Canyon Creek

Forums Alaska Rivers Girdwood and Hope Region Canyon Creek

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    Jule Harle
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      SOURCE: The Alaska Packraft Guidebook: Premier Rivers & Creeks in the 49th State (1st ed) Copyright: 2022 by Jule Harle.  Refer to the guidebook for additional info, photos, waypoints or detailed river maps. Author permission required to reproduce, duplicate or transfer following content.

      QUICK RIVER STATS:
      Difficulty: Upper: IV, Lower: III-IV-
      Length: 8.5 miles
      Gauge: No gauge, use Sixmile for estimate https://waterdata.usgs.gov/monitoring-location/15271000/#parameterCode=00065&period=P7D&showMedian=false
      Shuttle: 8 miles

      Put in: Varies

      Take out: Canyon Creek Bridge pullout

      Character: If you like Sixmile, you’re in for a treat. Canyon creek has over a dozen class IV narrow boulder garden drops that feel steep and pack a punch. Keep in mind, one of the biggest hazards on this creek lies in the sharp rocks and mining debris- numerous packrafters have popped or ripped their boats on this run!

      Water Level: Canyon Creek has no gauge, but the Sixmile gauge can be used to get a fairly accurate water level reading, as Canyon has about 1/3 of the flow of Sixmile.

      You can paddle Canyon Creek 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. Ideal flows for packrafts are between 9.5-10.2 ft on the Sixmile gauge.

      However, with flows over 10.5 ft on the Sixmile gauge, Canyon becomes incredibly fast and pushy with really meaty holes. Paddling Canyon Creek above 10.5 ft is possible in a packraft, but should be done only by strong class IV paddlers with excellent self-rescue abilities, as the eddies are tiny & swim consequences are serious: long with numerous rocks/waves/holes. I suggest paddling Canyon Creek with lower water levels before attempting to packraft it over 10.2 ft.

      (Note: you can paddle the 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.)

      Upper Put-in: Near mile marker 49 on the Seward Highway, 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 manky bonus rapids and almost 1 more mile of boating.

      Lower Put-in: From the Hope cutoff road, drive 3 miles south on the Seward highway.  The trail to the put-in begins at a small pullout on the left, immediately after the larger paved area  with the interpretive kiosks…. It is NOT past the other large marked pullout with the “P” signage with an arrow.  There is a dirt road 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

      Takeout:  Turn onto the Hope cut off road and immediately take another right into the giant pull out 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.  

      River Description:  From the gravel lot put in, the creek is 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. Get out and scout Saddle Slide 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 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 many kayakers consider Saddle Slide 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 after, 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 are unnamed, except for Boxcar; it’s a steep tongue/chute that is portageable on the right side.

      After the portage, refer to “Lower Canyon Creek” for description.

      Portage Description: About 3.5 miles from the Saddle, lie a class VI series of back to back rapids; the last of which has been run a few times by kayakers. The fairly established portage trail 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 that suddenly comes 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.

      Lower Description: 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.”   After these rapids, the last 1.5 miles are class II all the way to the bridge.

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