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.

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