Sixmile Creek (September 26, 2021)

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    Jule Harle

      Gauge: 500 cfs (150-1000?) 500 cfs 9/26, 430 cfs 10/3

      Rating: Class IV

      Character: Sixmile creek is Alaska’s premier runs for roadside class IV whitewater, but has something for everyone! The sections between the canyons (namely between 1st & 2nd) are also great training grounds for aspiring class III paddlers or those seeking surf practice. There is almost always enough water to paddle Sixmile, however packrafters seek out lower levels for the canyon rapids as they get incredibly pushy and powerful above 9.5 ft (1000 cfs).
      The rapid descriptions are very general & created with commonly paddled packrafting levels in mind- between 300-1000 cfs. Know that the descriptions & difficulty of the rapids change considerably with higher flows.

      Length: Varies, see section

      Time: Varies, see section

      Shuttle: Varies, see section. Roadside, bikeable

      Take Out: Varies, see section

      Put in: Varies, see section

      River Description:

      Upper Sixmile (before 1st canyon): Class II,

      First Canyon: You can put in at the commercial rafting pullout, __________miles from Anchorage, near waypoint __________. From here, you’ll have ____ miles of class II until you see Gulch creek come in steeply from the right. The river then makes an abrupt left turn; signaling the beginning of the first canyon. At flows under 9.5 feet you can get out on the rocks on the left & scout. Alternatively, you can also put in here, immediately above the entrance rapid, 17th Ender- there is a trail that leads downhill from the gravel pullout near the highway.
      (Sidenote: There’s also great views from up high on the canyon rim here- excellent vantage points for photos & videos. This is also the staging area for the annual Sixmile Creek Whitewater & Bluegrass Festival’s head to head race series.)
      17th Ender is a river wide ledge drop that has numerous lines, depending on the level. Most paddlers avoid the dead center, as the hole & its seams can flip or surf boats. Predator comes soon after, once the canyon walls become narrow & you enter a slot- running right of center is most common.. There is a large recovery pool shortly after the bridge on the left when the slot opens up. Immediately downstream lies Waterfall, a broken 5 foot ledge where the river constricts again; numerous lines exist here, but left of center is common.
      After Waterfall the river pinches through a narrow slot known as the Notch (III) with an undercut wall at the end on the right. Stay left of the wall when you get to the bottom! Screaming Right Turn (III) is a few more bends downstream; it’s an angled ledge with a dramatic right turn- run on the right to miss the hole. A few more class II+ features before Canyon Creek comes in on the left.
      When Sixmile splits in two, near the island, you can take out here if you’re only running the 1st Canyon. (Alternatively, you can get out immediately downstream of Canyon Creek, but it’s a few hundred feet of bushwhacking to get back to the gravel parking area underneath the Canyon Creek Bridge)

      Between 1st & 2nd Canyon

      Put on: Canyon Creek.

      This is an excellent class II+ run with a handful of friendly class III features- an ideal venue for learning and refining eddy catches & peel outs, ferrying and surfing skills. This section is great at any water level, but begins to feel slow & boney when below 9 feet.
      You’ll float down the final few hundred feet of Canyon Creek before the Sixmile confluence. Once on Sixmile, there’s just under a mile of class II before a continuous class III rapid. You’ll know it’s coming when you see a drainage coming in on the right; you can get out and scout it at the top of the island on the left, near waypoint: 60.79237, -149.42743. There’s usually 2 channels here; a really faint one on the left, with most of the flow going right. This rapid has a series of waves and holes to either hit, miss, thread around or try to surf. You can completely sneak it on the left at flows above 10 ft; most paddlers thread through features with numerous lines or catch micro eddies mid rapid. I bring whitewater courses here to practice paddling skills and boat control. You can hike back upstream on the river left side fairly easy for multiple laps. There’s also a big swirly eddy on the right that often holds logs and rogue boats during swims.
      Shortly after the river splits, either channel goes, but the right has more water- be decisive however, as the top of the island is notorious for holding wood. From here, you’ll float through another 1.5 miles of class II before The Elbows (III-). This feature has entry waves and swirly water where the channels come back together at the bottom. ⅓ mile after the Elbows, the river makes a sharp right turn with a rock island just left of center. This is an excellent spot to play and surf around. There’s also a small slot that you can run on the far left side of the rock island.
      There’s a few more play waves and fun features on the way to Boston Bar. When you near Boston Bar, the river makes a sharp turn to the left after the Boston Bar avalanche path (early season it will still have snow, later in the summer it’s a wide green area cleared of trees).
      The conservative move is to hug the left bank on the inside of the turn here, especially at flows above 10 ft. There is a class III play wave that can flip an unexpecting paddler at higher flows. This isn’t a hazard in and of itself, however you need to self rescue quickly as the 2nd canyon begins a few hundred feet downstream.
      You can take out here on the left to walk a few hundred feet up an ATV trail to the road, or continue on down 2nd canyon (class IV).

      Second Canyon:

      Put in: Elbows parking area or Boston Bar

      From Boston Bar, you can warm up on the play wave before getting into the canyon. After the play wave, the river makes a bend to the right immediately before the first rapid. Pearly Gates is a river wide 5 ft tall ledge. At levels below 9 feet, there’s a boof ledge on river right (becoming a sticky hole with higher flows); a clean tongue on the left exists at all levels. There’s a large eddy on the left afterwards, just upstream of the Nozzle; you can also get out here to scout. The Nozzle is a chaotic series of waves & holes that is best run down the center, but numerous lines exist.
      After the Nozzle, there’s a moment to breathe & eddy out on the left before the next class III move leading into the Anvil. The Anvil is fast & continuous as the river constricts as it smashes into both sides of the canyon walls. The last big rapid, Beaver Drop, has an obvious horizon line and can be run almost anywhere, but a clean tongue exists right of center.
      There’s a great playwave just upstream of Banjo’s Hole, the takeout if you’re not paddling 3rd canyon.

      Third Canyon:
      The difficulty between 2nd & 3rd canyon is significant; not only are the rapids harder, more in number, but most have less recovery time than 1st & 2nd canyon rapids allow.
      From Banjo’s Hole, there’s almost a mile of paddling with a handful of class III- rapids before a definitive horizon line with a large jagged rock splitting through the river. This is Staircase- the first of the major drops in this section & hands down the most difficult. Walker Creek comes in a few hundred feet on the right upstream of Staircase; get out in the eddy on the left a few hundred feet downstream of this creek to scout or portage. The move involves starting right of center through the entry hole before working left to make it through the 4 foot wide slot. The final part of the rapid involves a steep and sticky ledge- usually run right of center at lower flows.
      Downstream of Staircase lie two class III rapids before Suckhole (IV). The first has a large boulder in the center of the river before making a sharp right turn. There’s a boof ledge/sneak line on the far right, but the common line is to avoid the hole on the left before working right.
      Suckhole is notorious for flipping rafts at medium flows (approx 1500 cfs) but with levels most packrafters run it, it’s lost a lot of its power.
      Soon after is Zig Zag (IV), a series of small waves and holes. It’s best run with a left-right-left move, but you’ll likely hit some features regardless.
      In Merry Go Round, you’ll enter from the right but soon take a ride on the merry-go-round as you get pushed left. Eiter stay left and power into the final hole or ferry hard and try to ride down the tongue just to the right of that hole.
      Jaws is named for the sharp shark fin looking rocks on the bottom left of the rapid, however the crux moves are in the beginning. Numerous lines exist, as it is a mess of holes and potential pin rocks. A common line is to start right and work towards the center before working right again, avoiding holes & rocks along the way.
      Soon after awaits George Foreman, a steep and chunky ledge drop that is best run on the right. A few more class II/III- moves keep things interesting before the final significant drop, Junkyard Dog.
      Junkyard Dog is a broken ledge of basement rock with an obvious chute on the right side. Once in the chute, prepare for some funny laterals as you go down.

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