South of Lowell Lake, the Alsek narrows into a large channel with rocks and holes that produce major whitewater rapids which challenge the technical skills of our guides. Their excitement is palpable as they anticipate their chance to run Lava North Rapid, named after the dangerous Lava Rapid on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. The plan is that they will run the river in the loaded rafts and we will meet them at the bottom of the scouting trail on the left side of the river.
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They accompanied us hiking through the underbrush on the river bank, scouting the river as we went along. Then they left us perched on the river bank with an extended view of the rapids. Whitey’s instructions were alternatives. If the rafts made it down the river without mishap, we were all to don our life jackets, climb down the hill, and get into the rafts as they floated into the eddy below. If any of the rafts were upended, the most agile of the group (as many as possible) were to get aboard the first raft that came by, leaving their gear behind. The rest of the group was to walk downstream. Any such mishap would need us to return later to rescue the guide who presumably would have swum to shore and to retrieve the gear. The timing was important; in the best case scenario, as soon as we saw they’d made it through the rapids, we were to scramble down the hill and prepare to get into the rafts which would be approaching very quickly.
This is pretty exciting stuff. We waited and then, using binoculars, watched as the guides changed into their dry suits and started down the river. They followed in a row, crossed through the rapids, and arrived without any clear problems. We jumped in and were immediately swept across the eddy to the big wall on the right side of the river where it makes a sharp turn. The fast water continued through more big rapids and major waves as we wound our way in a series of 90-degree turns through a dramatic gorge carved into a huge glacial valley and to our next campsite. That night, everyone slept well, most particularly the guides.