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.

first pass

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.

dan snow

The amazing Mid. Best pack rafting tent ever!

mid

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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Packrafting Clearwater Creek

6 07 2011

Sunset Denali Highway.

The 50% chance of rain forecasted turned into 100% before we crawled out of the truck to start our 4th of July packraft trip. We started our trip with sights on packrafting the East Fork Susitna in the Clearwater Mountains off the Denali Highway. After a few hours of hiking in the driving rain, soaked to the bone, we set up the megamid at Grogg Lake, warmed up with hot tea, and changed our 25 mile hike, 36 mile packraft, 3 day trip heading west to the Susitna, to a 2 day,12 mile +/- hike and 15 mile packraft trip headed east to Clearwater Creek. 

Wildlife was abundant. Within a few miles we had a curious caribou approach us he came within 15 feet. Before we left the ATV trail for the tundra we had already seen 2 caribou and 1 red fox and 1 cross fox. Near Grogg Lake we ran into a decent size herd of caribou dancing across the tundra. Amazing to see, but in a driving rain, so no pics 😦

Will and Katie hiking above Grogg Lake. It seemed as soon as we made our decision to change route and shave a day off our trip the weather improved. Although we got a few moments of sun, it was mostly cloudy and rainy-but just the normal Alaska drizzle, not the driving rain leading up to Grogg Lake. However, over the mountains to the west it looked pretty stormy, making us feel better about our decision.

Dan descending to the Clearwater Creek valley.

Wildflowers were everywhere. We saw dozens and dozens of different varieties.

Dan anxious to get in his packraft. We had to wait for a few more miles before that could happen.

More wildflowers.

High tundra hiking. Dan, Katie, and Will headed towards the put in at Clearwater Creek. This trip had almost no bushwhacking! When we descended into the brush there were convienent moose trails leading us right to the creek.

Dan paddling down Clearwater Creek.

The creek itself is Class 1, with a very brief, and very easy Class 2 section. Perfect trip for people new to packrafting like Katie and Will.








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