Frequently Asked Questions

About Us

How long have you guys been around?

Copper Oar was founded in McCarthy in 1993 by local Howard Mozen. When Gaia was twelve, she began working for Copper Oar, and in 2005 she and her husband Wayne Marrs purchased the company. They’d been happily running it until 2019, when it was bought by three long-term guides, Anya Voskresensky, Bryan Kerr, and Cody Simmons! They’ve been guiding and exploring Wrangell-St. Elias since 2014 and are excited to continue the tradition of guiding excellence in the Wrangells!

Why are you way out in middle of nowhere?

Because we love it! Wrangell-St. Elias is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, and since it’s off the beaten path, it’s full of unexplored territory. Click on these links for more information about Wrangell-St. Elias and McCarthy-Kennecott.

How do I get to you?

There are several ways to get to McCarthy-Kennecott. They include driving the famous McCarthy road, a van shuttle from Anchorage, and scheduled and chartered flights. Please visit our transportation page for more details, or give us a call to discuss which option will work best for you!

Where do I stay once I’m there?

There are a surprising number of options for such a small town! We have two great lodges in the area, one in Kennecott and one in McCarthy, as well as a backpacker’s hostel and several campsites. Please visit our lodging page for more details.

What else is there to do in McCarthy/Kennecott?

McCarthy-Kennecott is the perfect jumping off point for some of the greatest hiking, climbing, and rafting adventures in the country, without the crowds you get in other national parks. Surrounded by towering mountains, immense glaciers and surging rivers, McCarthy-Kennecott is a great place to explore the Alaskan terrain, or simply relax and enjoy the views. Visit our Trips page for details on all the adventures we offer.

Day Trips

I only have one or two days. What should I do?

There is so much to do here that we hope you stay for at least a night or two, but we have some excellent short trips if your itinerary is limited. Our inflatable kayaking trip will give you a perfect morning or afternoon of paddling around the toe of the glacier with breathtaking views of the valley. With a full day, we recommend the raft and flightsee trip, which will take you along three beautiful glacial rivers through canyons and rapids, ending with a spectacular bird’s eye view of the rivers and glaciers as you fly in a bush plane back to McCarthy. If you have more time, we highly recommend getting onto the ice with a hike on the Root Glacier (or an ice climb!) and a history tour of Kennecott. You can do these both in one day or split them between two days. And if you didn’t have the chance to get up in the air with the raft and flightsee trip, we strongly suggest getting up in a plane somehow – that could be on your flight from Chitina, or on a separate flightseeing trip with Wrangell Mountain Air. It’s a bit more expensive, but well worth every penny for the spectacular views and Alaska bush plane experience.

Who will my guide be?

Because we are a long-established company with a great reputation in a stunning and remote location, we attract the best guides in the business. Your raft guide will have extensive outdoor experience, first aid training, and a great personality! In addition to the training they’ve received at raft guide schools across the country, we put them through a detailed training program specific to our rivers in Wrangell-St. Elias. They are wonderful people, and we know you’ll love them. You can read more about these fabulous individuals here.

Should I tip my guide? How much?

Tipping guides is customary and always appreciated. Tips can go a long way toward making guiding a feasible long-term career choice. There are many schools of thought on how much to tip, but a common estimate is between 10% and 20% of the trip cost. So, for a kayaking trip, that would come to between $10 and $20 per person. For a raft and flightsee trip, the percentage doesn’t work as well since the bush plane flight is out of the guide’s control, but an informal poll of our guides found $20 to $30 to be a good tip range. As in any industry, your tip should be based on the service you feel you received. If you had the time of your life, the sky’s the limit!

dinner on the copper river

Rafting Basics

What classes of river do you take people rafting on?

For rafting purposes, stretches of rivers receive one of the following five classifications based on the difficulty of safe navigation down the river:

Class I: Easy, fast-moving water that presents few risks.

Class II: Some potential obstructions, but generally simple to navigate with little risk to anyone going into the water.

Class III: Intermediate rapids that may require quick maneuvers and advanced knowledge of a complex channel system. Self-rescue is still likely for anyone going into the water.

Class IV: Powerful and potentially unavoidable rapids that require precise maneuvers. Class IV rapids present a higher risk of injury to anyone going in the water and group assistance is often required for rescue.

Class V: Long, difficult rapids and drops that pose a high risk to all involved.

The highest rating on any of our trips is Class III, due to the surging water in the canyons and the cold temperature of the water.

Is rafting safe? Do I have to know how to swim?

Like any outdoor adventure, there are some risks involved in rafting, especially on cold glacial rivers, but we minimize these risks through extensive safety training for guides and guests, along with outfitting our guests in neoprene rafting gear and personal floatation devices. Many guests on our multi-day trips do decide to take a voluntary dunk in the river!

What is the best time of year to go rafting?

Our season runs from the end of May through the beginning of September, and rafting is usually excellent for the entire season! Most of our multi-day trips are scheduled for mid-June through mid-August to ensure a steady river levels that allow us to stick closely to our itineraries, and our day trips are fun and exciting all season long.  

What types of rafts do you use?

For our half-day trips on the lake at the toe of the Kennicott Glacier, we use inflatable double kayaks, so you can paddle and steer your own boat! On our river trips however, we use 16-ft oar-rigged inflatable rafts. The guide does all the work, as they row with two long oars, so you’re free to sit in the front or the back of the boat and take in the beautiful scenery! We often bring paddles, or let you try your hands at the oars to see how you can do!

What should I wear on the river?

While we provide waterproof outer layers, we still recommend that you wear breathable athletic clothing underneath. Please avoid cotton at all costs, and instead bring wool or synthetic layers that will keep you warm, even if they do get wet. We will also provide rubber boots to keep your feet warm and dry.

Should I bring my camera?

Getting splashed is definitely a possibility on any of our trips, so we recommend being especially careful with cameras that aren’t waterproof. We will provide dry bags for you to bring on the trip so that you’ll be able to pull out your camera at opportune moments!

Multi-Day Trips

How do I decide what trip to do?

If you are thinking about joining us for a rafting adventure, but don’t know where to start, give us a call! We have been leading trips in this area for a long time, and are experts at helping you choose the right trip for your goals, experience, age, and ability. Multi-day rafting trips can allow for a great deal of flexibility, as your guides can shape side hikes and adventures around group abilities and interests.

Who will my guide be?

Our multi-day rafting trip guides are the best of the best. They have all the qualifications of our day trip guides, along with even more extensive experience in the backcountry and advanced wilderness medical training. They are strong oarsmen and women, in addition to being great company for an extended adventure! They love what they do and want to make sure you have the best experience possible. You can read their biographies here. We assign guides to individual trips 2-4 weeks prior to the trip, but the schedule is always changing. We try hard to have your guide contact you 7-10 days before the trip to introduce themselves and answer any last minute questions you might have. We apologize if this doesn’t happen due to busy schedules and/or last minute scheduling additions or changes.

Where do we go to the bathroom?

This is one of the most commonly asked questions, and one of the biggest benefits of traveling on such sturdy rafts! Unlike backpacking trips, where the added weight would be prohibitive, we carry a metal toilet box with a seat that is set up near to camp. It may not be luxurious, but it’s more comfortable than digging a latrine! In accordance with Leave No Trace principles, we carry out all waste.

Do I have to carry my own gear?

Unlike backpacking and mountaineering trips, rafting allows us to bring extra gear (large stoves, chairs, coolers with fresh food, etc.) that we won’t have to carry very far. Your guides will carry gear from the rafts to camp and back again in the mornings, although you are always welcome to help!

What about bears?!

Spotting bears can be both a highlight and a worry of travel in the Alaska backcountry. They are big wild animals and can be intimidating, but in our area, bear safety is quite manageable. Most bears in Wrangell-St. Elias have never seen a human before, and are instinctively afraid of us. Even grizzlies will turn and run away at the sight of a large group of humans. Still, our guides are trained in bear safety, and carry flare guns (to scare a bear in the area) and pepper spray (in case of an uncomfortably close encounter). It is very unlikely that either will be necessary on your trip.

What will we eat?

We pride ourselves on cooking healthy, well-balanced and delicious meals anywhere in the backcountry. Thanks to our rafts’ carrying capabilities, we will be able to cook three to four course meals with fresh ingredients at each stop. Your exact menu will depend on the trip, your guide, and the dietary preferences/restrictions you list in your trip application form. We take these forms very seriously, so please list any specific requests, and contact us if you have any questions about food leading up to your trip.

Can you accommodate my dietary needs/preferences?

We can accommodate most dietary needs and preferences. Vegetarian is no problem. Vegan is slightly trickier due to the strong need for protein sources in the backcountry, but if you let us know what you usually eat, we can make it happen. Dairy and egg allergies are no problem, and if you can’t eat wheat we have substitutes. Just make sure we know well in advance so we can be sure to have what you need in stock for your trip.

Should I tip my multi-day guide? How much?

Tipping is customary and always appreciated. Tips can go a long ways towards making guiding a feasible career choice in the long-term, which benefits everyone. It is hard to use a percentage scale as a guideline for tipping on our trips, because the trips costs are often hugely influenced by things like bush flights and other transportation costs that are outside of our guides’ control. In an informal poll a few years ago, our guides said that if they received $50-$100 per day (per guide) at the end of the trip they considered it a “good but normal tip”. However, as always, the amount of your tip should depend on the quality of the service. If your guides made this the trip of a lifetime, the sky’s the limit!

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