Posts Tagged ‘kanuti’

The Hot Springs Trifecta

Wednesday, August 28th, 2019

Several years ago, some friends and I, inspired by Ed Plumb’s epic trip to Dall Hotsprings , talked about using the Kanuti river for a longer trip looping back to the Haul Road.  After a bit of discussion, the plan morphed into a three hot springs trip. First, float the Kanuti River from the Haul Road, stopping at Kanuti hot springs for a soak.  Then float down the Kanuti river for another 20 miles and hike to the Upper Ray hot springs. Finally, walk or float to the Lower Ray hot springs and then back out to the road.  It seemed viable, but while I was aware people had floated the Kanuti River below the traditional take-out for Kanuti hot springs, I had not talked to them about it. While the walking looked good on the maps who knows how it would be in person.   Early this June, Ed, Matt, Chris, and I headed out to see if we could pull it off.  It was going to be awesome — a new section of river, two new hotsprings, wahoo!   Heath and Patrick joined us for the first leg, floating to the first hot springs, Kanuti, and shuttled Chris’s truck to our take-out (thanks guys!). 

We left town fairly early in Chris’s “fry truck”.  (Chris and his wife Robbin heat their house and power their truck with used oil from local restaurants.)  We drove the Kanuti River, and after a bit of futzing around, put it and began the adventure, yahoo!  

Hot Springs Trifecta

The water in the Kanuti River was high, and the float was fun and fast.   The day was beautiful, with lots of sun and a brief rain squall that mostly avoided us. 

Hot Springs Trifecta

The birds of prey were out in force, and we saw quite a few large raptors and a few owls.   The hours sped by, and soon we were at the take-out for hotsprings number one. Kanuti has had a problem bear for the last few years, but fortunately we didn’t see it.  Alas, it was a beautifully hot day, and unfortunately that meant the hot springs were a bit too hot to soak in for very long. On the upside, it was great to see the field of grass and wild chives surrounding the hot springs in the summer again.  It feels like a green oasis, and smells unique. 

We still had a long float ahead of us, so we said goodbye to Patrick and Heath, and continued floating down the river.  The Kanuti to our takeout was an interesting river – mostly pretty mellow, with a few splashy sections with large rounded rocks.  If the water was a lot higher, those splashy sections would have been a handful. At one point we came upon a cow moose with a young calf in the middle of the river, and we tried to gently sneak by, but they kept going downstream slightly ahead of us — until a black bear charged out of the brush on one of the banks and attempted to snatch the calf.   Much to our happiness and the bear’s sadness, the cow and calf escaped, leaving the bear splashing in the stream. It climbed out bedraggled and wet, and then disappeared into the brush along the bank. Matt is a biologist for the National Park Service, and explained the cow was probably aware of the bear and had been sticking to the river so that if the bear had attacked it could have used its longer legs to stomp the swimming bear and gain the upper hand.  Much to everyone’s happiness (besides the bear’s, I expect) our involvement hadn’t driven the cow or calf into the bear and caused a disaster… 


As we neared the ridge on which we were going to begin our hike, it soon became apparent that the nice campsite overlooking we Kanuti River wasn’t there.  Instead the bank sloped somewhat steeply up to the ridge.. We spent a few hot hours hiking up to the first flat spot we could find, at the high point of the ridge.  

Matt, happy to enjoy some cold snow after a long climb in his dry suit..

Matt had packed a few beers, and they were enjoyed in style, with a view. Thanks Matt! 

Hot Springs Trifecta Hot Springs Trifecta

The next day, we hiked over to Tokusatatquaten Lake, a beautiful lake with awesome sand beaches and really nice walking. 

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It is in a truly wonderful spot, and if we had been faster it would have been a great place to camp.

Hot Springs Trifecta Hot Springs Trifecta

Alas, it was late morning, so we pushed on, enjoying great ridge hiking and neat tors while a thunderstorm passed off in the distance. 

Hot Springs Trifecta
Chris, retying his shoe after a tumble in the alder..

We had planned to camp at the Upper Ray hot springs, but a mile or so of dense alder slowed us down enough that we camped on a ridge above it. In the middle of the night, I woke to wolves howling in the valley below us.    

In the morning we zoomed down to the Upper Ray, enjoying awesome walking.  We saw our first sign of humans since leaving Kanuti, in the form of a survey cut.   We followed a hot stream of water through a dense patch of cow parsnip (the northernmost patch I have ever seen!) to where the water came out of a bluff into a neat pond. 

Hot Springs Trifecta Hot Springs Trifecta Hot Springs Trifecta

The water was hot, and very refreshing, with minimal sulphur smell. Alas, we couldn’t spend all day there, and we headed for what we hoped to be a shortish day to the Lower Ray.   Ed had been here once before, and had hiked on the south side of the creek, and said the hiking was pretty bad. Instead, we tried to take game trails on the north side of the creek.. It mostly had good walking, but it was very indirect.  After several hours of averaging under a mile an hour in a straight line we gave up, and put in and tried floating. The Upper Ray is deeply incised in silt banks, so it was sort of like paddling through a mud canyon. And it was muddy. Everyone else seemed able to keep mud out of their boat, but I wasn’t, and by the end of the day my boat weighed a ton with all the extra mud in it.   I made a serious tactical error and left most of my food in my pack, which was stuffed into my boat, and I only had 2 candy bars for most of the day.. By late afternoon I was full-on hangry. Fortunately, Ed took pity on me, and gave me some more food to tide me over. Eventually we made it to the Lower Ray hot springs – hurrah!

Hot Springs Trifecta


The Lower Ray hot springs is a neat place. The hot water comes out of a gravel bank, and flows right into the Ray River.  It had by far the least alge I have ever seen in a hot spring. Alas, it also had cow parsnip. The camping was great, too — a heated gravel bar, how can anyone beat that! And ever better, there was an old cabin across the creek. I love old rusty stuff, and this cabin was full of it — some old, some new.. It looked like it had been visited somewhat recently, but alas was a bit run down..

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The final day, we floated out to the road.  This section of the Ray had several sections of class II-ish rapids.  They were just bouncy enough to be fun, but not very threatening. By late afternoon, we made it to our takeout, and after a short but steep climb to the road, we were at the truck, and heading home. 

The upper and lower Ray hot springs are unique and well worth visiting.  I am already scheming ways to get back there. 


Thanks for the company Ed, Matt, Patrick, Heath, and Chris!

Our route

A Kanuti hike and float

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

One of my favorite off the beaten path places to visit is Kanuti hot springs in the Kanuti national wildlife refuge. I have been in via skis and on foot, but wanted to try it as a packraft trip and see how it went. I had been warned by the god of interior packrafting that it could involve a lot of low water butt dragging, but our float had lots of water, and was wonderful.

I was a bit concerned it was going to be a long slow float, but the water moved at a nice pace, and there was a short section of class II that required a bit of maneuvering.

The hot springs was wonderful as usual. It is out of the way just enough that it does not get a lot of visitors, giving it a wonderful remote feel, even though it is fairly short hike in from the road.

The ground is wonderfully warm, and the soft warm grasses made for wonderful napping, only slightly spoiled by the mosquitos.

After a mellow evening of hanging around at the hotsprings, soaking and lolling about, we hit the sack. Our campsite was in a field of wild onions or chives, and was pleasantly fragrant.

In the morning, we had quick soaks, then started on our walk out.

The walk out was uneventful, but a bit windy at times.

It was a wonderful trip, thanks Tom and Ms Marsh for providing motivation. Its a fun trip, highly recommended, at least when the water is high.

Kanuti

Monday, September 12th, 2011

In the spring a group of friends and I headed out to Kanuti hotsprings for a wonderful overnight ski trip. Ever since then I have been thinking about a summer trip to the hotsprings, either as a hiking trip or a packrafting trip. With a free weekend and nothing major planned Tom and I headed out to Kanuti for a quick overnight trip. The plan was to hike in and out, as we were uncertain as to the water levels on the Kanuti River. Like the vast majority of rivers in Alaska it is ungauged and it is difficult to tell how much water it would have. The four hour drive to the start of the hike was scenic but uneventful. When we arrived I took a quick look at the river and was surprised to see it was bank full, with lots of water for pleasant floating. Having left our packrafts at home we gazed at the river longingly, but loaded up our packs and started walking.

I have not done any straight up backpacking trips recently and was amazed how light a sub 20lb pack feels. Not having to carry either float gear and a packraft or gear for the twins makes for light backpacks.
The first mile involved hiking on the Alaska Pipeline and was fast but pretty boring. Eventually we broke away from the pipeline and headed up to the ridges leading to Caribou Mountain.

The weather was a bit gloomy with a spate of wind driven rain that changed to snow as we got higher up.

Near Caribou Mountain there was enough snow to slow things down a bit and to make hiking in my running shoes a bit iffy.

I had the feeling the views would have been wonderful if we had not been stuck in the clouds. After side-hilling around Caribou Mountain we headed down to the hotsprings.

After crossing one slightly swampy saddle we descended down a hillside covered with small birch trees before reaching the hotsprings.

Midway down the last hill the small birch trees formed a fairly dense wall of brush and slowed things down a bit.

Eventually we arrived. The springs were in great shape, and after some cleanup we jumped in for a soak. The water was pretty relaxing and well worth the trip.


After enjoying the water for a while I got out and explored the springs. For the most part though the springs is remote-feeling, with not a lot of signs of past human visitors. The place seems pretty popular with the caribou and moose – there were tracks all around the springs.

In my wandering around I did find a smaller spring on the other side of the creek from the main springs that appeared to be warm enough to soak in. It had been cleaned out in the not so distant past, and might have seen some use this summer.
I checked out the Kanuti River near the springs, and it was fairly high and very floating. I have to come back sometime to float this!

The clearing the springs is located in is pretty interesting. The area closest to the springs is bare of any vegetation, with the rest of the meadow covered in wild chives and chest high grasses.

It is an interesting place and well worth visiting. Tom enjoyed the hot water so much he fell asleep and soaked for a extra hour or so, long enough to be a bit dehydrated and to have massive leg cramps when emerging. After having dinner and goofing off around the fire we hit the sack. This was the first trip where Tom got to use his new “Clown Tent”, a LightHeart SoLong. I was using my floor-less tent, a Golite utopia, and since I was by myself, Remus came inside too. He was pretty happy to join me out of the rain.

In the morning we had a brief soak, packed up, and headed out. We found a much nicer way though the brush on the way up the first hill which made for nicer hiking.

The weather was much more pleasant on the hike out, with periodic breaks in the clouds showing fantastic views of the surrounding hills.

All the snow on Caribou Mountain was gone, making for more pleasant hiking. By the time we were heading down the final hill large chunks of blue sky were showing though breaks in the clouds and the sun was peeking though in spots.

Soon we were back on the pipeline and shortly after that at the truck.

For folks who like hotsprings this is a trip to do – the hiking is wonderful and the springs are very nice. It took us around 5 hours to go in, and around 5 hours to hike out. The drive was around 4 hours one way, but could take more or less time depending on road conditions. We parked at the Kanuti River bridge at around mile 105, but it should also be possible to park at the abandoned gift shop at “Old Man”, or at one of the pipeline access roads (be sure not to block it, as your car might get towed).

As a side note, I was saddened to learn that by the end of the trip my shoes had large holes in them.

These days I do most of my hiking in non-waterproof trail running shoes or light hikers. They are light and drain fast, important for the wet places I spend most of my time hiking in. The downside is I have had bad luck finding shoes that last any length of time. The shoes I took on this trip, North Face brand trail running shoes , have only around 120 miles on them, and four trips: two ~30 mile day hikes, a three day trip, plus this one, and already have large holes in them. It might be time to switch back to Saloman XA comps as I got several summers of use out of a pair. My current shoe selecting strategy, which can be summed up as getting whatever fits and is cheap or on sale, seems to not work so well.
Maps

A larger interactive map can be found here and a standard paper map can be found here.

It was a little under 12 miles each way, and it took us 5 hours of hiking to get in, and 5 hours of hiking to get out.

Additional Details
Ed Plumb’s blog, as usual, has additional information on this trip in the summer, as well as the winter .

More Photos: Kanuti

The (really this time) last ski trip of the season – Kanuti

Monday, April 25th, 2011

I had figured the ski season was pretty much done, as the snow was melting at the house and the trails were now much too soft to bike on, and pretty mushy for skiing, but just as I was getting ready to put the skis away I was invited to join some folks headed out to Kanuti Hotsprings on skis. I had never been out that way and decided to join them, and before I knew it I was headed north to near the Arctic Circle with Tom and Ms Marsh. The drive was uneventful, but scenic, and near our destination, a bit windy.

The plan was for us to meet up with the rest of our party, camp along the road somewhere, and in the morning ski into the hotsprings. We ended up running a bit ahead of the rest of our party, and while waiting I got a bit bored and attempted to find a slightly better place to park, and was soon stuck.

Fortunately right after I got stuck the rest of our party, Tim and Andrea, arrived. Tim was kind enough to pull me out (thanks Tim!). We then convoyed to our night’s destination, a pull-off near a snow fence, then set up our tents and hit the sack. It was pretty windy that night, and by the time morning came my tent, a large spacious car camping tent that is alas not very wind resistant, had been nearly flattened by the wind. The wind was strong enough that everyone almost bailed on the trip, but we decided to stick it out, and that was for the best. Soon after we packed up camp the wind died down, the sun came out, and for the next two days the weather was wonderful.
The ski started out near an abandoned gift shop at Mile 103 of the Dalton Highway. For the first several miles we climbed up several small hills over a hard wind blown crust, which made for good skiing.

The wind blown crust was amazing – hard enough so we didn’t break though but soft enough that it was possible to edge on it without a lot of work, making for fun and fairly fast skiing. This was pretty good news, as there was no sign of any packed trail, or in fact of any other travelers.

Eventually we had to head back into the trees to side hill around Caribou Mountain, and with the trees we lost our crust and gained lots and lots of powder. The trail breaking began in earnest at this point, and soon we were wading though knee deep snow, with occasional sections of crust that provided a welcome respite.

Most of our skiing we were following a rough “route” rather than a trail – there are not a lot of trees on the route so we were pretty free to go where ever the skiing was the best. It is not possible to avoid the trees for a section where we side-hilled along Caribou Mountain.

A more detailed map can be found here:
We had been told there was a cut trail of some sort that is kept clear by some snowmachiners who use the hot-springs on an infrequent basis. Fortunately the cut trail was fairly easy to follow, and was well marked by blazes.

Breaking trail was a lot of work, but rewarding in its own way. Eventually we broke back out of the trees and back into the more open areas, which had intermittent crust, making for much faster skiing.

The final two miles or so took a very long time, as we dropped down into the trees and very deep snow. It was a bit of a slog, but eventually we arrived at the hot-springs and it was a very welcome sight. The hot-springs are in a large open area that is completely snow free, quite a contrast to the surrounding area. After several hours of wading though knee deep snow it is a pretty welcome sight!

The hot-springs appeared to be divided up into several small pools, with a larger pool having a small dam at one end to keep the water deep enough to soak in.

When we arrived there was a fair bit of slime in it, but Andria bravely went to work de-sliming it and it was soon inhabitable.

The water was pretty warm, 102f according to my thermometer, which was more than warm enough to provide a nice hot soak by my standards. After soaking and dinner we all turned in, looking forward to the broken trail and fast skiing on heading out.

Kanuti is a pretty interesting place. The ground around the hot springs is quite warm and gives off noticeable heat. I was surprised to see how warm items like my boots got when I left them on the ground with a jacket over them. Besides the little dam that holds water in for the soaking pool and a few cut trees there are few signs of past visitors. I am pretty curious how many people visit the springs, because while its a bit of a drive from Fairbanks, it is only a day’s hike or ski in. The scenery is top notch, so I would have assumed more folks would make the trek in.

After a good nights sleep the morning arrived clear and wind free – perfect weather for the ski out.

The ski out was pretty fast and much more pleasant that the ski in – no trail breaking and our tracks had set up nice and firm, making for wonderful skiing.

We had wonderful weather for the ski out, with sunny blue skies and next to no wind – perfect skiing weather.

The weather was a bit too nice for Remus, who would have preferred it to be -20f I expect.

The final hill was very fun for me, with lots of gliding downhill on a nice and fast hard wind crust.

Eventually we made to back to the trucks, where lots of snacks and beer complements of the ever prepared Tim waited for us.

This trip was a fantastic way to wrap up the ski season. I owe a bit thanks to Andrea and crew for inviting me along, it was amazingly fun. I am pretty sure it is truly the last ski of the season, as when I arrived back in Fairbanks it was pretty apparent breakup season had arrived with a vengeance.

We didn’t see much wildlife on this trip, besides a very dark colored fox and some gray jays. We did see sign of other animals including the caribou the nearby mountain is named after, but alas didn’t get to see them in person.

There were a few signs of the summer residents in this area. I expect this area is teeming with activity in the warmer months.

Folks interested in duplicating this trip will want to keep in mind that the route we took is the winter route, it would be a depressing slog though wet tussocks in the summer I expect. Sumer travelers can take a route over Caribou Mountain, or so I have been told. The snow was pretty deep, and required a lot of trail breaking – bring friends, the more the better to speed this up.