Our seventh day in Alaska brought us back to the Alaska rivers with a wonderful adventure with Chugach Outdoor Center in Hope, Alaska. Chugach is an outstanding company that is owned by Jay Doyle and is associated with RaftDenali. They have an incredible program for running Class III-V rapids through the canyons in the gorgeous Chugach National Park. After the rafting adventure, Jack and I drove to Whittier — a tiny town of 200 that is one of the most remote and one of the most interesting places that I have ever visited. The drive to Hope is incredible as the immense grandeur of the Kenai Peninsula area opens up in front of you.
We left Anchorage for the 90 minute drive to Hope and were overwhelmed by the beauty along the Alaska 1 highway. With low clouds and a deep mist, the mountains of Chugach were spellbinding against the cold steel blue waters.
We pulled into Chugach and met with Lorna Betts who manages the family-owned business. (It turns out that Betts was raised in McLean near my home). Lorna is an excellent resource to plan the perfect rafting trip. Lorna welcomes guests with members of the staff as you arrive. They have a staff of river guides who have years of experience and are hands down the coolest people you will ever hope to meet. The initial presentation was done by Archie Prentice, who teaches science classes in Greenville, South Carolina. He and his colleagues have decades of collective experience. Indeed, the novice of the group has seven years experience. The guides first fit you out with waterproof suits, shoes, lifejacket, and helmet. You then go to the river for a training session that you will never forget.
Sitting along the river, the guides teach you about the boat, safety features, and rescue techniques. It is a very detailed presentation. They then have you go into the river on foot in the 35 degree water. You are told to walk into the river and dive in to swim across and then float on your back downstream where a boat is waiting. They want to be sure that you swim in the current and understand the conditions. It is an incredible shock to the system with an open helmet and no gloves in a fast moving river at 35 degrees. I actually missed the eddy down river and had to grab a thrown rope. It was exhilerating and it was very very very cold. You should wear as many layers as possible though the wetsuits keep you very dry.
We boarded a boat guided by Matt “Popcorn” Booth from Tennessee. Popcorn has been rafting for over ten years and has been a guide in various states. He did an excellent job on our boat. Jack and I manned the front of the boat as paddlers while a third guest sat in the back. Popcorn manned the middle with two long oars due to the fact that the river was higher than useful. We did the first two out of three canyons with class 4 rapids. It was unbelievable with long drops and narrow pinch points. We decided not to do the final class 5 rapid in order to get to Whittier for our morning kayaking trip. You can sign up for two of the canyons or all three. Anyone over 12 can go so long as you can swim. Even if you sign up for three canyons, you will have the ability to stop after two canyons. When you return to the Center you can warm up in the hot tub and the staff have coffee and hot chocolate waiting.
I cannot recommend Chugach more highly. Like RaftDenali, this is a family business of the most highly trained and experienced guides that I have ever encountered. They say that the company only takes the best guides from around the country and I believe them. Each one of them has a long history of rafting on rivers around the country. As you go down these incredible rapids, they have boats stationed down river to catch those who fall out. Boats will occasionally turn over and the guides teach you what to do in such cases. They are all focused and continually trained for such recoveries, as the letter that I spotted in the office attests (below).
We left Chugach committed to return to do the Class V rapids. If you want a real Alaskan experience, this is the ticket. Indeed, we enjoyed doing both the Denali rapids with RaftDenali and the Chugach rapids with Chugach Outdoor Center. There are very different experiences. It is more than worth the $159 per person price tag for a lifetime experience. We chose the Six Mile creek run and I would recommend that option, though Lorna is a great person to ask.
We left Chugach and drove to Whittier. More on Whittier tomorrow.