Glacier Creek (September 16, 2021)

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    Jule Harle

      Gauge: 285 cfs, 25.66 ft. Minimum 200 cfs?

      Rating: Class III-

      Character: A local favorite for Girdwood residents, it’s an incredibly accessible quick after work fix that conveniently ends in the downtown area. A commonly suggested run for newer packrafters, however the pushy sharp bends and constant wood hazards make this run less appropriate for someone’s first time paddle trip.

      Length: 3.5 miles, 45 min- 1 hour

      Shuttle: 3.5 miles. Bikeable.

      Take Out: Girdwood Park, near town center- immediately downstream of Glacier Creek Bridge on Alyeska Highway.

      Put in: Drive to Girdwood & turn onto the Alyeska Highway. Drive for ____miles before taking a left on Crow Creek Mine Rd, immediately before the town center. The road soon turns to gravel; after 3 miles you’ll see the Winner Creek Trailhead parking lot on the right.
      You can also turn this into a proper packraft run and walk to the put in from the takeout on the Iditarod Trail.

      Hike Description (from takeout) 4.6 miles, Elevation: +520, -300 ft, Time: 1.5 hours
      From takeout, walk through downtown Girdwood, towards the Girdwood School. A few hundred feet before the school, you’ll see a gated dirt road on your right, next to the creek. Walk on the road for 200 feet or so, before picking up the trail on the right, in the woods. You can continue walking on the road easement, but the trail is better walking, as the road soon gets pretty wet & muddy.
      The trail meanders through hemlock rainforest, terrain where you would assume fairies & elves inhabit. After 2.2 miles, at the fork, go left. You’ll soon cross the road before picking up the trail on the other side. The trail gradually works it’s way uphill before crossing the road again. After 3.5 miles, you’ll arrive at the Winner Creek Trailhead. Follow signs to the Hand Tram for the final 1 mile. Once at the hand tram, look for short trail on the left, leading down to the put in.
      Hike Description (from Winner Creek Trailhead) 1 mile, Elevation: +40, -270 ft, Time: 30 min
      From trailhead parking lot, follow signs to hand tram. The trail is wide and nearly wheelchair accessible for most of the way, until arriving at the hand tram. (note: as of 2021, tram was closed for use, please respect signage). Once at tram, follow short & steep trail on the left down to the put in.

      River Description:
      If it’s mid-summer, be prepared to be questioned and photographed by Alyeska Resort tourists hiking in the area, as this is one of Girdwood’s most popular trails. Who knows, you just may end up in some random person’s scrapbook!
      Glacier Creek is fun, fast & serves up beautiful views of the Girdwood Valley, especially after leaving the canyon area. There’s no time for warm up, as the first rapid comes up instantly, right under the hand tram. This is the largest feature on the creek and can be walked around on the right side easily at lower flows. The rapid has a large rock in the center (creating a hole at higher flows); both right & left lines exist, but right is generally easier.
      Immediately after the entrance feature, Winner Creek comes in as a cascading waterfall on the left. (there is a rock beach & large eddy on the right, great for staging photos of paddlers coming downstream here)
      The difficulty of Glacier Creek lies in it’s sharp turns- the water pushes into rock walls as it bends back right and left throughout the run. Paddlers need to be seasoned with proper boat angle and be able to paddle aggressively away from these walls. Whereas this is not incredibly difficult in and of itself, Glacier Creek has swam hundreds (maybe thousands, who knows) of beginning packrafters who were pushed into the walls, resulting in sudden boat flips. Adding to the danger factor is that these bends often have eddies where logs have deposited; problem wood litters the riverbanks, making flips & swims pretty dangerous.
      At higher flows (above 400 cfs) eddies begin to dissappear and the creek feels pretty constant. With lower flows (under 350 cfs), macro & micro eddies exist, allowing for excellent eddy peel in & peel out practice opportunities.

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