Tsaina River Upper Canyon

Forums Alaska Rivers Glennallen-Valdez Region Tsaina River Upper 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: III+ (low) IV (medium-high)
      Length: 3 miles
      Gauge: No gauge
      Shuttle: 2.5 miles
      Put-in: Across from Tsaina River Lodge

      Takeout: Before class V Jacob’s Ladder section: 61.20682, -145.49355

      Character: The character depends highly on the time of year and water levels.  The primary sources of the Tsaina are the Tsaina & Worthington glaciers, although other tributaries contribute as well- expect the rapids in the upper canyon to be class IV during glacial melting season (June-early August) and class III as the days are colder & shorter in shoulder seasons (May & September/October).  Lower flows are ideal for packrafting, offering pool drop class III+ rapids in a spectacular setting.

      Whatever the flows, the canyon itself is stunning as it cuts through graywacke (a slate-like rock with dramatic fractures) and offers impressive views of the Chugach between the rapids.  Imagine steep canyon walls with mountain views downstream- sights only a paddler gets to see.  This is an excellent road run- a must do if you’re in the area!

      Water Level: The Tsaina is not gauged.  Water color and time of year are good indicators of what you’ll get.  Early and late seasons, May and Sept/Oct, water will likely be clear and levels low.  The rapids are then III/III+ and pool drop in nature.  During June, July and early August, when the water is glacial gray, expect a pushier class IV run.  

      You can walk down the rocks at the put-in; the first rapid is a pretty tame example of what’s downstream; it’s telling of the nature of the flow & character of the run, but expect the downstream rapids to be slightly more difficult.

      Put-in Directions: From Glennallen, head South on the Richardson highway for 1.5 hours.  The best put-in is shortly after mile marker 35; look for a pullout on the right, across the highway from the plush Tsaina River Lodge.  It looks ridiculously fancy considering where you are:)  If you’d like more of a warm up, continue up the road for another ½ mile; park at the pullout on the right.

      Takeout Directions:  There’s an unmarked dirt road 0.9 miles south of the Tsaina bridge, just before the guardrail begins.  This is the access point to the take out; drive another 1/2 mile down to the river.  Most vehicles can make it, unless it’s been raining extensively or there’s snow.  Make note of what the take out looks like from here, especially if you’re not leaving a car down low.

      River Description: From the put-in, you’ll have some class II-III warm up before the river diverges from the highway, and the canyon walls begin.  The canyon begins with 2 separate river wide ledge drops before the river turns abruptly to the right.  Best lines are on the left; you can actually scout these rapids beforehand, or easily stage someone for photos; there’s a dirt road nearby.

      At low water, the rapids in the upper canyon have a “creeky” feel. October low low low water. Photo: Jule Harle

      Past this turn, another horizon line soon comes into view; the next rapid is best run on the right.  Expect a few more rapids like this one as you progress downstream- horizon lines with short & steep drops.  At lower flows these rapids will have a pool drop nature, but with higher summer flows, the river is much more continuous, pushy, boily and offer less recovery time.  At any time of year, the canyon walls are decorated with stunning waterfalls throughout the run- too beautiful!  During lower and medium flows, the stretches between the rapids offer great features for playing: excellent eddy lines, surf waves & ferry moves.  After 3 miles, when you see old remnants of a destroyed bridge on either side of the river, begin looking for the take out nearby on the right.

      End of rapids in Tsaina’s upper canyon

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    Forums Alaska Rivers Glennallen-Valdez Region Tsaina River Upper Canyon