As many of you know, Ship Creek’s sweet little lower canyon, the one above the Reservoir, is closed by Ft Rich Base order. Bummer, I say
An alternative for those who have run Ship’s lower canyon and like it and feel comfortable with its many drops and technical nature, low volume canyon run, is to consider checking out Bird Creek’s lowest canyon. It’s solid PR 5, I think a hair harder than Ship, but maybe only 'cause I have run that like a gazillion times in the last six years, while I have only run Bird twice.
The technical section of Lower Bird Canyon (0.25 miles) is less than half as long as Ship’s (0.6 miles) and is located between two drops that will be a long-time-coming before packrafters run them: “The Mushroom” and “Bird Falls”, both nasty, nasty, nasty.
Like Ship, Bird’s pool-dropish, but offers busier and bigger drops, including a waterfall that’s like 10 feet high (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5LuvLA4W08 at 2:31). You need to have good reflexes and a party of three (Class IV minus one equals three people; Class III minus one equals two people). Everyone needs helmets and throwbags and eddy catching and throw bag skills and creeking experience, like a few successful runs on Ship’s lower canyon.
Here’s what to do: First, disregard Alaska Whitewater’s directions 'cause you’re going in to packraft, not kayak, and you’re only running the fun spot and then downstream of “Bird Falls” your putting in again to float down (PR 2 – some wood) to Penguin Creek.
Drive out the Seward Hwy toward Girdwood past Bird Creek bridge and take any of the residential roads leading left to Powerline Drive.
Turn left on Powerline, drive to its end where there’s like a dead volvo and pinto in the bushes. A handmade sign says “Private Drive”. Walk down that private road keeping right to avoid a big house but picking up the bear trail just upstream that runs along the Bird Creek on river left.
Follow this bear trail, cross Penguin Creek and get the trail that leads to the rim above Bird Creek and follow to the nasty nasty nasty Bird Falls, past that, and cross the creek with your raft at the first and really only spot you come to that it’s even remotely possible to cross (mossy, not cliffed out). This little corner with a big pool will also be your takeout. Make sure you take-out here!
You’re now on river right and able to scout the drops being sure to remember which side of each you will run. There’re about nine of them between the nasty nasty nasty Mushroom entrance undrcut-seive-drop and the takeout. The scout trail is a rim trail. Check for wood. Double check for wood. Memorize your lines.
The rim trail sort of fades out in a grove of three medium sized birch perched on a slope. Drop down right then left and look for the kayakers’ haul trail they use to portage Mushroom. This leads to the put in below the Mushroom.
So this is a really fun technical run that’ll be over pretty darn fast but you’ll be happy it doesn’t go on much longer. Don’t forget to take out at the spot you crossed. Don’t forget what lines you’re taking. The pools are deep, the rocks not too sharp, and the drops are trickier than they look. Be prepared to swim, meaning position people with throw ropes below the last two drops and maybe the big dog-leg elbow in the middle (you’ll see it on the scout).
This is great packraft creeking run. I’d do it today, tomorrow, this weekend, if I wasn’t working and leaving town – and kind of a long drive from my house. Indeed, the worst part about it is the long drive and the salmon stink.
Do not float out to the Seward Hwy! The takeout is too muddy there.
Take out just below Penguin Creek and walk back the way you came, on the private road.
I’ve only done it twice once when Ship Cr was at 4.85’ (a bit easier as holes not so sticky and drops not so far) and yesterday when Ship was at 4.78’ and drops were bigger and holes stickier.
By the way, I have done the standard hike in to run Lower Bird as described in Fast and Cold and in Alaska Whitewater, but it’s a long, muddy walk, for some good creeking, but I just like to high grade, you know?