2014 Season On The Go

October 17, 2014

by Seth Tonsmeire

With only a 3 or 4 month rafting season, I try to do as many trips as possible, which often leads to very busy days in-between trips checking emails, cleaning up one trip and packing the next.  Hopefully you have time for a load of laundry to resupply the dry bag you have been living out of.  For me, I am traveling to rivers in different states throughout the summer, including a few weeks in Canada. Inbetween trips I dump my camera cards onto hard drives and often wonder when I might have time to deal with all the pictures from the last trip… yeah, maybe winter?  It seems like I was just in the desert of southern Idaho a few weeks ago, but in reality, it has been almost 1,100 river miles and four months ago!  After my first look at the pile of photos, I wanted to share a few of my personal favorites.  Enjoy!


The Jarbidge Bruneau, Idaho

Bruneau River Canyon

Jarbidge River Canyon

The Middle Fork of the Salmon, Idaho
In June, I ran a few high water Middle Fork Salmon trips, which is my personal favorite time of year for the Middle Fork.  The whitewater is at its best and everything is still very green from snowmelt and spring rains.  The photos below are those good times.

Western Tanager Idaho Above:  Western Tanager on the Middle Fork Salmon

Middle Fork Salmon River
Middle Fork Salmon Impassable Canyon

Middle Fork Salmon Inflatable Kayaking

Middle Fork Flathead River
It’s always nice to head back to the lush alpine climate of the Flathead Valley.  After a beautiful backcountry flight into Schaffer Meadows Ranger Station, we arrived at the put in.  There is a trail that winds through the woods in which you carry your gear to the river’s edge.  There is a small weathered registration box where you sign in and you can see the short list of other trips that have been down this season so far.  Very different from the busy central Idaho rivers!

In between flights coming in, the first crew that was carrying the gear down to the river saw a grizzly bear passing through. Otherwise, we were all by ourselves.  It was late June on a big snow year, so the water was still nice and high.  Throughout the 40 mile trip, we ran some awesome class III-IV whitewater, took some exceptional hikes and thoroughly enjoyed this little-known jewel of whitewater.  Spending 4 or 5 days in the Great Bear Wilderness (Middle Fork Flathead) that borders Glacier National Park is a good way to see very similar stunning landscapes without the crowds.  The best of both worlds!  The Middle Fork Flathead is un-arguably the best multi-day whitewater rafting trip in the state of Montana.

It is also a great trip to plan in conjunction with a trip to visit Glacier National Park.

Middle Fork Flathead River Montana Above:  Middle Fork Flathead at Castle Rapid / Below:  Looking downstream from Cy Creek
Middle Fork Flathead River

Middle Fork of the Flathead River
The Tatshenshini and Alsek Rivers
After a few plane rides and a night cruise on the Alaska Marine Highway I arrived in Haines, Alaska.  Haines is the starting point for two of the best rafting trips in the world, the Alsek and Tatshenshini Rivers!  These trips will redefine “wild” in your vocabulary.
See  “Top Five North American Rafting Trips” and “Top 10 whitewater Rafting Trips in the World by National Geographic.” 

These rivers are BIG with giant mountains, glaciers, big wildlife (tracks that make you think you found sasquatch).   The only thing  average sized on a river trip up north is the people and the rafts.  When you are traveling on a river that is flowing over 100,000 cubic feet per second and two miles wide, while looking up at mountain peaks over 15,000 ft high, you start to feel pretty SMALL!   You can look for miles in this landscape and often you can see downstream 10 miles.  We had unbeatable weather on our Alsek trip this year and saw all the sights in their glory!

Alsek River Rafting Above:  Steve giving the Alsek a thumbs up!
Alsek River Kluane National Park Above:  Lave Creek Camp Upper Alsek River / Below:  Hike up Goatherd Mountain
Alsek River Hiking Floating through the largest non-polar ice cap in the world on the Alsek gives you a nice snapshot back into the last ice age.

I stayed to guide our Tatshenshini trip after the Alsek which was awesome!  We had a fantastic group of friends, that have been on many WRO trips in years past.  We started out the trip with some rain and cloudy weather going through the canyon section the first day, but after that the sun was out for the majority of the trip.  A little rain is good to make you appreciate the sunshine!

Tatshenshini River Rafting Above:  Amos family on the Tatshenshini

The Tat starts out really small and builds dramatically in volume over the 11-day trip.  Near the take out the river could be 120,000 cfs, almost a 1oo-times larger than the starting point.

Tatshenshini River Above:  Melt Creek / Below:  View upstream from the Nose

The channels always change in the braided glacial rivers and you never know if you will be able to get back to a camp or hike you have done the year before.  On this trip we were able to hike the Nose, one of our classic hikes, which in recent years had been unreachable due to the shifting channels.  It was the highlight of the trip for me as well as a few others who made the scramble up  The photo below shows one the views from the Nose.  We also saw four grizzly bears within about 15 minutes on our float down to the Nose camp from the confluence, which was pretty special.
Tatshenshini Alsek River
Alsek River Walker Glacier
Glacier Bay National Park
Alsek River Mt Fairweather

After two big adventures in the north, it’s always nice to get back to Idaho and put your feet in the sand along the Salmon River.  Trade in the rubber boots from Alaska for bare feet in Idaho!  Now with winter on the way, it won’t be long before we are skiing powder out of the Stateline Yurt.

~  Seth Tonsmeire