Stikine River. June 12, 2011.
14 June 2011 | posted in Petersburg
Photo: Sand dunes on the bank of the Stikine River.
I hung on to the handle next to my seat as the jet boat Chutine Warrior abruptly tipped to the right as it turned hard, then just as abruptly tipped to the left as it turned left. Captain Jim Leslie (we're informal here, just call me Captain Jim or Sir") was taking us across hidden sandbars in the delta of the Stikine River. Amazingly, the shallower the water got, the faster he drove.
Steve and I were on a tour of the Stikine River. We don't usually do tours, preferring to explore in our own boat, but the Stikine with its shifting sand bars, shallows, and uncharted waters is out-of-bounds for a boat like Osprey. After three visits to Wrangell in which I had learned about the importance of the river to the town, I wanted to experience the river myself.
We had arranged the tour two days ago when the sun was out and the prospect of a river trip sounded like fun. Now rain stippled the water and mist hung over the hills, obscuring some of the mountains. What would we see but clouds? I wondered.
Once the prospectors route for two gold rushes and a pathway to the Klondike, today the Stikine is the fastest free-flowing river in North America and one of few remaining totally wild (i.e. undammed) rivers. Its beginnings in the interior of British Columbia and its terminus in SE Alaska, also makes it a truly international river.
Sixteen passengers plus Captain Jim and deckhand (also) Jim, squeezed into the Chutine Warrior. "Please fasten your seat belt," asked Captain Jim. "If we hit a sand bar, we'll stop suddenly. It hasn't happened yet, but just in case."
Not all of the trip was as nerve-racking as crossing the delta. Once we were in deeper water, Captain Jim slowed down and became a tour guide. The highlights of the trip included:
An eagle nest so old it had ferns sprouting from it and was completely green. Live eaglets waited for their parents in the nest.
Sand dunes lining the river shores.
My first sighting of a moose! A two-year-old with the definite bulbous nose. Captain Jim explained that to shoot moose, Alaskans climb tall spruce trees. Sometimes they find the trees already occupied with black bears.
Ice bergs at the mouth of Shakes Lake. Shakes Glacier has been advancing for the last few years so much that boats can no longer get up to the glacier because of the icebergs clogging the lake. But the advancing is due to melting ice, not more ice. Melting ice adds lubrication and the glaciers moves faster.
A stop to meet scientists studying salmon. In a joint B.C. - Alaska study they are doing capture, mark and release to estimate the population size. All five species of salmon still swim wild in the river. The man who spoke to us noted that Chinook have been declining throughout the entire northwest. When there is such a consistent pattern, it's probably due to something happening in the ocean. And the ocean has been warming.
A stop on the sand bar to look for animal tracks. We saw tracks of a mother and baby moose next to tracks of a wolf. The wolf tracks looked enormous. Did the wolf catch the baby?
Finally, Captain Jim turned the boat downstream and we raced home. Mountains sprinkled with snow lined both sides of the river. It had been raining off and on all day but it hadn't interfered with our enjoyment of the tour --or the view from the boat. It had been well worth the departure from our normal routine.