Lower Honolulu (July 5, 2020)

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    Jule Harle

      Willow gauge: 950 cfs

      Nenana Gauge: 12.3 ft

      Honolulu Creek has no gauge; estimated 600-700 cfs. Water was clear with a turquoise hue.
      Viewing the creek from the bridge is the best way to gauge the water level on Honolulu. If there is enough water to float the stream immediately above and below the bridge, the run is good to go. If there is more than enough water flowing through the shoals above the bridge, be prepared for an intense class IV run in the canyons. Generally, Honolulu is high during early summer runoff (late May-June) runnable into mid July, or after rainy periods in late summer/early fall.

      At lower volume flows, Honolulu is Class III+ (with 2 class IV rapids, both portageable). However, with higher water, it would take on more of a Class IV character as the rapids are pushier and pools disappear. Note that this description does not contain details on the significantly more difficult sections: the Upper Gorge or Cave Rapids Gorge.

      Hike Description:
      After parking in the lot by the chasm, follow an obvious ATV trail north of Hurricane Gulch, directly past the bridge the trail immediately heads up a steep hill- you can’t miss it. The double track meanders and climbs gradually above brushline for 1.5- 2 hours before becoming harder to follow as tundra gives way to shale. You’ll be tempted to follow the trail up towards the Little Honolulu drainage, however you should actually leave the main trail & head right, (near waypoint 63.01881, -149.48526) towards a no name alpine lake that’s slightly southeast of the trail. You’ll sidehill briefly on the north (left) side of the ridge by the lake. Once past the lake, begin climbing up the scree towards the pass. The climb from parking lot to pass is about 4 miles, with panoramic views of the Alaska Range across the Chulitna valley on a clear day.

      From the pass, continue heading east for another 5 miles of alpine walking before descending into the Honolulu valley. First, follow a broad, nearly flat tundra bench eastward; there are 2 valleys you can drop into to access the creek. The first one looks steep from the top and is best descended on the southern (right) side of the creek. You do NOT need to walk through the brush here, instead opt to head more to the right, staying high, as the brush gets thick; you’ll find the brush more open or scree to walk down. Once you’re down, pick and pluck your way through thick brush as you make your way to the river. This option puts you in on the “Lower Honolulu” section and bypasses Cave Rocks Rapid and the canyon section above it.

      Distance: Approximately 10 miles. 5-7 hours

      Elevation gain/loss: +2643 ft, -1800 ft

      Water Description:

      Distance: Honolulu Creek: 11 miles.

      Time: 3-4 hours
      Lower Honolulu bypasses the first 2 gorges (upper gorge)putting in just above the class IV- Cave rapid. The rapid is named so, be the river level cave on the right shortly before the drop. The rapid has numerous lines & can be boat scouted or land scouted from the left shore if you didn’t get a good look when you were hiking nearby. After more class II+ warm up, you’ll enter a small gorge. You’ll see a large tan colored rock on your left letting you know you’re near the California Ledge Drop; the first of the 2 larger drops on this section. The best scouting is on the right; some choose to get out early (not an ideal eddy situation for groups), but you can run the class III lead in, that takes you to a much larger eddy on the right. Most paddlers run the left side; best portaging is on the right.

      1.5 miles of class III-III+ boulder gardens follow, generally interspersed with class II pools before the 2nd major rapid, Slideways. (You’ll know you’re near Slideways after a long stretch of class II is interrupted by a class III boulder drop rapid with a significant creek coming in at the end from the right) Slideways can be scouted on either right or left (the left side is the better scout, although the right side has better portaging). At certain flows, the center of this drop could be quite retentive at the steep pourover in the center; there are possible lines on the right or left sides. Continue for 1.5 miles of class II-III boogie water before a final mini-gorge referred to as “Monkey’s Garden.” This section begins when you see canyon walls and the river turning to the left; big rocks appear sharp and more undercut when compared to Honolulu’s other Class III boulder gardens. You can look at the entrance rapid on the left, or boat scout it as you go. With higher water levels, some of the drops in Monkey’s Garden Gorge will take on more of a class IV character as the holes become much larger & water significantly pushier.

      After 2.5 miles, Monkey’s Garden ends & the valley opens up. Honolulu slows down and turns into class II as it makes its way out of the mountains into the Chulitna valley. Keep your eyes open for wood during the final 3 gravelly miles to the Parks Highway bridge.

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