Tsaina River Lower Canyon

Forums Alaska Rivers Glennallen-Valdez Region Tsaina River Lower Canyon

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    Jule Harle

      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.

      Difficulty: Class III+ (low water)/IV- (medium/high)
      Length: 3.5 or 6.5 miles, depending on put-in
      Gauge: No gauge
      Shuttle: 3 or 6 miles, depending on put-in
      Put-in: Pipeline bridge: 61.21195, -145.38148 or Mile 42 pullout

      Takeout: Stuart Creek

      Character: The Lower Tsaina Canyon is similar to the upper in some respects, although it has more volume & is significantly less technical.  While easier than the upper, this narrow & twisting gorge can still feel pushy and powerful at higher flows.  The sides are boily & have plenty of “weird” water,” but several micro eddies existing along the walls allow for eddy hoping & boat scouting.  

      This river is secluded; the highway is nearby, but completely out of sight and hearing.  As there are few places to exit, it’s committing; self-rescue skills are essential.  It is possible to scout a large portion of this run along the rim from highway mile marker 42.

      Fun Fact: Tsaina means “brown bear” in the Ahtna language.

      Water Level: The Tsaina is not gauged.  Color and time of year are good indicators of what you’ll get.  Early and late seasons, May and Sept/Oct, the water will likely be clear and levels low.  Rapids are III-/III, with time between rapid sets.  During June, July and early August, when the water is glacial gray, expect a pushier & more continuous class III+/IV- run with large features.  Significant rain (which happens a lot in this coastal area) can also bump up water levels 

      Takeout Directions:   Look for a large pullout between mile marker 45-46 on the Richardson Highway, near Stuart creek.  Across the highway from the Rendezvous/red lodge (only operates during a short heli ski season, will likely look closed down/vacant) Follow dirt road a few hundred feet down to the river.

      Put-in Directions: The large pullout near mile 43 on the Richardson Highway is the most commonly used put-in.  Walk boats across the road & put-in on the rocks.  If you’d like 2.5 miles of class II warm up, you can alternatively put in near the Alyeska Pipeline bridge between mile marker 40-41 (look for gravel road before highway begins going uphill away from river).  Do not block bridge access; use parking area on the left.

      River Description:  If putting in at the bridge for the middle section, you’ll warm up with 3 miles of class II braid negotiation while taking in views of Mt. Billy Mitchell for 3  until the glacial Peavy Creek pours in from the right.  As you near the canyon, there’s a few right & left hand bends with class III wave trains. 

      You can tell you’re entering the canyon when the rock walls close in on both right and left sides, but there’s a notable granite face on the right.  The two most difficult rapids are near the entrance & at the end of the canyon.  The first major rapid begins as a powerful sweeping left hand bend.   A handful of large wave trains, hit or miss holes, and boily eddy lines maintain the pace for the next mile.  

      Scouting around the corner, medium flow, August. Photo: Jule Harle

      The last & larger rapid has 3 midstream boulders, creating a series of large holes.  A large eddy immediately upstream of the rapid exists on the left side; scramble on rockfall debris if you’d like a better look at your line. Lines exist on both right and left sides, avoiding or hitting the bigger features. 

      Soon after, the canyon walls open up, with a massive recovery eddy on the left.  You’ll ride a few more large & exciting wave trains before the takeout.  Keep your eyes on the left for Stuart Creek- takeout immediately below it; higher water renders this a tricky on the fly takeout with less than ideal eddy service.  

      View from canyon rim of the lower Tsaina canyon, July

      In the event you miss the takeout, there’s a large rocky beach on the left soon after.  This is private property & belongs to the 46 mile community, however, you’re better off asking for forgiveness- offering them beers vs continuing to float downstream- the Tsaina soon meets the Tiekel, entering a steep canyon with several class V waterfalls.


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    Forums Alaska Rivers Glennallen-Valdez Region Tsaina River Lower Canyon