Lowe River: Keystone Canyon

Forums Alaska Rivers Glennallen-Valdez Region Lowe River: Keystone Canyon

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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: III-III+
      Length: 4.5 miles
      Gauge: USGS Lowe River at Horsetail Falls: https://waterdata.usgs.gov/monitoring-location/15226620/#parameterCode=00065&period=P7D&showMedian=false
      Shuttle: 3.5 miles
      Put-in: Richardson Highway pullout, after MP 35

      Takeout: Above Alyeska Pipeline bridge, after canyon

      Character: The Lowe is a glacial river flowing through Keystone Canyon that parallels the Richardson Highway; a true “road run.”  Although it is class III, this river has potential for huge hydraulics: large waves, munchy holes and powerful eddy lines are abundant, especially at medium and higher flows.  Most of these features are avoidable for those who can read  glacial water.  At medium-high flows this river feels fast & continuous- be sure to eddy out and take in the views of the surrounding waterfalls. 

      Water Level: Refer to the USGS Lowe River Gauge, above Horsetail Falls.  The run opens up as early as May and can be paddled through October, albeit early and late seasons will have very low water.  As it’s a glacial river,  it will be high in June and July- but as it’s close to the coast, it will often spike from heavy rain throughout the summer and fall.

      Some water level guidelines: 

      800-1500 cfs (III), low/medium level.

      1500-3500 cfs (III), medium level with great play spots and surfing

      4000+ cfs (III+), high level.  Features are big and water moves fast- swims could be dangerous, one could get separated from gear quickly.

      River Description: 30 min-1 hour, 4 miles.  There’s just under ½ mile of warm up in fast class II before entering the canyon.   When the river makes a sharp left & a small tributary from Snowslide Gulch enters from the right, the Lowe becomes narrower & accelerates.  You’ll pass under the highway bridge 2x; with every bend there’s either wave trains, holes, or boily eddy lines to maneuver through.

      About 3 miles in, lies the crux of the run, what Andrew Embick referred to as Gaging Rocks (III+).  This rapid can be easily scouted from the road beforehand or from the river on either side.  The best line depends entirely on the water levels. Left, right and center lines exist.  The big rock in the center can be avoided by boofing a ledge on the left or sneaking around another ledge drop with a potentially huge hole on the far right.  This rapid is easy to walk back up and session if you want to try different lines!

      Downstream of Gaging Rocks, you’ll negotiate a big wave train before a fast & straight stretch leading to Bridal Veil Falls- an impressive 600 ft waterfall that cascades down nearby from the left shore.  

      Soon after Bridal Veil, the river turns to the right- watch out for the Three Bears (III) three very large holes in the middle of the run.  You can weave around them or sneak them all on the right.   This rapid often looks benign from the road, but feels a lot bigger when you’re in it!

      The difficulty gradually weans for the last 2 miles as you approach the take out.  It’s possible to paddle to the Valdez port; expect slower moving class II braids.


        Run report from 5/5/24: Less than 600 cfs.

        Clear of snow bridges through the entirety of the canyon. Overhanging avalanche debris in canyon is undercut and potentially hazardous. A hard boater in our party took a swim at one of these under cut areas and the kayak did not pop out while we were on the river, nor was it felt with some careful probing. Please keep an eye out for a purple and black marbled Dagger play boat if you take the scenic route to the port on the lower Lowe. Swimmer was able to get away from the hazard.

        Eddys in canyon are more difficult to get into with high snowbanks blocking a lot of the usually easier to catch “Alaskan eddies”. Plan to post hole the rip rap in some areas if portaging until more melt happens. Fun run at this low of water. Usgs gauge reading ~2.8 ft. Any metal in the river bed is clearly visible at this level. Old bridge material (sharp, dangerous metal), on left hand side after first bridge crossing. Sharp large metal object river center around the rock outcropping near where the Richardson turns left into the canyon going out of Valdez that will soon be covered but could tear soft boats or injure swimmers.

        Good opportunities at this level to practice eddying behind large boulders.

        • This reply was modified 4 weeks ago by John Schauer.
        • This reply was modified 4 weeks ago by John Schauer. Reason: Removed markup code
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      Forums Alaska Rivers Glennallen-Valdez Region Lowe River: Keystone Canyon