Journey of Lifetime
John Buchanan is a freelance writer who, along with his wife, joined our Tatshenshini raft trip. This is his travelogue of that journey.
“From the moment our group of 12 began this epic journey, it became obvious why National Geographic titled it the #1 river trip in the world.”
The Tatshenshini River courses its way through northern British Columbia/Alaska. It is home to a plethora of nature’s animals including grizzlies, moose, lynx, falcons, eagles, caribou, and wolves. The 225 km journey flows through the highest and most spectacular glacial mountains found in the Coast Mountains Range.
From the moment our group of 12 began this epic journey, it became obvious why National Geographic titled it the #1 river trip in the world. Our 3 rafts, each manned by a professional guide-paddler and 4 guests, meandered through a land of high peaks, virgin forest, blue-tinted glaciers, snowcapped mountains and the largest non-polar ice field in the world.
On the first day of our 10 day trip we ran the waters of Tatshenshini Canyon where we crashed exciting whitewater rapids. It was an invigorating experience, yet we felt safe under the expert paddling skills and leadership of our guides.
The itinerary called for some layover days that allowed for hikes to surrounding viewpoints where the true grandeur of this incredible landscape emphasized the wilderness treasure below us. The carpet of fuchsia, mountain aspen, purple fireweed, paintbrush, geraniums, columbines, and saxifrage excited both the naturalist and photographer amongst us.
Beginning on Day 1 and continuing to Day 10 we were overwhelmed by a savory, quality menu prepared by our guides. They bake their own breads/cakes, lasagna from scratch, leg of lamb cooked on an open flame, salads, steak, salmon, and desserts that blew our minds. These were complimented with coffee, tea, wine, liquor, and pop. For those with healthy appetites or weak wills, you will understand why these rafting trips are laughingly referred to as “float and bloats”.
Eventually we rafted into the Alsek River, as the Tatshenshini is a tributary of the Alesk. Together they flow through the largest protected biosphere in the world. So significant are the rivers and the wilderness they course through, that they have been designated a world heritage area by UNESCO.
Although the highlights were ongoing, two of the most memorable ones were ahead. We made camp just after entering Alaska and beside the magnificent Walker Glacier. If the views of the glacier were not enough, we had the opportunity to hike on the glacier itself. The hues of green, white, and blue, the cold air that caused us to see our breaths and tingled the skin, and the massiveness of the glacier overwhelmed our being. It gave perspective to our responsibility as stewards of nature.
Just when we had assured ourselves that we had seen and experienced all that the river could offer, we were treated to Alsek Lake. The lake is rimmed, in part, by massive glaciers that calve huge bergs into its waters. Rafting among and alongside these behemoths of ice left us in awe. Camping on its shore allowed us a continuing view of the icebergs. The opportunity to grab a cup of coffee or glass of wine, wander down to the beach, sit on a log and merge ones thoughts with nature was the cherry on the journey.
Our final day we drifted into Dry Bay, Alaska where we were met by a chartered plane that flew us back to Whitehorse.
I have traveled the world and visited wilderness areas along the way. Many of these will be long remembered. The Tatshenshini falls into a special category that I would recommend as “must-see” natural wonders of the world.
There are a number of adventure companies that offer guided raft trips on the Tashenshini. I highly recommend Sea to Sky Wilderness Adventures for their professionalism, services, safety, and friendliness. Their menu is exceptional and most all the gear is supplied by them with the exception of personal gear.