IDAHO - Salmon River
NEPAL 2003

Bear Bait in Alaska

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 a seat!).

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.

River summary:

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 (V+).

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.

How etc.
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.