Sunday, June 16, 2013

Copper River Adventure, Day Five

Gloomy with rain this morning.  Husband Tim and I emerged from our tent to find a tarp erected over the breakfast nook.  Kate and Guide Tim were cooking breakfast and singing in the rain to lighten the mood.  This is Alaska, after all, and our guides have experienced more than a few downpours during their years of rafting the Copper River.
As we savored crisp bacon and sweet pancakes the rain tapered off to a drizzle and then stopped completely while we packed up and loaded the rafts.

Breakfast and a smile:  Kate lightens the mood
as she prepares breakfast.

Guides Kate and Tim started a small blaze to warm
our outdoor cafe on this dreary morning.

The first half-hour on the river we alternated between calm waters and small riffles.  And then we heard it—that combination sound of howling wind and driving rain that tightens your stomach and raises the hairs on your arms—the forewarning of big rapids.  I believe that somewhere in our DNA we’re programmed to fear the roar of rushing water.  Today that roar signaled our approach to the Abercrombie Rapid, our only Class III rapid of the entire trip.

Guides Kate and Tim rowed to the shoreline upstream of the rapid and we all disembarked to scout our route.  The beach we walked along is a favorite fishing spot for Grizzly Bears; piles of fresh scat and sets of paw prints were scattered in the mud.   Our guides handed out whistles and we all blew the whistles and shouted to alert any nearby bears to our presence.  Amid the din from the rapids it would have been all too easy to catch a bear unaware and frighten it into charging.
From our vantage point we watched waves of six feet or more roiling like an angry ocean and rolling off the rocks along shore.  Kate said these rapids today resembled Class IV whitewater, rather than Class III.  Guides Tim and Kate seemed concerned.  Yag and Deepa looked concerned.  Husband Tim and I were concerned.  Everyone tried not to show their collective unease.
   We returned to the rafts and Guide Tim tied down our gear, secured our life vests and instructed us on protocol should the rafts flip or should we be thrown into the water. Basically, the instructions were these:  If the raft flips, try to swim back to it and hold on; if you go overboard, shout, look for the raft, point your feet downstream and keep your head above water.  Then hope for a rescue because in the icy cold of the Copper River you have about 10 minutes before hypothermia sets in, about 20 minutes before death sets in.  Reassuring.
My pulse raced as we pushed off from shore to run the Abercrombie Rapid.  Husband Tim and I helped Guide Tim with the paddling as we ran the gauntlet.  We crested waves and dipped into boughs as water crashed over our heads and splashed into the boat.  Finally the rafts emerged from the whitewater and we found ourselves floating on the surface of placid Miles Lake.
We clipped the two rafts together, drifted along, and shared celebratory snacks.  Miles Lake is surrounded on all sides by massive snow-covered mountains.  Miles Glacier, with its 300 foot vertical blue face, borders the lake’s eastern edge.  Childs Glacier borders the opposite lakeshore.  We rowed past crystalline blue icebergs and visions of an Antarctic expedition filled my mind.

Kate (rowing), Deepa and Yag relax on Miles Lake
after running Abercrombie Rapid.

Tim and I pose in front of an iceberg "raft".
Just minutes after rowing past this raft the smaller of the
two icebergs atop the raft toppled into Miles Lake, producing waves
and the roar of a shotgun blast.
Our destination for tonight was to be a campsite on the far side of the lake, next to the Miles Glacier.  Winds picked up, our pace slowed, and we realized that we wouldn’t make it across the lake before dark.  Guides Kate and Tim made the decision to drift with the current and find our sleeping accommodations wherever the flow took us.
An hour later we floated to a muddy shoreline; a sandy field up above provided space for the kitchen and our tents.  We were home for the night.  And what a home!  This proved the most panoramic campsite of the expedition.
         We relaxed with wine, cheese and crackers before savoring another of Kate and Guide Tim’s delicious dinner creations.  After dinner I wrote and read, reveling in the view of mountains and glaciers encircling the lake.  At some point in their lives, everyone should spend an evening like this.  Day Five began in gloom, but ended in grandeur.

Camp kitchen on 5th night.  Our kitchen is on a plateau
next to a snow field.  Miles Lake is to the left of
this photo.

Fifth Night's Camp—one mile from Childs Glacier.

Read about our other days of adventure on this raft trip:


  1. Rita, what an excellent way to summarize this segment of your Alaskan adventure by stating "Day Five began in gloom, but ended in grandeur."

    I will freely admit to my pulse racing as you described your run of the Abercrombie Rapid. Even with skilled guides to navigate the rapids, there must have been a few anxious moments!

    I love the fact that your guides decided to find sleeping accommodations wherever "the flow took us". That is oftentimes what I do when bushwhacking, i.e. just go with the flow. And, just as you experienced, there are times when these unstructured wanderings produce magnificent results.

    The photo of you and Tim in front of the iceberg "raft" is awesome!


  2. Hi John,

    I must admit that there were a few tense moments when we drifted past unfriendly shorelines with no good camping spots. We certainly didn't want to spend the night on the rafts!
    But otherwise, Day Five was the most adventurous (a little scary too) with the most jaw-dropping scenery of the trip. So everything turned out fine—as per my summary.

    Thanks so much for your complimentary comments!

  3. Hi Rita,

    I'm finally catching up with Day 5 - and what a thrilling 12 hours you had! This read like the best adventure story, with the tension building and the landscape and weather adding to the atmosphere.

    I had no idea this trip was going to take you to glaciers and icebergs and that you'd get to hear an ice raft peel off and crash into the lake. Tremendous!

    I'm impressed by the food you had on this trip, too. On a grey, rainy morning, pancakes and bacon sound like the perfect breakfast to send you off on your run through the rapids - and wine and cheese the perfect reward for making it through!

    Thanks so much for sharing this special adventure!

  4. Hi Vickie,

    Day Five was indeed thrilling; running those rapids provided the most pulse-racing moment of the trip—even more so than the sighting of Grizzly paw prints!
    You're right, on this adventure we enjoyed all the gourmet food, comfort food and celebratory snacks prepared for us by guides Kate and Tim.

    Thanks so much for following along on this Alaskan expedition! The sixth and final day's report will appear this week!