Chickaloon River (the hard way) via Puddingstone Mountain

29 05 2014

 I’ll be the first to NOT recommend the hiking portion. At least the backside of Puddingstone Mtn. I’m not sure it even qualifies as Type 2 fun. On the other hand, the Chickaloon River is a super fun, splashy float! With below average water flow it was Class 2 most of the way, with Class 3 sections above & below Hotel Rocks and the one final drop before the highway.

Our original planned packrafting Memorial Day/Kasey’s 30th birthday trip got derailed by low water. So Friday night, the six of us were sitting around at Ryan’s family’s house in Chickaloon studying maps and looking for a new trip. Ryan’s dad suggested that if we were “badasses” we could start hiking up the atv trails at Purinton, then wrap around the backside of Puddingstone Mountain (the pass is approximately 4000 ft) and then drop down to the Chickaloon River to float out. Seemed easy enough. Admittedly, I didn’t study the map that well. In fact, since I have the WORST sense of direction, and easily get lost (even with a map, even in places I’ve been before-for some reason rocks, trees, and mountains all look the same to me 🙂 ), I usually rely upon friends to help me navigate the backcountry. That being said the map indicated a “historic trail” which we were hoping to use. Actually, we did use it and it was great. Until we couldn’t anymore……….

We even were thinking that although we had originally planned for a 3 day trip, this is easily a 2 day trip…….Glad I left most of the extra food in my pack 🙂

Dan found mud on the ATV trails at Purinton 🙂

Dan Mud

 It was super smoky from the Funny River fire burning on the Kenai. Dan’s hiking in front of Anthracite ridge, which is barely visible with all the smoke.

dan hike smoke

Dinner at Boulder Creek. We took a pretty relaxed approach on Saturday, late start, early camp. We camped near here since it looked like the best place before the pass. Little did we know what Sunday Funday had in store for us……

dinner at Boulder creek

Smoky sun.

smokey sun tents

Kasey & Dan on the approach to the pass behind Puddingstone Mtn. We found easy atv trails that turned into game trails on the other side of Boulder Creek, then high tundra made for a pretty nice hike on this side of the pass. I didn’t look closely at the map and figured the other side was the same…..not so much.

dan kasey hike

Kasey and Sarah with the creek valley down below.

kasey sara hike

Once we reached the pass, the other side was snowfields galore! And it was all rotten, deep snow. We tried to sled (worked for a few feet), postholed up to our hips, and tried to roll across the snow. We looked completely ridiculous. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a good picture of the backside of the pass. It ends up dropping off significantly, with two choices to head down. One, being a snow gulley (We were reluctant with freezing feet & given the snow conditions we had just been through. Plus there was a cornice to negotiate). The second was a steeper angle down the front with loose rock over hardpack rock & dirt-which meant one-at-a-time could head down safely. Kasey, Dan & I found a way onto the snow gulley and headed down that way, while Dylan, Sarah, & Jeff took the nose down. We beat them by a long shot-the snow in the gulley was just hard enough, and had enough debris, to support our weight. We enjoyed a pretty easy descent. So far trip = good. Still thinking we could float today. Or, at the very least make it to the river early, set up camp, & enjoy some whiskey to celebrate Kasey’s 30th birthday.

Then came the rest of the trip to the Chickaloon. We started down the valley in the creek, crossing every ten feet it seemed. Not difficult hiking, but we weren’t making tons of progress either. The “historic trail” on the map indicated we climb 2000 ft up to the mountain on the right (across from Dan, Kasey, and Dylan in the picture below.) We realized historically they were mining, but I still have no idea how they crossed some of the ravines. Also, we found many 90-99 ft “cliffs” not indicated on the map (the elevation lines being every 100 ft.) The creek started descending and getting larger from tributaries, so we made the choice to bushwhack/climb straight up through alders to a clearing and reassess the situation. We came to some realizations. We couldn’t continue down the creek bed. Over the next mile would lose 1600 ft in elevation (waterfall) and the sides of the creek were getting cliff like. We could either try and gain the ridge on Puddingstone (another 1600-1800 ft elevation gain) and hopefully get down it (the map indicated it was super steep and this seemed really questionable) or return the way we came back over the pass which seemed like a horrible idea. We could see the Chickaloon about 2 miles away ish and really wanted to float! Not to mention, going back through the pass seemed a daunting task. We kept hiking to the ridge and the only spot we could see to camp for several miles in either direction-a little saddle on the ridge. I didn’t like this idea since it was so exposed, but there weren’t any other choices at this point. Here we are stopped for a quick dinner to fuel up for the rest of the hike up to the ridge.

cooking dinner

Gorgeous views on top of the ridge. Dylan, Dan, and Kasey looking at our options. The nose of the ridge dropped off quickly into cliffs. We explored a lot of options for an hour and a half off the end of the ridge and couldn’t find a way down. The other side of the ridge made a more gentle drop to the next valley, except the last 80 ft or so dropped off sharply too. We went to bed that night not sure if we could pick our way down into the next valley or had to do a death march back the way we came. I was super exhausted that night and morale was a little low even toying with the idea of hiking back over the pass. Plus, we were wondering if we’d be able to do it in one day with our heavy packs. I had barely just enough food for a full third day, and I kept thinking of the “extra food” I left in the car since it was just supposed to be an overnight trip……

checking options

The next morning we woke early, and were able to descend down to the next valley. To do this we had to descend up into the valley (going the opposite direction from the river). We were sooo excited! We’d get to the Chickaloon after all! We picked our way down the creek slowly, again crossing every ten feet over slippery rock, until again we had to gain the next ridge because this creek too dropped significantly. Looking back on the ridge we camped, there were one or two ways down it, but it mostly cliffed out. So glad we lucked out and found an easier way down. We climbed a snow gulley and gained the next ridge. A little more vertical climbing than I thought we would be doing on this trip 🙂 We knew the next ridge had a plateau, then had a more gentle slope down. We then found a nice game trail and hiked easily on it until we ran into this little guy. No mama in sight and he was crying & barely walking. He appeared to be about the same size as a german shepherd, less than a week old and pretty frail. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything we could do for him and most likely his mama was dead. I’ve never seen a moose baby this young without mom being within 10 feet at most. Also, we were worried about bears in case she was dead in the area. It was sad.

baby moose 2

We left the game trail and started the easiest bushwhack I’ve ever done down to the river. Yay! The Chickaloon! We had a fun float out-such a great river!A few of us went for a refreshing swim in it:)  An adventure for sure, and a lesson or two learned 🙂

the Chickaloon!

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