Part 2 - Going Down the River

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tsharp
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Part 2 - Going Down the River

Post by tsharp » Wed Jun 26, 2013 9:44 pm

We left Haines early in the morning and had to go through the same routine at the border crossing because yesterdays staff did not communicate with the today staff. After an hour delay we were soon ascending the Haines Highway to the Chilkat Summit and alpine tundra at 3500 feet. In a 10 mile stretch of this highway and near the turn off for Dalton Post we saw three female Grizzly Bears with 5 cubs. What a welcome to the area and time to verify we had packed bear spray. The vegetation seemed to be luscious near the road and the mama bears seem to be teaching the cubs what grasses/roots to eat.

Mama with two ? cubs twenty feet off the road.


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Photo by Susan Sharp

Once at the put-in of Dalton Post or Shaw’ashee (Southern Tutchone name) we rigged our boats for a 135 mile river trip on the Tatshenshini and Alsek rivers to Dry Bay, Alaska with 1,950 feet of elevation drop to sea level. Our party of seven would be in a raft and two Catarafts. We were to be floating through Kluane National Park and Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary in the Yukon Territory, the Tatshenshini- Alsek Park in British Columbia and once passing into Alaska the Glacial Bay National Park and Preserve which occupies both sides of the river until approaching the coast where the Tongass National forest is on river right.

From the put-in at Dalton Post we made camp near the confluence of Silver Creek at mile 12.
This first day through a five mile canyon had the only significant whitewater on the trip. It was continuous Class 3+ with the ice cold river running bank full at 10 mph. The banks had a lot of trees in the water so it was not advisable to swim to shore it you were out of your boat. Everyone made it with the only the loss of one oar.
The British Columbia border is reached at mile 14.

Next camp was at the confluence of Sediments Creek at mile 34. This was a layover day so we could do hike up to a ridge for the view and wildflower display.

Bridget among the wildflowers


Click on image to see its original size

Photo by Amy Thornton

During dinner at this camp we were treated to two pairs of Trumpeter Swans winging away down river. We could hear them before they arrived and long after they passed.
It should be noted that most of our camps were on out wash plains from side tributaries and new ground.I did not expect to find any large or old trees and most camp sites had sparse vegetation. Several good reasons for picking camp locations like this. No bush means less mosquitoes and good visibility means bears and humans are less likely to have a surprise encounter. It also makes it easier to unload and load rafts.I was not one to wander in the bush alone and the occasional companion that was game soon tired of the mosquitoes and definitely showed less interest when large unseen creatures were heard in the bush.
Trees measured included:
White Spruce (Picea glauca) 4.6’ x 68.0’
Balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera ssp.balsamifera ) 4.5’ x 54.5’
Scouler’s Willow (Salix scouleriana) 1.7’ x 31.6’, 2.0’ x 24.5’

Next camp was at the confluence of Alkie Creek at mile 43
Trees measured included:
Thinleaf Alder (Alnus incana ssp. tenufolia) 1.25’ x 22.8’, 1.3’ x 22.7’
White Spruce (Picea glauca) 2.5’ x 47.9’
Scouler’s Willow (Salix scouleriana) 2.1’ x 35.2’
There were long stretches of braided channels below this camp which kept the boatman on high alert the following day.

Next camp was at the confluence Towagh Creek at mile 63
The river has has almost doubled in size and the scenery is going off the charts

Cottongrass (Erioporum spp.) on the outwash plain below Towagh Creek with a small portion of the Alsek Range in the background.


Click on image to see its original size

Photo by Amy Thornton

Next camp was about a mile below the confluence of at Melt Creek at mile 75
The scenery has gone off the charts. This camp is only three miles above the confluence of the Alsek River. This is immense, raw, wild country. Well worn paths made by bears were very evident. A big four legged creature walked through our tent area at night. Tracks observed in the morning shows it was a Moose and calf. Apparently no one stuck their head out of their tent to make a species identification.Melt Creek was running bank full and cobbles the size of bowling balls make lots of noise as they tumbled along the creek bed.
A list of trees measured during the British Columbia part of the River trip is in the Trees Database at:

http://www.treesdb.org/Browse/Sites/1491/Details
http://www.treesdb.org/Browse/Sites/1492/Details

Just three miles below Melt Creek the Alsek river joins on river right. The river is now about a mile wide and the flow creates swells of 2-3 feet giving a sense of being at sea. It is also the area know for its unpredictable weather. It seems that the coastal and continental air masses quite often meet here and hang around for several days. July through September are usually the most benign months.We got by with 1 1/2 day of drizzle. The vegetation changes in this section also. Disappearing are Quaking Aspen, White Spruce, and Balsam Poplar replaced by Black Cottonwood, Sitka Spruce and extensive stands of Sitka Alder covering newly exposed slopes caused by retreating glaciers.

Alsek River heading into the weather section and the Fairweather Range


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Photo by Tom Connelly

The Alaska border is reached at mile 88
We are now within the borders of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
We camped at Walker Glacier mile 95. This was another layover day so we could hike to the glacier. The name Walker Glacier is unofficial an appears on no map. It is called that because it is the easiest one to "walk" to from the river. The" walk" was maybe two miles one way and fairly easy but did include some crawling and wading. Portions of the trail were underwater and we had to bushwack a mile through an Alder stand. If you like hiking/crawling through the Rhododendron slicks in the Appalachians you will feel right at home in an Alaska Alder thicket.

Ed Gertler standing on a lateral moraine after emerging from the Alder thicket.


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Photo by Amy Thornton

On the toe of Walker Glacier


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Photo by Tom Connelly

We camped at Gateway Knob in Alsek Lake at mile 118.
Getting into Alsek Lake has to be done with care. One must pull over on river right and climb about 200 feet above the river on a scree slope and with your binoculars glass the three different entrances known as doors to see which ones are passable. Door number 1 was open, door number 2 was blocked by icebergs, and door number 3 was probably open because it is only closed in low water. So door number 1 was it

Entering Door number one. Notice how the current sweeps into the icebergs.


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Photo by Tom Connelly

Everything went well into the lake and there was plenty of time and distance to avoid the iceberg by pulling left. However it soon became apparent that even though the beach at Gateway Knob was only one mile away we would have to row about 3 miles up and around the lake to get past the rows of icebergs blocking the beach access. Even then the last 100 yards we had to manhandle the smaller bergs to get the rafts to shore. Time elapsed from our scout position to the beach was 4 1/2 hours in a lite rain or heavy drizzle and several of us had to wade in waist deep water during the last one hundred yards. A roaring fire and some food soon made us forget the misery and we soon had the tents up and most everyone soon drifted off to sleep to the sound of icebergs calving from the two big glaciers feeding into Alsek Lake. The next day weather was perfect and we were treated to a great view of Mount Fairweather about 40 miles to the east.

Mount Fairweather 15,325'


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Photo by Amy Thornton

The picture above was taken at 5:30 AM the next morning from camp and the clear visibility only lasted for about 45 minutes. Mount Fairweather also known as Boundary Mountain marks the boundary between the USA and Canada. It was first climbed in 1931.


Fireweed(Chamerion augustafolium) between the beach and the slope of Gateway knob


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Photo by Bridget Tincher

Susan touring the bergs in her cataraft. She apparently did not get enough berg time the previous day.


Click on image to see its original size

Photo by Bridget Tincher

Trees measured included
Feltleaf Willow (Salix alexensis) 1.6’ x 20.7’ x 27.0’(average crown spread)
The list of the Willows measured is in the Trees database at:

http://www.treesdb.org/Browse/Sites/1484/Details


The last fifteen miles to Dry bay was uneventful although we did share it with some icebergs that exited Alsek Lake about the same time. They traveled a lightly slower speed than we did and caused no problems
Alsek Lake is a recessionaI feature formed when the glaciers retreated. Likewise I believe Gateway Knob is the remains of a terminal moraine. Early explorers made no mention of a lake at this location, only a wall of ice and scree slope on the other side.
The take out at Dry Bay Mile is at mile 135 and is still about 3 miles from the ocean although harbor seals were evident on the river sand bars. We were to meet our bush pilot at a landing strip for the flight back to Haines The good weather allowed the flight back to Haines to cross the mountains instead of taking the coastal route. It gave us a good opportunity to see Alsek Lake and the Grand Plateau Glacier feeding the lake.


Click on image to see its original size

Photo by Amy Thornton

Not shown in the above picture is Alsek Glacial to the left. As late as 1980 the fronts of the Alsek and Grand Plateau Glaciers had a united front and extended into the lake at least 400 yards.

This was John Fichtner first ever plane ride so he got to be co-pilot.

Back in Haines I did manage to measure a few trees while shuttling people to the airport and making ferry arrangements.
A quick visit to Portage Cove State Park on the outskirts of Haines yielded the following measurements.
Sitka Alder (Alnus viridis ssp. sinuta) 1.9’ x 25.4’
Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis) 9.8’ x 106.5’
Black Cottonwood (Populus balsamifera var. trichocarpa) 6.2’ x 92.8’
Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) 3.6’ x 81.4’

http://www.treesdb.org/Browse/Sites/1485/Details

Susan and I took the ferry over to Juneau for a two day visit with friends. One of the requirements of our visit was I had to be able to spend some quality time in some mature Sitka Spruce/Western Hemlock stands. Our friends delivered me to a hiking trail on Douglas Island in the Tongass National Forest. Douglas Island is just across the channel from downtown Juneau and is connected by bridge. I got to spend several hours there and have to admit much of was just spent sitting and enjoying(forest bathing?)
Trees measured along the Douglas Island Old Growth Trail included the:largest of the following species:
Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis) 12.2’ x 138.8’, 16.2’ x 133.5’
Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) 5.9’ x 128.8’, 8.5’ x 114.0’
Red Alder (Alnus rubra) 4.1’ x 53.0’
The Red Alder was close to the water’s edge and it was obvious for about 20 feet of elevation the trees were much younger. My first experience with isostatic rebound- This was how much the land has risen since the glaciers have retreated and it is still an ongoing process.

http://www.treesdb.org/Browse/Sites/1487/Details

On the dive back to Juneau I spied some small knarly pines near the road in a wet area. Even though I had never seen them before I knew they should be Beach Pine (Pinus contorta var. contorta) I got to the most convenient one and measured it at: 2.4’ x 47.2’
I also learned later that Mountain Hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana) grows down to sea level in this area. The only ones I saw were young.
TS

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edfrank
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Joined: Sun Mar 07, 2010 5:46 pm

Re: Part 2 - Going Down the River

Post by edfrank » Sat Jun 29, 2013 11:04 pm

Turner,

Wow, just wow.

Ed
"I love science and it pains me to think that so many are terrified of the subject or feel that choosing science means you cannot also choose compassion, or the arts, or be awe by nature. Science is not meant to cure us of mystery, but to reinvent and revigorate it." by Robert M. Sapolsky

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Larry Tucei
Posts: 2014
Joined: Tue Mar 09, 2010 10:44 am

Re: Part 2 - Going Down the River

Post by Larry Tucei » Sun Jun 30, 2013 8:23 pm

Turner- Like Ed said "Wow", great post. What an adventure and the photos are spectacular, enjoyed your stories thanks for sharing. Larry

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