Canoeing Alaska’s Tanana River

On each “Healing Journey” Expedition, Jon Waterhouse uses canoes to travel along rivers, recording traditional knowledge from  local people, and detailed scientific readings of water conditions and quality using cutting-edge technology. His journeys have taken him from Alaska, to Louisiana, and all the way to Sudan. Follow his current expedition here on Explorers Journal.

In the next few hours Mary and I will embark on the 2012 Yukon Watershed Healing Journey on the Tanana River, joined by 10 paddlers from rural Alaska, California, New Mexico, Massachusetts, Washington, Canada and Germany.

Located near the Canadian border in the vast Yukon watershed, the headwaters of the Tanana River are within a few miles of Northway, Alaska where the Chisana and the Nebesna rivers merge. Our 6 canoes will take approximately 4 weeks to get from these headwaters to the village of Tanana, located on the main stem of the Yukon River.

As always on the Healing Journey, our goal is to gather scientific water-quality data from the river while connecting with and learning from the people who live along the banks. The science serves to inform us as we develop effective adaptation and mitigation strategies related to climate change. The human connections prompt us to care.
Clouds hold cool moisture above the Tanana River. Photo courtesy Mary Marshall.
We share our message of the need to actively participate in environmental stewardship, inspiring youth in the communities we visit to be a proactive part of their environment. Also, we’re honored to spend time with the Native Elders who populate this region. The wisdom they share teaches and encourages us to better understand our place in this World, and to embrace the indigenous methods of conservation. The experience tends to remain in the hearts and minds of the paddlers.
This year we are fortunate to have 4 enthusiastic and accomplished educators along which gives this particular journey an even greater educational spin and opportunity for outreach and inspiration. Exuberant not only to experience true Bush Alaska, the paddlers are thrilled as they anticipate meeting and visiting with members of indigenous communities – a privilege that often escapes river travelers as they frequently feel the indigenous people are unapproachable.
On the road trip out to Northway, we’ve picked up an energetic young guy from Japan. His name is Masatatsu and he’s headed for Whitehorse to canoe the Yukon on his own! After that, he tells us, he’ll be hitching down to South America to canoe the Amazon. How cool is that?
Here with new friend, Masatatsu Abe from Japan. This is his first trip to Alaska. We picked him up near Eureka as he is hitch hiking to Whitehorse for his canoe adventure on the Yukon River. Photo courtesy Mary Marshall.
We are all very excited about this journey!  Several of the paddlers are people with whom we (and they separately) have connected through a myriad of random events and we can hardly believe that we are all actually together here and now. This promises to be a fantastic journey! I hope you’ll join us and track our progress on the Tanana at Ciao!

Human Journey


Meet the Author
Jon Waterhouse’s destiny was foretold the moment he pushed his canoe off the bank of the Yukon River and started to paddle. That incredible 2007 canoe trip, which he christened “the Healing Journey,” began with a simple request by the native elders and tribal leaders living in the Yukon River watershed to "go out, take the pulse of the river." Waterhouse’s journey raised awareness of the importance of environmental stewardship, combined traditional native knowledge with modern science, and helped rebuild intimate connections between Yukon communities and the natural world. The journey soon stretched far beyond the Yukon and led the Native American down rivers and through cultures in distant parts of South America, Russia, Greenland, Africa, and New Zealand.