We’ve gone on many great rafting trips over the years, but the one here at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park was like none other. Things at the end of the road are never easy. There are plenty of rivers to raft on and people happy to guide you, but when the rafting trip is over, there you are in the middle of nowhere. There are no roads, there is no bus with a trailer to put the raft on, - it’s just you and lots of trees and mosquitoes. So, to raft here you have to arrange for a plane to come get you and all the equipment. And that’s just what we did today.
We had to pay in full when we booked this tour a few weeks ago and with all the clouds and rain we’ve endured, we were worried that this trip would be far from fun. But it was one of the best days we’ve had so far.
I worried about being cold. The glacier was peeking through the clouds, illuminating the source of the 33º water we would be rafting on. But the guide made sure we were will prepared. I wore: long winter underwear, rain pants and coat, neoprene wet suit, fleece, knee high boots and neoprene gloves. Although the ride on the river was fairly placid, when we did get splashed, we were toasty warm.
The two of us had a guide and boat to ourselves. Lots of opportunities to ask questions. Because the current was so strong, we went 6 - 10 mph the entire way and we did not need to help with the paddling. The guide used oars to keep us in the right part of the river, except for one time when we got stuck on a sand bar that had been submerged last time she took this trip. The river goes down when it’s cold, even with all the rain we’ve had around here and rises rapidly when it’s sunny and warm. Supposedly they had four days in the 80º’s last week and the glacier released massive melt flow. Now things have slowed down. The water rolled and boiled in spots, enough to keep it interesting, but not enough to be frightening. We traveled three different rivers. Each was a slightly different shade of gray, depending on how much silt was suspended in the water. Once they were farther away from the glaciers they came from, the water warmed a bit, but you wouldn’t last five minutes if you fell in.
We stopped for lunch at a sand bar. One man wandered toward a little pond and suddenly sank into the sand up to his knees. He could not get out again. Both guides pulled on him and had him pull on their oars to no avail. He finally had to leave his boots behind in the quick sand and crawl out on his hands and knees. Quite a scare!
When the floating ended, our guides worked very hard dismantling the boats and loading the pieces and luggage into the two small planes that came to get us. By this point the day had cleared, blue sky and sunshine predominated and the views from the plane were fabulous. The pilot took the long way back and showed us the glaciers near the copper ore mill we toured yesterday. Amazing views. Great day!!