Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.
It was a cold and dreary day, not at all appealing for a raft ride on the Chilkat River, and frankly, if we had not already signed up we might have opted for something warmer and cozier. Alas, the tour organizer told us we were fortunate that Tom Lang was guiding. We soon learned she knew what she was talking about. I absolutely encourage you to check out Tom’s blog and website. http://boudelang.com/2011/05/30/20-years-guiding-in-the-chilkat-bald-eagle-preserve-1991-2011/#comment-16
From the moment we got on the bus headed for the raft landing, Tom entertained and enriched us with his wit and his love for Haines, Alaska, and the eagle preserve. When he is not guiding of the Chilkat Tom lives in Bali and writes books, which he describes as little books with big stories.
In 1982 the state of Alaska established the 48,000 acre preserve to protect the largest concentration of bald eagles in the world and their habitat. The preserve is home for 200 to 400 eagles, and over 80 nests have been observed. Wow!
The river supports spawning for 5 species of salmon. The salmon carcasses provide quantities of food for the eagles. Eagles feed mainly on fish, but when fish are in short supply water fowl, small mammals and carrion supplement their diet.
A few eagle facts. Eagles mate for life. The bald eagle is found only in North America. Adult eagles typically weigh between 9 and 12 pounds and boast a 7-foot wingspan. Young eagles are brown and white. The distinctive white head and tail develop between the age of 4 and 6. Eagles can fly up to 30 mph and dive at 100 mph. They can spot fish at distances of up to one mile.
When we reached the launching area, we traded our shoes for rubber boots. We were fitted with life vests and received some safety guidelines. We found seats in a rubber raft, and with Tom guiding we headed down the braided river. We were in the lead raft, which meant our guide would be alert to changing conditions on the river so that he could share with the other guides. We had heard previously about “braided”, but this was an opportunity to experience first-hand the changing channels with the responsibility for navigation with our guide. Channels can change from morning till afternoon as had occurred on our day on the river when a tree went down across a channel. The guide must be extremely knowledgeable and prepared. I wish I had a little You tube movie to show how we managed this obstacle. Tom jumped out of the boat and stopped the forward motion before we crashed into the downed tree. He directed that we scrunch down in the boat, and he held us on course to pass under the tree branches. By the way, the river water which is glacially fed is approximately 38 degrees. Each raft navigated the obstacle a little differently.
We saw eagles – in flight, hunting, on nests, perched on trees. Impressive. Elegant. The eagle nests, built to last year after year, are safely protected in the preserve.
Along the banks of the river we got a glimpse of a Clikit native American community. They were in the process of reproducing a longhouse and preserving their culture.
When we tied up the boats, we found our bus driver was waiting with our shoes, sandwiches and hot chocolate.
We were looking for wildlife and a natural setting, and this trip did not disappoint. Absolutely worth a visit to Haines, Alaska!