What mountains are called Blue Mountains

Canada: On the river of the blue mountains

Thundering water and calving glaciers. Deep primeval forests in front of icy peaks. Curious bears - and then bad weather in August: a boat trip from Canada to Alaska

The stones in the sand glow red and hiss as the water runs over them. Steam rises, hot, moist steam that gently lays on our skin and completely fogged us minutes later. Tyler, our river guide, waves his towel through the air as elegantly as a sauna master. We cheer with pleasure. Warmth! Heat! At last! The whole morning we collected stones in the pouring rain and fed a fire with driftwood all afternoon to make them glow.

Last evening on the Alsek

In the meantime, our three guides have constructed a kind of cottage on the beach from trunks, branches, rain tarpaulin and packing tape that doesn't look like an Indian sweat lodge - but works just the same. And so the eleven of us are now sitting on laboriously dragged tree stumps, sweating, toasting with the last cans of beer and encouraging ourselves to jump into the coolest cooling basin in the world: the glacial lake of the Alsek River, on which shimmering blue icebergs drift. It is our last evening on the Alsek. Tomorrow we will paddle in the rubber dinghies to Dry Bay on the Pacific coast of Alaska, let the air out of the chambers there and fly back to civilization with Cessnas - after twelve days and 180 kilometers of Canadian wilderness. Real, deserted wilderness. With brown-red gorges made of volcanic rock, groaning glaciers in front of almost 5000 meter high peaks, dark primeval forests, floating mazes made of icebergs. Rapids in the water, grizzly bears on the bank. And above all: with wild weather. Storm, continuous rain, freezing cold. Eleven days of November in the middle of August. Except in our sauna.

In Bear Country

Even before I got into one of the three blue rubber dinghies, it was clear to me: This tour in the border region between Canada and Alaska will be adventurous. In order to be allowed to travel, I had to make it clear that I was mentally stable and that I would unconditionally obey the orders of the river guides in an emergency; I signed a five-page declaration absolving the organizers of any liability for injuries caused by glacial floods, mountain falls or bear attacks. It probably also said somewhere that he is not liable for bad weather break-ins. The rafting route leads from the Alsek tributary Dezadeash in Kluane National Park, Yukon / Canada, south to Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska / USA, across the largest contiguous protected area in North America. In 1994 Unesco declared the Alsek Valley a World Heritage Site. Nowhere else do so many grizzly bears live as close together as here. "You are in Bear Country" reads the entrance sign at Kluane Park. Jock, our chief guide, translates what is meant by this: From here on, people are only guests.

We are three river guides - Jock, Mark, and Tyler - and eight adults between 24 and 73; two men, six women; from Florida, all regions of Canada and Berlin. There is a genetic engineer, a student, a management consultant. Not a couple, but mother and daughter. The only common hallmarks: rubber boots, outdoor clothing - and great anticipation for the first bear. We fought our way through swampy morass in the off-road vehicle from the park entrance to the entry point at the Dezadeash - there he toddles past: massive, disheveled, the mouth blood-red. We freeze with excitement, the bear flees into the bushes. Jock stays calm: a grizzly, recognizable by the muscle hump between the shoulders and the stub nose. The red mouth comes from his favorite food - Kinnickinnick berries. Quite harmless.

Where gold diggers once fell into a collective intoxication, lovers of lonely landscapes will find their happiness today: Tips for six river trips in Canada, starting with the Alsek tour described in our report

Listen to the report "On the river of the blue mountains" by Katja Trippel from GEO SAISON 07/07. Kerstin Broda reads (length: 19:03 min .; 17.4 MB)

The wind that whistles around our ears on the bank is less harmless. Less than five minutes pass and I realize: the woolen hat that keeps me warm through the Berlin winter is not up to the summer in the Yukon Territory. The trekking pants, tested in the North Sea breeze, let in so much cold air despite the wax layer that I have to put on the thermal underwear.

The first camp

We form a chain, throw camping equipment, clothing and food onto the inflatable boats for twelve days, stowed away in bags and boxes in a watertight manner. A golden eagle watches us at work, a family of trumpeter swans swims curiously towards the bank. Let's go! But not with oars and paddles, as we imagine - no chance with this wind. Instead, our guides get on in rubber pants, tie a rope around their hips and march downriver with the boats in tow. Patricia, the grande dame of the troupe at the age of 73, whistles appreciatively. Powerhouses, these guys! The rubber boats glide over the water in slow motion, the finest particles, carved out of the granite rock by the glacier upstream, turn it a milky gray. The Alsek tributary is a good 50 meters wide and, for European eyes, a valley in cinemascope format. On the right and left, mountain slopes rise into the sky, on the shore sparsely overgrown with bushes. Mountain pines proliferate above it, and at the very top, beyond the tree line, you can make out pale green pastures. The snow-capped peaks of the St. Elias chain rise in the background.

We reach our first camp after two hours. The evening sun is shining, but my fingers are clammy, my ears ice cold. I rummage through the duffel bag for my second cap. How absurd, when I was packing I had wondered whether the old thing was still wearable - and on the first day in the great outdoors nothing counts except: just don't cool down!

I need 28 minutes to pitch my tent against the gusts. During this time, our three boys collected wood, made a fire, set up the toilets with a view of the sunset, grouped folding chairs around the fire, made soup and uncorked the wine. Which encourages Patricia to ask our guides about age and marital status - even if her daughter Sarah, 36, single, just shakes her head in embarrassment. Cheers. Grilled salmon, mashed potatoes and carrots with honey sauce are served, as dessert there is chocolate cake, baked between hot coals. I climb into my sleeping bag, full and happy. The wilderness is allowed to spend the night in front of my tent.

Drops on my face wake me up around six. Outside it is pouring from buckets, and it is obvious that I have opened the flysheet incorrectly. I frantically look for a rain jacket and pants, pull them over the two layers from yesterday and start reducing my inventory. At home I will not set foot outside the door in such weather! A low cursing flits over my lips. My tent neighbor Desmond rushes to help, an engineer i. R., two hot cups of tea in hand. I am touched, "pull yourself together!" I command myself. Which is not particularly difficult, because our guides have long since put up a protective tarpaulin with the help of the paddles and oars, under which they fry eggs with bacon and chant "Singing in the Rain". Patricia enthuses: "Absolutely marriageable, gentlemen!"

We set out and let the current slowly drift us. At the confluence of the Dezadeash and Alsek, the river opens even further, forming several channels, each of which is as wide as the Dezadeash itself. Islands of glacial sand divide the flow, we try to estimate: is it 200 meters to the bank or 500? While we are still handing the binoculars back and forth, a lava mountain over a hundred meters high compresses the river bed to European dimensions from the right. The rock glows brown to orange, depending on the incidence of light.

Bear number three

The violence of the once unleashed magma mass can still be guessed at today. Where the shore becomes shallow, erosion has washed out small pools in which the water shimmers turquoise. Was that how primeval times looked, so grand, so raw and inviting at the same time? "We usually bathe here," says Jock. Usually it's around 18 degrees - not eight like today. "Do you see the line up there?" Asks Jock. The discoloration in the rock shows, 20 meters above our heads, the level of a flood that broke masses of ice and water from the Lowell Glacier into the Alsek 150 years ago. "In two days, friends, we will spend the night in front of the glacier tongue!" An hour later our guides have to maneuver past man-sized boulders made of white granite - the glaciers from the Kluane National Park, the largest non-polar ice field in the world, once transported them to this point. A black bear is taking a siesta on one of the rocks. We smell it long before it scents. "He urgently needs a hot bath," shouts Patricia.

Bear number three on this trip crosses our path as we take an exploration walk on the hill just behind our new camp. I stare at him, frozen in shock: less than 30 meters away, he stands curiously on his hind legs, lets his muscles play under the shimmering fur. Run away Sneak away? Stop? What to do?

Bear stories

"Stay cool," Jock calls out with a firm voice, "a bear does not attack any group of people. Make yourself big and scream, that will drive it away!" I look at the animal, fascinated, the others begin to roar, wave, and jump. The bear snorts, shakes its head in annoyance, falls on all fours and trots into the bushes. Jock puts his bear spray, a kind of tear gas for emergencies, back on his belt. How dangerous can animals be to us? Attacks, says Jock, are extremely rare. Bears were mostly vegetarian and avoided stress in order to save calories for their three-month hibernation. In the evening, over the third glass of wine by the warm fire, Tyler then tells of his animal adventures. They are about tourists whose faces have been licked off by bear tongues. And of colleagues who quit their jobs in exasperation - after being shaken off tree trunks, but at least escaping with their lives (and a huge horror).

The next morning greets us with frosty temperatures. My second set of thermal underwear is due, another sweater, a hat and a rain suit are standard. As soon as we are on the water, it starts to pour. I pull the hood down over my face, Maxine, who is paddling next to me, has pulled the scarf up to her nose. But our eyes feast on the great landscape and the vastness of the valley. Before a sharp bend, the guides call out to us: "Guys, pull out the cameras." Then Lowell Lake opens up, a sight that makes up for all the hardships - so fantastic is the view of the glacier that flows 65 kilometers between snow-capped mountains towards the Alsek; so impressive is the crash when another chunk of sparkling crystal breaks off the ice stream and falls into the lake. Sparkling deep blue, it then passes us. White mountain goats climb on the almost vertical wall behind the camp, completely unaffected by the gusts of wind that whip glacier dust through the air and chafe our faces.

What is a bit of a fire against such a scene, what is a little freezing against the happiness of seeing all three peaks of the Hubbard-Kennedy-Alverstone massif break out of the pale pink cloud cover? Wind, cold and rain can no longer harm us. We lie in the grass, enjoy the view, for hours. When we return to the camp, the guides greet us in tuxedo jackets, they have jacked up a boat as a windbreak and are celebrating a perfect happy hour behind them at sunset: Gin and Tonic on ancient glacier ice.

Rescue operation

Day five in the great outdoors. Despite what feels like 30 degrees minus (the thermometer actually shows four degrees plus) I take off the second long johns and the third sweater. Calluses grow on my hands from paddling and grabbing, so I no longer need gloves. I still prefer to keep the hat on - as the last relic of my vanity after five days without shampoo. The biggest challenge of our trip is the rapids of Lava North. The Alsek races along, thrashing icy waves on rocks, overturning, forming vortices large enough to swallow entire rafts. I have signed at least two contract sides waiver of liability for this river passage alone. Jock's safety tips - "If you fall in, please keep breathing, in the icy water you sometimes forget that; and only go ashore where there is no bear, please!" - Have the success that half of the group prefer to hike around Lava North. The other four put on the yellow, waterproof protective suits. We split up into two boats, Mark steers the third, alone.

Tyler, the man I trust, repels. Lays down in the belt with full force, fights against the force of the waves. We shoot across the surface of the water, he yells: "Weight to the right! Careful, wave to the left! And now: hold on!" Spray splashes into the boat, the roaring river spits us out again. Is that it? When I open my eyes, I see Mark being thrown out of his boat in front of us. "Don't panic!" Shouts Tyler, "it's our job to get him out of there." I paddle with all my might, next to me Tyler groans with every stroke of his oar, but the current is faster, and Mark swims on and on. Minutes later - or is it just seconds? - we caught up. Mark waves, I hold the handle of my paddle in the troubled waters, he catches it, Tyler heaves him on board.

"Thank you ..." whispers Mark, his face has taken on the pale color of the glacier. But before he has the opportunity to tip over, Tyler pulls his colleague to him on the bench: "You are rowing, I'm trying to catch the lifeline of your boat." Professionals among themselves. After three hits he holds it in his hand, after four more we end up on a sand island, turn the boat around with our combined forces and can hardly stop laughing when Mark pulls his guitar out of a duffel bag - from which instead of music just a gush of river water flows out .

Hiking on the Walker Glacier

The next morning we fly over the narrow, 100-meter-deep Turnback Canyon in a helicopter and then draw a wide loop over the lunar landscape of the Tweedsmuir Glacier: brown-gray rubble on ice that is thousands of years old and extends to the horizon. Incomprehensible. The promise, however, that the canyon is a weather divide, is not fulfilled. On the contrary: the highlight of the tour, the section from the mouth of the Tatshenshini to the Walker Glacier, is completely covered in fog. We can't even see the boat in front of us. And this silence too. As a substitute for spectacular sights, the guides present something like a radio show while rowing; after all, they know every meter here: "Left and right, one hanging glacier after the other pushes itself down the mountain, their ice sparkles like sapphires, and deep green jungle grows in between The splash now comes from a waterfall called Jamaica, roughly where the border with the USA runs. " Last but not least, a bald eagle sticks out of the fog - live and in person. In the evening by the fire, the mood is slightly depressed. We crawl into our tents with the sad knowledge of having missed a great deal.

The last two days. We are hiking over the Walker Glacier. Later, Mark bakes cinnamon buns, Katie picks bouquets of flowers for everyone on the bank, I'm penultimate in the tent construction competition (17 minutes, only Patricia is slower), Maxine donates her cognac supply. The sky stays gray, sometimes it rains, sometimes it pours. At some point the idea of ​​the sweat lodge comes up - and everyone is electrified. The entire last stage of our river trip we discuss the best implementation of the construction plans. Where can we find firewood? Which rain tarpaulin is dispensable? Which stones store the heat the longest? Can you even stand walking from the tent to the sauna in a bathing suit in the cold? And how do we smell after eleven days without a shower? Finally the time has come. Hot steam rises. We sweat and shout with pleasure. In the distance, icebergs drift by. And then we dive into the coolest cooling pool in the world.

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