Raft Patrol down the Tana and Chitina Rivers

July 11, 2014 Posted by: SCA Amy Marks

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!

Loading gear

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.

Plane on Tana gravel bar

The gravel bar that served as our landing strip. The Tana glacier is in the distance under the right wing.


Evan and Amy on raft

Amy and Evan in dry suits, PFDs, and helmets, ready to face the class IV rapids of the Tana!

Jim on the Tana River

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.

Granitic Creek

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.

Floating on the Chitina

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.

Chakina Burn Area

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.

Chitina Landslide

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.

Chitina Landslide from air

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.

Sunset over the Chitina River

11 Comments Comments icon

  1. June 30, 2015 at 02:34

    Your rafting trip looks like it was so much fun. I've wanted to get back on the river for a long time now. Flowing with the river down stream is so relaxing, and is one of the funnest things you will probably ever do in your life. http://www.twriver.com/grand-canyon-rafting/

  2. June 08, 2015 at 10:53

    This looks like a way fun river rafting trip! My dad and I are wanting to go on one sometime in August. We haven't decided on which one we want to do though. Something like this where it would be cold, and we get to take a tour in a plane, sounds very exciting. I will make sure I let my dad know about this! http://www.twriver.com

  3. August 22, 2014 at 11:50

    Amy, you reportings of your Summer experience are so graphic and descriptive. Thank you for allowing us to vicariously experiencing with you.

  4. August 22, 2014 at 11:49

    Amy, you reportings of your Summer experience are so graphic and descriptive. Thank you for allowing us to vicariously experiencing with you.

  5. July 27, 2014 at 04:36

    Amy, what an experience, and what wonderful photos!!! Thanks for letting us enjoy vicariously.

  6. July 22, 2014 at 11:39

    Thanks for the report. I was one of those typical "first-timer to McCarthy/Kennecott" Wrangell-St. Elias visitors. But my trip last year screamed out for wanting to know more about the remote corners of the park. Thank you for shining some light on one such area. It looks spectacular!

  7. July 20, 2014 at 10:40

    Iam so happy you are having such an interesting Summer. I am also happy you are sharing your experience with us.

  8. July 17, 2014 at 05:51

    Your descriptions of the power and rejuvenating qualities of nature are inspiring. What a summer!!

  9. July 16, 2014 at 03:05

    What a great and inspiring summary! I bet you never complain of being too warm.

  10. July 16, 2014 at 02:55

    Great descriptions, Amy. What an amazing trip. I love the photo of the landslide from the air, too.

  11. July 14, 2014 at 04:20

    So cool! I want to go!

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Last updated: April 14, 2015

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