20 Years Guiding in the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve 1991-2011

For the last 20 springs and summers I’ve had the greatest job—guiding people down the Tsirku and Chilkat Rivers through the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, the site of the largest gathering of bald eagles in the world. My little town, Haines, Alaska, is in the Chilkat Valley, carved, over the centuries, into a U-shape by thousands of feet of moving ice. The braided Chilkat River is the fertile highway for five of the salmon species: King, Sockeye, Silver, Pink and Chum. Hundreds of thousands of salmon run up the river every year. The salmon provide a buffet line for the eagles and bears. The low lying willow, ferns and marsh plants is an all you can eat salad bar for moose, herbivores that eat 50 pounds a day.

The Chilkat Valley is the home of the Tlingits, the native tribe of Southeast Alaska, master totem carvers and legendary businessmen who once maintained a trading route from Northern California through the Chilkat Valley into the interior of Alaska. The Tlingit’s mother village, Klukwan, a treasure chest of native history, sits along the Chilkat River 25 miles up valley from Haines.

Haines itself sits in the middle of pure beauty, on the tip of a peninsula, the Inside Passage’s ocean waters on one side, the Chilkat River on the other. The postcard shot of Haines most people have seen is taken from Picture Point with the snow packed Chilkat Mountains booming from behind the town.

I fell in love with Haines the day I stepped off the ferry 20 years ago. The artistry of the landscape, the aromas of the rainforest, the people who made me feel at home right away.

This blog will look at my 20 years of guiding in Haines and Southeast Alaska. Funny stories and tragic stories. How things have changed and how things have not changed. What I’ve learned and what I haven’t learned. What makes a great guide and an examination of why there are so few great guides anymore, a reflection on where we’re at as a culture and a country.

I am grateful to many people for helping me achieve my goals in Alaska. All of them are great river guides who have been great friends to me. John French (Frenchy), world class international guide who brought me to Haines 20 years ago; Michael Pratt, a great guide who supported me with friendship and guidance; Lorin Hayden, who laughed with me through many a challenge; Joe Ordonez, who mentored me and opened doors of possibility for me; Mike Speaks, who trained me on my first Tatshenshini river trip and set the high bar of great guiding for me; and Bart Henderson, owner of Chilkat Guides, who allowed me the freedom and gave me the platform on which to continually grow and learn.

Also thank you to the hundreds of guides who came and went in the Chilkat Guides system over the last 20 years and, in many ways who I learned the most from, the thousands of people from all over the world and from every walk of life that I’ve rowed down the river.

7 thoughts on “20 Years Guiding in the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve 1991-2011

  1. admin Post author

    janushao said…

    A great tour guide I’ve ever seen. He makes our excursion very unforgettable and interesting.

    Cruise ship company should consider an excursion, “Visiting Tom Lang in Haines”.

    Reply
  2. Dale

    My wife and I did a trip with Tom around June 16, 2006. He is one of the most interesting people I have ever been around. His wit, story telling prowess, reading to us the Haines Crime Blotter, skill on the river, and among other things, makes him a very unique person. If you are on a cruise ship, please take advantage of the opportunity to spend an afternoon on the river with Tom. Truly, a wonderful human being!!

    Reply
  3. III

    WE WOULD LIKE TO SAY THAT OUR TRIP ON THE RIVER WITH TOM AND HIS GUIDES WAS INDEED A HIGHLIGHT AMONG THE MANY EXCURSIONS AVAILABLE!
    TOM IS NOT ONLY A WONDERFUL PERSON BUT VERY SHARP INTELLECTUALLY AND HAS MASTERED THE ART OF HUMAN RELATIONS! WE SINCERELY HOPE HE CONTINUES TO EDUCATE AND ENTERTAIN ALL THAT TAKE HIS GUIDED TRIP ON THE RIVER; THAT SHOULD BE ON EVERYONE’S LIST OF EXCURSIONS.

    Reply
  4. Deepak Bajaj

    I met Tom in Ubud, at a dinner party… far away from his watery beat. His humour ,warmth, and human contact is unforgetabble. Hope to do the River trip with him some day!

    Reply
  5. Lyllian Breitenstein

    Tom – I love your blog. You are so funny. I so enjoyed the bus ride with you when we did the raft trip. Someday, maybe you could write about the clown mime. I love that story.
    Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    Reply
  6. Alice Oldford

    Our trip on the river with Tom was absolutely a highlight of our journey in Alaska. It was a cold, gray day in June, and we would not have traded the experience. Tom is very knowledgeable, funny and a great guide.
    Tom’s books are great. I would like to get them into my local bookshop in NJ.

    Reply

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