The Alsek River
is a wilderness river
flowing from the Yukon
into Northern British Columbia
and into Alaska
. The surrounding area from the Western edge of the Alsek to East of the East Alsek is known to locals as Dry Bay.
It starts at the confluence of the Dezadeash and Kaskawulsh rivers in Kluane National Park and Reserve. After flowing south into the northwestern tip of British Columbia, it is joined by the Tatshenshini River in Tatshenshini-Alsek Park. It reaches the Pacific Ocean at Dry Bay, in the Gulf of Alaska, south of Yakutat, Alaska close to the northern end of the Alaska Panhandle. Although the river is navigable by kayak or rubber raft in its northern reaches, it rapidly becomes unnavigable—for any but the most experienced and skilled kayakers—at Turnback Canyon.
On older maps, the Alsek river is labeled as the Tatshenshini and vice versa. Some Yukon First Nation elders also refer to the river as the Tatshenshini.
The river flows next to the Lowell glacier which blocked off the river from 1725 to 1850 and created a large lake behind it. When the glacier broke in 1850, it created a massive flood, washing away everything in its path on the way to the Pacific.
The river carries a lot of silt from the Alsek lake/glacier, which contributes to the rivers low temperature.
The Alsek and nearby East Alsek rivers were at one time connected, and the old river bed can still be made out on some maps.
The Alsek glacier contacts the Grand Plateau glacier, which faces the shoreline. Also in the same general area are the Doame foothills and Doame river.
The first known kayak descent of Turnback Canyon was by Dr. Walt Blackadar
, who ran the canyon solo on August 25
. He wrote about his trip for Sports Illustrated
. "This has been a day!," he wrote in his journal. "I want any other kayaker or would-be expert to read my words well. The Alsek Gorge is unpaddleable!" Despite this sincere warning from a man who apparently felt lucky to be alive, groups of expert kayakers have successfully run Turnback Canyon since then. A prominent mountain which overlooks the Alsek was named Mount Blackadar
in his honor.
The portion of the river inside Kluane National Park has been designated a Canadian Heritage River.
In 1958, a magnitude 7.7 earthquake centered near Lituya bay significantly changed the lay of the land. The earthquake caused the Doame river and East Alsek river to join together.
The Alsek and East Alsek rivers are a part of the Yakutat area limited entry set gillnet fishery. Both rivers produce King
, and Sockeye
and Pink salmon
can also be caught, but are not generally sought after due to their relative lack of worth/quality. These two rivers can be characterized as low volume fisheries, while the Alsek river in particular produces particularly high quality salmon due to its low temperature. The Alsek's silt content also prevents the sun from damaging the fish.
The area also supports subsistence and sport fishing. There are multiple local sport fishing, sight-seeing, hunting, and animal watching lodges
The Complete Guide to the Tatshenshini River including the Upper Alsek River by Russ Lyman and Joe Ordonez and Mike Speaks
P.O. Box 81
Haines, Alaska 99827
- Andrew Embick (1994). Fast and Cold: A Guide to Alaska Whitewater. Valdez Alpine Books. ISBN 1-56044-269-7.
- Ron Watters (1995). Never Turn Back: The Life of Whitewater Pioneer Walt Blackadar. The Great Rift Press. ISBN 1-877625-02-7 (hardcover) ISBN 1-877625-03-5 (paperback)
- Jim Cassidy, Dan Dunlap (1999). World Whitewater: A Global Guide for River Runners. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-011962-7