Forum Rules and Disclaimer

FORUM RULES

  1. Be a nice human.  Please do not insult or speak negatively about others, related businesses, groups, users or communities
  2. Please do not share GPS tracks or mapped routes on this forum
  3. Forum not intended for advertisements or external links
  4. No posts or trip/route sharing for Brooks Range rivers, in attempt not to “blow up” or overexpose some of Alaska’s pristine terrain (this is a request from Alpacka Raft)

 

DISCLAIMER

Paddling & hiking are dangerous sports that can result in death, paralysis or serious injury.  Readers assume all risk associated with use of this forum & activities related to packrafting.

This forum is a free service provided by The Alaska Packraft School, LLC (APS) & Jule Harle as a community reference tool.  Neither APS or Jule make any representation or warranties, expressed or implied, of any kind regarding post contents from APS, Jule or the public.  We cannot guarantee accuracy or reliability of info contained herein.

Take a river safety course, rescue class or get some whitewater paddling instruction before packrafting in Alaska.  Seriously.  There are enough people out there getting themselves into trouble, paddling rivers beyond their ability & finding themselves in over their heads.  This is not only dangerous, but places unnecessary demands on Search & Rescue personnel while giving packrafters & the paddling community a bad reputation.  

The standard International Whitewater Classification Scale is used to describe & rate rivers/creeks: www.americanwhitewater.org 



SAFETY & “ALASKA FACTOR” CONSIDERATIONS

Bears: One must be alert and prepared for bears in the area.  Travel in groups and make noise while traveling.  Bear bells aren’t loud enough and get drowned out by wind or flowing water.  Carry bear protection, but more importantly, have it accessible and know how to use it.  Never run away from a bear, this can excite a predatory response & they are much faster than you.  

Exercise extra caution during salmon season- don’t be surprised if you encounter bears while on the water.  If I know a run is rich with salmon or I am weary of bears, I carry a travel size air horn & attach it to my PFD; making a loud blast before I come around blind bends.  My bear spray is accessible while hiking & also while paddling; I take it with me when I scout rapids. 

For more information, refer to Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance by Stephen Herero, (Lyons Press, 2020).

Moose: Give moose a wide berth, even if it appears indifferent to your presence.  If it responds aggressively, run away; ideally through brush or terrain that is challenging for the moose to travel through.  Know that a cow will defend her calves; keep your distance.  Bear spray can also be utilized as a defense tool.

Insects: There are almost 30 bug species in Alaska that bite.  Darn!  Mosquitos are the most infamous- they can be thick and relentless.  The second half of June is generally the worst time of year for mosquitos, although some regions will have them throughout the season.  Consider a head net & protect exposed skin.  If using deet, keep it away from drysuits, rain jackets and boats- it can destroy most plastics & waterproofing. 

Plants: There are poisonous berries, plants and fungus throughout the state; don’t eat anything unless you are confident you know what it is.  Cow Parsnip, a UV reactive tall and widespread meadow plant; it can cause irritating blisters in the presence of sunlight.  Devil’s club, a well-armed shrub with large palmate leaves, is common in the South Central area, especially near drainages.  The prickly spines can cause soreness or infections if stuck in the skin. 

Water Levels: Most Alaskan rivers are not gauged; there are no dam release runs in the state.  Even gauges can be inaccurate or inconsistent with previous years data.  

Generally, summer high water season is from that year's snowpack and/or glacier melt.  Most rivers and creeks begin steadily rising in May and peak in June.  How long these higher levels are sustained depends on that region's snowpack and weather factors affecting the rate of melt. A shallow snow year with a hot May or June will shorten the watershed's high season. Conversely, a deeper snow pack with cooler early summer temperatures will result in a slower melt and longer, more sustained water levels.

Glacial runs tend to peak near summer Solstice through mid July.  Once the snow has melted, these runs often continue to have ample water levels from glacial melt.  Again, the hotter the temperature, the higher the water levels.  Glacial runs generally become lower in August; some may even lose “glacier hue” & have clear water by September.

Expect water levels to change daily as well.  Water levels are generally lower early to mid morning and begin rising again in the afternoon.  Many runs are at their highest near the end of the day (think 5-10pm), as upstream source melt has had time to “catch up” and travel downstream.  However, this also depends on where you are in proximity to where the melt is happening.  If you are very far away from the source, it’s possible that you won’t experience that day’s peak until late that night. 

After regional winter snow has melted, most runs without glacial influence become lower as summer continues.  The great news for Alaskan paddlers is that many rivers and creeks have ample water throughout the season to paddle.  Rivers and creeks can also spike and result in higher water levels with rain; this is especially common for runs nearer to the coast or during August & September, historically rainer months.  However, any region can have a rain event resulting in a dramatic rise in water levels any time of year. 

Weather:  Weather changes frequently in Alaska.  What begins as a warm sunny day can easily turn into a hypothermic windy sleet storm with no visibility.  Check the forecast, but be prepared for anything.

Remoteness: Many rivers & their approaches in Alaska are far away from road systems- but even if near roads, have terrain challenges (steep cliffs, canyons, thick brush, etc) making escape or outside help extremely difficult to receive.  Practice conservative decision making & risk management on & off the water.  Have a trip plan & do your research before getting out.  Members in your group should have first aid & swiftwater rescue training.  Be familiar with & carry necessary supplies to respond to incidents & survive outside in Alaska.

Carry an emergency communication device, but consider it a last resort tool to be used in emergencies.  Remember it could potentially take days for rescue personnel to respond to an incident or provide assistance.

River Stewardship: It’s a safe bet  you love rivers and mountains.  Rivers & wild lands have an important place in our lives and our hearts.  It’s likely your nature to value & protect wilderness and preserve free flowing waterways- however, many folks don’t value rivers & wild places like we do.  For some, nature is something to be used or taken advantage of for resource extraction or to gain wealth & power.  While we all need and use resources, if we care about wild places and rivers, we need to not only speak up, but support organizations and causes that protect the environment.  

Packrafting captures what we love about Alaska: big mountains, raw wilderness & free flowing rivers.  Animals roam the land while fish swim in the waters.  We are merely travelers through the terrain, “taking only photos and leaving nothing but footprints.”  Preservation of these places takes awareness, courage and a willingness to act. 

There are many ways to do this: engage with access & conservation efforts on a political level; knowing your vote counts, volunteering during creek clean up events, or supporting non-profit clubs or organizations that go to bat to protect our water and land resources.  Stay aware of your impact on an area: follow Leave No Trace principles, clear trash if you see it, yield to fishermen and respect the rights of landowners.  

If you use social media, #tagresponsibly.  I know, an ironic thing for a guidebook to suggest, but know that social media posts eventually increase user numbers in an area.  This has potential to be a good thing, as it might generate more interest in conservation efforts or provide current safety info regarding water levels or wood- but stay mindful of what information you share and why you are sharing it.  

The rivers and creeks shared from The Alaska Packraft School were intentionally chosen, while many were intentionally left out.  A key purpose in creating this form is to advise the misadvised, serve as a tool in safer trip planning and to cultivate a sense of river passion and land stewardship among packrafters in Alaska.  Although these posts & community invovlement will likely increase the presence of paddlers on included runs, it’s only through active awareness and concern for these lands that we can make informed efforts towards their protection.   

Enjoy Alaska, let's keep it wild.  Thanks for your help & HAPPY PADDLING! - Jule Harle