River Left / Right
About Gateway Knob
This island provides the best campsite on the entire Tatshenshini and Alsek rivers. When the weather is clear, groups will be treated to 360 degree views of towering mountains, colorful wildflowers, and the echoes of prehistoric glaciers shedding ice into the pristine lake. As if by design, the sunset alpenglow hits 15,000ft, Mt. Fairweather, perfectly. This is a place to pull up a chair to the edge of the lake, take some photos, maybe see an iceberg roll, and simply cherish the moment. Every night spent at Gateway Knob truly feels like a gift.
The glacier feeding Alsek Lake to the east is the Alsek, to the south is the Grand Plateau. Since the last ice age, the primary influence of these glaciers on the Alsek has been to surge forward to dam the river and increase lake levels by melting. The rapid recession of the Grand Plateau is opening up new land and potentially a new path to the ocean for the Alsek. As the Grand Plateau continues to recede into the mountains, the valley left in its wake creates a new path for the Alsek to reach the ocean. Within the next several decades we may see a 20 mile shift from the Alsek flowing into the Pacific at Dry Bay, to the former valley of the Grand Plateau. This is a scary/remarkable/dynamic change that is easier to conceive through satellite imagery of the lake.
There is enough camping for three groups and a hike that gives a unique perspective of the Alsek to the North as it enters into the Lake. If you enter through Door 3, the three campsites start as the beach begins to get bigger and continue to the east where a small peninsula forms. The campsites are not well defined and pretty open to interpretation. When choosing a campsite be sure to leave space for other groups that may show up.
Commercial raft trips do not park their boats on the east side of Gateway Knob because of tsunami potential from calving glaciers. Groups coming from the Upper Alsek have likely heard calving at Lowell and Tweedsmuir. For those joining from the Tatshenshini, enjoy the distant rumbling as the glaciers shift and break apart into the lake. If you hear a loud, thunderous noise lasting several minutes, be prepared for waves to splash up on the beach. The peninsula should protect boats from getting thrown around or beached. For this same reason it is also recommended to keep tents away from the water edge.
When the Alsek gets above 250,000cfs the campsites on Gateway Knob begin to disappear. Although extremely hard to gauge for first timers on the river, if you knew the river was rising significantly and thought Gateway Knob was not an option, consider the Peninsula (upstream of the lake) as an alternative. In 2016 a massive August rain increased the already high levels of the Alsek. A commercial rafting group camped at Gateway Knob was watching lake levels rise and campsites shrink away. Rather than move camp into the heavily forested highground they wisely elected to pack up camp and float to the takeout at night. Luckily the long days gave them enough light to navigate the large but mostly inconsequential final stretch.
If you came in through Door 3, consider rowing out into the lake for a “berg tour”. While giving the icebergs a respectful distance, you can boat alongside them to appreciate the immense size and deep blue colors. Always assume an iceberg is ready to roll!
Gateway Knob Hike
The hike at Gateway Knob gives visitors a spectacular view of the lake and should be a high priority. Even if the weather isn’t ideal, you might only visit Gateway Knob once so get the most out of it! Walking to the southeastern corner of the island will bring you to a not so obvious trail leading into the forest. The trail is moderately steep in place with overhanging branches making progress slow but completely doable. Less than a half mile of hiking will lead you to the first overlook of the lake (59.18949° N, 138.17676° W). It is strongly encouraged for groups to continue another several hundred meters to the north overlook here (59.19119° N, 138.17830° W). From the north overlook you can see the entrance of the Alsek River into the lakes, the doors, and potentially some massive mountains in the background.
Gateway Knob hike, looking upstream towards the approach to Alsek Lake. Photo by Steve Merrow.
Gateway Knob hike, view of the entrance into Alsek Lake. Photo by Steve Merrow.