Posts Tagged ‘packrafting’

Savage-Sanctuary..

Friday, July 18th, 2014

Last year Tom, Joel, and I floated the classic Savage-Sanctuary loop in Denali NP, and had a great time, though it was super wet. I had been hoping to do that loop again, and finding myself with a Sunday free of commitments, headed to Denali to do it again, with Erica, Heike, Joel, and Tom. In a nutshell, the plan was to do the loop as a ~12 hour day trip, camping at the Denali NP entrance so we could get an early start, driving in to mile 10 or so and parking at the Mountain View trailhead, hiking up Savage River, crossing over to the Sanctuary River, floating to the park road, and hopefully hit the 7pm bus back. The day started out looking a bit wet, but as we drove down the park road to start our trip the rain held off, and we managed to avoid the rain. The hike up Savage River and over to Sanctuary was fantastic – great walking..

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.. Lots of flowers…

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We didn’t see much wildlife, just some birds, including an very irritated raptor/hawk, a few ground squirrels, and a couple of moose seen from the bus and the road. I caught a brief glimps of a caribou as it crossed the stream behind us, but everyone else was a bit too slow to turn around and missed it – and thus was accused of imagining it. We did see lots of remains, though, and the first sheep horn set I have seen in the wild.

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Eventually we reached the Sanctuary River, inflated, and headed back to the park road. The water was fairly high, and we had a huge tail wind blowing us downriver. This section of the Sanctuary River is pretty mellow, with a few rocks, and as we got closer to the road, a tiny bit of wood – pretty mellow for the most part, but nice and scenic.

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I think the total distance was 16 miles of hiking, and 14 miles of floating. We made it out for the 6:30 bus back to the Mountain View trailhead, with ample time to enjoy burgers at the 49th state brewery.

The is a fantastic trip, and highly recommended. We did it as a ~11hour day trip, with a fairly mellow hiking pace, and high and fast water on Sanctuary River. It could take more or less time, depending on water conditions and how fast one walks. It is also possible to do it as an overnight, but it requires a backcountry permit, which is hit and miss. That would be a great option if you don’t mind all the extra work overnighting in Denali entails, and don’t mind doing something else if the units are full up.

A huge thanks to Heike, Tom, Joel, and Erica for making this trip happen, it was fantastic fun!

On a gear note, I snagged a slightly beat up Olympus XZ-1 off ebay, and have been really happy with the images coming off it. It takes the same batteries as my waterproof Olympus point and shoot, is small, lightweight, has a relatively fast lens, and it takes wonderful pictures – yay!

I hope everyone is enjoying a great summer!

Here is map from when I did it in 2013. The hiking is better going up Sanctuary on the west side of the river (river left) – cross over if you can just as you enter the valley, there are great game trails on the west side.

A few more photos can be found

Anaktuvuk to Nolan..

Monday, August 20th, 2012

Several years ago Ms Marsh, Tom, and I did a wonderful trip out that started at the village of Anaktuvuk Pass, and headed down the John River. I had been thinking for a while about getting back in that neighborhood, and eventually the chance came. This time the plan was to head east out of Anaktuvuk, up the Anaktuvuk River, over to Ernie Pass and down Ernie Creek to the North Fork of the Koyokuk, and out to Nolan via Delay Pass. It looked like a fantastic route, and I was pumped to be back in that area! Folks with A.D.D. or are otherwise reading challenged can see a video highlight real here.

We arrived at Anaktuvuk, and after wandering around for a bit, and checking in on a friend of Ms Marsh’s, headed out of town.

We caught a ARGO trail leading to the Anaktuvuk River, and started hiking. The walking out of Anaktuvuk was wonderful, with great views, and we made good time, even with lots of stops to check out the sights.

I had a blast looking around for signs of how the locals use this area, exploring the antler piles, the hunting blinds, and the fire rings.

We camped the first night where a small stream dumped into the Anaktuvik River, and in the evening explored the canyon where the stream came from.

The next day we hiked up to Ernie Pass, and over the continental divide, following Ernie Creek.

Just before the divide we found an old broken up snow machine sled.

It’s hard to imagine what it would be like here in mid winter – probably amazingly cold and windy, with no cover. Right on the divide we were surprised to find a beach ball with a zip lock bag of maps and notes held down by a rock.

After we got back into town we discovered it was package airdropped for a swiss scouting club that was never retrieved.. It was a small package, but a bit of a bummer it was left behind… litter being what it is. Once over the pass we followed Ernie Creek down.

The canyon Ernie Creek flows through is surprisingly deep, so we stayed high up on the ridge.

We had hopes of floating Ernie Creek, but ended up just walking, as it didn’t have a lot of water in it, and the gradient was fairly steep. It would have been possible, but there would have been some dragging and a bit more excitement than were looking for at the moment. In a couple of spots it looked pretty hairy, with lots of large rocks with tight places. The walking was pretty fantastic, so we didn’t mind much.

The views were top notch, as Ernie Creek winds down between the peaks.

Eventually we reached the North Fork of the Koyokuk, and hopped into the boats.

The floating was pretty nice, though there was a fair bit of wood dodging required initially. Eventually we reached the confluence with Ernie Creek, and the water volume went up a lot, and the wood dropped off.

The area was amazingly scenic, as we floated down between the gates of the arctic, Boreal Mountain and Frigid Crags.

In the middle of the day, as we rounded a corner we started to smell smoke, and then bumped into a couple with an Ally Pack canoe camped on shore. We talked to them for a moment as the current carried us by, surprised to see anyone. Later in the day we bumped into them again, and it turns out they had emailed me the previous summer looking for advice on trips in the arctic. They are were up from Tennessee, spending part of the summer exploring Alaska, and were floating down to Bettles. It seemed like they were having a great time.

It is a very small world.. We saw them several other times that day, before they called it a day and camped. We only encountered one rapid of any note on the North Fork near Cladonia Creek. We scouted it, but it was fairly mellow and easy to navigate. We spent several days on the Koyokuk, enjoying the fast moving water and nice weather. The second day we camped on the confluence of the Tinayguk River. Tom and I messed around looking for cultural artifacts – I had been told there was the remains of a cabin near the confluence, but we didn’t find any. We did see lots of animals though, and were given quite a shock when a large owl swooped overhead while we smashed though the brush. Tom also spent some time sorting and counting his snacks, and was happy that he was not going to starve to death.

The final day on the river we floated until about mid morning, then took out and started hiking inland, planning on hitting the winter trail to Nolan.

Most of the hiking was pretty good, though there was some tussock hammering.

Eventually we reached Glacier Creek, where we crossed and started walking upstream. We started seeing more signs of civilization..

We ended up camping near an old abandoned runway. It was a beautiful calm night, and very peaceful. Alas, in the middle of the night we were hit by a massive wind gust that flattened both our tents, followed by a heavy downpour. I ended up having to get out and re-stake the tent while getting dumped on – all my own fault for not setting up my tent with firmer anchors. The next day it rained on and off, as we hiked up the stream, and over to Nolan on the winter trail.

The hiking was a mix of wonderful walking, and huge tussocks with waist deep holes around them – less than wonderful hiking. We eventually left the winter trail where it crossed a massive tussock field and headed up a ridge, leading to some wonderful hiking, and we managed to skirt most of the rest of the tussock fields.

A few more miles wet walking on the winter trail and we arrived at Tom’s car, parked near Nolan, where we gleefully dove into the bags of snacks and clean (and dry!) clothing.

Soon we were zooming back to Fairbanks, enjoying the heat and dryness of the car after a long wet day in the rain. Thanks to Tom and Ms Marsh for a wonderful trip, and of course a huge thank you to Nancy and the twins for allowing me the time. It was great fun, and a fantastic adventure!

Anaktuvuk Pass to Nolan, Fall 2012. from JayC on Vimeo.

(For the full HD monstrosity click here. )

Maps and more photos can be found here:

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!