Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Copper River Adventure, Day Three

            Al Fresco dining can be wonderful.  But not this morning.  We ate breakfast under a cloud of mosquitoes and everyone donned head nets to escape the biting hordes.  We wore the nets while packing and loading the rafts, the pesky mosquitoes swarming until we pushed off from shore.  I’ve never been so glad to be back on the river.  And this proved to be the best river day so far with no headwinds and a strong current guiding us in the right direction.  Today, finally, we floated peacefully along—no special paddling skills required.

        We pulled up to a sandbar in the center of the river and stopped for lunch.  In the sand we noticed Eagle talon and Grizzly Bear paw prints; earlier today those two predators may also have stopped here to devour a tasty snack.

        After only a few more hours of paddling we pulled ashore to make camp on “The Peninsula”, a wide gravel bar with willows, wildflowers, and 360 degree views.

We erected our tents, changed out of our wet paddling gear,
then hung it on the tent to dry.
Expansive view from 3rd night's camp on The Peninsula.
The mountains are hazy due to smoke from Alaska's summer

          After our Mexican fajita dinner the two Tims built a blazing campfire, then Kate handed out sticks, marshmallows, Graham crackers and Hershey bars.
         With lively campfire conversation, a slight breeze to keep the mosquitoes away, and gooey sweet s’mores in hand this evening’s al fresco dining experience was wonderful indeed.

Guides Tim and Kate prepare tonight's fajita
dinner in our camp kitchen.

Kate breaks a downed sapling (behind her on the sand) into marshmallow
roasting sticks.  Tim, Yag and Deepa are ready for dessert.

Read about our other adventures on the Copper River Raft Trip by clicking on the links below:
Day Two
Day Four
Day Five
Day Six

It's 11:00 p.m.  The rain flys are covering the tents, the fire is dying,
another day's adventure has come to an end.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Copper River Adventure, Day Two

          Roaring winds pushed and pulled on our canvas walls last night, resulting in a fitful night’s sleep.  When the tent flaps rustled again at 7:00 a.m. we feared the wind had returned.  But no, it was only a wake-up call.   We unzipped the door to find guides Kate and Tim waiting, steaming cups of coffee and tea in hand.  Now that’s what I call room service.  
Husband Tim and I sipped our hot drinks, then emerged from the tent to find a breakfast of eggs, bacon and fried potatoes, cooked and ready to eat.

This is what a loaded raft looks like.  Chena has her life vest on
and she's raring to go.

The rafts were packed and loaded by ten—an early start on the river.  We faced tough paddling again today with several hours of rolling waves and rough current.  Tired out by late afternoon we pulled the rafts onto Dewey Beach, an area of tidal flats and soft sand.

Second night's camp along the banks of Dewey Creek.

After pitching the tents, Guide Tim led Yag, Deepa and I on a short walk along the banks of Dewey Creek.  We found bear scat and tracks—the first time in my life I’d ever seen evidence of Grizzly Bears.  It’s both frightening and exhilarating to know we’re not at the top of the food chain on this river.

The front paw track of a Grizzly Bear.  The rear paws are
twice as large and... these prints were only 50 yards
away from our tents!

This paw print shows the indentations of the Grizzly's
very large and very unnerving claws.

Kate had dinner waiting when we arrived in camp.  We shared stories of “Grizzly sign” sightings while feasting on Chicken Adobo, a Filipino concoction of chicken, rice and vegetables.
After dinner Guide Tim serenaded us with guitar music.  Even the relentless mosquitoes couldn’t drain our enthusiasm for Tim’s soothing melodies.

Guide Tim (seated in the red jacket) strums a tune for us.
To keep the mosquitoes at bay, notice the head nets
worn by Yag (standing) and Husband Tim (right).

To read about our first day’s Copper River adventure, click here.
          Read about the next four days of the raft trip:
          Day Three
             Day Four
             Day Five
             Day Six

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Copper River Adventure, Day One

          A tiny, weather-beaten Datsun hatchback pulled into the parking lot of the Aspen Lodge in Valdez, Alaska.  A tiny, weather-beaten woman popped her head out the driver’s side window.  “Are you Tim and Rita?  I’m April—here to transport you to Chitina for the Copper River trip.”  The Datsun was our first clue that the word “luxury” wouldn’t be on the itinerary for the next six days.
        We stuffed ourselves, our bags and Tim’s fishing gear into the Datsun and motored off, driving 100 miles through valleys and over mountain passes on our way to the Copper River.  We passed through Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and April assured us that the views were spectacular; at least they would have been were it not for smoke from wildfires ravaging the state.  We arrived at river's edge and met our guides, Kate and Tim.  One other couple joined us on the river trip; Yag and Deepa—of Indian descent and now living in New York City—came looking for an Alaskan adventure before moving to Los Angeles.  

Gear is scattered on the beach as we tackle the task of
loading the oar boats.

Chena the River Dog is ready to go.  Chena was
brought along as a bear deterrent.  Looks like
she's sleeping on the job.

        Boat assignments were made:  Guide Kate, Yag and Deepa in one boat.  Guide Tim, husband Tim and I in the other boat.  We packed and repacked the dry bags, balanced and rebalanced the food and kitchen gear among the oar boats.  Several hours later, we shoved off from shore.

        The Copper River would be our home for six days and 100 miles.  A leisurely float trip down the waterway?  Not exactly.  Our first day of paddling we encountered stiff winds and choppy seas.  The river ran at 185,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), making navigation difficult.  For comparison, the Colorado River runs through the Grand Canyon at 8,000 to 25,000 cfs.  Tim and I were handed paddles and asked to assist our guide.  Never having paddled such a large and heavy craft, my feeble efforts may have been more of a hindrance than a help. 

Guide Kate, Yag and Deepa in the lead raft.  The river
looks placid—but it wasn't.

        In the late afternoon we pulled up to a gravel beach and decided to make camp for the night.  We couldn’t have picked a better spot—a wide beach for the camp kitchen and a grassy meadow for the tents.  Tim and Kate started dinner while we set up the tents.  Finally, time to relax.  And relax we did, with appetizers of brie cheese, crackers and wine, dinner of penne pasta with garlic-turkey sauce and salad, and for dessert—brownies and hot tea.
        Later, after unwinding in the wilderness we crawled into our bags in the land of the midnight sun, a bit apprehensive but also excited for tomorrow’s river journey. 

Wide, gravel beach of first night's camp.

It's 11:00 p.m. and the sun is low in the sky.  Bedtime.
Read about the following five days of the raft trip:

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Cruising Prince William Sound near Valdez, Alaska

          Nothing to do and all day to do it in.  Tim and I have 24 hours to kill in Valdez, Alaska before embarking on a raft trip of the Copper River.  Our plans?  We thought we’d relax, take a walk around town, maybe find a good restaurant for dinner.  We stroll to the harbor and notice a signboard announcing “Stan Stephens Glacier and Wildlife Cruise”.  Two cruises—a 7 hour and a 9 hour—are offered.  

This map shows the tour route for the wildlife and glacier cruises.
Our seven hour tour turned around at the Columbia Glacier.
The nine hour tour continues to the Meares Glacier.

         We inquire at the ticket office.  The seven hour cruise has a price tag of $120.00 per ticket and includes lunch.  The boat plys the coastline of Prince William Sound and continues to the Columbia Glacier.  Should we do it?  Seems kind of pricey and Tim and I are not really the “guided tour group” type.  “You won’t be sorry,” the ticket booth operator opined:  “It’s a beautiful day to be in the bay and you should see plenty of wildlife.”  Well, that sounds better than spending the day in the tourist shops.  Okay, we’ll do it!

Harbor scene in Valdez.
Fishing boats in the waters of Prince William Sound.

           Our boat leaves the dock at noon.  We secure seats on the upper deck as the vessel sets sail.  Slowly we motor around the sound, past the Alaska pipeline and the scene of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.  More than 25,000 gallons of oil remain along parts of Prince William Sound's coastline, but our tour doesn’t venture into those areas.  Instead we pass shorelines teeming with sea lions, puffins and eagles. We sluice through waters filled with sea otters, seals and a humpback whale.

Sea Otters show their proficiency at the back float.

Mew Gulls rest on small icebergs.

Sea Lions crowd the rocky shores.

           Floating icebergs glitter like diamonds in the sea at the Columbia glacier’s terminus.  Our boat’s captain stops the craft near an iceberg flotilla;  the crew plucks a couple jewels from the water and passes them around among the passengers.

The sea is literally littered with icebergs from the Columbia glacier.

How many shades of blue can you see in this floating jewel?

It's 7:00 p.m. and we're heading in to port. Thrilled as we were by the wildlife sightings and our close encounters with icebergs, Tim and I agree it was a great decision to have taken a chance on this guided tour of Alaska’s Prince William Sound. 
Nothing to do in Valdez?  Not as long as Stan Stephens Wildlife and Glacier cruises continue to operate.  Read more about the tours here: http://www.stanstephenscruises.com/

A bald eagle surveys his kingdom from atop an island of ice.

Next week's post will begin a six day rafting adventure on the Copper River.