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:


  1. Hi Rita,

    Allow me to begin by saying that the wide, gravel beach for you first night's camp is a location to die for! What a spot! What beauty!

    As for the being transported in a Datsun for the kick-off to your adventure, wow! I must say it has been a number of years since I've seen that old Nissan brand's name in print!

    And to further show my age (don't ask me to explain), here is the first thought that came to my mind when I saw that dog "sleeping on the job". It reminded me of a scene out of the old (very old) 1965 film named "Cat Ballou" where Lee Marvin was sleeping (or passed out) on the job! The mind (or at least my mind) works in mysterious ways!

    A very enjoyable post, as always!


  2. Hi John,

    I think I saw "Cat Ballou" way back when, but I don't remember the Lee Marvin scene—I'll take your word for it!

    As for the Datsun all I can say is that we saw a lot of these old "beaters" in Alaska. People there drive their cars for a long, long time.

    And you're right about the first night's camp. We found that most of the scenery in Alaska is of the "to die for" type!

    Thanks as always for commenting!

  3. Hi Rita,

    FInally coming up for air after starting a new contract! What a pleasure to get back to some leisure reading and (vicariously) journey with you and Tim to the Land of the Midnight Sun.

    I don't know much about CFS and how fast rivers run, but when you compared the CFS between the Copper and the Colorado, I was certainly impressed. I have friends who raft the Colorado, so I can't imagine what it was like managing on a river that seems more like an ocean!

    I, too, remember "Cat Ballou." I had a different experience when I read that caption about Chena, the bear dog, because it took me forever to find her in that photo! To my old eyes, it was like a game of "Where's Waldo." Very cute!

    Can't wait for Part 2!

    1. First, Vickie, congratulations on your new contract!

      You're spot-on in your imagining the Copper River to be ocean-like. It really was more like an ocean—and that's something we weren't expecting. For instance, we didn't realize we would be expected to "help" with the paddling. Exhausting for me.

      When I posted that photo with Chena I wondered if anyone would have trouble spotting her. She does tend to blend in with the bags and the gear!

      Thanks so much for reading, and for your compliments, Vickie. Much appreciated!