Jacksina Creek

Forums Alaska Rivers Wrangell-St. Elias Region Jacksina 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: III (lower water) IV- (higher)
      Length: 20 miles
      Gauge: None
      Shuttle: None; hike in/out or bush flight
      Put-in: Near Tumble Creek, see below

      Takeout: Before Cabin Creek/Raven Hills to hike back to Nabesna

      Character: The Jacksina is a fast moving stream that empties the northern side of the Wrangells; it’s opaque with glacial silt. A seldomly paddled creek, due to its inaccessibility and strenuous approach, however options exist for a more casual fly-in if one isn’t up for the 2-3 day hike- you could fly on wheels into the Tumble Creek airstrip or land via floats on nearby Grizzly Lake.

      The canyon has steep walls of columnar andesite- making this a geologists dream trip or a “must do” for any paddler who’s passionate about rocks or seeking a trip with world-class scenery. This is a one of a kind experience in the Wrangells.

      Water Level: The Jacksina is not gauged. Like all glacial streams, it will be running at peak in late June through July. Higher flows can render some of the canyon stretches class IV- and might intimidate a class III paddler. Lower flows found in the spring and later summer would underwhelm a whitewater enthusiast, but make the canyon more approachable; there’s only a handful of class III rapids at these lower levels.

      Hike Description: 23 miles, 2-3 days

      From Glennallen, drive north towards the Tok Cutoff/Nabesna Rd. Take the Nabesna road the entire 38 miles to the it’s end. Do not park at the homestead; continue until you arrive at a small gravel turnaround/trail access area. 

      A hike worth doing only if the weather is decent! Getting onto the Jaeger Mesa is fairly straightforward navigation wise, however the terrain is challenging with river crossings, bushwhacking, talus negotiating and hours of wet uphill tussocks. The Mesa is at 6000 ft elevation, an epic place providing breathtaking views of Wrangell Mountains: Jarvis, Sanford & Gordon among many others…but only with open skies. If the wind was ripping and cloud cover was obstructing views, the hard hiking wouldn’t offer the rewards of 360 degree awe inspiring big mountain madness.

      To start, go 1.4 miles on Nabesna Mine trail before the yellow caution sign. 

      Jacksina hike approach starts in Nabesna. Photo: Haley Johnson @tundratravels

      Head left/downhill on the trail until you come up to old cabin debris. From here, you’ll link up and search for faint game trails as you parallel the river and work your way up the valley for 2.5 miles- try not to gain or lose too much elevation as you choose the path of least resistance through light brush & tussocks.

      You’ll eventually come to a few deep ravines/drainages around 3100 ft in elevation; I’ve aimed for waypoint: 62.34509, -143.03131. This is a game trail that takes you to the best and most direct route down into the riverbed. Follow this trail for approx. ½ mile before you begin descending steeply on an even more established trail. Other routes down are possible, however there are numerous cliffs and steep drainages thick with brush- it’s worth taking the time to find this trail down. Once in the riverbed, you’ll bust through thick brush & bog before making your way onto more open gravel bars.

      Walk upstream along riverside gravel bars for about 2 miles. The best place to cross depends on water levels and varies from year to year as the braids can change annually. If the water is high, it’s possible that paddling across would be the only safe way to manage getting to the other side. There isn’t a “best way” to work your way up onto the mesa, however the most direct appears to be aiming for the gut between the Jaeger Mesa & Gold Hill, noting that it’s better to begin ascending before you approach the drainage that dissects them. Expect to bust through thick alder & brush initially before ascending slowly through tussocks.

      Numerous options exist for approaching the mesa, but working your way up gradually towards the 5000 ft elevation zone as you work up river makes the most sense. You’ll eventually drop in and out of some shallow ravines; you can gain the final 1000 feet onto the mesa wherever suits your fancy, but be sure to do it before approaching an obvious giant ravine. A decent spot to ascend the final 1000 ft talus & rock stretches 62.27349, -143.06430.

      Once on the mesa, you’ll feel rewarded if you have good visibility- the mountain views only get better as you continue walking south. The ground is initially good walking- the hard alpine surface feels cruiser when compared to the earlier tussock slog. The ground is generally harder closer to the edge of the mesa; you’ll encounter more poorly trained tussocks and wet feet if you choose to go the more direct route, away from the edges. Walking is generally better on the outside, it’s less direct & adds mileage.

      Jule Harle & Jaime Welfelt soak up September Mesa views w/ good weather.  Photo: Haley Johnston @tundratravels

      There are a few potential camp spots near the last two drainages on the mesa, with good water.  In the event of strong winds, or weather moving in, camping on the mesa would be sub-par & not ideal.

      Numerous routes off the mesa exist, but the best one is descending south, on the left of the nose.  Go down the right side of the steep little stream-you’ll work your way down steep tundra towards Mesa Creek headwaters, as you’re facing a significant lake 4-5 miles in the distance. Other routes down exist, but many are steeper, longer & involve loose rock talus fields.

      Note: There’s good camping throughout the Mesa Creek headwaters. After getting off the mesa, work west towards a gradual, low angle pass at 4500 ft. When descending the pass, the lookers left side of the creek is the more ideal way down to the Jacksina. If you’re lucky, or just good at hiking, you’ll pick up on some of the various game trails in the area- sheep & caribou highways exist throughout. There’s an excellent trail down towards the river if ya find it.  It may be tempting initially to walk down the actual creek drainage, I wouldn’t, it looks incredibly thick with brush & large boulders- stay high and out of the creek bed.

      River Description: The creek starts off as fast moving class II.  You’ll soak up surrounding views while warming up with 3.5 miles of open valley floating before the canyon begins.  You’ll see the canyon walls coming in on both sides of the river near waypoint 62.22869,-143.26691; it’s pretty obvious, you can’t miss it.  Whereas the canyon is constricting, it seldomly completely walls in without a scrambly exit option, in the event one had to hike out. 

      Gravel bars & plenty of shore space exist for the first mile within the canyon until the entrance rapid, the most technical part of the canyon; it’s about ¼ mile of continuous class III.  There’s a gravel bar on the left you can scout from before it begins.  Many lines exist: at lower water the moves in-volves rock dodging, while higher water would feel fast & pushy as you thread through large holes.  This rapid could very well be class IV- with peak summer flows from glacial melt in late June through July.

      The creek is tightest and most constricted from this rapid for the next 2.5 miles until Mesa Creek comes in on the right.  The canyon never truly “gorges out,” as gravel bars and river shore exist in many places, however there are multiple sharp turns that preclude stopping or scouting.  The evidence of higher water (brush & wood debris a few feet high above the water) suggest that the canyon holds significantly more water & would feel pretty bossy in the middle of the summer.  High flows could render a swim dangerous in the canyon as numerous undercuts exist within the rock walls.

      After Mesa Creek, the canyon walls gradually begin opening up and feel less con-stricted.   The creek still moves quickly-it’s worth taking opportunities to get out and enjoy where you’re at.  The creek maintains a continuous class II+ character with the occasional class III feature.

      The lower half of the canyon eventually gives way to cutbanks & steep hillsides cov-ered with shrubs, trees & wildflowers when in season.  Whereas the creek gradually becomes less technical, you’ll still have the occasional tight turn with pushy features & swirly water.

      The creek’s character changes & begins to open up & braid out considerably a few miles above the Wait Creek confluence.  If the water is lower (May or September flows) you’ll be wishing you had more for the next few miles as some braids really thin out- getting out of your boat may be necessary at times, depending on which channel you end up in.

      You’ll channel choose & read braids for the next 7 miles, until the takeout trail.  When you see the gray cliffs river left, begin paying attention.  Get out on the gravel bar, after the cliffs, but before the creek makes a dramatic right turn- immediately upstream of Raven Hills.  You’ll see a large rock wall formation (Raven Hill); a good indicator to start choosing left channels, setting yourself up for a smoother exit. 

      Hike Out Description: 1.5-2 hours, 3.5 miles

      HOT TIP: harness your inner swamp donkey & keep the lower half of your drysuit on for the exit hike, as the best route involves wading through a few hundred feet of bog at the beginning. 

      Walk on the gravel bar, heading towards the rock face at Raven Hill.  I’ve found a decent spot to enter the nasty nasty bog is near waypoint: 62.362438, -142.965800.  It looks and feels super stupid, especially as you can see dry land a few hundred feet to your right, but is the most direct way to the trail. #chooseyourownadventure The trail comes out of the bog about 500 feet into it & is pretty decent for the next ½ mile.  Stay right at the first junction, but you’ll soon veer left and thread through bog ponds as you work your way east, back towards the mine trail. The trail soon turns into a wide track as it works east.  (likely a winter trail- expect to get your feet wet, it’s still worth keeping your drysuit on) Stay on the trail as it eventually heads back up to the abandoned cabin near the mine – the same cabin the hike started from a few days prior.  When you intersect with the mine trail, turn right & walk the final 1.5 miles back to the car.

      PC: Tim Hewette

      Blowing up boats before canyon

      PC: Jaime Welfelt

      Jule Harle struggles in the tussocks approaching Jaeger Mesa

      PC: Haley Johnston

      Jaeger Mesa approach

      PC: Haley Johnston

      Jule Harle and Haley Johnston descending Jaeger Mesa

      PC: Jaime Welfelt

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    Forums Alaska Rivers Wrangell-St. Elias Region Jacksina Creek