Monday, September 3, 2012

8/11-12/12 East Fork Chulitna River Backpacking/Packrafting Loop

I've read posts on this river over the last couple years, and it sounded like some fun packrafting. It was time to check out some whitewater with overnight gear. Originally we had decided to make this a long day, but thought there might be some route-finding challenges and played it safe and planned for two. I'd recommend two days if it's your first time doing the route we did, unless it's closer to the solstice.

We chose the Hardage Creek access. You can park at the Chulitna River Raft put-in at the East Fork Bridge, or at the East Fork Wayside a few hundred feet North. From the South side of the bridge we headed South to the intertie. We followed that a short ways until we bushwhacked East where we ran into an ATV trail. We followed that until we saw Hardage Creek head SE. From there we left the ATV trail, and walked up a meadow until brush forced us into the creek. We crossed the stream countless times until we reached the moraines that led us to the beautiful 4600 foot pass. 

We traversed the hillside until the easiest walking led us to drop into the creek and follow the tundra bench on the South side of the creek. At the point we dropped into the creek Jason cut his hand on some shale pretty bad so we had to tape him up. He lived! We had to drop in and out of a couple drainages, but animal trails and the path of least resistance led us the right way. Eventually we headed North across the creek we were paralleling and hiked through Dwarf Birch for a couple miles before getting forced into bushwhacking. We opted to Willow and Alder rappel down to the creek where we tried walking in the creek and busting through thick brush. Before long, we reached gravel bars in the brush we could connect, that led us downstream. There was one good sandy camp that we passed by (on the unnamed creek), but ended up finding a spot above Crooked Creek a mile further. Total travel time so far was 11 hours.

We were able to float from near our camp to the Chulitna. The banks of the Chulitna near Crooked Creek have large cobbles so not great camping; just something to keep in mind. It was relaxed class 1 to 2- floating in the shallow river until the entrance to the first canyon section. The water isn't terribly difficult, but it pays to scout so you enter the small drops in the right channels. There was one class III drop in the first canyon section and one III+ drop in the second canyon section. Don't rush through the beautiful canyon!

After exiting the second canyon it's a mix of boulder dodging and class II rapids; it's never mellow enough to just sit back because of constant maneuvering. In the last mile be on alert for wood. There was one tree that was leaning over the entire channel that is slowly falling. The floating took us 7 hours. The trip total was 30 miles (equal parts hiking and floating) with 3000 feet of elevation gain. This trip is what packrafts are made for!

 East Fork Chulitna Wayside.

 The Intertie

 Brief Schwack

 We found the ATV trail.

 The most deliciousest of all berries. The Clouderry.
To me it tasted like a mango creamsicle!

 Leaving the ATV Trail.

 Hardage Creek

 Moraine Ahead

4600 foot pass

The valley we dropped into.

 All taped up!


 Dwarf Birch

 After the brush rappelling.

Ode to Ed Plumb's East Fork trip!

 Crooked Creek

 Confluence of East Fork of the Chulitna and Crooked Creek.

 Canyon Entrance


 Hauling out a packraft!

 Back to the Parks Highway Bridge.

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