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!


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

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!

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

Packrafting Savage to Sanctuary Rivers, Denali National Park

27 07 2012

I was not excited about the 80% rain I saw in the forecast as I was grabbing my backpack and headed out the door. After a super cold and dreary summer, one more trip in the rain didn’t sound as appealing. Luckily, we scored and had more sun than rain, and the weather held for the most part.

All told, Dylan and I had 15 miles of backpacking up the Savage River valley on over to the Sanctuary River and a 16 mile float out. We did it in about 8.5 hours hiking and 2.5 hours of packrafting. We managed to find nice “social” trails in the first part of our hike, then great moose/game trails all the way up the valley-it made for a really easy hike. The river was running high and fast (yay! no buttdragging!), we were surprised to finish floating it so quickly.

The Savage River valley was littered with moose antlers, and the Sanctuary valley was equally littered with caribou antlers. This moose antler had been chewed on by a bear. Later, we did come across a year-ish old moose kill sight-that bear did an excellent job levelling the tundra and excavating the site. Still was enough of a deterent for us to hike around it…

Dwarf fireweed (and a whole lot of other wildflowers) were out in abundance.

Eventually the trails lead to nice gravel bars to hike up valley on. Dylan crossing over to one.

A very blond, and quite large grizzly that we came across. He sat and watched us for a while, then meandered off. 

Near the head of Savage valley. The pass is to the very right in this image, just right of the triangle peak. We opted to hike up and over the mountain cut off on the ride side of the pic, instead of the pass that was full of questionable snow and shale. We found it to be a pretty good approach. Staying high and right on this mountain made it a pretty easy hike down to the river.

The Sanctuary River.

My raft at the put-in on the Sanctuary River. The sun broke out just as we got there. Skies cleared (mostly) downstream, while a crazy rain and wind storm was on our tails chasing us (but never catching us) down valley to the park road.

Yeah, this really happened two minutes into our float. It was pretty freakin’ sweet!

Then twenty minutes later we came upon this very, very fresh kill. Probably dinner the night before for the wolves that have a den in an area closed of nearby.

Scenery along the way.

Dylan. The river was Class I, with maybe a little easy Class II thrown in. Fun and a little splashy, but nothing to technical. And crazy, beautiful, amazing scenery along the way.

A pretty sweet trip!


%d bloggers like this: