Little Susitna

Forums Alaska Rivers Mat-Su Valley Region Little Susitna

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    Jule Harle

      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.

      Difficulty: IV-V
      Length: 5.7 miles
      Gauge: USGS Little Susitna Gauge
      Shuttle: 5.5 miles
      Put-in: Gold Mint Trailhead

      Takeout: Below bridge

      Character: The “Little Su” is a complex & non-stop maze of granite boulders, irregular waves and hydraulics of all shapes & sizes.  The azure water and roadside accessibility lure advanced paddlers who enjoy highly technical rivers.  

      The difficulty varies dramatically & changes depending on water level; packrafters generally prefer lower flows as the paths through large boulders are more manageable vs. the mush pushier & demanding nature of higher water.   

      Water Level: Refer to the Little Susitna Gauge.  It can be packrafted at incredibly low water levels; however I don’t recommend lower than 250 cfs.  Up until 500 cfs, the Little Su is arguably a series of stacked class III/III+ drops, however the continuous nature makes it class IV.  Many kayakers detest lower water levels on this run, as there are numerous pin spots and countless rocks to hit; these risks are more negotiable for inflatable boats… packrafts don’t react as dramatically when they slam into rocks.

      The seriousness of the run begins to increase the higher it is; once the Little Su begins nearing 900 cfs, the river is much pushier and retentive hydraulics begin to develop.  The run begins to feel more or less like one continuous rapid. 

      In Alaska Whitewater, author Tim Johnson writes, “…over 1,400 cfs the river becomes more difficult; a class IV boater has no business being on this run…”   

      Many would argue the “packraft cut-off” for this run is around 1000 cfs; the rapids have real consequences and swims would be long & painful.  I’ve personally heard almost 1/2 dozen stories of epic Little Su swims resulting in broken bones or other outstanding injuries.  Know your ability and be familiar with the run; attempt lower water levels before working your way up.  Consider it class V above 1000 cfs.

      River Description: Expect the river to be fairly continuous once you put-in, with the difficulty increasing as you go down.  It’s impossible to describe every rapid or feature, but consider these rough descriptions of some of the more notable rapids.  

      900 cfs

      The first big drop, Snake Pit (IV) is encountered about a mile from the Gold Mint Trailhead; it’s steep & filled with boulders, with lines in the center.  It can be snuck on the right- ha, this line actually referred to as the worm pit.  Mmmmmm.  You’ve got another mile until Fishhook Creek comes in on the right, shortly before the campground takeout.  If you didn’t like the Snake or Worm Pits, you should probably get out here, have a beer, make an instagram post & call it a day.

      Pour Over (IV) is the next considerable rapid, a river wide ledge dropping into a sticky hole.  Not far downstream lies Death Ferry (IV); a nasty boulder garden requiring a strong river left ferry.  You’ll know you’re arriving, when the river converges at the end of an island.  Slippery Rock (IV) is soon after; this has large holes and irregular seam, and is often considered one of Little Su’s hardest rapids- run it left of center.   

      Gerard Ganey, 900 cfs

      Shortly downstream of Slippery Rock, lies a huge undercut boulder in the center of the river; lines exist on either side, but the right is often run- this rapid is easily seen from the road.  You can also see Bridge (IV) from the road; aptly named as it’s upstream of the bridge.  Bridge is the steepest drop in the run; multiple lines exist.  You can take out on either the right or left, shortly after this drop.

      For a run of similar character, but a significant step down in difficulty, consider the “Baby Su.”  From the bridge, go downstream another 1.5 miles, taking out at the Edgerton Road bridge.  This stretch is class III, but the gradient isn’t as steep & whitewater is less intense. 

      Typical boogie water, 900 cfs

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    Forums Alaska Rivers Mat-Su Valley Region Little Susitna