Monday, June 24, 2013

Copper River Adventure, Sixth and Final Day

          Boom!  A cannon blast interrupting our sleep?  Thunder?  No—new icebergs splitting from the face of Child’s Glacier and tumbling into the sea provided last night's sporadic rumblings.  In the stillness the roars were magnified; with each calving I envisioned waves and ice crashing through the sides of our tent.  You might think this would elicit fear but instead I found it thrilling and then comforting to experience these rhythms of the far north.

After sipping mugs of peppermint-chamomile tea Husband Tim and I packed our gear while Guide Tim and Kate cooked breakfast.  We stuffed our dry bags with sleeping bags and clothes and surveyed the interior of our canvas home one final time.  Red smears covered the walls and ceiling of our yellow rental tent, evidence of our nightly mosquito-crushing ritual.  Only when every last blood-filled critter was destroyed could I drift off to sleep.   I would miss the wilderness, yes, but not its tiny tormentors.  

Goodbye Camp Five.  Leaving the wilderness—and the

We enjoyed a brunch of vegetarian burgers, bagels and scrambled eggs with cheese, then cleaned up and pushed off from Camp Five, the finest campsite of the expedition.  Within half an hour we arrived at the take-out spot to find a snow-covered road where we expected to see the shuttle van parked and waiting.  Guide Tim hopped out and walked the snowy road for a quarter mile—no van in sight.  We’d have to row to another take-out spot downriver.  The good news: it’s not too far away.  The bad news: the van will meet us at Child’s Glacier overlook where the six of us will have to carry all the gear 100 yards uphill to the parking area.
Upon arrival at the revised take-out site, we emptied the rafts and portaged loads of gear up the muddy trail.  Finally Kate, Yag, Deepa, the two Tims and I carried each several-hundred-pound raft to the waiting van.  This was more work than we bargained for on our last day. 

Finally, the gear is loaded into the "luxury" van, our
transport for the ride to Cordova.

That task completed, husband Tim and I walked to the Child’s Glacier viewing platform where we read about the glacier, the mountains and the river and digested these facts:  the mountains surrounding the Copper River receive an average of 60 feet of snow per year—the heaviest snowpack in the world; the Copper River is the fourth largest in Alaska and one of the most silty and turbid rivers in the world; Child’s Glacier is capable of calving huge chunks of ice—in 1993 an iceberg split from the glacier across from where we now stood, sending a 30 foot wave crashing over this viewing platform.  We hoped the same thing wouldn’t happen today.  And it didn’t.  
While snapping our final photos though, a large section of the ice wall fell away from the glacier, producing a boom and several small waves.  This would be our send-off as it was time to board the van for the 60 mile drive to the harbor town of Cordova.  We drove along the Copper River Delta and watched shorebirds searching the mudflats for food.   We also spotted a swan couple with two fluffy babies (cygnets)—the birding highlight of the drive.

Danger!  This poster at the Child's Glacier viewing platform
shows what can happen if you're in the wrong place
at the wrong time.
After reading the above poster part of the ice wall
came crashing down.  Kayakers had paddled past
this spot only minutes before.

       In Cordova we stopped at The Lighthouse Restaurant for personal pan pizzas and tall glasses of iced tea, then said our goodbyes before being dropped off at Cordova’s one-room airport.  We arrived in Anchorage after a short and smooth flight, picked up the rental car, checked in to the Courtyard Marriott at 8:45 p.m., and by 9:00 I was luxuriating under a hot shower.  Every day you shower without really thinking about it, don’t you?  Well, after six days in the Alaskan outback, when you step into the shower you feel every drop of water on your skin—washing away the accumulated sweat, grime, sunblock and bug spray.  It’s glorious.

"Quaint" is the over-used word I would pick to describe
the fishing village of Cordova.  If I return to Alaska I'd like
to spend more time exploring this town.

      Clean and refreshed, Tim and I reflected on our Copper River experience.  What we liked:  the food, the campsites, the solitude.  What we didn’t like:  the rafting!  We both agreed that the hours spent fighting the wind on the cold, silty (no fishing) water were not our favorite.  However, we realized that we couldn’t have gotten to our wilderness campsites without traveling the river.  This six-day trip was a once-in-a-lifetime journey for us, but the next time we visit Alaska we’ll most likely travel the roadways or hiking paths to access Alaska’s wild lands.

Re-live the first five days of the raft trip by clicking on the links below:

Interested in a Copper River Raft Trip?  Copper Oar rafting company provided our guides and equipment.  The National Park Service offers information about the Copper River Float through Wrangell St. Elias National Park at this website: River Float.pdf

Note:  After spending a couple days in civilization (Anchorage) we traveled by float plane to Swan Lake in the Kenai Peninsula where we rented a US Forest Service cabin.  You can read about that adventure by clicking on the following links.


  1. Rita, this has been such a totally delightful series you've presented about the Alaskan adventure undertaken by you and Tim. Although this series has ended, I'm certain that you'll treat your readers to other fine blog reports as your wanderlust propels you to other locations that are picturesque and interesting.

    Regarding stepping into a shower after your 6-day Alaskan outback adventure, I can so relate to your comments. Many years ago, I did overnight backpacking for days at a time in the Adirondacks. And yes, just as you say, "It's glorious" to step into a shower after this type of experience!

    And lastly, thank you for including links to your reports about your stay at Swan Lake Cabin on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula. I particularly like the quote (shown below) that you included at the top of your concluding report about your stay at the cabin.

    "You may live in a place for months, even years, and it does not touch you, but a weekend or a night in another, and you feel as if your whole being has been sprayed with an equivalent of a cosmic wind." [Doris Lessing — Under My Skin (1994)]


    1. John, I agree with you that the Doris Lessing quote is a great one, and I feel that way about many of the places I've traveled!
      Alaska is, of course, unique due to its vast areas of impenetrable wilderness. This raft trip was one way to get a glimpse of that wildness and of all that Alaska has to offer. Swan Lake cabin offered another incredible experience in the backcountry of the Kenai peninsula.
      Thanks for coming along on this journey—I enjoyed reading all of your comments!

  2. That picture of the ice wall crashing down is really stupendous, and thank you for sharing a wonderful story Rita

    1. Child's Glacier calves quite frequently, but it was a special treat to hear the rumblings and then quickly point my camera at the ice wall to capture the moment of the crash! It was truly a case of being in the right place at the right time.
      Thanks for reading, Soumyendu. I appreciate your thoughts and kind words!

  3. How incredible to capture the moment the glacier calved another 'berg! I'm glad the kayakers made it past.

    This has been a terrific way to take readers through a rafting/camping/outback trip that many may be contemplating - you offer the perfect level of detail to understand what these treks involve - from great company and experiences of the wilderness to those pesky mosquitoes and the occasional "snow-in" of your luxury van route! I loved reading about it all and can't tell you how much I appreciate your sharing the fun, the trepidation and the cuisine!

    Can't wait for the next big journey...

    1. Hi Vickie,

      As I mentioned to Soumyendu, it was unbelievably thrilling to witness (and photograph) the crash of that iceberg—a big enough berg to create excitement but not so big as to swamp our viewing platform!

      I had fun bringing this trip to life for readers like you—and I'm so pleased that you appreciated it too.

      Thanks for all your comments and compliments along the way, Vickie.
      As for the next big journey, well... it's going to be hard to top Alaska!