The Jack via Caribou Lakes!

Several years ago I packrafted the Jack River, and ever since I have been interested in going back there for more exploreation.. and when I heard that Ed Plumb had hiked in via Carabou Lakes, I knew I had to go check it out, as several friends have told me that area is fantasticly beautiful!

Tom, Heath, and I started the trip off on a pull off on the Parks Highway, just south of Cantwell. The trip started off a bit wet and soggy..

Jack River Packrafting

.. but the trail dried out a bit, just as it started raining. The first few miles were on ATV trails, which made for fast but uninteresting walking..

Jack River Packrafting

Once we reached higher ground the ATV tracks disappeared, and headed up a small unnamed creek up and over to Caribou Lakes (or Caribou Pass as it is labeled on the USGS topos) area.

Jack River Packrafting

Jack River Packrafting

The hiking was pretty good, and while it was pretty foggy as we hiked up, it cleared up as we reached the pass, and the sun came out – awesome! I however was a bit sad about my camera choice – at the last minute I took my “nice” camera out of my pack, and just brought my little waterproof point and shoot, as it looked like it would be too wet for the good camera.

Jack River Packrafting

Area round the lakes is super scenic – very open, with great views and fantastic walking.

Jack River Packrafting

Jack River Packrafting

We ended up camping on the east end of the eastern lake so we would have a short walk to the putin the next day. There is a small cabin on the lake, but it was on the other side from where we camped. We didn’t check it out. The lakes did appear to have fish, as we could see them picking bugs off the top of the lake in the evening.

The views from our campsite were top notch..

Jack River Packrafting

Jack River Packrafting

The next morning we hiked to the Jack, inflated and started floating. Things started off pretty mellow..

Jack River Packrafting

Just shallow clear water, with the occasional mellow wall-push.
Jack River Packrafting

We had been warned there were two drops, possibly class III ish, so we kept our eyes out. The floating was pretty fun though, with lots of interesting water and neat rock formations.

Jack River Packrafting

Eventually we found the first drop, which was a bit after where the creek opened up a bit, and it hit us by surprise. Heath who had been leading us down the creek, hit it first, and dumped, and alas, got his camera a bit wet – a huge bummer!
Jack River Packrafting

It eventually recovered after a long stint in a food dehydrator.

After the first drop, things were pretty fun, but nothing challenging until the second drop in the canyon.

Jack River Packrafting

We scouted the second drop, and then floated it. The canyon round the second drop is very beautiful.

Jack River Packrafting

We made our way back to the bridge on the Parks Highway, where I biked back to the truck to complete the loop.

A few notes:

  • There are two drops – the first can be boat scouted if you know where it is, the second really should be scouted before running.
  • At really high water the upper section looks like it could be quite a handful, as could the lower drop in the canyon. At super high water it might be hard to eddy out to scout the lower drop. There is a nice ATV trail around the entire lower canyon section, if you want/need to hike around it.
  • Helmets seem like a good idea.
  • This trip is on Ahtna land. It isn’t clear to me if the part off the Parks Highway is on their land, or if an easement exists, and the same is true for the Caribou Lakes area. I didn’t see any signage, but the online maps definitely imply part of the Caribou Lakes area is on Ahtna land. The last few miles into Cantwell are on Ahtna land, though it is unclear if the Jack River is part of this or not. So get a permit before going.
  • On the hike in, when you hit the Intertie (the big power line), you can go left or right. We went left. Both ways appear to have atv trails leading to the creek we took up into the pass.

This is a super fun overnight trip, well worth doing!

A map of the route can be found here . The location of the two drops are approximate – use caution!

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