Fun in the mountains – a hike and float on the East Fork of the Susitna

Tom, Marsh, and I decided to spend a couple of days doing a version of Ed Plumb’s East Fork of the Susitna Trip . The trip was a blast and very fun.
We started off by leaving town at an moderately early hour and after 4 hours or so neared our destination.

Our plan was to drive up Valdez Creek road until it stopped paralleling the Susitna River, then drop off on of the trucks, and continue driving up the road as far as was reasonable, the hike over to the East Fork of the Su, and finally float out back to the truck. We ended up driving about 2 miles down the road and left Ms Marsh’s truck at a pull out, then continued down the road for 8 miles or so when the deepish creek crossing convinced me to park the car and get start hiking. The first day of hiking was mostly on an atv trail that followed a small stream.

The first mile or so of hiking passed though some active gold mining claims. At one point we surprised a large family out gold panning – the kids in the family seemed very, very confused by our life jackets and paddles, but apparent lack of boats.. I am sure we generated lots of discussion after we got out of ear shot.
The hiking was pretty fast and easy – atv trails are not very scenic but make for nice walking!
The trail crossed the stream quite a few times.. no dry feet here.

We passed a number of old mining camps, but besides the activity around Lucky Creek everything else was pretty quiet – just rusty machines lying around and boarded up shacks.

Eventually the ATV trail dead-ended at a bluff and we ended up side hilling to Grog Lake where we camped for the night.

Grog Lake is in a very beautiful little bowl, but summer had yet to fully arrive here – it was mostly still frozen.


After a fine dinner we hit the sacks and after a good nights sleep, we set off in the morning a little after 10, with plans to head out to the hills overlooking the East Fork of the Susitna. The morning it was raining – when I woke up it was poring pretty hard and the view from my tent was not all that inspiring.

The rain tapered off pretty quickly though and the morning ended up being fairly rain free, though a bit cloudy with a random fog patches blowing though. The view from the first pass was pretty spectacular.

After crossing the next pass we ran into a small herd of caribou who were fairly nonplussed with our intrusion. We ended up seeing numerous small herds for the rest of the trip.

At this point we deviated from Ed’s route – the pass Ed had used was still pretty snowed in and we ended up taking a slightly different route, which took us to the East Fork a bit lower down, but also gave us some snow free and scree free hiking. We did get to walk a bit on some nice overflow on Boulder Creek.

We debated floating Boulder Creek as it looked to be fairly float able but decided not too. This was probably for the best, as Boulder Creek plunges though a canyon of doom just before reaching the East Fork, and the waterfalls and rapids were loud enough we could hear them several miles away as we floated by on the last day of the trip.
After crossing the creek we headed up to make camp near a strange circular lake with a island in the middle on top of a flat ridge.

The second and final camp-site turned out to be fairly scenic.

The lake had a huge number of birds nesting around it and their cries provided a nice backdrop in the evening.

While packing for the trip I had taken out the “extra” poles for my tent, intending to replace them with my trekking poles. Alas, I took out the wrong pole, and had to jerry rig something, but it all worked out in the end. ¬† I really like this tent – its about 2 lbs, has lots of space, and seems to tolerate the wind pretty well.¬† This of course leads to a gratuitous tent and mountains shot:

In the evening we had wonderful views of the Alaska Range. It was fun to see the Alaska Range from the south side rather than the northern view that I normally get.

Mount Hess and Deborah were very visible and nicely lit.

The next morning was once again nice and rainy. I took advantage of my no-cook meal (on summer trips these days I just eat granola bars for breakfast – it hardly seems worthwhile to start the stove and cook something) and enjoyed my breakfast while sitting in the tent, away from the rain.

Things quickly cleared off once again and we set off hiking the last 3 miles or so to the East Fork. There was a bit of brushwacking, but it was fairly short, and soon we were floating on the East fork – hurrah!

The river was pretty mellow to start with, but there was a short section with some rapids. The first section was a bit bumpy, but otherwise uneventful.

The next section we scouted was more eventful – I scouted it briefly, thought it was no big deal, and after running a small drop, ended up flipping in a hole right after the drop. It was a bit silly, but not a big deal – I was not expecting the drop to have a strong recirculating current in it, and didn’t hit it hard enough and got pulled back into the drop and flipped. No harm done – after a short swim I was back on shore and we walked the next section, then put in again as things mellowed out. I am getting pretty good at flipping now.. We did walk one other section – there was a huge boulder up on river right with barely enough room for a packraft on one side, and a huge pore-over on the other – we walked that section, as it was not clear a pack-raft could get by on the right hand side of the rock without getting stuck. Last year one of the teams on the Wilderness Classic dumped (see this for more details) in these rapids. One of the racers lost his shoe and had to duck tape a bit of his pfd to his foot as a replacement. At the time they ran this section one of these rapids was in the class IV range and had a hole large enough both people dumped in it and got stuck.. we didn’t see anything too scary (besides the rock of doom – but that was easily avoidable) but folks should keep this in mind if they run this section at higher water levels – so be careful folks!
On the upside, besides the rock of doom and the drop, the rapids was all fun class II wave trains and splashing.

I avoided the wave trains for the most part – the water was glacial and very hard to see though so the wave trains could conceal rocks or other strange stuff, so I generally just skirt stuff that looks funky.

After the rapids the river widened out a lot and mellowed.

In some places it mellowed too much – the river is pretty silty and often the middle was so shallow that we could not float it, and were forced to get out and walk. Walking in the middle of a large river like this is a pretty funny experience.

Eventually the East Fork was joined by the West Fork, and the river changed character – the silty shallows went away and the river sped up to 5 to 6 miles per hour. This led to some mellow floating – as we just zoomed along with no effort.

Once the two forks joined the Su is really wide and fast – quite an impressive river.

We had quite a few wildlife sightings during the trip – alas no wolverines, but lots of other critters.
Baby Ptarmigan

Lots of Caribou:


And the ever present ground squirrel – oh so exciting! (Just joking.)

Our mileages for the trip was:
day 1: 9.31 miles
day 2: 11.66 miles
day 3: 2.75 miles hiking, 25.25 miles floating.

All the days except for the last one (it was a long float) were moderate length days and nothing very extreme.

This trip is highly recommended  Рits a great trip and well worth the 8 hours or so of round trip driving from Fairbanks.

A Map:

East Fork of the Susitna Hike and Float – More pictures than you could possibly imagine!

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