At midnight on summer solstice, the narrow canyons and swift, silty waters of Alaska's Sixmile Creek are only slightly more treacherous than they are at high noon. The only hints of night are the full moon's faint, luminous trace in the bright sky and the slight sapping of color from the wild thickets of underbrush lining the canyon floor. The churning currents of Sixmile-world-renowned for its glacier-fed Class III, IV and V drives-are as clear as day.
Even under normal circumstances, Sixmile-located 90 minutes southeast of Anchorage and 40 minutes from the slopes of Alyeska Resort-is no average whitewater diversion. The icy-cold watershed rollicks nine miles down the forested shoulder of the Kenai Peninsula, slicing through three canyons, where big drops and technical jogs link in stretches of whitewater that extend up to a mile. The daily fleets of thrill-seekers must wear wetsuits, drytops, life jackets and helmets whether they run the Sixmile with Nova River Runners (where the guide does the hard work on the oars) or with Class V Whitewater (where rafters do the paddling while the guide steers). It's the kind of run where even the guides get nervous, and small children are not allowed.
On summer solstice, however, digging an oar blade into Alaska's wild heart seems like a must. During deepest winter, Alyeska sees only four hours of sunlight a day. After the winter solstice, daylight expands at the rate of about six minutes a day. By high summer, the sun essentially circles the horizon in a never-ending display. Alyeska's steep slopes turn green, reflecting in the ocean waters from which they soar. The combination of expansive landscapes, summer warmth and endless daylight relaxes the mind, liberates the body and electrifies the spirit. It's not unusual for locals and visitors alike to find themselves energized around the clock.
But you'll need all that energy for Sixmile. You'll notice the clusters of wild roses blooming on the canyon walls and the salmon flashing out of the river's murky depths only as the adventure begins. As your raft enters the first gorge and the noise of the driving water rises to a roar, there will be no way to distinguish the vibrant current of Alaska from the pounding of your heart.
Two outfitters, Class V Whitewater (907-783-2004, www.alaskanrafting.com) and Nova River Runners (800-746-5753, www.alaskaone.com/nova), guide trips on the Sixmile daily. Prices range from $60-$135 per person.