Tatshenshini, British Columbia, CA/Yukon Territory, CA/Alaska, US
|Usual Difficulty||III (for normal flows)|
|Avg. Gradient||19 fpm|
The Tatshenshini is located within the boundaries of Canada, but because it ends with a paddle out on the lower Alsek, with a take-out on Dry Bay in Alaska, the run is typically included in guides to both Alaskan and Yukon whitewater. The run from Dalton Post to Dry Bay is generally an approximately 36-hour float, but is best stretched out over 8 to 10 days. Many consider this one of the finest wilderness river runs in North America. Be prepared for a wide range of weather conditions. The heat and bugs in the upper reaches usually contrast the fog and glacial chill of the lower half of this mighty wild river.
The Tatshenshini-Alsek Park is bordered by the adjacent national parks of Kluane in the Yukon and Glacier Bay and Wrangell-St Elias in Alaska, creating a 97,000 square kilometer ecological unit and bi-national World Heritage Site. Situated in the extremely rugged northwest corner of British Columbia, in 1993 it became the fourth component in the largest international protected area in the world. Half the landscape is permanently covered in snow and ice–the other half fosters forests and tundra and stable populations of wildlife untouched but for a historic aboriginal presence. To ensure the preservation of the entire ecosystem, the Tatshenshini and Alsek are completely protected from headwater to source, creating the only large river drainage in North America that is completely safeguarded.
The whitewater on this run comes at the start, a few miles from the put-in below Dalton Post. Here the river enters a short canyon section with class-III whitewater, making day one unique from the rest of the trip. Below this point there are rapids but generally the river is characterized by strong currents and eddy lines as the river grows to an impressive size. The hydraulics associated with these features can surprise those not paying attention. When you reach the confluence at the Alsek River 77 miles into the trip, the river makes a dramatic jump in size and power.
As you continue downstream you'll reach Alsek Lake where the Alsek and Grand Plateau Glaciers flow into the lake, calving off massive chunks of ice and creating a wonderland of icebergs. If you're lucky enough to have a clear day, Mt. Fairweather rises above the landscape to the southeast. The icebergs create unique hazards as they can flip without warning and can also form river-wide dams or sieves, particularly in the main channel at the entrance to Alsek Lake. As you enter the lake, marked by Gateway Knob which rises up on river right, the safest course is not the main channel but along the left shore.
After you leave the lake there is a short section of rapids before you start to see cabins. A side channel to the left takes you to the air strip at the fish processing plant. If you are unsure of the route, be sure to stop and spend some time to figure it out. If you miss the appropriate channel you will need to haul your boats back upriver.
The first order of business in planning your trip is to obtain an information packet and permit information for the river. The trip takes you through Yukon Territory (Kluane National Park), British Columbia (Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park), and Alaska (Glacier Bay National Park); river use is regulated and coordinated by these park units.
Most trips, start at Dalton Post although you can add up to another 20 miles, and some of the best whitewater, by using alternate access points upstream on either the Blanchard or Upper Tatshenshini. Dalton Post is in the Yukon, a short distance north of the BC border, and 104 miles north of Haines, AK. Haines can be reached by ferry out of Juneau which makes a good meeting place for those flying in. Another alternative is to fly or drive to Whitehorse in the Yukon, then over to Haines Junction, and south to Dalton Post.
The 4 mile road down to Dalton Post turns off Haines Road (Hwy 3) to the west; look for this turn just north of the Haines Road bridge across the Takhanne River. The put-in is just usptream of the Klukshu River confluence with the Tatshenshini. Visitors using the access at Dalton Post (aka Shäwshe) are reminded that they are on lands legally owned by the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations. Please respect their land use regulations and requirements.
While you can drive to the put-in, logistics from the take-out get a bit more complicated as you need to arrange for a charter flight out. The Park Service can provide information on current charter services, but you'll probably want to fly from Dry Bay to Yakutat, where you can get commercial jet service. Make sure you have factored in the logistics of hauling your gear out. Most river runners use rafts so if you do take a hardshell make sure it will fit in the plane you've arranged. Keep in mind that poor weather conditions on the coast may mean that you won't be able to get a flight out the day your arrive; be prepared to wait through cold and wet conditions for suitable flying weather.
Embick's guide includes a comprehensive run description and history of the river.
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