Dodging Boulders-The Charley River Trip

29 06 2017

Something happened which was truly amazing for Interior Alaska in the summer. By pure luck we managed almost 7.5 bug mosquito free days! Although, the last day and half of horrendous mosquitos made up for the previous victory…..

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The Charley starts at an elevation of approximately 4000 ft, dropping to 800 ft where it meets up with the Yukon. From the Three Fingers airstrip (on a tributary to the upper reaches of the Charley River) to the take out at Coal Creek it’s approximately a 125 mile float.

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Lisa dodging boulders on the tributary to the Charley.

We flew in the 3rd of June. Temps at the beginning where mid sixties during the day, dipping down to upper thirties at night. By the end, temperatures were crazy hot-soaring into the upper eighties during the day. Too hot to be in a tent at night, but to many mosquitos hatching not to be.

We had almost perfect weather everyday-but it quickly changes! Weather moves at lightning speed in the Interior. We had a few drops of rain one night, by morning our tent was bone dry. It did rain on the upper river, causing the river to go up a few inches one or two nights. But the rest of the trip the river dropped due to the heat & no rain-6 inches we were told it dropped at Gavin’s.

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Aufeis on the tributary. Lots of aufeis. We were fortunate we didn’t have to portage around any of it. Water levels looked average overall to us on both the tributary and the Charley. With lower flow on the tributary it took us almost two days to get to the Charley. When we arrived at the Charley we easily made up the time on the tributary.

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Lisa making a splash. The tributary was super fun Class 2 boulder dodging.

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Mary on one of the more technical rapids on the tributary.

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Lisa on the same rapid.

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Camping on the Charley. Endless campsites above the canyon, as well as, the lower river.

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Wildflowers were just starting to bloom! Loads of them everywhere. Lupine.

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Hiking to the B-24 bomber. We found easy hiking up 5510 Mountain from downriver of Gavin’s. Less swampy & luckily no bugs! More information on the crash: https://www.nps.gov/yuch/learn/historyculture/leon-crane-survival-story.htm

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Trees starting to reclaim the crash site.

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I had my camera safely packed away for the Class 3 canyon (and a bit beyond). I regret not bringing a waterproof camera too! The canyon was fun & full of boulders, with the first rapid and second being the more challenging. The rest of the river is Class 2/2+. Fun boulder dodging and splashiness! Right after the canyon, we had a caribou swim right in front of our boats, get on the other shore, take one whiff and hightail it back behind our boats to the other shore. Pretty awesome. Overall, we saw 4 caribou, loads of dall sheep, and crazy amounts of birds-swallows, eagles, peregrines, etc.

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I love eating good on river trips! Cashew chicken coconut curry I dehydrated at home for the trip.

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Pretty amazing sunsets that led into sunrises. EVERY NIGHT. This is 1:15 AM.

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The lower river. Pure easiness. We were surprised at how much ground we were covering since it felt like we were barely moving. 

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Wolf tracks on EVERY beach. Wasn’t lucky enough to see one though. Lots of bear track too.

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Made it to the Yukon!

We pulled out at Slaven’s Roadhouse on Coal Creek for our pickup. We weren’t sure what to expect-but it’s definitely a historical place not to miss! The National Park Service has done a great job restoring it. We lucked out and had the place to ourselves-no camping the last night-box spring mattresses & a roof over our head! Which was great cause the mosquitos were horrendous 🙂 We hiked out to the Coal Creek dredge that is in the process of being restored.

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One last amazing sunset! Yukon River, 2 AM.

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Lots of ice chunks bigger than cars line the sides of the river.

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A rainbow with the pot of gold-Slaven’s Roadhouse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





Valley of 10,000 Smokes Traverse

11 08 2016

Despite our last minute planning, we were able to pull off a backpacking traverse on the Alaska Peninsula. Our plan was to traverse the Valley of 10,000 Smokes to the Coast……As usual, things didn’t go quite as planned, but we still had an amazing trip!

Day 1 was spent hanging with the bears at Brooks Camp. Since we spending week backpacking, (and not coming back to Brooks Camp) I accepted the fact that I wasn’t able to bring my long lens…..it still didn’t make it any easier standing on the platform thinking of the shots I could have got…..

Sarah, Kasey, and I met Nick at Brooks Lodge that night and invited him on our backpacking trip. Although he only had one night to spend with us, he was up for an adventure. Nick camped with us near Novarupta (approx. 14-15 miles?) and he made it back by 2:30 pm the next day to catch the bus back to Brooks Camp. Pretty awesome way to spend 28 hours and 30 miles in the Valley.

After getting dropped off by the bus in the Valley on Day 2, Nick, Kasey, Sarah, and I headed into the Valley of 10,000 Smokes. We found easy walking, mostly on pumice, and crazy, amazing views. The further we traveled, the less vegetation, the more it felt like we were walking on the moon.

Sarah & Kasey walking next to Windy River._MG_8578River Lethe._MG_8620Another view of the River Lethe._MG_8655Nick, Sarah, and Kasey hiking next to the River Lethe._MG_8820Footprints in the pumice._MG_8849

Looking back down valley. The hiking was incredibly easy, with spectacular views in every direction._MG_8895My partners in crime-Nick, Kasey, & Sarah._MG_8919Mount Mageik. There are crazy colors in the Valley of 10,000 smokes. Almost looks like a box of colored chalk exploded everywhere._MG_8932Novarupta!_MG_8952More amazing colors at Novarupta. We found ice melt for water & a small stream. Novarupta still lets off steam and at the vents felt like a steam bath at the spa._MG_8967

_MG_8987Awesome colors everywhere._MG_9097Day 3, we hiked up Broken Mountain & looped around Novarupta. We had hoped to also hike up Fallen, but the weather moved in & soon it was blowing 30 mph.

View of Baked Mountain, taken from Broken Mountain._MG_9101Kasey coming around the backside of Novarupta, with Mt. Katmai in the background._MG_9110Novarupta in the foreground with Baked Mountain in the background._MG_9165Little vegetation (and less water) in the Valley of 10,000 smokes. We did find some water areas that others didn’t. Dwarf fireweed, Baked Mountain._MG_9193The winds picked up early on night 3, 30-40 mph. Luckily, we had a 3 person, 4 season Hilleberg. We camped in a pretty protected area (as protected as it gets in the Valley), we still had to tighten guy lines a couple times through the night. We woke up the morning of Day 4 with high winds and little visibility. We checked weather, and was told it was going to stay like that for two more days, then break. We decided to make a go for Katmai Pass and head out of the Valley.

Photo by Kasey Keogh. Me & Sarah. This is not Katmai Pass.IMG_1370

Admission: We used a map to navigate with very limited visibility (high winds and fog) trying to save batteries on our DeLorme (we were saving what was left of batteries for communication with pilot). Anyone familiar with my navigation skills wouldn’t be surprised we went in big circle……..Day 4 ended up being the day we took our packs for a walk…….

That afternoon the rain came with the wind. Sheets of rain and 30-40 mph winds. More tent time……At least we stayed dry in the Hilleberg. Around 2:30 am we heard a large animal outside our tent, we didn’t invistigate-just made a lot of noise……It was hard to tell the next morning with how saturated the ground was, but believe it was a bear.

Day 5. Still raining sideways. Promise of good weather to come tomorrow. We pack up and head to Katmai Pass, this time using the GPS 🙂 The rain quickly soaked through our Gore-tex, we kept a good pace, eating while walking to keep warm. We wished we had visibility to enjoy the last of the Valley, but that was not to be. We crossed the swollen rivers and creeks. Finally making it down to the other side, we set up camp early, stripping off our drenched clothes and warming up with hot tea and sleeping bags. More tent time……

Day 6. Holy Smokes! Sunshine, blue skies, and over 70f. Visibility! Day 6 is off to a good start! We weren’t too sure which way to head around Observation Mountain. We chose the wrong way. Hours of bushwhacking through thick alders in bear country, making little progress was deflating. We finally got to a place where we could head straight up the mountain and rise above treeline. Crazy going from the Valley of 10,000 Smokes where water & vegetation were scarce to overflowing rivers and dense alders in just a few miles.

Sarah & Kasey fueling up on meat sticks after the schwack._MG_9232Coming down Observation. Beautiful view of Katmai River valley & the coast!_MG_9267Really cool rock formations on Observation._MG_9273A look back at Observation & waterfall._MG_9279_MG_9299White sand (actually it’s pumice). It felt like a day at the beach! Certainly was hot enough for it 🙂_MG_9305We had what felt like hundreds of river crossings to get to our destination. Kasey & Sarah crossing one of many braids on the Katmai River. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it all the way to the coast-the rivers were too high from unseasonably late snow melt (the Alaska Peninsula had a huge snow year….crazy, the rest of Alaska didn’t see much of the white stuff). Luckily, our pilot was able to give us an alternate destination he could pick us up at._MG_9381Deckload Aviation. Keller. Best Air Taxi EVER._MG_9397

 





Donoho Lakes Loop

31 05 2016

Perfect weather + 3 day weekend + Alaska = Pure awesomeness.

I hadn’t been to Kennicott/McCarthy in years, so when Becca suggested the Donoho Lakes trip I jumped at the idea. Evan, Becca, Shiloh (pup), and I did the 18 mile loop overnight and enjoyed some spectacular scenery along the way. Starting at the Kennicott mine we hiked the 2 miles to the Root Glacier. There we strapped on crampons and began our trek across the Root Glacier.

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Looking up the Root, with the medial moraine on the left.

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Crossing the next section of the Root. We found the Root relatively easy to cross, but there are definitely some sections that would be trickier. It took us about an hour to navigate our way to the other side.

Becca

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First Donoho Lake, with Donoho peak on the right.

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The scenery was terrible 🙂 Evan & Becca hiking towards the second lake.

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The Mid with Donoho Peak. Donoho Peak is approximately 3500 ft. above camp.

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Evan, Becca, Shiloh trekking past small glacial lake on the approach to the Kennicott Glacier.

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Moraine of Kennicott.

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The crew passing one of many spectacular turquoise glacial lakes.

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Storming in the distance. Crazy storm moving our direction.

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The storm quickly approaching on the Kennicott.

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After leaving the Kennicott Glacier we crossed a huge moraine back to the Root. The storm barely hit us on the moraine with a few drops then retreated back down valley. We saw a crazy ice tunnel in the moraine you could drive a semi through, unfortunately my camera (for once) was safely tucked inside my pack 😦

Back to the Root. Perfect trip, perfect crew._MG_3353





The Annual October Canoe Trip

2 11 2015

With fresh snow on the ground and little time to pack, we still managed to pull off our annual October canoe trip. I met Adam & Melissa in Moose Pass on a sunny (yet chilly) Halloween day to explore new territory. We put in at Trail Lake paddling 1/2 mile or so to a trail that led us 1.7 miles to Grant Lake. Although, I’d never heard of Grant Lake before, Adam has been interested in getting in there and exploring it for awhile.

The put in on Trail Lake.

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Adam & Luke on Trail Lake.
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Adam paddling

Once we got to Grant Lake, we paddled down the lake to check out an old mining camp. Here’s one of the buildings still left. The rest are in much worse condition.

 

mining building

Returning to camp on Grant Lake. Grant Lake is one of the most gorgeous lakes I’ve seen. I can’t wait to explore more of it on longer summer days…

Melissa paddling

It was a crystal clear, starry night. The Kifaru’s wood stove kept us toasty. Later, the moon was so bright I asked Adam if he left his headlamp on inside the tent. He told me it was the moon & I stuck my head outside to see one of the brightest moons I’ve ever seen.

starry Kifaru

Sunrise, Grant Lake.

sunrise canoe grant lake





East Fork Chulitna-Mistakes Made & Lessons Learned

18 06 2015

I’m not sure why, but every time we start these trips, we try and avoid getting our feet wet at all costs, knowing full well it’s just a matter of time (and usually sooner than later) that our feet will be soaked. In the first 1/4 mile we ran into a large puddle/pond in the four wheel trail and bushwhacked around it. This was the first (and really only) bushwhack of the first day….Less than 20 minutes later our feet were soaked for the duration of the trip.

After going through bushwhack hell on the last trip using the Hardage Creek Route, we decided to take the northern route this time-we’ve seen great reports of little bushwhacking and decided to give it a try.

Beautiful views of Denali and the Alaska Range. Another amazing, sunny, warm weekend in Alaska.denali view beginning

After we left the easiness of the four-wheeler trails, we found some great high alpine game trails.

Boone hiking up towards the pass.

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Jeff & Sarah climbing towards the pass.

sarah & jeff hiking

After reaching the pass, we looked at the map. Previous packrafters had taken the ridge left (headed slightly farther upriver), descended towards the creek, then made another pass before getting to the East Fork Chulitna near Crooked Creek. The East Fork Chulitna seemed so close! We decided to roll the dice & try our own route, knowing quite well the odds were greatly against us. Crazy thing is we succeeded 🙂 By doing this, we probably cut 3 miles off the hiking portion of the trip and only sacrificed about 1/2 mile of floating. We decided to stay high, traversing the ridge right.

Boone & Kasey.

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We started descending the nose & found a good place to take a break and fuel up before what we thought potentially could be a long bushwhack to the river. Here’s the view looking up river to Crooked Creek area. Once we descended to the valley floor, we wound up hiking in the general direction of up river, ending about 1/2 mile below the confluence of Crooked Creek.

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View down river & faintly the Alaska Range.

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We managed to find a route down, all tundra hiking. From the top we scouted several treeless areas & headed towards the first one. We easily linked up open areas with animal trails through the trees. It was definitely not a bushwhack. We even found a large downed tree to cross the creek on.

Sarah heading down the nose.

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Camp! I love Alaskan summers! I took this at 10:30 pm.

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Our put-in to the East Fork Chulitna.

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The first few miles of the paddle went smoothly. Fun, Class 2. Splashy. I’ve done this paddle before and loved it. The two canyons were challenging and the rest was pure easy fun. I led the paddle into the first canyon-a Class 3/3+ canyon. After making the first few rapids, I made a costly mistake-I got to close to a boulder, got high sided, from which I couldn’t recover and went for the swim of my life. I’m not sure if it was complacency  or just the littlest/giant mistake. Going into that rapid, I thought I had it. There wasn’t even a question in my mind. Now, instantly, I knew I was in pretty big trouble. There are few small eddies in the canyon, mostly rock walls, and I had 3 big drops to go & probably 125 yards till the river calmed back down to a fast Class 2.

I managed to hang on to my raft and my paddle, trying desperately to right my raft & when eddies appeared swimming desperately for them. I was almost able to catch one or two before the current grabbed me & threw me into another rapid. I was being thrown into boulders & over drops, getting pushed underwater, then being able to come up for air in time for the next one. My crew was desperately trying to catch me & help, doing everything possible. At one point, Kasey got to me, but I was unable to get close enough to her to grab her boat before we got separated in a rapid. Finally, my boat got caught on a large boulder (upside down) in an impossible place in the river. Boone caught up with me at some point & I was able to grab onto him for a second before we came upon the next rapid and had to let go. I was absolutely exhausted and knew I had to keep fighting. I kept swimming with my paddle, the river tossing me around like Raggedy Ann, with my head headed straight into a boulder. I narrowly missed bashing in my skull (how I don’t know, I was suprised-Boone saw it and was trying to figure out how he was going to get me unconscious or dead out of the river.) Regretfully, I had left my helmet at home. Definitely, won’t be doing that on future trips. Finally, I dumped out of the canyon into Class 2. The river isn’t terribly deep here-knee to mid thigh-just super fast. Boone managed to get to me, with Jeff right behind him. I grabbed onto the rope on the rear of his boat and he managed (I don’t know how) to get us to shore-NOT in an eddy (He said it was like dragging 3 boats). He jumped out of his boat, grabbed me with one hand & his boat with the other hand. I was so exhausted I couldn’t walk. I laid on shore breathing hard & exhausted-happy to be alive.

My hands were frozen-screaming barfie style, but the rest of me was relatively warm & dry. I felt like I had been through Fight Club-exhausted, my legs were so beat up-deeply bruised muscles, with visible ones on the surface (some bigger than my hand), as well as some good gashes. But I was ok. I did get a hole in my brand new Stowaway Tough drysuit by Alpacka-although, I truly believe this would have happened in my regular Kokatat drysuit as well. My long underwear was also ripped and I had a gash in my knee where the drysuit was ripped. I stayed pretty dry despite the hole. In the end, my pack broke the Packtach rope in half from the water pressure & floated downstream. Boone was able to jump in his boat & grab it. The pack coming off knocked the boat off the boulder into an eddy. Kasey & Sarah had managed to eddy out and grab it. Also, it happened to be one of the fewer parts of the canyon they could hike out of-so they packed up everything & hiked out to us.  I was so happy to see them.

Since I was to exhausted to boat the second canyon, (and the big class 3/4) rap, we had to hike around it (maybe 1 or 1 1/2 miles). I mean bushwhack. It was the hardest hike ever due to my legs being completely sore & beat up. My muscles barely wanted to put one foot in front of the other, much less with a pack & climbing over hills.  Thankfully, my crew grabbed my boat, paddle & pfd to take some weight off my back. Sometime after the big rapid, we managed to hike down to the river & paddle the rest of the trip. The rest of the float is a fun, splashy Class 2 all the way back to the highway. Although, I tried to enjoy the rest of the paddle, and definitely had some good moments, it just wasn’t the same for me. We got back to the car a few hours later than we expected due to the swim, and ended up getting “stuck” in Talkeetna, due to the Sockeye fire in Willow. It was 80F and a good place to chill out, relax, & reflect over a few beers on the banks of the Talkeetna River with the sun setting over Denali.
sunset denali talkeetna





Curry to Clear Creek, Third Time’s a Charm

4 06 2015

Denali train

Kasey and I changed our weekend plans, deciding Friday night to packraft Curry to Clear Creek. Saturday afternoon we were packed & on the Hurricane train out of Talkeetna. It was 80 degrees, blue skies, and our first packraft of the season.The train ended up being very, very late so we didn’t start our 15 mile hike until 3 pm.

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We couldn’t complain about the scenery 🙂 Pretty amazing views of Denali and the Alaska Range the whole way. At 80 degrees, it was sweltering outside (especially for early June!). There was still plenty of pockets of snow on the atv trail and I was able to make a little turban on top of my head with my bandana, with snow inside of it. I looked ridiculous, but felt great 🙂

kasey alaska range view

The powerline at the end of the atv trail. We realized/learned a few things on this trip. Doing this early season significantly reduces the schwack. There is a trail of sorts that is mostly under the powerline (it gets overgrown, and sometimes it’s easy to lose, but WORTH looking for). There are parts under the powerline that have been clear cut, with ankle size stumps and branches left. Again, early season makes this so much easier to see all the hazards.

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Kasey at the ridge. We had very few mosquitos up until this point. The mosquitos had been mostly hanging out in the drainages. We were hoping for more of the same on the ridge or a slight breeze to keep them away. We didn’t get that lucky. They were pretty heinous on the ridge. Just hatching and blood thirsty 😦

on the ridge

Another stunning view of Denali and the Alaska Range.

sunset denali

I didn’t imagine it possible. Kasey and I found a way down from the ridge with no bushwhacking through alders. Just ferns & plants. Easiest hike I’ve ever done on this trip. I never thought I’d say that. The ferns, near the river, last time we did this trip were 6-7 feet tall. It was interesting going through them in bear country…..

kasey ferns

Getting boats packed up at the put in to Clear Creek! Water levels were slightly higher, making it super fun, sporty, & splashy! It’s always a fun float, but this time with the water level slightly high, it was even better……

Kasey @ put in

Take out on the Talkeetna River.

take out talkeetna river





East Fork Susitna

8 07 2014

Our Fourth of July trip started out car camping the night before beginning our pack raft trip on the Denali Highway. From my tent, I hear Dan ask Dylan if he smelled anything. Dylan replied “No.” Next morning, I caught a whiff of a horrible smell & noticed flies outside my tent. Dan happened to be walking by and I asked him if anything was dead outside. He replied “No, why do you ask?” A few minutes later Dan discovered a very dead porcupine out in the open between our tents! I have no clue how we missed it…..I would love to say it’s because we set our tents up at midnight the night before, but everyone knows there’s still plenty of daylight at midnight on the Fourth of July.

I finally got to finish a trip I started a few Fourth of July’s ago-packrafting the East Fork Susitna. Last time, a wall of weather led us to shorten our trip and change it midway through the first pass to Clearwater Creek (the weather to the East was significantly better). This time, we had 75f+ weather and nothing but sunshine! Dan, Dylan, and I hiked 35 miles & pack rafted 32 miles over 3 days. Although this trip can be done with a ten mile shorter hike, we ended up only driving one car, making hiking up Valdez Creek Mine road necessary. We couldn’t justify driving 2 trucks (you need four wheel drive and clearance for creek crossings on Valdez Creek Mine road) 5 hours to the put-in for 3 people…..

 

Dylan relaxing at Grogg Lake.

dylan grogg lake

Dylan & Dan hike over the first pass. There was a ton more snow than we expected from our past trip through this area to Clearwater Creek. Loads of post holing….brought back not so fond recent memories of our Puddingstone/Chickaloon trip. Also, due to recent heavy rains all the creek crossings were pretty high, with a stronger current. We stopped not long after this a short dinner break and had a herd of caribou bulls approach us. Once they came around the corner & saw us (they were 50ish feet away) they fled-I only got one crappy picture but it was super cool to witness.

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Dan crossing a snowfield in the first pass. It seemed like half the snow fields were just hard enough to support us, the other half we post holed through. It wasn’t consistent with aspect, as we expected it to be.

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The amazing Mid. Best pack rafting tent ever!

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Dan & Dylan checking out the route from the end of the first pass. There was no shortage of snow or boulders on this trip!

dan & dylan over the pass

View from the top. Crossing yet another snow field.

over the pass

Dylan & Dan taking a break with Mt. Deborah peaking over our next pass. Boulder creek is in between.

dan dylan deborah

Dan Dylan hike

Up the last pass. Very similar looking to Hatcher’s Pass, just with caribou 🙂 I dubbed this Caribou Pass, there were tons of them up here-all mamas & babies. We saw tons of caribou, marmot, ground squirrels, and ptarmigan. Some wolf scat & a bear print, but no actual sighting of the predators.

caribou pass

A few ‘Bou.

a few bou

The East Fork Susitna is all Class I, with a Class III section in the first half. We lucked out with high water and had very little butt dragging on gravel bars.

Beautiful views as far as the eye could see! We had hot, amazing weather until the last four hours…..the wind picked up significantly, pushing us around in our little pack rafts. Fighting the headwind slowed us down to a crawl. Also, it made it impossible to see the butt dragging gravel bars slightly under water, and the river looked much more like a choppy ocean than a smooth Class 1 river. The last 15 minutes we got absolutely poured on, but on the plus side, the wind subsided :).

dan paddle








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