Saturday, July 31, 2021

Honolulu Creek packraft - 7.21.2018

Updated below to include another trip to Southcentral Alaska's Shangri-La of packrafting at Broad Pass over the 4th of July weekend 2021.

After a prolonged negotiation with Leah, we agreed to an alpine-start at Fire Island at 8:55 on Saturday morning. By 9:30 we were on the road with cookies, scones, and coffee for fuel. We stopped by the Honolulu Creek bridge to check on water levels, chatted up a vanload of curious Indian tourists, hydrated on Bud Light Lime, and by 1:30 were hiking out of the Hurricane Gulch parking lot. After Aniakchak, it felt weird to be walking on a trail made by wheels instead of one made by the terrifyingly large brown bear paws of the Alaska Peninsula. The climb went by quickly and was broken up by a friendly family of rednecks on a six-wheeler followed by a long break under the cloudless skies. It was hard to feel hurried with nearly infinite daylight and perfect weather.

It wasn’t till around 8 PM that we had finished the straightforward hike and were putting at the mini-gorge. Within 15 minutes, the horizon line of the creek pouring over California Ledge was in front of us. Leah asked if she was going to die and confirming that she probably wouldn’t we continued. The rest of the run was a fun and interesting pool – drop style creek with occasional sections of dragging through flat water. It’s easy to imagine that it would be more continuous, powerful, and exciting at higher flows. At one-point Alex and I saw a giant beaver watching from the bank. With a body the size of a chocolate lab, it slid into the river and floated under us like a furry submarine. In the lower river we started to pass colorful king salmon as they swam slowly upstream. By 11 we were at the takeout where Tony and Cody were running over in their head nets to say hi. Tony and I did a little planning for caribou hunting season, then we were on the road home. Without traffic the drive was fast, and I happily crawled into bed at 3 AM on Sunday morning.

Jeff on California Ledge:


Pixie dust in the evening light:

Leah on one of many smaller drops:

Paddling out the last bit to the bridge:

Streamflow Reference Points for 7/21/2018:
  • Montana Cr - 280 cfs - median is 320 cfs.
  • Willow Cr -540 cfs - median is 530 cfs.
  • Honolulu Cr @ Bridge - 250 cfs (estimated) - any less water would not have been floatable.

July 2021 Update:
The 4th of July weekend found us driving north after work on Friday night with the goal of day tripping the classics of Broad Pass. We camped along the East Fork of the Chulitna while clouds of mosquitos feasted on us then on Saturday morning hiked into the woods from the north bank of Honolulu Creek.

For four miles we waded thru waist deep grass, crawled under Jurassic ferns, and surfed alders to the brush line. The surprisingly legit bushwhacking slowed our progress as we worked towards the alpine. 

Reaching the tundra, visibility, and easy travel of the valley, we cruised towards the pass that would bring us to the headwaters of Honolulu Creek.

There was still ice on the lake as we crossed the pass and started the descent towards Honolulu Creek.

As we descended towards the creek, the raw, crumbling, and beautiful mountains so classic of the Talkeetnas spread out in front of us. I mindsurfed skiing these mountains covered in a hypothetical blanket of thick and stable maritime snow instead of the faceted and weak snowpack that normally lurks here. 

The water looked low and draggy for our boats when we reached the creek. Doubting there was enough water to scrape along, we walked downstream in search of a few tributaries to add volume. After two miles of walking we gave up on more water and inflated our boats to starfish, walk the dog, and butt boat down the upper section. I bet this part is draggy at all reasonable water levels. 

Things started to improve at Defibrillator - the manky Class IV drop marking the upcoming canyons - then just got more fun from there. Scott:

I'd previously only run the lower creek from California Ledge and didn't know exactly what to expect. The upper canyons were awesome, with set after set of Class III and IV pool-drop style rapids. 

We portaged the Decapitator rapid then continued on thru more glorious rapid-filled canyon towards Upper Sandbag Falls. Decapitator:

Photo Scott Patterson


At the undercut 15 foot pour-over that is Upper Sandbag we hopped out to portage again, crawling our boats up the steep, slippery, and sketchy south wall of the canyon.
 Upper Sandbag:

Photo Scott Patterson

From the bench above the incised creek we looked down past the falls to see more quality paddling and immediately wanted to get back in there. So, Scott and Nyssa lead the charge around the falls finding a scree chute to surf down while trying not to shred our boats on the flakes of sharp rock in the chimney. 

The scree chimney surf was funny and memorable, but for those looking for less adventure the north bank would have been a much easier portage.

Below Upper Sandbag and back onto the water, the fun continued with more beautiful pool drop paddling into the unknown tight canyon.

Photo Scott Patterson


Photo Scott Patterson

Losing our sense of time and space, we regained our senses of reality and location only with the arrival of California Ledge. Dane: 

Past California we had a few more bedrock slides, boulder gardens, and waves and then were cruising down the boogey water back to the bridge.

14 hours after leaving we were back at the car incredibly happy with our day. The water level was just touching the gauge rocks at the bridge. With 3" more of water we talked about how the character of the canyons would change significantly from pool drop Class IV to continuous and more consequential IV+. Everything had to go right to nail this as a day trip, but with spectacular alpine camping opportunities this would make a magical overnight too.

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