Stikine River – Part 2

Yesterday was our first day exploring the Stikine River, traveling 160 miles of opaque shoaling water full of stumps and snags, seeing glaciers and mountains and beautiful fall color.  We arrived in the tiny town of Telegraph Creek, British Columbia and spent the night at a little B&B just outside of town.  After dinner our hosts lit a bonfire, and we enjoyed its warmth on a brisk night.

The night was clear so I set my alarm to look for aurora activity around 12:30am.  No joy.  I went back to bed, and my friend woke me up around 2:30am to tell me that there was some action in the sky.It wasn’t a great aurora and the activity was already waning, but I still think the aurora is really cool and well worth some lost sleep and cold hands.  In fact, we woke to frost on the field in the morning.  Winter is coming – no doubt about it.

Fortified by some hot coffee before breakfast, a few of us hiked up to the top of the ridge to enjoy the view.  Perfect.The high-bush cranberries were almost gone, not really enough to collect to make ketchup.We watched a fox wandering in the field over breakfast, and then we got a tour of the little town of Telegraph Creek.The captain and his friend who ran the B&B were fueling the boat with a hand pump from 55 gallon drums – there’s no fuel dock here!I was impressed by the display of mangled boat propellers on display around a nearby building.  This river is no place for rookies.Fueled up and ready to go, the captain treated us to a wild ride a little farther up the river, to the beginning of the Grand Canyon of the Stikine.  The river was not navigable beyond here at this time of the year, but it was fun to sit with the boat powering forward and not moving in the swift water.It was time to point the bow south, running even faster with the current.  We learned that there used to be steam-powered stern wheelers running up the river, and the captain showed us a few places where the boats could be attached to cables and pulleys to help them get through narrows where the water velocity was too great for them to overcome.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

We were surprised to stop and see some petroglyphs on a rock along the river.  It’s sometimes covered by silt, but the guides have marked the spot and have to dig it out from time to time.The Stikine was a trading highway for the Tlingit people and for First Nations people from BC so there are probably many more of these gems hidden by the river.

A beautiful waterfall……brown bear……and a downed tree that bore deep gouges and scratches from a bear cleaning its claws.  It may not look like much in the photograph, but it’s sobering to stick a finger into the claw marks to appreciate how big and powerful those paws are.The daylight was fading, but we still had time for a quick hike through the woods to the Great Glacier, where we found moose tracks at the lake edge and lots of grounded icebergs.The last of the light kissed the mountain opposite the glacier and made a glowing reflection in the glacial lake.It was a perfect ending to an exciting two day trip on the river.  We headed back home via Wrangell to clear US Customs, and had this nice sunset near the mouth of the river just to put the cherry on top.

Stikine River by Jet Boat – Part 1

We joined friends for a boating adventure of a different kind – where got to go really fast – exploring up the Stikine River. 

The Stikine is a fast-flowing river that starts in the mountains of British Columbia, Canada, and runs almost 400 miles down to Dry Strait between Petersburg and Wrangell in southeast Alaska.  Fed by a number of glaciers along the way, the Stikine is opaque with glacier “flour” and full of tree stumps and snags making navigation incredibly challenging.  Above the lower section affected by tides, the river freezes solid in the winter – which is hard to imagine when you see it flowing so fast and hard.

We’ve always wanted to venture up the river, so we got together with some friends and arranged for one of the big jet boats from Wrangell to take us 160 miles up the river to Telegraph Creek, BC for an overnight adventure.The Breakaway boat has a very shallow draft, equipped with twin 300hp engines and jet drives which makes it a little easier to manage the hidden hazards, stumps, gravel bars, and shoals in the river.  We traveled at speeds over 30 mph on the way up against the strong current, and 40 mph on the way back down with the current.  The sticker on the back of the captain’s chair was appropriate…The boat picked us up at a boat ramp on the lower end of Mitkof Island, and we set out on a misty, foggy morning.  Some kayakers from Canada joined us for the trip up river – they had paddled down and were taking the “easy” way back!  The captain called Canadian Customs to finalize clearance, and we were off…  passing a long row of surprised harbor seals hauled out on the muddy bank.

The fog lifted fairly quickly, and we were treated to clear skies and bright sunshine as we zoomed along.We took a side trip to see the Shakes Glacier, visiting some big icebergs as we got closer……and getting some nice views of the glacier, partially covered in rock dust from its grinding flow down through the mountains.Fairly soon after Shakes Glacier we crossed the US-Canada border, easily spotted by the cleared swath running into the distance.  We made a few stops along the way to stretch our legs and to have lunch, finding moose and bear tracks on the silty shoreline.  And who can resist picking up some pretty rocks?

We were SO impressed by the amount of local knowledge the captain had to get us up this river.  He told us that they take boats up slowly and carefully in the spring to find out how the river has changed over the winter and spring thaw – but it’s a lot to remember!  The river flows at 6-8 knots, sometimes faster… and remember I told you that it’s completely opaque.  There are many rapids to negotiate, and everything is dependent on the river’s level, which can change with rainfall or strong sun which melts the glacier faces faster.  It is a dynamic environment, to say the least!

The views left us breathless at every turn, and the fall color intensified as we gained altitude.We made it up to Telegraph Creek, BC and dropped off the kayakers before we headed to a little B&B just outside town.  More tomorrow…