Alaska, Idaho, and Oregon River Adventures
Nizinz Glacier

Feature Story

Only in Alaska

By Kevin Chambers

Mornings on the river are a special time. In Alaska you don’t have a rising sun, but the time before breakfast, drinking coffee, is very peaceful and quiet. This particular morning, Lonnie and I are sitting on the shores of Nizina Lake, the headwaters of the Nizina River, deep in the Wrangell St. Elias National Park. Nizina Lake is filled with icebergs, remnants of calving off of the Nizina Glacier opposite our camp. The bergs move with the wind across the lake and a few smaller ones are floating in front of us now. Lonnie looks at me, remembering a joke I had made earlier about wanting to raft on an iceberg.Nizina Iceberg

“I think we could get that one,” he says pointing to a flat, fair-sized berg floating about 30 feet off of the shore.

“Get it?” I ask wondering how on earth we could lasso a large piece of ice, close enough for me to get on it.

Lonnie got up and jogged off only to reappear a couple of minutes later carrying two sleeping bag stuff sacks and two ropes. He put a rock in each of the sacks and attached the ropes. We threw our makeshift grappling hooks across the iceberg and pulled. The berg began to move and was soon five feet from shore.

“Looks like you’re going to have to swim,” Lonnie says deadpan.

Although swimming in an ice-filled lake is not on my bucket list, I stripped down to my swimsuit, put on a farmer john wetsuit and waded out to the berg. After a little slipping and sliding I managed to get on top, only to realize I was slowly floating away from shore without a way to control or maneuver this large chunk of ice.

Nizina Iceberg

I yelled, “I need an oar!”
Not having one handy, Lonnie found a fairly large stick and duct-taped a pot lid onto the end. “This should do it!” he yelled, throwing the MacGyver style paddle out to me.

It didn’t help. I was floating farther and father away from shore with absolutely no control. I drifted aimlessly on my ice raft for another 10 minutes, slowly realizing the possibility of a sizable swim. Eventually I just had to buck up and I jumped in the freezing water. My swim was only about 20 feet, but it felt more like a million. I crawled out of the water and lay on the warm rocks. Only in Alaska!

Kevin Chambers

Kevin was born for the out-of-doors and that’s where he loves to be…playing Frisbee, tennis, capture the flag, rafting or climbing. The son of dory guides Scott and Susan Chambers, Kevin has been running rivers since he was a toddler and early on became an accomplished boatman. Kevin now guides for Sundog in Idaho and Alaska. He recently graduated, with a degree in economics, from the University of Puget Sound and is working as a financial analyst at Wurts and Associates, in Seattle.