2 Weeks on the Alsek River

by Laura Hughes

August 30, 2018 Trip Notes

I came into this trip not a rafter. Never been on a packraft. So when I arrived in Alaska for a 2-week trip on the Alsek River, I came with an open mind and an attitude of learning. I didn’t know what would be required of me, but I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime type of trip, and I was ready for anything.

In some ways, rafting the Alsek is the most rugged expedition you could ever take. In other ways, it feels like one big summer camp for adults.

When our group of 10 loaded up the packrafts we’d be traveling on for 2 weeks, our guides told us this would be a true expedition. That weather dictated the trip in many regards, and certainly that we would share the backcountry trails with grizzly bears. But among the vast, raw landscape we found a sense of belonging, empowerment, and awe.

And snacks. Endless amounts of snacks. Our guides were prepared.

It’s hard to put into words the majesty of the Alsek River because it’s truly larger than life in every thinkable way. From start to finish, rafting the Alsek is a nearly 200-mile journey heading south from the Yukon interior, through northern British Columbia, and into southeastern Alaska. You raft through national and provincial parks on both sides of the US/Canada border.

In some places, you meander along milky braids of silt-laden river water stretching up to 2 miles wide, while in others, the Alsek cuts through a narrow and unforgiving canyon, pushing its immense water flow through spaces that are a mere 30 feet. You sleep next to glowing blue glaciers, falling asleep to the low rumble of ice calving. If you’re there in the summer, you rarely see the sun set. If you’re there in the winter, you might catch the Northern Lights. There are so many impressive peaks and glaciers out there that some of them have yet to be named.

So it’s not hard to see why someone would say “yes” to going on a trip down the Alsek. On natural beauty alone, this rafting expedition stands apart. But the real richness of this trip came through as our group learned to work together. Everything from setting up camp on soft sandy river shores, to running the Lava North rapids, to pitching tents in rain storms and warming up by a covered fire–it all happened together.

I walked away from this trip having learned a lot about rafting, but I came back home with more than refreshed knot tying skills and photos of this majestic place. I returned home with relationships I didn’t expect with a group of people I’m now bonded to through this incredible experience and the memories we all made out in the remote wilderness.

They say something like rafting the Alsek is once-in-a-lifetime, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to do it all again.

To read a detailed account of the trip I took, check out my story on The Outbound Collective.

Click here to see our approximate stops along the Alsek, including camping and hiking spots.

Laura Hughes

Want to join us on the Alsek? Check out our trip online here.