Upper Alsek (Kaskawush to Lowell Lake)
Difficulty: Grade II–III
Distance/Duration: 1 week
This stretch of the Alsek is a relatively popular float trip with rafters, with superb views and plenty of opportunity for hiking. The hike on Goatherd Mountain in particular is a classic and should not be missed. This river is fascinating as remnants of neo-glacial Lake Alsek are evident through the region.
Most afternoons, strong winds buffet this region. A good strategy is to wake early and take advantage of the stillness and daylight. Select protected campsites carefully to avoid having your tent rattled apart by gusts and steady high winds. Finding campsites on this river isn’t difficult although by keeping to sandbars with kitchens a distance from your tent is advised as this is a Grizzly preserve.
The Upper Alsek has many braids, so deep channels should be selected. This is easier said than done, however, as the water is murky. Where the river amalgamates into a single channel, there are lots of cliffs and ancient lava beds. At some water levels there are Grade II–III rapids before reaching Lowell Lake.
Since 1950 glacial surges have narrowed the Upper Alsek channel three times between Lowell Glacier and Goatherd Mountain. Paddlers should approach the glacier with caution as it frequently calves enormous icebergs.
Put-In: Haines Junction, Yukon
Take-Out: Lowell Lake or continue downstream although you’ll face the fierce rapids of the lower river including the notorious Turn-back Canyon.