Canyon Creek (September 29, 2020)


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    Jule Harle

      Sixmile gauge: 9.6 ft (upper flows not recommended below 9.2 ft) Paddled lower canyon 8.7 ft

      Rating: Class IV

      Character: If you like sixmile, you’re in for a treat. Canyon creek has over a dozen class IV drops that feel steep and pack a punch. One of the biggest hazard on this creek lies in the sharp rocks and mining debris- numerous packrafters have popped or ripped their boats on this run! You can minimize this risk by:
      1.Avoiding rocks (obviously) 2. Be selective with what eddies you catch; favor larger eddies with rounder rocks vs micro eddies with sharp ones (minimize time spend paddling/floating near the riverbank….more likely for rebar and metal mining garbage there) 3. Go when there’s enough water. You can paddle Canyon as low as 9 ft….however the lower it is, the more likely you are to have a nasty boat shredding experience with sharp stuff. Author suggests at least 9.5 ft minimum for packrafts. However, with flows over 10.8 ft on the Sixmile gauge Canyon feels incredibly fast and pushy with meaty holes- anything over 10.8 is kind of testing it for packrafters- many of the features are beefy and awaiting to flip a packraft; bring your “A” game if going in anywhere near 11 ft.

      Put in: From Girdwood, drive south on the Seward Highway for _________miles. Near mile marker 49 turn left towards the big gravel pit. Park in the gravel pit, and walk boats about ¼ mile down to the river on the small 4WD road (when walking, you’ll have to veer left otherwise you’ll end up at a turnaround that takes you back uphill, away from the river). Please respect mining claims and personal property/mining equipment nearby. OR you can put in at Summit Lake for a few extra manky rapids and almost 1 more mile of boating.

      Take Out: Turn right onto the Hope cut off road and immediately take another right into the giant pulloff to the right. (This is where local rafting outfits stage their guests for sixmile; on weekends in the summer there can be a lot of activity in this lot). Near the bathrooms there’s a dirt road that heads down to the Canyon Creek & Sixmile confluence. Non 4WD vehicles can usually handle this road just fine. OR if you want bonus whitewater, you can continue downstream on Sixmile & paddle the second & third canyons.


      River Description:

      Time: 3-4 hours, 9 miles (10 miles if coming from Summit Lake)

      From the gravel lot put in, you’ll encounter continuous class II+ with the occasional class III drop for the first 1.5 miles until encountering “Saddle Slide.” You’ll know you’re there when you see a significant rock pile/landslide with large sharp rocks on the left; you can also see Wilson creek on the right (it looks like a cascading, rocky waterfall). You can get out and scout this one from the eddy on the left. (Be careful as the rocks are sharp and slick!) The rapid starts off with a ledge drop that creates an almost river wide hole; sometimes a sneak line appears on the left (water levels over 10 ft)- be wary though, as there is a sneaky sieve on this side. After you punch the first hole, you’ll soon set up for the second ledge; this is usually run on the right side. At higher flows Saddle Slide is often considered the hardest drop; however at lower/medium more “packraftable” levels, there are plenty of drops just as challenging- if not moreso, downstream…so don’t celebrate too early 😉
      Shortly downstream, you’ll encounter numerous rapids of similar character; the more continuous & challenging ones are within the next mile after Saddle Slide, between Wilson & Weber creeks. None of them have features much bigger than Saddle Slide, but they require you to link moves- paddling hard through holes, avoiding features and the narrow canyon walls. All are boat scoutable and somewhat obvious; there are either horizon lines or rocky obstructions that make you think, “oh, this must be a rapid.” As always, be on the lookout for wood; “when in doubt, scout it out-” especially if it’s your first time down. Most rapids aren’t named, except for Boxcar, near waypoint: 60.70991, -149.46281. It’s a steep tongue/chute that is portageable on the right side.
      The portage can be tricky to identify if it’s your first time down. After the old miners cabin on the left that is tan in color, you’ll pass through 2 separate sections where the creek legitimately walls in & looks like a canyon- if it’s your first time down, you’ll probably be thinking, “Oh sh*&%, is THIS the big one!??” All of the rapids in these 2 canyon stretches have horizon lines- but you can continue to see downstream for a ways after them. After the second time it canyons/walls in, the creek opens up more dramatically than it has the entire run so far; it’s class II & you can even see the surrounding mountains. Once you’ve reached this section, then begin staying alert for the portage on the right.
      After the class II open stretch, when things look like they’re about to canyon in again, there is a double drainage suddenly coming in on the right- CATCH THIS EDDY! It is immediately before a rock wall/pinnacle on the right; you’ll be able to see the pinnacle from upstream, but only if you’re looking for it. The portage waypoint is 60.73956, -149.45493. The portage trail goes directly up the drainage; to the left you’ll see a rope & a steep uphill climb. Once up the hill, follow the faint social trail through the brush for ¼ mile before it drops steeply back down to the river. The entire portage takes about 20 minutes, depending on the group size.
      After the portage, refer to “Lower Canyon Creek” for description.


      Put in: From the Hope cuttoff road, drive south on the Seward highway, just past mile marker 52?. (3 miles from Hope cutoff to the gravel road) The trail to the put in begins at a small pullout on the left, immediately after the larger paved pullout with the interpretive kiosks…. It is NOT past the other large marked pullout with the “P” signage with an arrow. There is a dirtroad after this pullout too, it is very similar to this description, but is NOT it- if you continue on down the pullout after the signed parking area, you will actually put-in directly above the class VI portage- not what you’re going for 😉 Leave a car up top and walk ⅓ mile down to the river; the obvious dirt road soon turns into a miners trail
      You can relax for the first ½ mile; it’s wide class II until you get to the GIANT boulder in the middle of the river. A few more bends after this rock, the fun begins again. There are 4 significant drops in this lower section; all scoutable if you can catch a micro eddy. As there’s more water (from the numerous tributaries, waterfalls and streams coming in) the lower section feels “softer,” with less sharp rock exposure due to the volume increase. Although these rapids may feel more powerful, they are shorter and have more of a pool drop character/ample recovery time than what’s upstream of the portage- they are much less continuous.
      The first two drops after the portage have obvious horizon lines; they are short and steep. Be wary of the second one however, as there is a little “F*&K you!” hidden rock just below the horizon line on the far right- this has flipped many a packrafts!
      When you see a small private hanging bridge leading to a cabin on the right, know that you have 2 more rapids downstream. Both of these rapids are continuous, require linked moves and ferrying skills; you can get out on the right and scout if necessary, but both are “read and run.”
      (Note: you can paddle this lower stretch at flows above 11 ft on the sixmile gauge (the rapids are class IV-), but they can also be paddled much lower, as low as 8.5 ft. Once sixmile is below 9 ft, the rapids on lower Canyon aren’t pushy and the difficulty becomes class III. Lower flows feel much more like creeking and have greater recovery time.
      After these rapids, the last 1.5 miles are class II all the way to the bridge.

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