By Leslie Hundhammer
Something I love about rafting is that there is no turning around, no backing out, and no changing your mind. On rivers in Alaska, there is rarely roadside access, the water is never warm, and the current is fast. Even with all of the luxuries of boating -- good food, decent shelter, hearty desserts, and an organized "bathroom" -- rafting lacks one luxury even mountaineers get: the ability to turn around. When we put on in Chitina for our 7-day trip down the Copper River, the eight of us were committed to each other, the landscape, the weather, and the water until Cordova.
The Copper River is the only river that cuts through the Chugach mountain range and it carries an incredible amount of water, sediment, fish, and adventure. Every day on this river is distinct and unique and beautiful in different and profound ways. It takes you through two different canyons, you accelerate through rapids, pass by sand dunes, dodge icebergs on glacial lakes, and navigate the wide and dynamic Copper River delta.
While we were out there in the heart of the Chugach, we saw rain, sun, rain, wind, rain, and rain. Did I mention rain? This August trip was unusually wet. In the evenings, we joked about roasting our buns (not the hot dog kind) over the fire, and the five stages of rain acceptance.
Just as the rain started to wear on us (there may have even been a moment or two we all wished we could break our commitment), the skies parted and we sat on the boat wearing sunglasses. Icebergs and glaciers and seals surrounded us in every direction. We took off our rain boots, replaced them with our Chaco sandals, and breathed in that warm, dry air we had been missing.
Sometimes people come to the wilderness with an expectation to receive good weather and lots of wildlife. Ironically, it is nature's unruliness that is most impressive. All we can come to see is what the Copper River valley gives us, her wildness, and her power. And that, we saw.
Although we may not have known it at the put-in in Chitina, the commitment we made to the river and to each other led us to a connection with the seven other people on this trip, a better understanding of our own tolerances, and a healthy respect for the power of this wild land in remote Alaska. Rafting is a sport of clarity because decisions are relatively sparse. Once the current picks up the raft, there is only one way to go: down river.