Posts Tagged ‘packrafting’

East Fork of the Jack hike and float

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

Last fall Ed the packrafting God of the Interior told me about a trip he had done on the East fork of the Jack river, giving it a “5 stars!” rating. I had been thinking about doing a trip in that area, as it is supposed to be very scenic, and fairly accessible without a long shuttle. Tom, Ms Marsh, and I headed out of town early Saturday morning, and in late morning we were heading up a valley heading into the headwaters of the East fork of the Jack river.

The weather treated us well on the first day, though there was a brief hail storm, and late in the afternoon several thunder storms rolled by.

The hiking was fantastic..

Though things got a big harder once we headed over the pass, with a fair bit of side hilling.

Eventually we made it down from the pass and started heading down into the Jack.

We had been told there was a wonderful game trail the swapped sides of the creek but was wonderful walking. It turned out that the creek had a bit too much water in it for easy crossing.

The game trail was nice super highway for the sections we could follow it.

Eventually we decided the creek looked floatable enough to make it worth inflating the packrafts for, and made camp with plans to start floating in the morning. Morning came a bit earlier than some would have liked..

The floating on the jack was fast and fun. The creek was near bank full with all the runoff and the water was moving fast. Alas, there were not a lot of places to eddy out, so there was not a lot of time spent out of the boat.

Eventually we reached the main fork of the Jack. The water sped up a bit more, and the volume increased a fair bit.

There is a small canyon with a brief bit of (allegedly) class III-is water. Just as we were eddying out to go check on the canyon, one of us dumped and floated up to the rest of the group, requiring a throw bag rescue. It was decided that given the fast, high water it might be a good idea to just portage the canyon, so around we went. Fortunately, there was a fast hiking ATV trail that made for fast walking. This ATV trail could be picked up from the Denali Highway, and could be used to make this trip into a day trip, or to cut out the less exciting floating near the end (more later).

The rest of the float went by very fast. Once past the canyon things flattened out a lot, but the water remained fast. The last 20 minutes or so of floating had lots of fast moving water with lots of wood – not really all that fun, and we had to be on our toes to make sure we didn’t end up with some sweeper or snag related trama. We made to to our take out, and while Tom and Ms Marsh headed off to get some dinner I jumped on the bike and headed off to fetch the truck. I enjoyed a mellow 12 mile ride back to the truck. Biking that short section of the Denali Highway got me back into the mood to bike tour that road again.. Soon I was back at the truck, loaded up, retrieved Tom and Ms Marsh, and headed back to Fairbanks.

Five stars, indeed – this trip was fantastic and highly recommended. We did it during peak snowmelt driven water levels, so the floating was pretty fast, but I expect durring a more normal time of year the water would be a bit mellower. The hiking was great, the views spectacular, and the floating fun.

If I was to do this trip again I would probably take out after the canyon and hike out to the denali highway on the ATV trails, or take out as early as possible near Cantwell, as the last bit was the only bummer. Lots of cotton wood (Balsam Poplar) in the water, and not much to see, making all the wood dodging not all that rewarding. We took out where the old Parks Highway bridge used to be, but further upstream should be possible and a good idea.

This trip involves traveling a lot of land owned by AHTNA and requires a permit.


More mapping action here. and a GPX file here.

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.

Packrafting the Clearwater

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

Tom, Ms Marsh, and I did a repeat of Ed Plumb’s Clearwater packrafting trip. It was a fairly mellow three day trip, with lots of wonderful hiking. As usual, Ed’s writeup has everything you need to know so this is going to be a low word, high picture count post. The floating and hiking were great – this is a trip to do!

There was superb alpine hiking…

Some fast but boring ATV trails..

Over alpine streams..


And beautiful campsites.

Scenic alpine lakes..

Strange flora..

Dinners eaten and in some cases snuggled with..

There was a bit of brush..

But it was never bad, as we were always following game trails of one sort or another.

Evening campfires were had and socks were dried (or not).

There was even some biking thrown in..

All in all, a wonderful way to spend three days.

More photos here.

A Summer Loop in the Whites

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

For the last several years I have being hoping to do a version of a pack rafting trip Roman Dial did in the White Mountains, floating down Beaver Creek, then hiking back to the put-in. This spring everything came together and one evening I found myself floating down Beaver Creek with Ms Marsh, Tom, Andrea, and John, on the start of the loop.

We left town late Thursday afternoon, intending to have a mellow couple of hours of floating on Beaver Creek before camping along the river. After several hours of mellow floating, we camped on a gravel bar and called it a night. Just before we all turned in a single caribou gave us a bit of a start when she splashed loudly across the river to investigate us, and took off once she determined we were not fellow lichen-eaters. There were are number of strangely colored patches on the hill across from our campsite, and on a lark I took off to go check them out. It turned out they were crape paper streamers weighted with sand on one end.

I was pretty baffled by the discovery as this spot is a bit out of the way. Perhaps they were dropped by plane to mark something, though they were lots of them and they were all over the hillside, so they would not be very effective as a marker.. If anyone knows what the deal is I would love to hear how they got there and what purpose they have (beside being litter that is).
Ms Marsh did get some fine streamer twirling in though.

The next morning we continued floating. The weather was fantastic – hot and sunny, excellent for a long mellow float.


We stopped briefly at Boreali to stretch our legs, check out the cabin, and write a note in the logbook. The thermometer on the side of the cabin agreed it was hot.

The first half of our float was on a section of river that I had been on several times before and I was quite excited to get to the section that was new to me, downriver of Borealis Cabin. This section of Beaver Creek is pretty fantastic, with wonderful views of Big Bend, a massive limestone hill that juts out into Beaver Creek.


My pictures don’t really do it justice – the scenery on this section of river is pretty wonderful.

Floating Beaver Creek with John the biologist, Amy, and Andrea was a constant lesson in bird identification. They were on constant lookout for various types of birds and always pointing out new and interesting bird sightings, and listening to bird calls.

After a full day of floating we camped on a brushy gravel bar near where we would start hiking. The good camping spots were a bit rare on in the last several miles of river we floated, with all the nice gravel bars covered in dense brush.

We spent the evening enjoying brats cooked over a campfire and finished the last of the PBR.

Our campsite had a pretty good view of the surrounding hills and it was interesting to see an area I have only been to in the winter. I have spent a hours slowly skiing this section of trail without much to do but look at the hills along the river, and so it was neat to get a different perspective. The river banks had lots of wolf prints, but surprisingly few bear prints. We saw only limited bear scat and only a few prints. I had been told this area has a fairly high concentration of bears, so I was a bit surprised by the infrequent signs of their passage.

In the morning we headed up the hill on the start of our hike. Waking up was difficult for some of us..

The first several miles of the hiking were a bit challenging as we hiked up though a section of riparian forrest that burned in 2004.

Eventually we climbed past all the burnt sticks and reached the ridgelines. The rest of the day was spent hiking up and down many small ridges as we hiked along the Limestone Jags that form the central ridge of the White Mountains. There was quite a bit of climbing and descending but the brush-free and tussock-free walking, along with the views, made it all worth while.

The massive limestone crags are spectacular.

We saw several groups of sheep hanging out on the cliff faces watching us from above. Summer is a good time to be a sheep. Alas, I expect this area is pretty harsh in the winter time.

Eventually we tired of yo-yoing up and down, and descended to the winter trail that leads from Wolf Run Cabin to the Windy Gap area. The trail had surprisingly good walking and it appeared that the only traffic the trail sees in the summer is from the wildlife.

We made wonderful time on the winter trail, zooming down the trail while checking out the wonderful views of the valley. I have skied though this area many times, but it takes on a completely different character in the summer. Many sections that were slow slogs on skis zoomed by while waking, and several sections that are very fast (one decent is a bit too fast) seemed to drag on forever while walking. We made a brief stop to gawk at Windy Arch, a natural limestone arch in the ridge face as we walked past it.

Just before the drop down Fossil Creek we traversed a long flat ridge that offers great views.

In the winter I often spent a couple of minutes enjoying the view, and the contrast between summer and winter is pretty interesting.

Eventually we descended to Fossil Creek. Several years ago I had nearly ran over a wolverine while coming down this section of trail in a snow storm. The thought of seeing a wolverine gave Ms Marsh some extra boost and powered her down the hill as she raced to be the first one though the wolverine sighting zone. John helped out, offering his professional biolologest advice on finding wolverines, including a rendition of the wolverine alarm call, which sounded suspiciously like “Help, help!”.
Eventually we reached Fossil Creek and much to our surprise, found it to be a fairly deep swift moving stream. It had enough water to make it (potentially) packraftable. After watching the giant of the group, Tom, ford the stream where the winter trail crosses and go up to his waist in fast moving water, we decided to spend a bit of time exploring possible crossing places that were hopefully not as deep and fast. We eventually found a point were it was passible and forded across.

We then pushed on to Windy Gap Cabin.

We explored the cabin for a while, checking the log book for other visitors, and relaxed in the little bubble of bug free heaven. We then camped in vicinity of the cabin, enjoying the fantastic views. In the morning we packed up and headed up a ridge leading towards Cache Mt.

For most of the morning we climbed up a series of ridges to a pass near the base of Cache Mt. A week before I noticed while looking for some satellite imagery of a wildfire nearby that the entire Cache Mountain area was still quite snow covered. So far on the trip the hiking had been pretty good and snow-free. As we reached the pass and peered over we learned that things were about to change.

The valley over the pass was still well covered with snow, and as we descended we learned the valley was flooded with freshly melted snow water, making for cold and wet hiking. Eventually we made it past the cold and splashy valley and headed down to the winter trail that connects Windy Gap and Cache Mt Cabin.

Once we reached the winter trail the hiking became much more pleasant.


This section of trail is so remote it appears to get no summer vehicle traffic, and it appeared the only users were on four legs – mainly wolves and moose from the tracks.

We also started seeing some interesting trail finds..

We followed the trail to the divide, enjoying the fast walking and the completely different experience of traveling this area in the summer. I have been on this trail on skis and by bike in the winter, in weather that ranged from tee shirt warm, to well below zero in howling winds. It was absolutely amazing to see it in the summer and it was really eye opening how different it is. There were constant reminders of the winter season here, with a huge number of tripods lying flat on the ground, and a steady stream of sled dog booties. We were not in a major hurry so we spent a bit of time righting the fallen tripods – if they stay up the trail will be a lot better marked.

Upon reaching the divide we found a very beat up trail sign marking the divide that had long ago fallen to the ground and was lost to winter travelers. We also righted a massive tripod made from old sign parts.

The divide was covered in knee high grass, but as we headed down the other side the vegetation quickly changed into a wonderful spruce forrest with large white spruce.

After several more miles of hiking along the trail we headed away from the trail and camped near O’Brian Creek. Since we had a long final day planned, we all hit the sack and made an early start. The morning started with a steep climb up though another burn, this time one from 2005.

After climbing up and down several ridges we made it to the home stretch where we could see Bear Creek, which would take us most of the way back to the parking lot. The hike down the last ridge was made a bit more exciting by a chance encounter with a moose. John had just finished telling a story about how a female moose had found him inexplicably attractive and had chased him around and around a tree until he was forced to jab her with a stick, when surprise, surprise, a small female moose appeared and expressed interest in John. Eventually we managed to drive it off with John’s honor intact and we continued to Bear Creek hiking though mixed tundra and some occasional dense brush. Eventually we encountered a small rise with what looked to be a small hunting camp and a four wheeler trail leading down to the river from it. The hunting camp had some interesting rocks…

Leading away from the camp was a ATV trail that appeared to provide pretty good brush-free walking. It was a welcome sight.

We zoomed down the trail to the river, where the trail continued on following the river. We ditched the trail, inflated our rafts, and began the short float out to Beaver Creek.

Bear Creek is a fun fast-flowing little creek that provided a wonderful way to finish the day.

It is one of the two creeks that eventually come together to create Beaver Creek, the other creek being Champion Creek. The water was moving at a pretty good clip and we zoomed along enjoying the scenery and resting our feet. Bear Creek has a massive log jam that completely blocks the river, but there is a nice dry side channel that provides wonderful walking so we portaged around the jam until we reached Champion Creek, where we put back in and floated down to the confluence of Bear and Champion Creek. After another half hour or so of floating we reached our takeout. Alas, from our takeout we had to hike a mile or so though rather large tussocks to reach Nome Creek Road and our vehicle. It was not fantastic hiking, but not truly awful either. The views were pretty nice though, with the tussocks decorated with lots of little white flowers. Unfortunately a fire near Fairbanks brought a lot of smoke late in the day, so the visibility dropped quite a bit.

Eventually we reached the car, where we loaded up and headed back to town. Everyone was back to their respective abodes by 1am, which was not too bad.

This was a wonderful trip, and well worth repeating. There is something really fun visiting a place you normally see in a different season, and it provided a wonderfully different perspective on a place I really enjoy. The White Mountains are a pretty neat place in all seasons, and I think the pack rafting potential is largely untapped – so get out and have some fun!

A big thanks to John, Andrea, Ms Marsh, and Tom for making this trip possible!

The loop was about 90 miles, with 48 miles floating on Beaver Creek, 34 miles hiking from Beaver Creek to Bear Creek, and the remaining 8 miles a mix of floating on Bear Creek, and hiking from Beaver Creek to our car.

A map:

A larger 63k scale map can be found here.

More Photos Here!

Far Mountain Float and Hike

Monday, September 6th, 2010

I had been thinking about pack rafting trips that might work in the upper area of the East or Middle fork of the Chena for most of the summer, and finally things came together. Our plan was to start from Chena Hotsprings, hike up to Far Mountain, then traverse down one of the many ridges down to the East Fork, then float out to Chena Hotsprings road and bike back to the hot springs. Ms Marsh, Tom, and I left the hot springs a little before lunch time and started hiking up the Far Mountain Trail towards Far Mountain. Alas, on our first try we missed the start of the trail and wandered around a bit before getting on the correct trail. The trail is surprisingly beautiful.

The trail started out on a ATV trail, but once it hits the ridge the ATV tracks die away and fine alpine hiking begins.

Weather was pretty nice for most of the first day, giving us superb views and wonderful hiking. The trail winds though some fairly recent burns and it was pretty neat to see how the alpine area was recovering.

We expected to have a pretty dry hike and had packed quite a bit of extra water so we had enough water to make dinner but we were quite excited to find some tundra pools a little after half way to Far Mountain on the first day.

Hiking was amazingly – nice dry ridges with wonderful views.

After we reached mile nine or so, just before Far Mountain, we called it a day and made camp. Dinner was provide by Ms Marsh, and was a fantastic boil in a bag soup meal.

Lately my trips have switched to “just add hot water” meals which can be made plastic zip lock bags or by reusing the foil pouchs that freeze dried meals come in. It allows us to bring a smaller pot and saves fuel making for lighter packs. Light packs makes for happy packrafters!

The next day the we awoke to less stellar views – it was totally socked in.

We spent most of the day hiking though the fog with limited visibility. Several of my last couple of trips had involved hiking though the fog in whiteout conditions, so I have been getting pretty good at it. This time I was quite prepared and had a route preloaded on the gps making it fairly easy to stay on course. I did get us circled around once and did a unnecessary horseshoe loop, but such is life.

The view from the top of Far Mountain is supposed to be fantastic – alas we didn’t get to see much. There was an impressive cairn though, as well as a very large and loud communication complex on top though.

After going over Far Mountain we turned away from the trail and followed the borough boundary along a series of ridge tops heading down to the river. The hiking remained pretty good – lots of game trails and brush free hills.

I found two sets of caribou antlers that I picked up for the twins – I would have loved to have some antlers as a kid, and thought the twins would enjoy them. Alas, they were not the same size, so when I got back and handed them out, Molly noticed hers was smaller and immediately attempted to trade with Lizzy, who was having none of it.. Such is life…
Just before we reached the river we passed though a recent burn, perhaps from last year. It was very fast hiking and it was quite interesting to see the plants moving in after the fire. There were a couple of sections with impressively thick knee high grass.

As we neared the river we also dropped below the clouds and the views opened back up, making route finding much easier. After the burn we hiked though a short section of fairly brushy black spruce forest, but eventually made it out to the river.

We made it to the East Fork at around 4pm, and were very, very happy to see it had lots of water and was going to be a good float. My big concern about this trip was the water levels on the East Fork – I had not been very far up it before and had no idea what to expect, and was a bit concerned we would hike all the way in just to discover it was too low to be float-able. Fortunately that was not the case – the water levels were great and made for great pack rafting. Since we arrived at the river mid afternoon we put in and floated for a couple of hours.

After two hours or so we called it a night and made camp. The East Fork was surprisingly scenic, with great views of the ridges hemming in the river and lots of interesting rock cliffs. The evening was fairly uneventful, besides the splashing beavers. We seemed to have set up camp near some sort of beaver meeting ground. On this trip I attempted to go without a tent, justing using a bivy and a tarp. It was mostly a success, though the bivy I used does not appear to breath all that well. On the second night, since I had my pack raft out and inflated I turned it over and slept on it – it was like heaven and very comfortable.

The next day we continued the float. Up to this point we had not seen any other floaters, but this changed about midday. We heard an air boat in the distance, and saw several pulled up on shore, as well as several parties of more traditional floaters with rafts and inflatable kayaks.

Strangely we saw lots of boats pulled up on shore but few people and no one on the river..

We passed one of the camps where a large jet boat was pulled up along with a jet ski and Ms Marsh talked to them a bit – they were completely flummoxed when they were told that we hiked in. One of them responded with a “Holy Sh**” and a completely incredulous look. More mind boggling for me was the jet ski – its fragile fiberglass bottom made it seem to me like the least useful motorized appliance ever for traveling in shallow rocky creeks.
We did stop and talk to a guy with one of the groups of non-motorized floaters. He said he was on “Camp Duty” while the rest of his party hunted. They were dropped off at the landing strip at Van Curlers Bar, a old placer mine on the upper reaches of the East Fork. Apparently mining of some sort is in progress and the landing strip is open and usable. Some interesting details can be found online about some of the folks who prospected in this area, including Van Curler. Excepting the air boats and jet boats, the float felt pretty remote considering how close it is to town – there were not a lot of signs of other travelers, besides a large number of cut out sweepers. In the lower sections of the river there are a number of very large log jams that have been cut out, so this is probably a good thing – some of those log jams were pretty immense and would have been a bit of a pain to portage around.

Eventually we arrived at our take out, where Tom and I got on bikes and biked back to the hotsprings while Ms Marsh guarded our packs and hunted for cranberries. The bike ride was very fast and fun and before I knew it we were back at the truck.

This hike, float, and bike is highly recommended – the hiking was fantastic, the floating pretty fun (though mellow), and has a very remote feel considering how close this is to town.

A Map.

More photos.

Far Mt – East fork of the Chena trip

A trip to Melozi Hotsprings – like the Shining, only with hot water

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Last year Ed Plumb and crew did a pack rafting trip out to Melozi Hotsprings, about 30 miles away from Ruby. It looked like a very fantastic trip, so Ms Marsh, Tom, and I decided to do a version of it, though at a bit slower pace. Our plan was to fly to Ruby, take a boat ride up the Yukon to Horner hotsprings 30 miles or so upstream, take a dip in the waters, then hike 25 miles or so Melozi, chill for a day, then float out.
Here was our route.

Our trip started on a overcast and damp looking Sunday as we boarded a flight to Ruby – little did we know that “damp” was going to be the theme of the trip. In Ruby we meet up with Jim from the Yukon River Lodge just upstream of Ruby, who gave us a boat ride up the Yukon to the start of our hike.

We started the hike a mile or so from Horner Hotsprings. Horner was once the site of a busy lodge, but its now just a simple hotsprings in a dense thicket of brush. The brush on the hike in brought back memories of south east – hiking in the rain in dense green foliage. Fortunately there was no devils club!

The bugs were out in full force though – by the time we hiked the mile or so to the hotsprings we had collected quite a fan club of mosquitos. The hotsprings at Horner are a pretty simple affair – just a tarped rock pool, but the water was nice and refreshing.

We had the place to ourselves, excepting the bugs and some other small hot springs aficionados.

Alas, I was the only one who got in, as the bugs were pretty intense.

After a quick soak (having folks stare at you like you are insane tends to speed one up) we continued on our hike. The first day we planned to hike 6 to 8 miles and camp around an alpine lake. The hike out of the small valley the hotsprings resides was pretty interesting – we hiked though dense green brush..

Then into a Aspen forest..

And finally onto a alpine ridge above tree line.

The view from the ridge was not so hot – we had under 100m visibility with occasional brief batches of less then 10 meters visibility.. Not the best day to hike to a small lake on top a ride surrounded by steep drop offs… All went well though and we made it intact to the lake, though we arrived a bit wetter than we would have liked.
The view from the lake was a bit limited.

After a night of rain and wind, which my Tarptent survived intact, which was good news as this was by far the windiest I have every used that tent in. We spent the next day hiking on more ridges in near whiteout conditions. The hiking was a bit slower than we planned on due to rock fields and the poor weather, so we deviated from Ed’s route a bit. By the end of the day the weather was starting to clear up, but it was still raining intermittently with periodic low visibility sections as clouds blew though. The next morning arrived a lot dryier than the preceding two days – it was mostly cloudy without any rain – quite change. We also were treated to our first scenic vistas (beside fog that is) of the trip. After a couple of hours of hiking we soon were approaching the hotsprings, and got our first glimpse of the airstrip from a hill overlooking Hot springs Creek.

From the distance the airstrip looked pretty impressive – super long though a bit brushy.
As we dropped down off the hill, we followed the creek and soon were walking on the airstrip. The airstrip was fast walking, but didn’t look to be all that good of a landing place – the middle two thirds is washed out with moderately deep ruts in it.

The section near the lodge is in better shape, but is quite brushy with moderately tall alder. Its also a bit short.. I am not a pilot but it looked pretty tricky to me.

After we arrived we quickly dropped off our stuff at the main lodge after checking that no one was around and visited the hotsprings. I had checked with BLM’s online land status system before visiting to make sure the lodge is not currently leased and that it is public land, but I was still surprised that no one was there.

When we first arrived the main hot tube was a nice temperature and one could actually get in it.

By the end of the day it was pretty hot, and by the next day the tube was unbearably hot. It appears the main tub is not actually a hot tub per say, but more of a hot water holding tank for the lodges piped hot water during the lodges hay day. Perhaps all that rain cooled it down enough so it was bearable for the first day… The hot spring is situated on top of a little rock bluff, and the hot water flows over the bluff making a hot water fall that cascades down into Hotsprings Creek. After the first day we attempted to stand under the hot water falls, but that was a bit unpleasant – the falls are very hot, and the creek very cold, leaving your upper body scorched and your feet cold.

Never fear – we rearranged the rocks at the base of the falls and created a small pool with some random tarps laying around, making a little hot water pool right in the creek. This worked great, as regulating the temperature is pretty easy – all you have to do to cool things down is let in more cold water, to heat things up let in less cold water – very, very nice!

(Ms Marsh photo)
After a bit of soaking, we decided to so explore. The lodge complex is pretty extensive. We found a map in a filing cabinet with the general layout of the lodge.

A fair number of the buildings are in pretty good shape. The pool, alas, is has completely collapsed and is returning to the forest.

(Ms Marsh photo)
On the last day of the trip while waiting in Ruby for our flight out we talked to a local who remembered visiting the lodge in the late 70s and remembered the pool – apparently it had pretty hot water in it, and that it “had a deep end and a shallow end, just like the ones in Fairbanks”, as he put it. It must have been quite a novelty – a warm pool in such a remote setting.
The shop is in marginal shape – one side is open to the elements and the roof leaks. Amazingly the tools inside it seem to be in pretty good shape -there is a partially disabled three wheeler – a “Big Red” – the classic child crushing model that got three wheelers banned in the US..

A gas powered welder, several generations of chain saws, a weed wacker, and lots and lots of random hand tools and spare parts.

Outside the shop was a collection of very old snow machines, most missing engines, tracks, and other parts. The late sixties or early seventies vintage Johnson Skee-Horse was pretty entertaining (it was supposed to have a 14 horse engine – wow!), as was the ton of random old yellow Skidoo parts lying around.
.
The shop had a pretty nice selection of hand tools which were in surprisingly good shape.

The cold celler was a scary mess and I was afraid to look inside it.

The numbered guest cabins were in pretty good shape, though only one was suitable for staying in the winter.
Cabin number 5..

Cabin number 3..

The “Reindeer Cabin”, apparently named after the reindeer hearers who were the original residents and the first users of the hotsprings.

Apparently in the 1900-1910 time frame reindeer were raised up stream 15 miles or so of the hotsprings to feed miners in the greater Ruby area. The herders would come down occasionally and soak apparently, and eventually built a cabin to make things more comfortable. The Reindeer cabin is were the lodge complex really started feeling creepy – it looked like the last residents just up and disappeared. It contains chests of knitting, children’s toys, books, painting supplies, even the former residents prescription medicine – all left as if the former residents just decided to go away for a weekend, and ever came back. Its pretty creepy and a very depressing sight – it came across to me like the cabin of broken dreams..
Toys in the entryway..

A desk..

Drawings on the bedroom wall..

The main lodge building is in great shape and doesn’t really feel like it has been abandoned all that recently, until you start looking around..
Old caribou tags..

And the reading material all point to a mid 80s and early 90s abandonment.

The main lodge has radiators along the walls and under the floor and it appears that in its prime it was heated by the hotsprings. The building has a wood cook stove with a rusty stovepipe with holes, and a large rock fireplace, so it might be a bit hard to heat in the winter.

The lodge has a full size piano and an accordion. The piano still functions though a lot of the keys are sticky. Alas the accordion is pretty far gone and I didn’t have the heart to attempt to play it and break it.

Strangely the kitchen in the main lodge building had a mix of very old food stuff..

And some newer stuff labeled in what appeared to be German:

When we got back in town we were able to find these folks online – apparently they spent a week or so at the hotsprings in 2003. It was pretty fun to decipher one of the mysteries of the place.. Alas, lots of mysteries remain – its really hard to imagine why the place is abandoned. The hot springs are great, the surrounding country beautiful, and the fishing appears to be top notch, at least for grayling.. so why was it abandoned? It would seem to be quite a viable lodge.. perhaps not for hunting as we didn’t see much in the way of wildlife, but as a hot springs or scenic destination its nice. Lots of other lodges seem to get by with quite a bit worse setups. According to BLM’s online land status website, the lease expired in 1996, though the reason it expired are pretty unclear – did they forget to pay it, did it get revoked, or did something else entirely occure.. there are so many mysteries about this place.

The main building is pretty bug proof, and was great to hang out in for the day and a half we spent at the hot springs. Soon after arriving we had the place festooned with our drying belongings.

Having a place to dry our stuff and to hang out in a dry place was very nice after 2 days of rain.

After a day and half of hanging out at the hotsprings, we had to get a move on and start moving again, and so we inflated our packrafts and started floating.

Hotsprings Creek had quite a bit of water in it and the floating was pretty fun – lots of small splashy class II rapids.
We put in next to the waterfall and it was really fun to float by a hot water waterfall in a packraft.

The float out to the Melozitna River was quite fun.

We camped shortly after the confluence with the Melozitna. The Melozitna is a wide, slow moving and surprisingly warm river.

The daytime air temperatures during our float were in the mid 50s and it appeared the water in the Melozitna was slightly warmer – its pretty strange to be able to stick your hands in the water to warm them up.
The next day the Melozitna became a bit more scenic as we approached the Melozi Canyon. We camped 10 miles or so above the first rapids in the Melozi Canyon. Late in the evening three jet boats zoomed by, which was a bit of a surprise, as it was rumored that the rapids blocked off jet boats.

In the evening I was joined by a large number of small guests, who alas had to stay outside.

Next next day we passed though the Melozi Canyon, which probably the most interesting section of river we passed though. The Melozitna River has two short class III rapid sections that we portaged – they didn’t look all that hard but it was not really the sort of weather that makes one interested in getting we – we portaged the rapids.

The first rapid

The second rapid, as seen from below

The canyon is pretty interesting, with wonderful smooth water sculpted rocks.

The first rapid has a wonderful little side channel that goes around on the side, skipping the hard section.

This section would have made fantastic camping, alas it was the middle of the day when we went though and we had a lot more distance to cover, so we pressed onwards. The area looked to have a fair bit of wildlife traffic and would be a interesting place to watch and see what walked by.

Bellow the second rapid there was a number of small boulder gardens, but nothing too exciting.

Once past the rock gardens then it was back to mellow flat water floating.

The rest of the canyon is pretty scenic.

After the canyon the river drops into a flat plane and becomes fairly wide before arriving at the Yukon.

We camped fairly near the Yukon so we could get to Ruby before any afternoon winds kicked up and so we could make our afternoon flight.
The Yukon was surprising mellow – large and flat with a fairly tame current.

(Ms Marsh photo)
Soon we arrived at Ruby, had our rafts packed up, and I was enjoying a trashy book while waiting for the plane. Ruby has a nice picnic area near the water that we spend a hour or so hanging out it. There was also a three person crew that staying in the picnic area that was working on a small hydroelectric test bed project that aims to eventually provide Ruby with hydroelectric power during the summer months. After a bit of waiting we were soon on a plane back to Fairbanks.

(Ms Marsh photo)
A hour a bit later we arrived in Fairbanks to nice clear skies and Nancy and the twins – it was very, very nice to be home!

This was a super fun trip and highly recommended. A word of warning – the lodge appears to be open for leasing from BLM pending some site appraisal, so it might fall back into private hands – if you plan to visit please double check with BLM first to make sure it is still off lease before setting off. The airstrip is pretty marginal – perhaps it goes without saying, but only land if you are sure you can do it safely as it is pretty remote and its a long, long walk out.

More Photos Here: Melozi Hotsprings Hike and Float

A Cast of Thousands on Riley Creek

Monday, July 12th, 2010

The king of pack rafters (at least Interior ones), Ed Plumb organized a trip down to Riley Creek near the Denali Park entrance. This creek is very accessible and is rumored to have some nice class II boating with at least one class III drop. It was supposed to be a short 1-2 mile hike followed by a several hour float. Ed recruited a very large posse (13 people total) for this adventure – I guess the short nature of the trip and the potential fun floating made it pretty attractive.

I was unfazed by the unlucky number 13, as my morning coffee was filled with good signs.

After meeting up at Lulu’s we all left town shortly after 9 and were on the trail hiking at a little before 1 in the afternoon.

The hike was fantastic – the trail is in great shape and very fast walking. We had a major train of people –

I was pretty bouncy from the latte and probably annoyed everyone around me with my endless babbling.

Fortunately people shifted around a bit and thus I got to spread my annoyance around.

Eventually we left the trail and dropped down to the creek.

Where we put in on the creek the water was moving moderately fast with more water than I expected – it looked pretty fun.

This creek has quite a bit of character – at the water levels we floated it at there were quite a few nice rocky sections with fun obstacles to maneuver around.

There are a couple of sections where the creek runs along smallish rock walls, but nothing too exciting.

The forum post that spawned this trip, circa 2007, mentioned a rope across the creek near a cable. Well, it turned out that there is still a rope across the creek under a cable, near a foot bridge.

It appeared the rope was used to haul stuff back and forth across the cable, but its seemed that having it dangle just above the water was unnecessary, especially since there is a foot bridge just near by. NPS’s legendary safety paranoia seems to be a bit missing here..

Shortly after the footbridge we encountered the rail road bridge and a brief exciting section. This bit could be a bit tricky – at the water levels we floated it at it was fairly fun and not too tricky. We took out just after the parks highway bridge and made our way back to the cars.

Quite a fun day trip and highly recommended. Its very similar to windy creek, but at the water levels we floated it slightly harder with a few sections that are a bit more challenging. The total time for the hike and float was around 5 hours so it makes for a nice mellow day trip hike-and-float. It was pretty fun to float in such a large group. There was quite a selection of paddles, different sorts of boats, and several generations of spray skirts all of which it was fun to see in action. There was also a wide range of gear folks were taking. One of the pack rafters sported a neat helmet cam made from a gorilla pod and also going super lightweight style with no pack – just strapping his pfd to his life vest – most impressive! Hopefully some of the videos he took will get passed around, as they might make interesting viewing.

More photos here:

Riley Creek Packrafing trip

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

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

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!

A Nugget Creek Repeat!

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Tom, Ms Marsh, and I did a repeat of a trip Tom and I did last year – a hike, float. bike loop that visits Nugget Creek Cabin in the Chena River State Receration Area. This time we did it when the Chena was pretty high, and it was a much more fun float – the water was fast and there was no low water dragging at all. The river guadge at 40 mile was reading about 17.14 ft during the middle of the day. This is a wonderful high water float – there are sweepers but nothing really dangerous so long as you are paying attention, and the south fork flows a lot faster during high water making the float quite a bit more fun.

The river at Nugget Creek Cabin was almost bank full.

State Parks is in the process of putting in a new trail that will start somewhere around 1st bridge – this should make this a “instant classic” easy water pack rafting route.

They also improved the marking substantially – which is super as parts of the existing trail are very hard to follow. Wahoo!

The hike is a little under 6 miles, and the float is about 20 miles from Nugget Creek Cabin to the Rosehip campground.


A Map:

More pictures here:

Nugget Creek Hike Float, 2010

A short trip on the Chulitna

Monday, June 7th, 2010

On the way back from the packrafting class, Tom, Ms Marsh, and I stopped to do a quick hike/float on the East Fork of the Chulitna River. The river was supposed to be class II with a fair number of large rocks for eddy play, so I was looking forward to it. We started at the East Fork rest stop on the Parks Highway, and hiked back out from just below the confluence of Honolulu Creek. This section of river is super fun – just like I was told there are quite a few nice large rocks to play around. I had a great time practicing entering and exiting the eddies using the “stab and jab” technique from the packrafting class. Perhaps a bit too much fun, as I flipped while exiting a eddy with a nearby pore over – but no big deal I was back in pretty quickly and my “nearly dry” suit combo kept me dry.

The float is pretty scenic and in a couple of places the river goes by some interesting cliffs.

The hike out was fairly short and fast – it took about 20 to 30 minutes.

There is a more direct way with via a trail, but it ends up in someone’s driveway complete with a ton of “No Trespassing” signs, so we just bushwhacked directly out to the road.

This section of the river is super fun and makes a great day trip to breakup the drive from Anchorage to Fairbanks.

The pack rafting class has really changed the way I see rivers – I spent this float playing in eddies trying to hit and catch as many as possible, something I would have never done prior to the class. We need more rivers like this in the Fairbanks area!

A Map:

Pictures:

East Fork of the Chulitna day float/pack