MT Sobek Trip: Rafting the Alsek River, 2017

About the Author Kristin Wagner

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