Ptarmigan Creek

Forums Alaska Rivers Seward and Eastern Kenai Region Ptarmigan Creek

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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: II
      Length: 3.5 miles
      Gauge: No official gauge (see water level)
      Shuttle: None, start & end at car
      Put-in: 60.41336, -149.30896

      Takeout: Ptarmigan Creek Campground

      Character: Ptarmigan Creek is a relatively easy to access and an interesting half day run for class III paddlers that are able to quickly identify & avoid wood.  There are two separate mini “canyon” sections with a handful of read and run rapids and plenty of intermittent class II between them.  You WILL encounter problem wood on this run; stay on the lookout and be prepared to get out of your boat a few times to walk around logjams. 

      IMO the run in and of itself might not merit a drive down from Anchorage- you can do it in 3 hours from car to car, and dealing with the logjams is annoying, but this is a great tag on or creek to check out if you happen to be in the area or need to get away from the in laws on the family trip on the Kenai. 

      Water Level: Similar to Primrose Creek, the gauge is pretty cowboy; it’s a metal measuring stick that is bolted to a rock.  It can be hard to find if you don’t know exactly where to look.  From the day use parking area, it is near the first picnic area immediately to the left of the Salmon viewing platform.  Go to the water and walk an awkward 10 feet upstream, keeping your eyes peeled to your left, or river right.  The gauge faces the river, so you have to crouch down to look out and get eyes on it.  0.7 is the minimum recommended level, 1.0 is ideal, but anything over 1.8 would be scary, as you might not have time to get out in time for the wood portages.

      This creek seems to have water throughout most of the season, as it drains from Ptarmigan Lake and doesn’t rely completely on snow melt or rain water. 



      Hike Description: 1-2 hours, 3.5 miles. From the trailhead, you’ll hike along the creek for the first mile, following signage towards Ptarmigan Lake, always turning right whenever the trail forks.  Within the first ½ mile you’ll see the final ledge drop from the trail; this is a great and easy place to stage photos.  The trail can become brushy and overgrown in the summer months, but is always obvious and still well-traveled.

      After 3.3 miles, you’ll come to a somewhat obvious & peculiar looking bendy tree on the right side of the trail that curves towards the right- this is where you start heading down towards the creek.  You’ll know you’re there when you can hear the bass/sound of whitewater from the nearby gorge.  You’ve gone too far if you start walking downstream and have to cross a small tributary in an avalanche gully…or if you get to the lake, obviously.

      Continue downstream on the faint social trail, generally trending towards the left.  When you get to the drainage, it’s easiest to walk downhill directly in the drainage creek for the final 50 ft- yep, getting wet feet- bring extra socks!

      River Description: 1.5-2 hrs, 3.5 miles.  The put-in is right below the class V Ptarmigan Gorge- most of which has been successfully run by rad kayakers…not very often, but it’s been done!  If you want to paddle the final drop of the gorge, (Class IV-) it’s possible to bushwhack upstream and blow up your boat immediately above the last rapid.

      The run starts off with a bang, as the creek cuts a hard left, creating the first move, Corner Pocket (III). This rapid is a good representation of the character of what lies downstream.  Not just the whitewater, but also the logjam and wood situations.  Immediately after Corner Pocket, get out on the right and portage the mess of wood in front of you.  As the creek is narrow and surrounded by plenty of spruce, stay on high alert for wood the entire run, especially if it’s your first time down.  Expect to portage a few times. After Corner Pocket, you’ll go through a few interesting bends and ledge drops before the creek opens up and mellows into class II, this is the end of the first canyon.  After about a mile from the put-in, you’ll portage an obvious log jam on the right.   From here, there’s a few more class III drops until you reach the most significant rapid, Scrooge (III); you’ll know you’re there when you see a giant rock on the right and things begin to “canyon in” again. Eddy out on the right to check for wood before running it.  

      The line involves going to the left of the rock, before setting up and paddling over a broken mini ledge mid-rapid.  The final feature to negotiate is a hole at the end; mostly river wide, but plenty of room to sneak it on the right.  Fun fact: locals started calling it “Scrooge,” because of a big log at the entrance that they were forced to walk around- making them feel like bitter Scrooges as it ruined their favorite part of the run.   After Scrooge, you’ll have a few more straightforward rapids and at least one more logjam portage.  Once the trail comes into view, the final mile is “exciting” class II after the final ledge drop.  It’s having to paddle away from the river banks to avoid narrow brushy bits that make it exciting.  Before you know it, you’re back at your car!  

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    Forums Alaska Rivers Seward and Eastern Kenai Region Ptarmigan Creek