In June/July 1996r Martin Lamb, Mat
Upton, Martin Wightman, Andy Evans and Jon Cartwright spent
four weeks on some of the best rivers they'd ever paddled
in some of the most amazing scenery they'd seen. Here are
some hints, suggestions and temptations for anyone wanting
to have a similar experience.
The trip, conceived in May 1995 by Martin
Lamb, involved a mix of single and multi day trips based
around Anchorage. The highlights had to be the Upper, Upper
Willow Canyon, a technical river (creek!) with a gradient
of up to 400ft per mile - well committing, and the Tana River,
remote in the extreme being reached after a 300 mile drive
(60 miles on a dirt track), a river crossing on a sheep trolley
and a 20 minute bush flight (in my case with a Gattino for
Out of 23 possible paddling days, we ran 19 sections on 13
rivers covering nearly 290 miles, clocking up one swim and
loosing no kit.
Multi day trips:
Prairie Creek (4 hours, III with bears! ~10-15cms) into the
Talkeetna (2 days, img src="../kayak/alaska/ms) - Prairie Creek, reached
by float plane to Murder Lake, was lots of tree dodging and
img src="../kayak/alaska/ng. The Talkeetna was billed as having a 14 mile
grade IV canyon full of play spots. The entrance rapid was
IV, but the rest a little tamer though we did find several
places to stop and surf/loop our loaded boats. Our first taste
of multi day paddling, and bears! When did you last think
getting on a river, I now know that I'm not at the top of
the food chain!?
Tana (1.5 days, II-IV ~300cms) into the Chitna/Copper River
(1.5 days, II ~1000cms) - img src="../kayak/alaska/ and surrounded by impressive
hills reaching 6,500 ft. The drop off point for the fly in
img src="../kayak/alaska/igh in the Wrangel St Ellais Mountains near the Tana
Glacier, which is part of an icefield the size of Switzerland.
The rapids of the Tana were supposed to be on the scale of
the Grand Canyon. They were big volume, but only marginally
scary on one occasion. The 3 day trip included 62 miles of
grade II covered in one day, mostly spent floating along on
1000cms of glacial melt water. Never thought I'd be happy
for a whole day on II, but it was an amazing place to be.
Drifting with no one else in sight on the river for about
a mile in each direction, and probably less than 150 people
in a several hundred mile radius!
Single day rivers:
Canyon Creek (IV with one portage ~10-15cms) - Probably the
only disappointment on the trip (apart from the England vs.
Germany match which we watched at 10aimg src="../kayak/alaska/ Low volume
fairly continuous III with some interesting bits and one difficult
portage (worse than the Durance Gorge).
Eagle Rapids (III ~30cms) - The only reason for getting on
here was to play with loaded boats the evening before flying
to the Talkeetna. OK though and close to Anchorage.
Ingram Creek (IV+/V ~10cms) - Very low volume but with a
few fun and interesting falls. We paddled this with 2 locals
who were quite experienced by Alaskan standards - ie had paddled
for 3 seasons!
Lowe River (Keystone canyon, III/IV ~50 cms) - A short section
of fast and fairly big volume water with plenty of places
to play. Good for an evening out. Overlooked by Blueberry
Lake which has got to be one of the most scenic doss sites
ever. No, really it was!
Matanuska (III/IV ~80cms) - Probably the most scenic (lots
of scenery in Alaska!) rivers I've been on. Bordered on one
side by the snowcapped Chugach mountains and rolling hills
on the other. Fast and powerful.
Nenana (III-IV+ ~60-80cms) - Up north by the Denali National
Park. A little commercial with several rafts about, but good
fun. One section of note with nasty holes formed by old railway
img src="../kayak/alaska/ges that had fallen into the river. Far too many underwater
bits of metal for my liking!
Sixmile Creek (IV-V ~40-50cms) - The local `test piece' and
supposedly very busy. We saw 2 paddlers on this river - the
only other paddlers we saw on the water for the whole trip.
img src="../kayak/alaska/ Jones/Tyne tour numbers. An excellent stretch
though with 3 canyons getting progressively harder.
Tsania River (III-V with one rapid of V+ ~70cms) - We may
have left this one `til too late in the day (Gyr syndrome!),
but it was amazing with plenty of IV and bouncy easier bits.
img src="../kayak/alaska/f the only swim after which Martin W was quoted
as asking ``when does the fucking easy bit start?''. Much
respect to Andy and Martin W for their runs of Jacobs ladder
Willow (Lower - III; Upper - V/V+ with 2 portages ~15-20cms)
- Lower Canyon was pretty and good for our first river as
we could get used to looking for bears without having to worry
too much about the water. Silly, silly, silly Upper Canyon
which we did later in the trip. Very steep. Things went well
for us all and much fun was had. Possibly the hardest thing
anyone had done. We got on at 4.30 pm and off at 1.30am with
plenty of light for paddling. The late finish was partly due
to a 1.5 hour portage 300 feet up a slope of rockslide debris.
The guide book (Alaska, Fast and Cold, by A. Embick and available
through Le Canotier, 25 Rue De La Resistance, F-62370, Longues,
France), though dubious for some of the grading, provided
excellent information on river access etc. Without it we would
not have been there. The second source of local info (much
more up to date and amusing) was Roger Pollard of Alaska
Kayak in Anchorage (Phone/Fax: Alaska 907-243-2998). Most
helpful and good for an entertaining night on the beer in
Anchorage! He'll most likely use you as an excuse to go to
`The Bush Club' but it's well worth letting him! On the practical
side of things, he hires boats for about $100 a week and sells
kit including Daggar, Perception and Palm, and will know what
river levels are doing, as well as running guided rafting/paddling/sea
kayaking trips and arranging pilots for bush flights.
Getting boats (and yourself) out and back can be expensive.
Book early and phone around, but (as usual) try and get something
in writing saying that the airline will take your boats -
img src="../kayak/alaska/d ever having said that they'd carry ours out for
50 pounds each and tried to charge us a total of 2000 pounds
each way. Martin had worked out a deal two months in advance
and having the details of it on our file in the BA computer
system was all that saved us I think. It may be worth finding
out about the Alaskan snow levels in the Dec/Jan before committing
to a trip, but June and July are the best months for peak
flows. Alaska is an awesome place and the rivers are equally
impressive. Well worth the expense.