McCarthy Creek “Z-Rock” Middle & Lower Sections

Forums Alaska Rivers Wrangell-St. Elias Region McCarthy Creek “Z-Rock” Middle & Lower Sections

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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-III+
      Length: 5.5 miles from Z Rock
      Gauge: None
      Shuttle: None
      Put-in: Varies, see below

      Takeout: Downtown MXY, where bridge crosses creek

      Character: The Middle and Lower sections of McCarthy Creek are both a step down in skill and effort regarding both the hike and the actual whitewater.  Although somewhat easier than the “Up & Over”, these downstream sections still have their challenges and include a handful of named rapids.  The “Lower” section I refer to is what I’ve used for safety, instructional and whitewater skill building packraft courses with KWG.  

      Water Level: Refer to “Up & Over.”  Higher water levels in June make this section class III+, while medium and lower water levels class III.

      Hike Description: From downtown MXY, cross the vehicle bridge over McCarthy Creek.  Walk up the road; within a few hundred feet look for an ATV trail on the left- immediately before the road veers to the right and begins heading uphill.  There’s usually vehicles parked (or left for dead) near here, #Alaskastyle.  The McCarthy Creek trail is a historic road that prospectors onced used to access the upper reaches of the valley.  It’s relatively flat & stays on the east side of the creek for its entirety. Locals use the initial few miles of the trail to access their properties, it sees more ATV & foot traffic- please respect no trespassing signs, they will steer you in the right direction at junctions.  If you’re hiking in June or July, know that this area is notorious for thick mosquitos- a headnet is highly recommended!  (I’ve lost my shit in here a few times when I forgot one…makes for a SUPER fast hiking pace though 🙂

      The trail is an obvious and fairly well- defined ATV trail for the first 3 miles.  After about 2 miles, the creek washed away the trail, but after a few hundred feet of side-hilling next to the creek, you’ll soon meet back up with it.  

      Another 1/2 mile from this area, before arriving at a tan cutbank, you’ll walk through a large and very open gravel bar.  This is the put-in for the Lower portion of the creek.  This put-in bypasses some of the bigger and more continuous class III/III+ rapids of the Middle section- a great option for the newer packrafter or if the water levels are higher than your comfort level.  

      From here, you’ll have a few more opportunities to scout the creek from the trail; remember you’re unable to see the biggest rapids, you only see the end move of “The Goods.”  However, you can bash through the brush if you’d like to see more; I’d recommend doing so to check out the creek’s current wood status.

      Within the next mile, most hikers encounter a mucky, boot sucking, muddy section of trail (this is a non-issue in dry seasons).  If the trail is too wet, finding the path of least resistance towards the right and eventually coming back to the trail is a common route.  From here, the few final miles of trail become less obvious, presenting more like a social trail at times.  When you see some rickety cabin remains, you’re almost done, it’s less than 1/4 mile to Z-Rock.  

      The put-in is obvious, as the trail makes an abrupt stop at a black rock formation with a “Z” looking feature on it.  It’s possible to continue hiking upstream, but this involves some bushwhacking and route finding, as the trail is overgrown and difficult to follow. 

      River Description: Rapids in this section are the most technical from the Z Rock/Middle Section put-in, until “The Goods.”  From Z Rock, the run begins with a left to right bend called “Away We Go,” it’s telling of what’s downstream- you can walk down the gravel bar before starting if you’d like to scout it out beforehand. From here, the middle section of the creek has fairly continuous “read and run” class III boogie water with the occasional class II boogie water break.  

      One of the best stretches of whitewater in this section is known as “The Goods,” about 2.5 miles from Z Rock.  The Goods are a series of creek wide 2-3 ft drops- multiple lines exist.  There’s a big left turn mid-rapid that can be pushy at higher water levels.  After this bend, there’s a large boulder in the center of the river with clean lines on either side.

      Shortly after, you’ll float by the tan cut bank on river left (as well as the put-in for the Lower section). The biggest challenges in the lower stretch include navigating the sharp turns and dodging the waves and holes that salt and pepper the run.  With lower flows, look for the deeper water- it’s common to bottom out and take some hits to the butt as you float down to the takeout.

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    Forums Alaska Rivers Wrangell-St. Elias Region McCarthy Creek “Z-Rock” Middle & Lower Sections