What the Alsek & Tatshenshini Rivers Mean to Me
by Christa Sadler
April 18, 2016 Adventure Experts
April 18, 2016 Adventure Experts
I’d been running the Colorado River through Grand Canyon for about 10 years when I first discovered Alaska’s big rivers: the Alsek and Tatshenshini. Up until that point, if anyone ever asked me if I wanted to go anywhere else to run other rivers, I always said “No way! I love the canyon and can’t imagine any place I’d like half as much!” I was so naive!
My first trip down the Alsek River (which courses through the Yukon and British Columbia before entering Alaska) hit me hard. I was hooked. I went straight home, got my guiding license for Canada and Glacier Bay National Park, and started reading as much as I could about that part of the world. Why? I’d worked in Southeast Alaska since 1990, doing natural history tours on small cruise vessels. I loved the work and always looked forward to my time in the rainforest and out on the ocean looking for charismatic megafauna. But I never felt like I had to come back. It was a nice change from the desert in the heat of summer, but nothing that felt like it needed to be a part of my life.
Until I met those rivers. The Alsek and Tatshenshini Rivers, and the Hulahula and Kongakut up in the Arctic, are like rivers from a different time. They travel through unbroken wilderness, which for the most part has not seen the hand of humans. The vast wilderness that is Alaska is the only place I know that makes places like the Grand Canyon look, well, smaller. We boat through intact ecosystems, something rare and precious on our planet today. We share the place with bears and wolves—animals higher on the food chain than we are, and I love that. I don’t feel scared out there, only exhilarated. Learning how to live in that place—how to begin to read the weather, spot and live among animals, read the river, and navigate around icebergs and gravel bars—is for me one of the greatest gifts Alaska can give. I love being a part of the place, rather than apart from the place. I love sitting and watching animals just do what animals do when they have no idea we are around.
These rivers require some effort. The weather is not always easy and it’s often a lot colder than the Grand Canyon. When the sun is out, it’s out for a long time and I think I’ve been more sunburned in Alaska than anywhere else on the planet. You do have to take precautions around the animals, and pay attention. But it is so worth the effort! I think these are some of the most beautiful, magical, awe-inspiring landscapes in the world, and I am grateful that the animals allow us to share their home for a time while we’re there. I feel truly lucky to be able to work in such places.
Christa Sadler is a geologist, educator, river guide and writer with a serious addiction to rivers, deserts, mountains and chocolate. Christa has been guiding on the rivers of the West since 1986, and although she has a home in Flagstaff, Arizona, she’s hardly ever there. Her research in archaeology, geology and paleontology has taken her around the globe, including searching for dinosaurs in Montana, fighting off dust storms and overly curious camels in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia, and steering clear of annoyed marine iguanas in the Galapagos Islands. Christa also runs ‘This Earth,” a small business that brings geology and fossil programs to students aged K-12 around the country. She loves to write about geology, rivers, fossils and the land, and she has published several books and articles. She teaches and guides in the spring and fall, and escapes to Alaska in the summers to guide and write. Winters are usually spent recovering. Or sea kayaking in Baja California.