The last leg of my month in Kluane National Park is already here. What an eyeful I’ve had and there’s still more to go. Painting these timeless wild landscapes has been life enriching, and the experience has been augmented by the variety of ways that I’ve traveled the land.
First by plane into the ice fields and then on skis. By horseback on the Donjek and then on foot. Canoeing on Mush and Bates Lakes. And now, to wrap the journey up, rafting down the Alsek River, a Canadian Heritage River, into Lowell Lake. These different modes of transport each offer a unique interaction with the environment and are allowing me to experience Kluane from so many perspectives. This is giving me a much better sense of the place, and will hopefully impart to viewers of my paintings a greater sense of being here.
But I digress.
Jill Pangman (Sila Sojourns) and her 15 year old son Caelan pick us up at a motel in Haines Junction and we head down to the bridge at the Dezedeash River to begin our trip. The Dezedeash becomes the Alsek downriver a ways after being joined by other flows.
Jill has been leading river rafting trips for 25 years and her particular focus is on creative journeys. Most appropriate considering my needs. I know that I won’t have to explain why I need to stay longer at a place to pull out my easel, and chase down other vantage points for filming.
I’ve never rafted before, and this marks’s about the tenth new thing that I’ve done on this trip so far. Other firsts for me have so far included ski touring, building a snow latrine and descending scree slopes. I’m finding this rather exciting.
We unroll the 18 foot yellow vessel and begin the inflation process. Jill had offered to have this done ahead of time, but I asked that she wait for me. I wanted to help out and see how this thing comes together. After all, I didn’t come out here to be pampered! Well, not too much anyway.
Fully loaded we push off and let the river’s current drift us away from the community. Many river trips here avoid this first section because high winds can make it difficult to make progress against the relatively slow current. Instead, others often drive a rough backroad downriver a ways and put in there. By doing so they miss out on the beauty of the vast wetland that we are passing through, and a great approach to the mountains before coming up tight against them.
As much as canoeing was a break from hiking, this is downright luxurious. My paddling isn’t needed as the winds have stayed quiet, so I stretch out across the raft, soak in the sun and pass out for a while to the sounds of gurgling water. My mind floats off to a place of relaxation, a needed break from another late night of preparations.
We eventually find a nice spot a to pull off for the evening with a great view of the mountains. While setting up camp, Jill begins preparations of an awesome meal of chicken breast and fresh vegetables, pulled out from massive, full coolers. After weeks of dehydrated food, this is an amazing change of pace! It would have been sad indeed if I had brought my own food after all, and had to watch Jill and Caelan eat so well.
Well, I guess I’ll just have to suffer some pampering after all…