Back in July my 19 year old son Roman wanted a packrafting safari so
we headed north and did some fun runs. With all due respect to JT I
will apply my madness to rating the runs because it does a better
job of characterizing them than the kayak ratings.
Day 1: Together with Ian Thomas we ran the Nenana at a moderately
high level from McKinley Village past Twin Rocks. This is about the
biggest water we have run in packrafts, with huge waves and a very
powerful feel to the water. I ran it 20 years or so ago in an open
Sherpa but these spray decked Alpackas made it good exhillerating fun.
The section down to the Yanert was spashy and almost boring PR 3, but
the junction with the Yanert was scary PR 4. The rest down to Montana
Creek was PR 3 again. We found staying river right going into the
rapid upstream of the Yanert and the Yanert crossing itself the least
intimidating way through the section but the waves are very big and
powerful as the dark chocolate Yanert comes in.
Downstream of Montana Creek where Riley Creek comes in the waves get
big and then bigger and then huge. Pretty spooky in a butt-boating
ducky -- PR 5 -- although rated Class III. Be careful on the outside
right as the water folds into the bluff.
Below the Jonesville Bridge it's mellow until the set of rapids along
the highway. Rooster Tail was especially wild at the high water
level. Boats here and at the Iceworm Rapid lower down disappeared
from view completely among the giant waves(!). Best to do this in a
light or unweighetd boat and stay centered, at the edge of your seat
so you do not pitch over backward, but good fun!
Ian and I ran between Twin Rocks (PR 4) while Roman ran a chute to
the left of the left rock. We had enough so didn't do the canyon
Day 2 -- "Burcham's Classic" -- We did the Savage/Sanctuary Loop as
described elsewhere. John Burcham did this with a Sevylor K55 in the
mid 1990's and others may have preceeded him. It's a classic
Day 3 -- "Wood Frog" -- we hiked into the East Fork of the Chulitna
above (i.e. upstream) where it crosses the road. Drive to "July
Creek" on the map but unmarked on the road and hike east through
birch brush and open spruce woodland. Took about an hour and a half
of walking maybe.
The Chulitna at the put in is a beautiful, warm, clearwater stream
that comes out of the Talkeetnas. There is a gnarly canyon just
upstream that we will have to go back for. We put in and floated down
to the Parks Hwy through easy PR 3 rapids. Would be fun for beginners
and intermediates but not as exciting as the Nenana or the Yanert.
Ian left after this.
Day 4 -- "Yanana Banana" We got a helicopter ride in, but I have done
all the pieces for a greek letter "alpha" like loop as well. The
alpha-loop is to put in at McKinley Village and float down to the
Yanert. Pull out, pack up and follow the game trails and meadows on
the N side of the Yanert Canyon for a few miles up to around Moose
Creek (on the south side). Put in and hold on for this experts only
packrafting (PR 5) trip of big waves, bigger holes, and non-stop
action. It just gets bigger and wilder as you go downstream There's a
neat natural bridge on river left near the end that
we ran through for fun. Float the Yanert back to the Nenana and the
Nenana to the Jonesville Bridge at Glitter Gulch.
Day 5 -- Willow Creek Guard Rail section to bridge. Extremely fun for
about 20 minutes then flat. I'd rate this PR 4 for maybe three drops
and the rest is PR 3.
Day 6 -- "Huck it" -- the lower Ship Creek Canyon is "an amusement
park ride with consequences". Drive up Arctic Valley Road to the new
Biathalon Range. Go to the new warm up hut and follow the skating
trail behind it. When the trail seems right at the edge of the canyon
rim look for a moose trail on the opposite side of a rotten log and
follow it into a steep meadow that leads down a draw. The grass is
tall late summer.
When you get to Ship Creek about 10 minutes down from the biathalon
trail blow up your boat and
set it in the water to scout the entrance canyon on river right.
About midway down this inner gorge is a log that goes all the way
across. I find the eddy on river right easiest to pull out just above
but the left one is OK too. It's harder to get in on river left after
passing the log, so rivr right is the way to go. This canyon is PR 4.
As Embick says, stay left here in the inner gorge.
Then it opens up a bit and stay right for maybe 50-75 yards, although
the creek pushes you into the right wall. This set of multiple drops
is PR 5 and ends in a big eddy for swimmers.
Then comes a long slalom section of PR 4 with a fresh log that comes
up rapidly. Portage. Then more of
the same with a huge boulder river right that marks another mandatory
portage and a rock slide put in aftreword. This whole section should
be scouted from river right for logs.
Below the giant boulder and log portage comes PR 5 stuff that
includes a poweful chute followed by four drops that Chris Flowers
meaured at 2 feet, 4 feet, 3 feet, and six feet. Paddle each hard and
lean forward and dig when you squirt your bow. Stay right
for the final big drop under the commando style bridge. Very
It dumps you into the reservoir. Follow the road on
your right back to the car. Do not do this run much above 5 feet.
Best at 4.9 feet. At 4.8 or lower its pretty tough maneuvering. This
one needs helemet and throw bag and all your skill.
Day 7 -- Ship Creek below Arctic to Indian Trail. We hiked down the
Arctic to Indian Trail and put in there, then floated down to the
reservoir. We scouted everything for the first mile and a half I
guess. It is pretty much the hardest thing I have boated in a
packraft -- not as powerful as Six Mile but far more demanding with
lots of wood. A couple years ago paddling it in an open boat I got
pinned in the worst rapid on a log, then trying to get on the log I
swam for what seemed like forever (much worse swim than the ones I
have taken in Six Mile's second and third canyons). Coming behind me
Roman saw my paddle on a rock midstream and decided that was weird
enough to get out and broke his paddle blade trying to do so. This is
a very difficult and potentially dangerous run. It's called Class IV
in a kayak but in a packraft it's PR 6.
The south side of the Alaska Range, the Talkeetnas, the Chugach mountains, the Kenai Peninsula and the Wrangells
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