East Fork Chulitna-The Hardage Creek Route

23 07 2013

This is the BEST SUMMER EVER in Alaska. Hot and sunny. Blue Skies. It’s the summer I’ve always dreamed of, but only got to experience in bits and pieces in the past.

The East Fork Chulitna should be on every packrafter’s list of to do’s. Heading up the (southern) Hardage Creek route, you definitely work for every ounce of it, but the beautiful scenery and float out is worth it! That being said, I think I’ll check out the northern route to the river next time…..


Easy hiking on the muskeg up the power line. At some points the muskeg was so bouncy it felt like a trampoline. Initially, we were skeptical to abandon the easiness of the power line to penetrate the thick spruce and find the atv trail to the east. Surprisingly, this bushwhack was super easy and actually not much of a bushwhack…..


Wildflowers were abundant! Lupine and wild irises were still in bloom. Fireweed, monks hood, bluebells, and loads other flowers (as well as cow parsnip) blanketed the hillsides.

dylan fireweed

Looking down on the Hardage Creek valley. To the left of the image (headed up valley) the valley is completely choked with alders and no real open spots. After much debate, we opted to climb above the crazy bushwhack below, hoping our elevation would save us the frustration of the bushwhack and be easier. It was NOT a good idea. I’m not sure what would be a good route through this area, but going high was brutal. We were side-hilling 45-50 degree slopes (my ankle was not so happy), with some bushwhacking,  it ended up taking us approximately 4 hours to go 2 miles. We ended up having to drop down and do some more bushwhacking to the creek anyway, then hike up the other side once we neared the moraine, so going high, unfortunately, had no advantage. 😦

the bushwhack maze

Dylan taking a break on our hike up the Hardage Creek valley.

taking a break

Dylan checking the map, while I cooked dinner. Each doing what we do best 🙂 Without friends with good map skills I’d probably still be out there 🙂

checking map

A curious caribou kept approaching us, then prancing off. He was super fun to watch.


Headed up into the rocky moraine. In the middle of the photo, right where the closer hill meets the mountains in the back is the pass. It was a pretty awful, sketchy climb. One step forward, two back. Kicking down loose rocks (we had to each climb up separately as to not kick rocks on each other), and the even walls were not stable with deep cracks. We managed to pull a large suitcase size part of the wall down.

shadows looking up to pass

The descent to the other side of the pass was super easy. Long chutes of shale made for an easy and fun descent. We ran into a herd of 25 caribou in the valley. Super fun to see. Once they caught wind of us, they hightailed it over a pass.


Plentiful camping opportunities every mile or two from here to the river. For the most part, this part of the hike was easy tundra hiking, following game trails through the brush. Although, there was some bushwhacking (especially the last mile to the river) and we did have a few creek and drainage crossings that were interesting 🙂

The Chulitna!!!! We put in about a mile or so above the Crooked Creek drainage. We were happy to (finally) be in our boats!

put in

The whole length of the river the scenery was stunning. When we started paddling the Chulitna is a flat, windy river with spawning salmon racing up river, and a curious caribou with a gorgeous rack, that followed us down river. When Crooked Creek dumps in the Chulitna picks up the pace and gets fun & splashy, but an easy Class 1 & 2. The first canyon is by far the hardest (Class 3), with some big drops! I wound up with an amazing amount of water in my boat, making it super unstable. I was able to eddy out in the canyon (luckily) and dump my super heavy-with-water boat out. We were able to scout the big rapid (Class 3+) at the start of the second canyon and ran it without any problems. It was super fun! The rest of the canyon is much easier than the first. From there on out it’s a fun, 1 hour 20 minute, bouncy Class 2, float out to the highway. Definitely my favorite float to date!

early river

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