Packrafting Alaska 2013

Talkeetna and Susitna Rivers
A 100 mile rafting and backpacking trip from the headwaters of the Talkeetna River to the town of Talkeetna via the Talkeetna and Susitna Rivers.


Route: Bush plane drop at the headwaters of the Talkeetna River. Float Talkeetna R to Prairie Creek. Heinous bushwack out of the Talkeetna River and cross the plateau to the Susitna River. Another challenging bushwack down to Gold Creek on the Susitna. Then float the Susitna to the Town of Talkeetna (with a short flag train ride into town—just for the novelty of it!).


A detailed gear list for Packrafting in Alaska. [PDF file]

The Trip in Brief

We started our trip by catching a Bear Mountain Air bush plane from Anchorage's Lake Hood Airport. Bad wx made for a dicey plane ride in. Our 8:00 AM takeoff was delayed until almost noon. We had another delay mid-flight when we had to land on a river gravel bar in the Talkeetnas--had to wait for wx to clear to make it over the pass to the Upper Talkeetna River. Then had to fly high and dodge through cloud holes landing around 4:00pm. Whew! Thank you Joe of Bear Mountain Air for some excellent flying!


Safely landed on a gravel bar on the upper Talkeetna River. Our 1960s era Cessna 185. A wonderful plane!
Skillfully piloted through low visability condtions by Joe Houston of Bear Mountain Air.

Talkeetna R was high and fast but doable if you paid constant attention. Ripping along! Made 6-7 mph with current. No problems except that Alison could not hold her line at one point. Ended up going through a nasty class 3 wave train on a long, steep ladder chute. Fortunately, she kept her boat straight with a strong forward stoke and did not swim :-) We had intermittent rain both river days.


View of the Talkeetna River at the mouth of Prarie Creek and near the start of our bushwhack to the plateau between the Talkeetna and Susitna Rivers.


We had a stupendous hailstorm our second day on the river and Alan had to hack out a camp site using his 1 oz. pocket knife to make enough room for our tent. It was a real challenge to anchor the tent in the rubble and rocks of the gravel bar.

Our bushwhack out of Talkeetna R to tundra was as long and heinous as I remembered from my 2010 trip. Almost 5 miles of brush with significant elevation gain (and loss due to numerous steep gullies to be crossed). Even with an excellent and direct route and following some good game trails it took us all day to reach a nice lake in the tundra. Wind was howling and we were lucky to find a semi-sheltered, almost flat tent site in moderate tussocks. It started to rain in earnest around 6:00 PM.

Weather was a challenge along the plateau. Temperatures in the 30's & 40's. 100% rain without remission white-out conditions much of the time. Torrential rain at night had the tent leaking in numerous places (We really need to seal some ridgeline seams!). Constant headwinds. Hard to find anywhere to safely pitch the tent. Ground, tussocks and bogs super saturated with 40 degree water. Our feet were constantly squishing in and out of bogs, sponga and pools of near freezing water. Alan's feet got so cold they hurt for days after the trip. Pretty much some of the worst hiking weather days either of us can recall. Wx on Alison's birthday, 7/4, was one of the those days that will go down in history as wanting to forget!


Alison loses the weather lottery on her birthday. With constant rain, wind, white-out and temperatures in the 30s and 40s, it was no picnic.

The rest of the trip had milder wx with intermittent rain. Float down the Susitna was very fast & fun. The river was high and ripping along! We made around 7 mph. Just for the novelty, we flagged down the train rode it the last 7 miles into town--one of the last flag trains in the US. Great fun!

Town of Talkeetna super nice and fun. Great restaurants and amenities. We had a superb day of King Salmon Fishing! According to our guide, the best day all season. Alison and Alan caught 9 king salmon between us. They averaged near 30 pounds with the largest near 50 lb! Picures of our big fish!

Detailed Report and Photos


Our first morning and one of the few sunny moments (abeit partial) on the trip. Looking at the high, silt laden, and swiftly moving Talkeetna River.


Starting a fire to warm up and dry out. Always a challenge to make a fire with wet wood!


Packrafts safely secured near camp. (There is always a potetnial for rafts to be blown away or even float away if not secured.)


Ready to load the rafts for the final section of River before packing them up and hiking to the plateau to commence the foot portion of the trip.


A view from our bushwack (and not to the tundra yet—groan! We started bushwacking in the morning somewhere near the yellow arrow. Our bushwhack out of Talkeetna R to tundra was as long and heinous as Alan remembered from his 2010 trip. Almost 5 miles of brush with significant elevation gain (and loss due to numerous steep gullies to be crossed). Even with an excellent and direct route and following some good game trails it took us all day to reach a nice lake in the tundra.


Finally in the Tundra! And our beautiful campsite.


Wind was howling and we were lucky to find a semi-sheltered, almost flat tent site in moderate tussocks.
We had a blessed hour to dry everything out before the rain moved in.


It started to rain in earnest around 6:00 PM. But we had some wonderful views of light and stormclouds before the rain.


Alison's birthday morning. Temperatures were in the 30s and white-out condtions starting to creep in.


A period of better weather on Alison's birthday. Local white-out has lifted and we can actually see across the valley. Somewhere in the distance is the pass we came over earlier in the day.


Morning mist day 5


We constantly encountered small groups of caribou on the plateau.


As we began to descend from the high plateu to the Susitna River, the weather begain to improve. We are fairly sure that the high plateau created its own static and horrible weather amplfying lower elevation weather by 3x.


Bushwhacking through alder on the steep slope from the escarpement down to the Susitna River. Yes, we did have to climb on some lower alder branches to get through some areas!



Last night's camp on the Susitna River. And a brief and welcome moment of sunshine at a stunning location.


Finally some nice weather a day after her birthday. Alison relaxes in some mild weather and late evening light.


By the next morning we were back to overcast, rain and mist. Alison sets off on our last leg down the Susitna to the town of Talkeetna, AK.


Alison's raft is just a blip on the huge Susitna. It is the 15th largest river the the US!


We stopped at the ghost town of Curry, Alaska. Curry was a significant staging point for the constrution of the Alaska Railway. The major hotel burned down in 1957. It was not rebuilt and almost all traces of the once bustling town are gone.


One of the last flag stop trains in the US! The Hurricane approaches: this "train has delivered Alaska locals to their remote cabins since 1923. On this wilderness run, get off the train anywhere along the 55-mile stretch: hike, fish, or journey to a remote cabin. When you are ready to return to civilization, you can stop the train on its return with the wave of a flag."


Using a MLD MoPacka (AKA "the thing) on the end of paddle, Alan flags down the Hurricane train. Alison, always the transit geek, was super excited to ride the last few miles into the town of Talkeetna.

 


We had a superb day of King Salmon Fishing! According to our guide, the best day all season. Alison and Alan caught 9 king salmon between us. They averaged near 30 pounds with the largest near 50 lb!


BIG FISH. Happy face.


After seven days in Alaska with now views, Alison finally sees Denali from the front porch of our cabin..


A double rainbow while we ate dinner at the local pizza joint.


A bus ride back to Anchorage. Transit geek suitably happy. We did not rent a car on this trip. Float plane, jet boat, packraft, foot and train but no car!

Parting Shot


Alison contemplates Alaska at a brief stop in the middle of the massive Susitna River..