Moody Creek (June 28, 2020)

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    Jule Harle

      Nenana River gauge: 12.5 ft
      Moody Creek has no gauge; estimated 450 cfs. Water had a murky gray/blue haze.

      This trip screams Alaska: from the bushwhacking, epic alpine ridge views, (often with ripping winds!) and spicy whitewater, this trip should be considered a “must do” for the intermediate packrafter who likes the “packing” just as much as the “rafting” This continuous class III+ creek has unique geologic features that continue to impress throughout the route. Most rapids are created by rockfall and are laden with sieves- swims could be dangerous in spots, especially at higher flows.

      Hike Description:

      Distance: Approximately 7 miles. 5-8 hours

      Elevation gain/loss: +3000 ft, -2700 ft
      Drive north from “Glitter Gulch” on the Denali Parks Highway. At milepost 242 look for a pull out on the left; leave car here.

      Start walking up Dragonfly Creek; a semi-obvious social trail goes up stream, crossing the creek multiple times. About ¾ mile in, begin veering right (south), away from the creek, gradually working your way up hill. This is where the fun begins- choose your route wisely as there is a “sweet spot” where the brush is less thick. Get ready to test your patience and embrace some bushwhacking for the next ½ mile and 500 ft of elevation gain. You’ll want to aim towards the rib where the alpine begins, but it can be hard to see when you’re in the brush. Refer to waypoints for guidance; when in doubt, follow the path of least resistance and keep heading uphill veering south NOT directly up Dragonfly Creek. Expect spending 1-2 hours working your way up into the alpine. Continue navigating the rock and scree as you ascend up the pass (4300 ft). Follow the alpine ridges, being careful not to lose too much elevation (try to stay between 4300-4500 ft) as you progress towards the southern aspect of Sugarloaf mountain. Keep your eyes peeled for the social sheep trails for easier walking. After navigating the rocks and scree around Sugarloaf, stay on the southwestern ridge as you begin descending; staying in the open/alpine zones as long as possible before the brush begins. The brushy sections have social trails if you can find them; otherwise follow the path of least resistance as you head towards the creek. When about 1/8 mile from Moody, you can cut directly south towards the tributary creek coming in on your right to shorten the bushwhacking. Follow the tributary until you reach the put-in.

      Water Description:

      Distance: Moody Creek: 6 miles. Healy Creek: 3 miles.

      Time: Moody Creek: 1-2 hours, Healy Creek 30-45 min. 2-3 hours total, depending on water level and time spent scouting.

      Although this is a class III+ creek, you probably don’t want to be in here if your skills top out at class III, as high water levels make the rapids more technical, pushy & continuous. Class III paddlers would probably feel more comfortable with lower water levels. Moody creek levels are hard to guess- you can’t see the creek from the road and there is no gauge. Generally expect higher flows from June snowmelt or from heavy rains. You can portage most rapids, although the eddies may feel small at higher flows- not the best for larger groups.
      Moody creek begins with a few no-name class III rapids before you get to the first “tunnel” rapid, about 1.5 miles in. The river constricts and there’s a small horizon line; this is best scouted on the left. This rapid moves fast and continues further than the eye can see. Expect continuous class III action before the arriving at the “S turn;” where the river makes an obvious turn to the right, left & right again due to massive rockfall. This is a beautiful area-great for photos! Best scouting opportunities are on the right. Shortly after, you’ll see another class III+ tunnel rapid with a horizon line, marked by obvious rocks sticking out in the river; best scouted on the left. Expect a few more class III/III+ features downstream-the creek doesn’t mellow out until after Copeland creek comes in from the left, about 1 mile from Healy Creek. Once you get to the confluence, the valley opens up and turns into class I-II. The best take out is downstream of the bridge- after the Healy meets the Nenana, float downstream and ride the last wave train near the bridge pilons before taking out at the parking area on the left.

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