What do you do if you’re a river SUP adventurer and skier like Spencer Lacy and your older brother, Mason, is about to get married? You join him on a bachelor trip of all bachelor trips, notching a 21-day first SUP-and-ski descent of Alaska's Tatshenshini River.
With his brother's upcoming vows a driving force, the river SUP stalwart accomplished the feat this spring, along with eight other friends, on one of Alaska's premier wilderness waterways -- one that until this spring had likely never been seen from the deck of a SUP.
"My brother mustered the inspiration behind the trip," says Lacy. "It was kind of a bachelor adventure for him. He came up with the idea years ago and this spring we wanted to go big, so he pitched us the idea to do a 21-day, raft-supported ski mountaineering trip. So I also brought my SUP. We had to go early in April -- earlier than anyone had ever done it before --so we could get the snow we needed to ski."
Planning for months leading up to the trip -- mapping their ski objectives and discussing the camp schedule, gear and dangers involved -- the team started at the headwaters of the Tatshenshini River in the Yukon, just outside of Whitehorse. Gear-wise, Lacy brought an inflatable Badfish Rivershred, with the rest of the team on three 16-foot NRS rafts and one Kokopelli pack raft.
"It was a lot of gear, especially with all the ski equipment," says Lacy.
The first couple days, they encountered river flows of about 400 cfs, with rocky, Class III rapids. But according to Lacy, the real danger was undercut ice ledges along the banks, as well as ice bridges blocking their way. They also had to dodge a number of icebergs, a couple of which they even hopped on and standup paddled.
"On the SUP, I was the scout for the rafts, telling them which channel to go down and when there were ice dangers to be avoided," Lacy says, adding that the whitewater was great for SUP.
As more and more creeks came in, the river gradually grew. "On day six, when we reached the confluence with the Alsek, the riverbed was so huge we could hardly see across it," he says. "Instead of scouting rapids and avoiding ice, we were now floating in the middle of a lake-like river, staring at the most beautiful mountains and glaciers I've ever seen.”
"One day, after it had rained for three days straight, the sun came and I remember floating around a corner and looking at a stunning huge river, incredible mountains, multiple glaciers, beaches, nine great friends and bald eagles, all in one spot."
Save for a few epic swirlies on eddy lines, Lacy said the paddling was relatively easy, complete with a few sweet, glassy surf waves. One day, they even carried the board into an ice cave for a quick paddle.
Just below the confluence, they broke out their skis to spend a long day summiting and skiing a big peak. "It was the only peak we climbed and skied the whole trip, but it had mind-blowing views and great skiing," Lacy says. "It gave us an epic feeling of accomplishment after so much preparation and traveling."
After a few more shorter ski pitches, the team floated into Alsek Lake, which Lacy calls "one of the most magical places I've ever been." They had to do a one mile portage around the main portion of the lake because it was blocked by icebergs, and then camped there for three days exploring the icebergs and the lake.
"It was a magical natural playground," said Lacy. "On our last evening, we hiked up a big hill at sunset and stood there in silence for 30 minutes just overcome by the feeling of awe."
Eventually leaving Alsek Lake, they paddled through some big-water Class III rapids and on to the take out, pulling out 21 days later just before the Alsek reaches Dry Bay. They didn’t see a single other human the entire time.