Trip Number: 13020A
Staff: Dennis Teutschel
- Raft one of the world's most scenic rivers
- Explore spectacular glaciers and hike in pristine wilderness
- See wildlife that includes bears, moose, eagles, and sheep
- Tents, waterproof bags, rubber boots, sleeping bag & pad, lifejacket
- Rafts and professional guides
- Charter plane flight to Yakutat
British Columbia's Tatshenshini-Alsek Wilderness Park and Alaska's Glacier
Bay National Park and Preserve represent the sub-Arctic Pacific Northwest at
its finest. Along with neighboring Wrangell-St. Elias and Kluane parks, these
parks form a UNESCO World Heritage site that, with almost 38,000 square miles,
is the largest protected wilderness ecosystem on earth. This is a place truly
unspoiled by humankind's heavy hand. The Tatshenshini River is known for its
spectacular scenery and wildlife, and many seasoned river-runners consider this
to be one of the world's premier raft trips. If you can take only one expedition
to Alaska in a lifetime, this is it.
From its headwaters in Canada's Yukon Territory, the Tatshenshini River flows
south through British Columbia's highest mountain range to its confluence with
the Alsek River, which eventually enters the Pacific Ocean at Dry Bay on the
Gulf of Alaska. We will be rafting about 140 miles of this rivershed. The waters
of the Tatshenshini flow slate-gray with the silted melt waters of the surrounding
glaciers and snowfields. Numerous side streams add to the flow until the braided
"Tat" becomes a mile wide. In all of North America, only the Columbia
River delivers more water to the Pacific Ocean.
Photo: Curtis Mobley
Here the air is crisp and clean, and the sky -- when it is clear -- is a brilliant
blue. Wildflowers line the riverbanks, and the valleys are verdant green against
a backdrop of rugged gray peaks cloaked in ice and snow. Icebergs can be seen
and heard breaking off glacial faces into Alsek Lake near the end of the trip.
Wildlife can be plentiful on this Alaskan adventure. Eagles soar overhead while
shore birds scurry along the water's edge. We will have an excellent chance
of seeing bear, beaver, moose, red fox, mountain goats, Dall sheep, and perhaps
a wolf, wolverine, or lynx. As we hike and float through this beauty, there
will be plenty of time for photography, drawing, or just relaxing and enjoying
the views, the silence, and the solitude.
Most Alaskan adventures -- especially those that include backpacking -- require
considerable experience, equipment, physical stamina, time, planning, and effort.
Rafting, however, is perhaps the least strenuous -- some would say the safest
and most comfortable -- way to gain access to the true Alaskan wilds. Ten days
exploring this region and floating the Tatshenshini and Alsek rivers is the
perfect "Introduction to Alaska" for wilderness lovers.
We rowed up its fjord and landed to make a slight examination of its frontal
wall. The berg-producing portion, a mile and a half wide, was broken into an
imposing array of jagged spires and pyramids, and flat-topped towers and battlements,
many shades of blue from pale, shimmering, limpid tones in the crevasses and
hollows to the most startling, chilling, almost shrieking vitriol blue on the
plain mural spaces ... It seemed inconceivable that nature could have anything
-- Sierra Club founder John Muir, Travels in Alaska, 1875
This trip begins in Haines, Alaska, and ends in Yakutat, Alaska. You are responsible
for securing transportation to Haines and from Yakutat. All other transportation
is provided and included in the trip price. The trip involves crossing into
Canada, which requires appropriate documents (see below).
Haines is the type of town many people picture when they imagine Alaska. Nestled
in the upper reaches of the Lynn Canal, with the Chilkat River Valley behind
it, Haines is home to the world-famous Bald Eagle Preserve. The Chilkat Mountain
Range rises behind the river, providing a dramatic backdrop to the picturesque
town, with restored Fort Seward buildings decorating the hillside in the foreground.
Try to arrive in Haines a day or two early; there is much to see and explore.
Day 1: You should arrive in Haines by 3 p.m. on July 2. A
double-occupancy room at the Hotel Halsingland will be waiting for you. There
will be a mandatory orientation meeting at the hotel (the exact time to be given
in future correspondence). This is where you will receive your waterproof bags
and other equipment provided, get your personal equipment checked, ask any last-minute
questions, and receive information about the next morning's departure. No meals
will be provided on July 2. After the meeting you will have time to pack your
waterproof bag. Tents need not be packed in your bag; they will be stored separately.
Your leader will cover the details of packing your gear, luggage storage arrangements,
and any other questions at the orientation meeting.
Day 2: We will depart early for the put-in at Dalton Post,
Yukon Territory, 110 scenic miles from Haines. The highway to the put-in passes
through the Bald Eagle Preserve before climbing out of the coastal valley, entering
Canada, and climbing into the alpine region of Chilkat Pass. Wildflowers, jagged
mountain peaks, and hanging glaciers set the scene here. Once we reach the put-in,
the guides will load the rafts, explain the "rules of the river" and
"bear etiquette," then we'll be underway! Lunch this day is the first
Photo: Curtis Mobley
Days 3-9: The first section of the river takes us through
Tatshenshini Gorge. After six miles of Class III rapids, the land opens up and
flattens out. The remainder of the river is generally Class II at normal water
levels. We soon enter the Tatshenshini-Alsek Wilderness Park where, over the
next several days, we will wind our way toward the beautiful Alsek and Noisy
ranges. Thickly forested valleys provide the perfect habitat for a large population
of moose. Soon the river reaches the Alsek Mountains, a towering range of ice-capped
peaks that turns the river south. Here the river once again picks up speed.
There are good short hikes in this area. Weather permitting, we will have spectacular
views of the surrounding mountains. This is prime wildlife habitat; the beaches
are often marked by the tracks of moose, bears, and wolves, and occasionally
we may catch glimpses of the animals themselves.
As the river braids out into an ever-widening valley, tributaries pour in,
doubling the river's volume time and again as it cuts deeper into the mountain
ranges. The broad, open deltas of the tributaries provide excellent locations
to spot wildlife. High on the slopes above, beautiful white mountain goats and
Dall sheep graze on the grassy knolls and rugged crags. As we float downstream,
the mountains grow taller, and the glaciers become larger and more numerous.
The confluence of the Tatshenshini and Alsek rivers is an awe-inspiring place.
Here, four major valleys converge, and the river becomes a giant rolling highway,
braiding out across a wide valley. Our camp here will be near the Alaskan border,
where we will enter Glacier Bay National Park.
As we head farther downstream, the Alsek rounds a blind corner and reveals
the massive Walker Glacier. In the past, this breathtaking glacier tumbled down,
crystal-blue, to the river's edge. Now the glacier has receded, and we plan
to make a short hike (about a mile) to explore this glacier for an afternoon.
Only by wandering onto the glacier will we be able to truly appreciate how huge,
powerful, and almost alive they really are.
Back on the river again, we'll count more than 20 glaciers in a spectacular
panorama, where the river quickly moves away from the Walker, and the surrounding
high peaks rise steeply from the banks to their heavily glaciated summits. This
is literally "Ice Age country," with dozens of large and small glaciers
filling every vista around our rafts. We'll pass the immense Novatak Glacier
and float toward Alsek Lake. Here we should see many species of birds, including
bald eagles, semi-palmated plovers, spotted sandpipers, northern phalaropes,
water pipits, and Canada geese.
Near the end of the trip, we'll reach Alsek Lake, where the Alsek and Grand
Plateau glaciers join at the river to form an eight-mile-wide ice face, arching
around the beautiful lake and filling it with icebergs. Thunder rumbles across
the lake at regular intervals as the glacier spawns another berg. This scene
is just the foreground, though, to one of the world's most beautiful and stunning
backdrops: the massive rise of 15,300-foot, ice-clad Mt. Fairweather. Weather
permitting, we will spend a day rowing out onto the lake for a closer look at
the massive icebergs. Our last camp on Alsek Lake will be the most spectacular
yet. Here you will learn the meaning of the phrase "scenic overload."
Day 10: We will leave Alsek Lake for the final leg of our
float trip to the take out near Dry Bay, where the mighty Alsek meets the ocean.
Here we will board small charter planes (flights included in trip price) for
the scenic trip to Yakutat, where we will connect with Alaska Airlines for the
flight to Juneau (arriving around 7:30 p.m.). The flight to Juneau is not included
in the trip price. The last meal of the trip will be lunch on this day.
Photo: Curtis Mobley
There are three ways to reach Haines: fly, take the ferry, or drive. Most
trip members choose to fly in and out of Juneau, Alaska. Alaska Airlines (www.alaskaair.com)
flies to Juneau, where you can connect with Wings of Alaska (www.wingsofalaska.com
or 907-789-0790) scheduled flights for the scenic 75-mile flight to Haines (around
$110 one way). You can also charter your own flight (see the Haines website
below for charter flight companies). The Alaska Marine Highway System (www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs/
or 800-642-0066) has regular ferry service to Haines from Juneau (around $40);
Bellingham, Washington; or Prince Rupert, British Columbia.
You can also drive to Haines via the Alaska Highway, which is a very long trip
from the lower 48, and 775 miles from Anchorage. For additional information
regarding Haines, visit www.haines.ak.us or call the Haines Visitors Center,
at 907-766-2234 or 800-458-3579.
Alaska Airlines currently has one flight a day from Yakutat to Juneau, leaving
around dinnertime. You will need to make reservations ahead of time for this
flight on the last day of the trip. All flights are subject to weather delays,
in which case you may be delayed in Dry Bay or Yakutat for the night. Most airlines
will be accommodating in these situations, but it is wise to discuss this possibility
when scheduling your travel arrangements. Do not schedule your arrival and departure
dates too tightly; allow some flexibility for canceled flights and other delays.
Because of the possibility of weather-related flight delays, it is strongly
recommended that you purchase travel insurance.
Accommodations and Food
Accommodations (double occupancy) will be reserved for you for the first night
at the historic Hotel Halsingland in Haines. You will need to make your own
reservations for lodging in Juneau at the end of the trip, if needed, or for
earlier nights in Haines. The leader can provide a list of recommended hotels
Some Juneau hotels have a shuttle service. Express and Driftwood Shuttle also
provide transportation to local hotels for about $6. The Bed & Breakfast
Association of Alaska (www.accommodations-alaska.com) books more than 25 B&Bs
in Juneau and Haines; they are also very helpful with ferry and flight reservations.
During the trip, tent space is limited to minimize impact and the amount of
equipment that must be carried on the rafts. Therefore we provide "double-occupancy"
tents. If you must have your own private space, individual tents can be rented
at an extra charge.
All meals are included in the price, starting with lunch on day two, and ending
with lunch on day ten. Our staff will supply and prepare all of the food and
provide eating utensils. If you have a special dietary need, please inform the
trip leader upon enrollment. It may not be possible to meet all special dietary
requests, but the sooner the request is received, the better the chance it's
The river provides plenty of highs and excitement. For your safety and the
safety and the enjoyment of others, no drinking is allowed during the day or
while on the river. You may bring your favorite beverages in plastic bottles
or cans (no glass) for camp use. Remember, alcohol accentuates the cold, speeds
hypothermia, and contributes to dehydration. Moderation is the rule.
Photo: Curtis Mobley
This is a trip of intermediate difficulty. On the international whitewater
scale of I (easy) to VI (unrunnable), the rapids in Tatshenshini Gorge are rated
Class IV in high water and Class III at normal flows. It is not the rapids that
make the "Tat" a trip of intermediate difficulty, but the weather.
Coastal Alaska's climate is generally cold and wet. This is an area famous for
record levels of precipitation. Indeed, the high mountains here get 60 feet
of winter snow, producing some of the largest glaciers in the world outside
of the polar regions.
When it rains, it can be very heavy and cold with wind. We may encounter thick
fog as well. The weather will have a strong influence on the itinerary and overall
difficulty of the trip. It is normal, however, to have some days of glorious
sunshine. The temperatures may reach the 70s, but the lows can be in the 30s,
and generally the need is to keep warm and dry. For this reason, previous wilderness
camping experience is a must for participation on this trip.
Although we make every effort to ensure a safe trip and have an excellent safety
record, whitewater boating, hiking, and wilderness travel do involve some risks.
Physical challenges and risks are inherent in rafting and are often the reason
people seek this kind of adventure. If you elect to participate, you must be
in good health and willing to assist with camp chores such as loading and unloading
duffel and community equipment on and off the rafts, and carrying it to and
from the campsites. Each person must be able to take care of his or her personal
needs and attend to his or her own campsite. Strict adherence to "bear
etiquette" is necessary to help us maintain the excellent safety record
of previous trips on this river.
On-shore exploration ranges from easy walks to more difficult hikes requiring
some scrambling ability. The specific hikes we do depends on where we camp each
night and on weather conditions. Glacier walks can be dangerous. Although all
hikes are optional, good physical conditioning is important in any wilderness
outing. We strongly recommend that you engage in a program of regular exercise
prior to the trip. This trip should be considered an "active" vacation,
as you will be packing and unpacking your gear, setting up your tent, and participating
in side hikes. These activities, taken together in a wilderness environment,
are physically demanding if you are not in shape. The trip leader is responsible
for screening participants for their suitability for the trip.
The pace of the trip will be leisurely, allowing time for hiking, photography,
and exploration. It is a great trip for both new and experienced rafters alike.
Minimum age for this trip is 12 (18 if unaccompanied by an adult).
We use professional raft outfitters and guides for our raft trips. The industry
practice is that outfitters require participants to sign a waiver similar to
the Sierra Club waiver you will be asked to sign. Your trip leader will provide
you with the details for your trip.
Equipment and Clothing
We will use 16- or 18-foot oar-powered rafts, each controlled by an experienced,
licensed river guide. The Sierra Club opposes the use of motorized craft in
wilderness areas, and our rafts are free of the engine noise and exhaust fumes
found on some commercial river trips. If you wish to do some rowing yourself,
ask your boatman if you can try your hand at the oars during a calm spot on
the river. Our boats are not "paddle rafts," so trip members will
not be paddling the boats. We will have professional river guides and staff
that know the river.
We will supply two large waterproof "dry bags," a sturdy tent (double
occupancy), a sleeping bag & pad, heavy-duty raingear, rubber boots and
gloves, a lifejacket, a mug, a plate, and eating utensils for each trip member.
A detailed equipment list will be sent to you upon acceptance on the trip.
The weather can be very volatile in this area, so the key to enjoying yourself
is to be properly dressed. This involves the layering method that allows you
to add or subtract layers as the weather changes. It can be very wet at times,
so you must have clothes that keep you warm even if you're not dry. Therefore,
you need to have wool, fleece, or polypropylene clothing. Cotton absolutely
must be avoided. Likewise, your sleeping bag (provided) will be synthetic, as
a down-filled bag is worthless when wet.
Do not bring cell phones (they won’t work there anyway), laptop computers,
or music systems. Likewise, leave the worries of your overstressed life at the
Leave unnecessary valuables at home. For those essential valuables (wallet,
credit cards, passport, and plane tickets), double-bag them in Ziploc-type bags
and store them in the waterproof bag containing your clothing. Handle film/camera-cards
and medications in a similar fashion. There is no long-term storage for valuables
provided in Haines.
Luggage storage facilities have been arranged for in Haines. Your luggage to
be stored must be brought to the meeting place on the morning of departure.
Car storage is provided free at our orientation meeting place. If you are flying
from Yakutat to Juneau on the last day of the trip, we will arrange for your
left-luggage to be forwarded to Juneau so you can pick it up there.
While there are plenty of salmon in the river, the river is opaque and silty,
and the fish therefore don't feed once they leave the ocean, so the fishing
is not good. Therefore, leave your fishing gear at home. You can fish at other
locations in the Juneau-Haines area before or after the trip.
As for travel documents, Americans must have a passport to travel to Canada
and return to the US; a driver's license or birth certificate alone is no longer
adequate. Non-U.S. citizens must have re-entry visas for the U.S. and Canadian
visas where applicable.
To fully enjoy the trip, you will want to read one or more books on the
natural and human history of the Tatshenshini-Alsek region, conservation,
and Alaska before we depart. This outing is unique in many ways and it would
be a shame not to come intellectually well prepared. Even a rudimentary grasp
of the region's natural and human history will greatly enhance your experience.
The following are especially recommended:
- Muir, John. Travels in Alaska. The classic, by our founder and
- Wayburn, Peggy. Adventuring in Alaska. The Club's excellent travel
guidebook, written by one of the Club's most impassioned defenders of Alaskan
- Lyman, Russ, Joe Ordonez, and Mike Speaks, 2004. The Complete Guide
to the Tatshenshini River and Map of the Alsek and Tatshenshini Rivers. Both
are available at www.cloudburstproductions.net/. The standard river guide
and map for this trip.
- Hamilton, Heather. A Naturalist's Guide to the Tatshenshini-Alsek.
- Careless, Ric; Budd, Ken; Mikes, Johnny (Eds.). Tatshenshini River Wild.
An excellent large-format book of photography and art of the Tatshenshini
region, produced during the battle to save the Tatshenshini watershed. A great
souvenir of the trip.
- McPhee, John. Coming into the Country. An erudite and engaging
introduction to Alaska, especially for McPhee fans.
One of the greatest conservation battles and victories of the late-20th century
played out in the wilderness through which we will travel. This struggle has
much to teach us, and we will take the time while on the river to discuss it
further. The battle began when a Canadian mining company wanted to develop a
huge copper mining operation on Windy Craggy Mountain, in the Tatshenshini watershed.
Environmentalists opposed the proposal because the copper ore at Windy Craggy
has a particularly high concentration of sulfur, which, when exposed to air,
oxidizes to form sulphuric acid. Environmentalists worried that the proposed
storage methods -- tailings pools behind earthen dams -- were inadequate to
protect the Tatshenshini watershed, especially because the area is prone to
large earthquakes. Moreover, the service roads would have run dangerously close
to the Tatshenshini River.
In addition to potentially polluting the Tatshenshini and Alsek rivers, toxic
fallout from the mine would have destroyed the habitat of one of the largest
concentrations of grizzly bears in Canada. The winter range of the Dall sheep
and the habitats of mountain goats and wolves also would have been damaged.
The mine would have harmed the salmon in the two rivers. In 1993, showing the
courage and leadership so often lacking in the U.S., the Canadian government
not only denied the mine proposal but declared the entire Tatshenshini-Alsek
region in northwest British Columbia a Class A wilderness, to be permanently
protected and managed as wilderness. The area, the Tatshenshini-Alsek Wilderness
Provincial Park, is 2.5 million acres in size -- twice that of the Grand Canyon.
The park, which abuts the Wrangell-St. Elias National Preserve and Glacier Bay
National Park in Alaska and the Kluane National Park in the Yukon Territory,
is now part of a new 24.3-million acre "St. Elias-Tatshenshini World Wilderness
Reserve," the largest in the world.
Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining
wilderness be destroyed; if we permit the last virgin forests to be turned into
comic books and plastic cigarette cases; if we drive the few remaining members
of the wild species into zoos or to extinction; if we pollute the last clear
air and dirty the last clean streams and push our paved roads through the last
of the silence, so that never again will Americans be free in their own country
from the noise, the exhaust fumes, the stinks of human and automotive waste.
-- Wallace Stegner, 1960
Travel in Alaska and the Arctic
Sierra Club outings in Alaska and Arctic Canada are special experiences in true wilderness, but they also carry an element of risk. Trip locales are often remote, away from the amenities of civilization, including sophisticated medical care and immediate evacuation possibilities. Many of our Alaska and Arctic Canada trips now carry satellite phones, but even with this technology, communication with the outside world can be difficult and emergency assistance can be days away. Weather in Alaska and Arctic Canada is unpredictable, and inclement weather can be severe. Among other hazards are cold river and stream crossings, tidal activity, calving glaciers, the psychological effects of remoteness, and the presence of large wild animals. You're in good hands, though, so don't worry: Your trip leaders have vast experience in the Last Frontier, and they'll provide all the guidance you need.
See the How to Apply for an Outing section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation Policy.
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
For over a decade Dennis has led rafting trips for the Sierra Club. In 2010 he was recognized by the Sierra Club for his leadership skills and service. He has lead rafting trips in Utah, Idaho, Oregon, California, Alaska and British Columbia. His trips emphasize the "whole experience." Participants can expect to learn about the geology, wildlife, history, human influences, and challenges unique to the rivers and canyons his trips travel through. His focus is to have participants come away from their adventure with enough knowledge and experience to advocate for the fragile and unique ecosystems of the rivers and canyons they travel through. Feel free to contact Dennis if you have questions about his trips.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips