At the end of June, I went on my first river patrol. During the course of 5 days, we floated down the Tana River, which feeds into the Chitina River. We took out where the Chitina meets the Copper River. There were four others on the patrol: Ranger Olson led the trip, Ed Eberhardy was studying human impacts on some of the areas we visited, and two highly experienced volunteers were there to help steer us safely through the trip.
I found out that raft trips are very different from backpacking patrols. For one, we packed much more liberally!
Volunteer Jim and the majority of our things waiting to go into the plane. We packed coolers and a dry box, personal dry bags, boat rigging equipment, 2 rafts, 6 oars, water jugs, a river toilet, camping and cooking equipment, food, tables, and other odds and ends.
It took two plane rides to get all our things and people out to our first campsite. We were dropped off below the Tana Glacier, where the river is very braided. Our pilots landed on a huge gravel bar, where we filled the boats with air and rigged them with gear.
The gravel bar that served as our landing strip. The Tana glacier is in the distance under the right wing.
Amy and Evan in dry suits, PFDs, and helmets, ready to face the class IV rapids of the Tana!
Volunteer Jim Hannah was an original ranger at Wrangell St.-Elias and a river ranger at the Grand Canyon. For all his experience, he was happy to be rafting the Tana for the first time.
Ed and volunteer Brian fill up water at Granitic Creek.
We made it through all the major rapids during our first day on the river. Ranger Olson and Jim flew over the Tana prior to the trip to get an idea of what each rapid would look like and how to approach it. Then, we pulled the boats over before the rapids to scout them out in person. It was a bumpy ride, but everyone made it through safely.
The Tana flows into the Chitina, we floated it all the way to the town of Chitina. The second river was much more mellow. Ed filled up a packraft one day and paddled near us. One of the highlights of the trip for me was gaining confidence at the oars of the boat. I felt comfortable navigating the river by the end of the trip, but I’d still like to learn more. In particular, I want to improve my skills at reading the water- understanding and predicting how different waves and features will affect the boat.
We saw several interesting areas as we floated. One was this burn site where the Chakina River Fire wiped out much of the vegetation 5 years ago. It was surprising to see just how vibrantly green the hillside was, and reminded me of the rejuvenating power of forest fire.
This landslide sight called to mind similar thoughts about the power of nature. This spring, a huge amount of land fell off this bluff and spread out into the Chitina River. The area looks unearthly now, with piles of earth spreading out hundreds of feet from the cliff like a sci-fi depiction of another planet.
The landslide from the air.
From rapids to fires to landslides to sunsets, I returned from this patrol understanding the wild strength of Wrangell- St. Elias and the thrill of being able to witness it up close.