Monday, August 24, 2020

Bull River to Ohio Creek - June 2019

Updated 8/24/2020 to include another great day on the Bull.

On June 8th and 9th 2019, Connor, Rey, Jordan and I returned to the Bull. The plan had been the East Fork of Chulitna, but word from Brad M. was too much snow. He recommended instead linking up the Bull with Ohio Creek.

At Pass Creek we left a shuttle before continuing to the usual trailhead at the Middle Fork Chulitna bridge. The ATV trail to the Bull was covered in prints from moose, momma bears, baby bears, and a pair of Salomon Speedcross running shoes. Sections were a bit swampy:


This May was a wet and cold one, green-up was just starting at Broad Pass.


Rey says that Broad Pass is the weekend packrafting Shangri-La: reasonable access from Anchorage, easy trails, lots of water, and killer views.


At the put in we found a raging river of chocolate milk.


What I remembered as a mellow Class 3 was now an angry Class 4 full of retentive holes and powerful water. Even with lots of swims, the strong current meant we still made good time. Soon we merged with the Chulitna. It wasn't anything like I remembered either. Last time's 15 mile lazy river slog passed in an hour.


A quarter mile past the confluence with Honolulu Creek we took out, repacked our rafts, and put on our bug nets. Jordan was stoked to model his new Cabelas special ultralight poncho/bug jacket. 2 for $20.


Praying our tetanus shots were active, we tiptoed across the creaky old bridge.


On the far side the well signed trail to the metropolis of Hurricane Heights greeted us.


At the top we found a buggy and flattish campsite complete with access to brackish water. The next morning we struck out to find the rumored ATV trail to Ohio Creek. Zigzagging back and forth on disappearing trails soon lead to fall-you-die bushwhacking.


Mixed with patches of swamp,


And shoe eating mud.


It took us four hours to thrash the six miles to the canyon.


The put in felt like real Alaska: a swollen river, an untouched gravel bar, and wolf and grizzly tracks everywhere.


The canyon was beautiful and mellow. At our high flows, there were a few large holes that would  have eaten a packraft, but they were easily avoidable.


The 10ish river miles flew by and within an hour we were back on the Chulitna. Above us Kesugi Ridge was still snowy.


A few more miles brought us to the Pass Creek gravel bar. The mosquitos chowed down while we rolled upe our rafts on last time for the 30 minute walk back to the shuttle.


Original Post - 6.4.2017
After doing Moody Creek the day before, we headed south for the Bull River. Our Saturday hadn't really ended until well into Sunday, so we didn't get an early start. Then a series of confrontations with campground employees further delayed things.

By early afternoon we had parked at the bridge over the Middle Fork Chulitna and were hiking west on the trail.


Looking east, I was drooling over couloirs guarded by rocky spires in the headwaters of the Chulitna and Honolulu Creek.


I don't know how often these lines are actually safe to ski. In such a cold and relatively shallow snowpack, limited further by few observations, its hard to pull the trigger and gamble on that zone. Maybe someday.


In front of us, the foothills of the Alaska Range were still holding on to a bit of snow from a thin winter.


Three miles from the car, the trail crossed a small ridge that would be a beautiful place to camp.


This ridge and other similar undulations in the landscape are old moraines from colder times past.


Just short of the Bull, we followed a tributary to the put in.


Immediately upstream of the put in was a cool gateway from the hills beyond. A quick scouting mission didn't reveal any rapids of interest, but good scenery nonetheless.


After slipping our boats into the cold, gray, glacial water, we entered the first canyon.


Choked with boulders and pinched by bedrock walls, the first canyon was a fun series of wave trains, holes, and rock dodging. I'd imagine that at higher water the flow would quickly become more powerful.


The second canyon was deeper than the first and was a mix of scenic flat water...

and sporty Class 2 plus or 3 minus.


There were many nice camp sites along this section. Although two days aren't required for this trip, it could be split up that way for those who are so inclined.


Again, another look to the east at my dream zone above the highway.


Once out of the second canyon, the valley opened up and we were joined by the West Fork of the Bull.


Though generally mellow water, the the last canyon was filled with color. Although we couldn't find them, Jeff tells me there is an outcropping of ammonites the size of dinner plates on the right wall of the canyon.



Large ice flows persisted into the summer, providing a nice contrast with the ruddy oranges and lush greens of the banks.


Another one:


Once out of the third canyon, we cruised down a few miles of fast water to the takeout. In the background of this picture you can see a nice gravel bank from when rivers flowed down different paths and deposited their load here.


We reached the takeout around 8:30 PM. At this point I was fully prepared for an epic. Who is driving north on the Parks Highway at 9:30 on Sunday night? But, low and behold, as we stepped off the trail and onto the road a car stopped for us.

Update:
In late August of 2020 Nyssa and I returned to the Bull. The winter of 2019-2020 had been a fat one, but it was late in the summer and we expected low flows. We dropped a road bike for the shuttle as we drove north past the Honolulu Creek ATV parking lot then continued to the start at the Middle Fork bridge. As opposed to the last two times when the trail has been covered by bear tracks, this time ATV tracks dominated. A wall tent had been set up at the overlook above the put in, making our time there less private than expected. But, we still stopped to take in the views and eat a giant blueberries. 

We put in at the usual gravel bar at the confluence with the small creek. The water was noticeably lower than last time, but still retained its murky gray glacial consistency as it spilled out of rocky gates upstream. Next time I'd like to walk farther up and explore this stretch - it looks promising. There was no dragging as we floated down the canyon, and it was cool to see so many features that I didn't know where there. At low-flow the paddling was Class 2+, instead of its usual 3, or the 3+ we've experienced at the spring peak.

Four hours after putting on to the Bull we passed the confluence with the beautiful aquamarine water of Honolulu Creek and immediately pulled off the river. Nyssa read her kindle in the gravel pit next to the road while I spun the 18 miles back to the car as the setting sun turned the peaks purple and gold.

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