Willow Creek “Upper Upper” Section

Forums Alaska Rivers Talkeetna Region Willow Creek “Upper Upper” Section

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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: III
      Length: Approx 8 miles, depending on put-in
      Gauge: USGS Willow Creek at Willow: https://waterdata.usgs.gov/monitoring-location/15294005/#parameterCode=00065&period=P7D&showMedian=false
      Shuttle: 4-7 miles, depending on put-in
      Put-in: Numerous options, description below for 6.8 miles upstream of Upper Willow bridge

      Takeout: Upper Willow Bridge

      Character: Upper Upper Willow is named so because it’s even further above the class V “Upper Willow” section.  “Upper Upper” is a busy stretch of splashy water that is a good option when water levels are too high for Guardrail.  “Upper Upper”needs more water than lower sections to be worthwhile, as it’s relatively shallow and littered with small boulders-making for a bumpy & somewhat annoying ride when below 900 cfs.  

      The majority of the run is class II+, and rapids themselves class III, however there aren’t many opportunities to recover, making swims more consequential than other pool drop streams.  You can see & scout most of the run from the road, including the two bigger drops.

      Water Level: Refer to Willow Creek gauge.  This usually peaks from snow melt in early June, but can have ample water later in the season from rain.  Minimum recommended flows are 900 cfs; below this it’s almost too shallow to run in sections.  Ideal levels are between 1100-2000 cfs, but the more water the better for experienced class III paddlers. 

      Directions to put-in: From Willow, turn right on Willow Fishhook Rd, following signs towards Hatcher Pass. Drive 14.5 miles until the bridge crosses Willow Creek.  Multiple put-in options exist, as the creek parallels the road with numerous pullouts and camping spots throughout.  Last possible put in is 6.8 miles upstream from Willow Creek bridge, before a massive gravel pit; after this, the road ascends towards Summit Pass & leaves sight of the river.

      River Description: Although deemed class II-III, Upper Upper Willow has hazards worth mentioning.  Dead spruce trees are rampant along the banks & occasionally midstream, and foot entrapment hazards are pretty real.  Swims would have some bruising potential, making one tempted to try to stand up.  Keep your eyes alert & ninja wits turned on- you’ll likely have to duck under a few mining cables with little warning.

      The run warms up with ¾ mile of class II+ before the first rapid.  You’ll see a horizon line followed by a left hand turn; center usually has the best line.  You can scout this one from the road on your way to the put-in. Another ¾ mile of class II+/III- boogie water ensues before the first island; both sides go, but the right side usually has more water.  Shortly after the first island, look for a cabin on the right, followed by another island.  Take the left channel, anticipating a class III rapid/constricted tongue when the two channels come back together and the river makes a sharp left turn.

      Shortly after this rapid, the creek maintains a class II+ character for another mile until it calms down and meanders downstream.  The meandering bends continue for almost 3 miles before the creek wakes up again with a sharp left turn.  The action again picks up; with a larger drop downstream of an island, where channels reconvene.

      When you see a brown cabin on river left where another island creates two channels, watch out!  The creek has more water on the right side, however the cabin owners have mining cables & lines at numerous heights here- some are very thin & black, incredibly hard to see until you’re just a few feet upstream of them… it’s a spooky limbo game. The creek maintains its “busy boogie” character for the last 1.5 miles until the take out below the bridge. There’s a good eddy with a trail 50 ft downstream from the bridge on the right.  DO NOT go further downstream, as the class V Upper Willow canyon lies below.

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    Forums Alaska Rivers Talkeetna Region Willow Creek “Upper Upper” Section