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There are a lot of incredible places in Alaska. (Understatement!) I’ve been fortunate to visit many of the more easily accessible ones, and to share my stories and resources about them to help other people visit them too.
And while I certainly travel a lot and specialize in Alaska travel, I don’t really consider myself an “adventure traveler;” I jokingly say my style of adventure is more like “Diet Adventure” or “adventure light.” So as I told family and friends that I was setting out on an almost two-week trip off-grid in the Canadian and Alaskan wilderness, traveling by river raft and camping along the way… people were surprised.
Luckily, it turns out that rafting is totally my style. Even tackling higher class rapids fits within my comfort zone, and the company I went rafting with – Momentum Expeditions – took such good care of all the other details that I never felt like I was in an extreme adventure travel situation. It was actually surprisingly comfortable, and I was very well fed.
In this post, I’m going to dive deep into all the details of the 12-day river rafting trip I took with Momentum Expeditions on the Tatshenshini and Alsek rivers in July and August 2022. This Momentum Expeditions Alaska review will hopefully answer any lingering questions you have after reviewing their site; I’m happy to answer anything I didn’t address in the comments at the end of the post so I can hopefully help you decide if the trip is right for you.
In this post, I promote travel to destinations that are the traditional lands of the Champagne & Aishihik, Dënéndeh, and Tlingit peoples, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, and the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
Rafting the Tatshenshini & Alsek Rivers
If you’ve never heard of the Tatshenshini and Alsek Rivers, you’ll be forgiven – I hadn’t either before I found myself planning this trip. The Tatshenshini – taking its name from the Tlingit Tʼachanshahéeni – has its headwaters at the Yukon-British Columbia border, flowing 93 miles and crossing into Alaska until it joins the Alsek River.
The Alsek (from Tlingit, Aalseix̱’) also originates in Canada (the Yukon), flowing 240 miles until it enters the Gulf of Alaska at Dry Bay; what makes the Alsek special is the sheer volume of water it reaches: 190,000 cubic feet per second in July and August, due to glacial meltwater. (Compare this to the Colorado River, which averages 22,500cfs!)
When rafting the “Tat and Alsek” rivers, you put in at Dalton Post (Shawshe) and take out at Dry Bay. This 140-mile trip usually takes 10 days; river float companies typically range from 9-11 days on the river. My trip with Momentum Expeditions in 2022 was an 11-day float with a day in Haines at the start of the trip. The first six days on the river are on the Tatshenshini and the next five were on the Alsek before we reached Dry Bay.
Life on the River
After reaching Haines by flight (to Juneau) and ferry (to Haines itself) and meeting for dinner and one last night with a soft bed and running water toilet, we set out on “Day 2” to travel to Dalton Post and put in on the river. The next 11 days were truly magical, and I wrote a detailed and photo-heavy “journal” about the experience.
To cover that same experience in brief, here’s what each day was like:
- Day 1: Meeting in Haines – Traveling to Haines, and exploring town before welcome dinner with guides and fellow guests.
- Day 2: Putting In at Dalton Post – Driving from Haines to Dalton Post, putting in, and floating/rafting down Class III and IV whitewater to camp at Silver Creek.
- Day 3: Silver Creek to Sediments Creek – Floating the whole day with a stop for lunch on a rock bank, passing through canyons and by sweeping mountain landscapes before camping at Sediments Creek.
- Day 4: Layover at Sediments Creek – A day off-river, spent hiking, doing some laundry, relaxing by the fire, and breathing slowly and deeply.
- Day 5: Sediments Creek to O’Connor – Paddling through rapids, curves, and wind for most of the day, with stunning scenery of close-up mountains the whole way until setting up a very windblown camp at the O’Connor Delta.
- Day 6: O’Connor to Melt Creek – Passing through the “wind tunnel,” which can make for a slow, cold day – but not for us! The day included fording and serious rowing before camp at Melt Creek.
- Day 7: Layover at Melt Creek – Another day off-river, including hikes, a polar plunge, and even sunbathing on a beautiful day.
- Day 8: Melt Creek to Walker Glacier – Setting out to join the Alsek, cross the U.S. border, and end at Walker Glacier camp with the crackling sound of the glacier as we drifted off to sleep.
- Day 9: Walker Glacier to Purple Haze – A cloudy day with glaciers peeking through as we floated a long, flat stretch to reach a camp called Purple Haze for its flowers.
- Day 10: Purple Haze to Alsek Lake – Rain and mosquitos chase us back onto the river, where we float under miserable grey clouds and chilly, blowing rain, to reach Alsek Lake and camp.
- Day 11: Layover at Alsek Lake – A rainy, rainy day spent admiring the icebergs floating by and trying to stay dry.
- Day 12: Alsek Lake to Dry Bay & Juneau – Another miserable day breaking camp to float to Dry Bay and fly back to Juneau to end the trip.
Putting it all so briefly though, feels like such an understatement of the experience though… really, if you have the time and you’re considering the trip, please dive deep into my photo journal to learn so much more about this incredible trip.
Rafting with Momentum Expeditions Alaska
So far, I’ve pretty much covered the general experience anyone might have when rafting the Tat and Alsek; now I want to talk specifically about rafting with Momentum Expeditions in Alaska, since I think they offer something very special
Rafts, Equipment & Camping Gear
If you’re trusting your entire life to a few rafts and tents on a river trip like this, you want to know that hey’re good and will keep you safe, right?
While I’m no expert who can inspect the rafts and tents we were provided, the equipment provided for us and our guides seemed well-maintained and well-used – meaning it has been tested on this river and you know it can do its job.
In terms of what’s provided, it’s everything you need to live. The guides are in charge of the rafts, which includes oars, seats, mats, food, and emergency/safety equipment. (Oh, and a toilet, but more on that in a separate section!). For guests, each person receives a tent (either a solo or double-sized tent depending on your party size), river gear (top and bottom, you can see us in these as the tops are red and bottoms are blue), water proof boots, and dry bags to hold it all.
Given that we encountered a lot of rain on our last few days, I can say that the river gear and other water-proof items really do work – but you still might end up damp if the river gives you a big wave or the rain is really coming down.
Guides & Team Support
You might have spotted the guides on their rafts up above, but I wanted to call out the four incredible guides we had on this trip specifically: our leader Jorge, plus the other three guides Mark, Andy, and Glen (pictured in line above).
Professional and personable, I have fond memories of each of these guides doing incredible work to help open up a corner of Canadian and Alaskan wilderness for us to explore and enjoy. They navigated the river and all the strange situations we encountered with good humor and incredible skill, and were typically up first and last, keeping us safe (more below), and preparing some incredible meals in incredible places (more on the food below, too!).
Bravo, guys. I’d be happy to float with any of them again – though it would be bittersweet because they made such a great team.
Health & Safety on the River
Though I’ve just said our guides were great, I specifically want to call out the health and safety plan that our guides had and used when needed. After all, we were out in the wilderness, in bear country, with lots of delicious smells. Oh, and we were 11 amateur people out on a rafting adventure where any number of injuries and issues could happen.
Here’s how I’ll put it: the Momentum Expeditions guides did exactly what I would want someone to do in bear country. They taught us bear safety on our first day on the river at Silver Creek, and when we saw or encountered bears, they made sure to do exactly what they taught us. When we spotted a bear heading toward our camp at Sediments Creek, they did patrols. When a bear tried to approach our camp at Walker Glacier, they diverted it, did patrols, and notified a nearby camp too. We had no point we were unsafe in bear country, and that’s a really incredible testament to the policies our guides used.
While we were quite fortunate to not have any health issues on the river – except I developed a huge abscess under my thumbnail and had to drain it daily, gross! – the guides also made sure we knew where emergency supplies were, and who to wake up in the event there was an issue at night.
I’m not sure it’s ever possible to feel completely safe when you’re out in the wild with nothing more than nylon between you and the elements, but I felt as safe as I could thanks to our guides’ preparation and the way they prepared us.
Meals & Food
If you’re thinking of those dehydrated meals you used to eat when camping as a kid, let me disabuse you of that idea: the food on your Momentum Expeditions trip down the Tat and Alsek will be some of the best food you have in Alaska (or Canada), with better views every day than you’ll find in any restaurant. Momentum Expeditions has a reputation for providing some of the most incredible river-side meals on all of their trips.
I still don’t know how they did it, but our guides somehow purchased enough great food, packed it and stored it properly, and were able to create incredible meals each and every day for all 12 days – including fresh avocados until, like, day nine or ten!
Every day, you’ll have a cooked breakfast and dinner, as well as a lunch spread at a stop along the river. Meals I loved included Korean beef, ramen, taco Tuesday – and literally every day’s hors d’oeuvres before each meal. (And there was always dessert!)
It was hard to pick just a few photos to share here, but I hope the colors and flavors you can see give you a sense of just how well you’re going to eat on this trip. No need to worry about going hungry, I promise!
Let’s Talk Toilets
While I’ve already mentioned camp amenities, I wanted to call out a specific issue you might have questions about: where to go when nature calls?
While you might think that Leave No Trace principles allow for adding natural waste to the natural environment, human waste is actually bad for the environment out in the wild like the areas of the world where the Tat and Alsek flow. Animals are disrupted by solid waste smells, and the foods we eat don’t “break down” the same way animal waste does. Basically, you gotta have somewhere to poo that doesn’t hurt this incredible wilderness. (Liquid waste is okay because we were always near flowing water, which we added to, if you get my drift…)
To that end, enter the Groover. This portable pink potty is the solution for managing this issue in the wild; each day when we arrived at a new campsite, our guides set it up in a private location, and managed it for us on the river to then transport all of our human waste away at the end of the float. There was also a pop-up tent to protect the Groover from the elements when needed, but most times, I was happy to use it in the open air and with the incredible scenery all around.
Yeah, it takes an adjustment to get use to this scenario – and yes, I did have my worst nightmare of spotting a black bear while sitting on the Groover one day… – but knowing we were doing the sustainable best practices helped me relax, so to speak. 😆
My Fellow Guests
Moving on to something much less, well, grody, I want to end by talking about the types of other folks who were on my trip. I was the youngest person on my trip, and one of only three solo travelers in the group of 11 guests. Most of the other travelers were couples, and were older – at retirement age – but all were able-bodied, which is an important criterion for being able to do the physical activities necessary to make this float.
Additionally, everyone had really great spirits: there were so many laughs and I felt so welcome despite being a solo traveler. Even on the rainiest days – and oh my gosh I’ve never been more wet and cold than those last few days on the river – everyone had a positive attitude and made the experience fun. Drinking campfire hot buttered rum and discussing how to fix the problems of the world on a rainy Alaska day… what more could a girl ask for?
While I’m used to being the youngest traveler on Alaska group travel and of being adopted by some of the people, I have never felt more welcome than on this trip: by the end, I was sad to say goodbye to everyone, and have kept in occasional touch with some of the folks from my trip… maybe we’ll travel together again someday, and I’d be very happy for the opportunity!
Momentum Expeditions Alaska Review: Overall Thoughts
Some 2,000+ words and a year later, I’m still not sure how to “sum up” what I consider to be one of my greatest adventures in life (so far) and one of the coolest ways to explore Alaska. I’m not the kind of kid who grew up in Alaska going out into the backcountry or doing long hiking trips; the most camping I did was at Girl Scout camp using platform tents.
Needless to say, a 12-day river rafting trip down one of the wildest rivers in North America was way outside my comfort zone – but I also found my whole being deeply comforted by leaving civilization behind for a while. Sure, I didn’t love the facilities for when nature called, or the lack of showers, or the mosquitos and rain – but the absolute silence and beauty of the wilderness more than made up for it… and it’s all thanks to Momentum Expeditions that I had an opportunity to visit (and was fed so well the entire time!).
From start to finish, Momentum Expeditions made the trip booking and planning process simple, and their guides were exceptionally professional and kind – I can only imagine how tired they are after each week’s trip keeping all of us city people safe out there.
If you’re considering a trip down the Tat & Alsek, I whole-heartedly recommend Momentum Expeditions among the providers out there, and if you’re considering Momentum Expeditions for this trip or any other, you’re going to have an incredible time and eat very, very well.
Have any questions about my Momentum Expeditions Alaska experience, or whether you should book this trip for yourself? Let me know in the comments below!