Tatshenshini River Itinerary: Shawshe (Dalton Post), Yukon to Dry Bay, Alaska, 11 river days: 255 km (160 miles)
13 Day Tatshenshini River Expedition by Raft: Perhaps the wildest and most visually spectacular river in North America. The Tatshenshini flows through the heart of the largest bio-preserve in the world. Recently protected by the establishment of Tatshenshini Provincial Park, the river flows past tall mountains, vast glaciers and an iceberg dotted lake.
Bald eagles abound, grizzlies feed on spawning salmon and if you are lucky, you may catch a glimpse of the rare blue glacier bear. This adventure is an international journey of unparalleled beauty. This is the region of the recent “Iceman” discovery mentioned in the Fall 1999 newsletter, “Northern Currents”.
Originating in the southwest corner of the Yukon, the Tatshenshini runs south and west through British Columbia and then Alaska, meeting tidewater at Dry Bay on the Gulf of Alaska. We join the river at Shaw She, a traditional home place of the Champagne Aishihik First Nation people. Almost immediately the river enters a narrow canyon and cascades through many exciting rapids before opening into a broad U-shaped valley surrounded by the Alsek and Carmine Ranges. Hiking opportunities in the rich coastal ranges can be well rewarded with sightings of goats, moose, and bald eagles. At the riverside grizzlies may be seen feeding on the spawning salmon. Further down river the valley broadens at the confluence with the Alsek River. At Walker Glacier we will have the opportunity to explore the surface of 10,000 + year old ice.
This is a region of the sharp Coast Range and vast glaciers. Another day downstream brings us to Alsek Lake where we can watch numerous glaciers actively calving huge blocks of ice into the river in front of our rafts. Here also is Mount Fairweather, rising more than 15,300 feet and dominating the skyline. We make out final camp within Glacier Bay National Park, a short distance from the ocean. In the early days the Tatshenshini served as a corridor for trade and travel between the coastal Tlingit and interior Athapaskan Indians.
The first European expedition recorded did not occur until 1890 by a journalist for a New York illustrated weekly. With the establishment of Tatsheshini Provincial Park the river is now the heart of the largest bio-preserve in the world. Even today the Tatshenshini offers an uncommon pristine wilderness experience, free for the most part from the evidence of man and his works. This adventure is truly an international journey of unparalleled beauty. The following is a tentative itinerary and has been designed with much thought to capitalize on the most scenic and exciting parts of the river, while making time on other sections. Your guides will adjust the schedule to make the best use of river and weather conditions.
Raft on all trips, (we bring one inflatable canoe per group at no extra charge). Raft – the safe and stable expedition raft is ideal for those who desire their hands free to photograph or to travel in a more relaxed fashion. The guide manoeuvres with oars and paddling is completely optional. Those who wish to be active will find ample opportunity to paddle.
Shawshe (Dalton post), Yukon to Dry Bay, Alaska, 11 river days: 255 km (160 miles) with an elevation drop of 550 m (approx. 1,800 ft)
Yukon Inn, Whitehorse, YT
Raft – Beginners, (click for more info) Our expedition rafts accommodate beginners. Experienced paddlers and beginners are welcome to participate by paddling. The guides are able to navigate by oars, so paddling is optional most of the time.
A Word About River Ratings:
Physical requirements for river trips are generally modest, but can vary depending on the nature of the rapids (on some rivers, portages are necessary at times). Rivers are ranked according to the difficulty of their most severe rapids, and we’ve indicated the class of rapids for each river trip throughout the site.
Class 1: Easy flat water and mild waves. Some maneuvering may be required to navigate around log jams or sweepers.
Class 2: Standing waves up to 3′.
Class 3: Moderate waves and narrower channels due to obstructions such as rocks or gravel bars. Quick and accurate river reading is required with instinctive maneuvers orchestrated with a paddling partner.
Class 4: Expert whitewater canoeist (4 is considered to be the top extreme of canoe capability). Difficult, with narrow channels obstructed by rocks, steep and narrow drops.
Class 5: Possibility of overturning a raft. We always use caution and judicious safety measures and portage around anything that looks doubtful. Our river guides are the best in the business and you can feel confident in their hands.
Guides, boats, local air charter & ground transportation as described in the itinerary, high quality: tents, paddles, lifejackets, waterproof pack and all meals while on the river.
Expeditions Do Not Include
Transportation to meeting point listed, personal clothing, sleeping bag and pad, guides gratuities, hotel accommodation and meals when off of the river. The $193.00 Parks User Fee or GST (5 % Goods and Services Tax). The following is a tentative agenda and has been designed with much thought to capitalize on the most scenic and exciting parts of the river while making time on other sections.
Your guides will adjust the schedule to make the best use of river and weather conditions. We adhere to the new departure regulation system of the Park which works to ensure that all river travelers have the same wilderness experience.
This is the arrival day and is the first day listed for your trip. Although it is not a river day, we list it as Day 1 to be consistent with our other scheduled trips. The scheduled flights arrive in Whitehorse throughout the day. Be sure you arrive by 6 p.m. The guides will be out of town at Dalton Post rigging the rafts. Please make your way to your hotel and plan to rendezvous with your guides in the lobby of the Yukon Inn at 8 p.m. for an orientation meeting. There will be a chance for last-minute questions concerning clothing, gear, packing and other details. Whitehorse is a great place to spend a few extra days. We will send you a visitor’s booklet. The historic sites are interesting andthere are local day hikes, gold panning float trips thorough Miles Canyon and 4X4 outings in the region.
Day 2 (L/D)
We will meet in the hotel lobby @ 8am following breakfast (not covered) and we will embark on the Alaska Highway. Along the way we will visit Kwady Dan Kenji (translated: Long Ago Peoples Place). Here we will see examples of native shelters and traditional living skills used by First Nations people in the region for 1000 years. Further on we will visit the Kluane National Park Interpretive Centre. (The bakery across the road is legendary for its goodies – keep your wallet handy.) We then head south into the Kluane Game Sanctuary, stopping at the ancient aboriginal village of Klukshu. Stepping back in time we have an opportunity to view traditional settlement. A craft shop and museum owned by members of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, offers beautifully made authentic First Nations crafts. Your purchases will be safely stored for pickup at our office in Whitehorse on your return. We will take time to visit a local storyteller to learn more of the traditional history of the region. Further down the road we soon arrive at the old fur-trading location of Dalton Post, now known as Shawshe reflecting its heritage with the Champagne Aishihik First Nations. Following a safety orientation we will load the rafts and push off. At this point the Tatshenshini is a narrow stream. Watched by Bald Eagles we will travel a short distance before reaching the evening camp.
Day 3 (B/L/D)
Another safety briefing will prepare us for the day. Before long, as we float deeper into the St. Elias Mountains (19,850′) we will encounter class 2-4 whitewater jubilantly welcoming us into this land without roads. This is the most continuous whitewater of the trip. As we pass through the narrow gorge of the Tatshenshini and out of the broader valley, we will be paddling out of the Yukon and entering British Columbia. In camp we will relax and dry out after an exciting day in the rapids.
Day 4 (B/L/D)
Today, in contrast to the swift rapids we have descended, the river meanders quietly but surely through the broad valley dotted with oxbow lakes. This region is home to moose, beaver, bald eagles, osprey and many species of waterfowl. Throughout the day the many tributaries of the Tatshenshini cause it to swell until it has doubled in volume from our previous campsite. Here we are treated to our first view of the Alsek Range.
Day 5 (B/L/D)
Weather permitting, this is a hiking day. We will spend the time exploring the local area. A hike up the open range offers everyone the chance to overlook the river and surrounding area. A short distance along this ridge offers an alpine meadow hosting an endless variety of wild flowers. Those who are more adventurous can continue to climb another 1000 metres to the top for a spectacular view of some of the glaciers of the Alsek Range. This area is known as Goat Ridge and often, if we are lucky, we glimpse mountain goats feeding on the open tundra of the high plateau.
Days 6 and 7 (B/L/D)
We float past the Carmine peaks and the O’Connor River with great views of the far off St. Elais Range. Here we see signs of recent glacial action as the river picks up speed and becomes very braided. Moose, mountain goats, grizzly bears and bald eagles often frequent the wide gravel river banks.
Day 8 (B/L/D)
Today we begin to see the many glaciers of the area. From our camp at Melt Creek, near the confluence of the Alsek River, we can count 27 different glaciers. Glorious views can be seen in all directions.
Day 9 (B/L/D)
Now, as we speed along with the current, the voluminous Alsek River joins us from the north. So large is the confluence that it is difficult to know exactly where our route lies. The Noisy Range overlooks the confluence where the Tatshenshini disappears in the shadow of the looming Pentice Ice Caps. The surrounding peaks become higher and increasingly majestic, robed in glaciers. We stop at the base of Walker Glacier and its huge moraines. The hike onto the dramatic surface of the glacier is unforgettable. If you listen during the night you may hear ice falls – huge blocks roaring down from the heights where they have broken free.
Day 10 (B/L/D)
Back on the river we will pass the Novatak Glacier, nearly six miles wide where it sprawls towards the river. As Mount Fairweather (15,300′) appears around the bend, dwarfing the surrounding 7,000′ peaks, a narrow sliver of a peninsula separates the river from Alsek Lake. Here the Alsek and Grand Plateau Glaciers occupy several miles of sheet ice, where they ‘calve’ huge slabs of ice into the lake, issuing a thundering roar. The iceberg studded lake is an enchanting place to camp.
Day 11 (B/L/D)
Conditions permitting we will paddle and row toward the face of the glaciers. On an island between two arms of the Alsek Glacier, a “nunatak”, we will have lunch and behold the spectacle of ice blocks over 100′ high, falling off into the icy waters.
Day 12 (B/L)
The Alsek now passes through a transition from the tallest peaks on the continent to the broad flat Pacific Coastline. In this valley we have a vertical distance of over 15,000′ between us and the highest peaks, an overall elevation difference greater than that of the Himalayas. Back on the river we pull into shore at the fish packing plant of Dry Bay where our plane will rendezvous with us in the afternoon. The location is home to a small group of seasonal fishermen and workers at the small fish plant. The sound of the local power generator is a beacon, even in the thickest Pacific fog. The only access is by air or boat. In all but the worst weather, the bush plane will pick us up and fly us back through the Coast and St. Elias ranges to Whitehorse. Following showers, the group may want to gather at a local eating establishment (not included). Whitehorse is a lively town and it will not be difficult to find a way to enjoy the evening!
After goodbyes and a last look around Whitehorse, we will head for home with a cargo of fond and spectacular memories.
Additional Tatshenshini River Trip Notes:
Pre- and post-trip accommodation is your responsibility – the cost is not included in the trip fee. We can provide a list of Whitehorse hotels and are happy to assist you in making reservations if you wish. At the-fish packing plant in Dry Bay we will be picked up by a small plane (probably Hawker Sidley) and flown back to Whitehorse. Be sure to have proof of citizenship with you for the U.S. and Canadian customs. On the rare occasion, we can be weathered in at Dry Bay. To keep to schedule, we would require a shuttle flight to Yakutat, Alaska. Please ensure that you have a waterproof rain jacket and pants. Goretex is not a substitute for rain gear on this trip. Life jackets are supplied. Please do not bring a PFD as we have regulation life jackets that are required by law for this river.
Concerning group size:
We voluntarily limit our groups on this river to 12 participants and 3 guides. Although the authorities limit departures on the river, they do allow groups of up to 25 people. The following initials indicate the meals included each day: Breakfast = B Lunch = L Dinner = D
Your guides will carry a small reference library that will include field reference books. Following are some books for winter reading
Tatshenshini River Wild: edited by Budd and Careless. Raincoast Books, Vancouver.
A Naturalists Guide to the Tatshenshini-Alsek: by Heather Hamilton. Sierra Club of Canada.
The Complete Guide to the Tatshenshini River: by Russ Lymann, Joe Ordonez & Mike Speaks.
After the Ice Age: The Return of Life to Glaciated North America: by E.C. Pielou.
A Naturalist’s Guide to the Arctic: by E.C. Pielou In the interest of participant safety and well being the guide / instructor may alter the actual trip itinerary at their discretion.
Please Note: Prices and Itineraries are subject to change with notice on the main web page. Once a booking is in place no price increases will be applied.
Booking: The booking requires a 30% deposit by Visa or MasterCard (for Canadian Credit Cards) with the balance due 60 days prior to trip departure. Non Canadian Credit Cards are charged the full trip fee payment in US dollars or a Bank Wire Transfer in Canadian Dollars at the time of booking.
The trip dates do sell out so please book early to get the trip dates you want.