Bird Creek

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 :frowning:

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 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?

Sounds like the lower sanctum is clear of wood Roman? Cool. I haven’t been in there this year… we just ran Upper Bird Creek and the Upper Sanctum earlier this season, sweet and stout as always. Is there still wood in Mushroom drop? It’s surprisingly not that difficult to run at medium & above water levels, but gets manky when it’s low, plus it’s had wood in it for a while. You’re right about Bird Falls, it’s a very dangerous waterfall because of the half-moon cave at the right base of the falls, and should be taken very seriously. Out of curiosity, I’ve always wondered how well the packrafts punch Elbow Hole (it’s the 3rd rapid in, just a big diagonal river-wide 3 ft. ledge with a fairly sticky hole— then the creek spits hard right out of a slot immediately after the hole). That seems to be the main problem spot for kayakers and was wondering if you guys had a tough time punching it, although we’re usually in there with at least medium water, I do remember that hole still being there at lower levels a little bit.

I have a meeting with the head ranger of the Ft. Rich base next week in which we’re going over the pro-access proposal and working out access issues for the Ship Creek run (boulder garden & canyon run, and working on either Biatholon Range Road car access or developed portage trail around the dam). I’ll keep you posted. Hope everyone’s enjoying 65 & sunny!!!

Timmy J.

Oh, almost forgot, be really careful hiking on that bear trail you’re talking about, every few times I’ve paddled Bird Creek we’ve encountered bears on the lower stretch, one time we ran into 5 brown bears in 1 run!!! I’m sure you guys all make noise walking through the woods, but I’d recommend walking w/ a .44 or some bear spray if you’re going to hike in that way around salmon season, a few of the bears we ran into weren’t cooperative and were a little too curious for comfort. Have fun & be safe out there folks,

Timmy J.

Mushroom stuffed with sticks, but everything else essentially wood-free.

The Dog Leg is fun and maybe more straightforward than Commando Drop in Ship in a packraft but a little sticky at lower water. The last two drops at such low water were a bit more upsetting, but we ran everything clean.

Sorry about the “lack of content” here, but, Roman, as you seem to be rather distracted with a summer of fantastic Alaskan packrafting adventures, and I’m sitting on my butt not doing any rafting, would you mind reading the personal message I sent you a while ago…just trying to get your attention!!! And I apologise for doing so in the middle of a forum, but …sometimes these things are necessary


Brad M. and Jeff C. went in with me to run Bird’s sweet lower canyon. Half an hour walking and half an hour scouting from the Powerline Drive parking to just below the Mushroom put-in. See my earlier post on how to get there without parking at the Penguin Ridge parking area.

Great trail walk-in. Kinda stinky at Penguin with dead fish. We walked across the bridging birch there.

Ship was reading 4.6 feet and Bird felt about like Ship does at that level, but just a bit harder – like a thinner face climb that needs more attention to footwork – especially the last drop, right below what Timmy J calls “Center Falls” in his book. This thing took us three tries each to get without an upsetting bandersnatch!

The thing to do for this final slot is get some speed up (tough to do in the low-water slot) and run very hard left onto the rock edge just before the pool and brace and paddle like crazy in the pool at its base. The big Center Falls above is much easier than this drop, where easier means easier to stay upright. Again this is at the low water levels I’ve been running the last couple times. Last year at higher water the Center Falls hole was a challenge and this little slot-drop was just a fun chute.

Bird’s super-super fun if you can handle Ship – the closest to a Ship Creek substitute i’ve yet paddled. There’s even a Commando like drop in there at this water level that isn’t as cool at higher water levels. There’s more variety packed into that quarter mile than any other stretch of whitewater I’ve been running recently.

Of course it’s too brief a run for Brad, but I’d have run laps on the whole thing if we’d had the time. I’m hoping to get at least one run in a week until freeze-up. And I bet Jeff C. will be up for that, too.

And remember it’s legal.


There is a kayak technique called a screwover that might work for you guys. It is basically the same idea as a stern pirouette. You guys should go back to that final river-left slot drop on Bird Creek and practice it (pretty safe spot to mess around/swim in w/ a deep pool). When you go over the drop, your shoulders should be over you knees in a boofing crash position and this might help stop the backender/bandersnatch. If that doesn’t work, your can use the screwover to avoid a swim. As the boat begins flipping backwards, lean back with the boat and reach behind you with the closest blade to the water and do an extremely hard pry/backstroke. If done correctly you can spin the boat away from flipping over backwards. Although you will be facing the wrong way (back upriver if initiated correctly), it’s still better than swimming.

Here’s an example of a kayak playboating move called the Tricky Woo. It is really similar to the technique I described above with a few extra steps… and the emphasis being on playing… but it works well as a recovery move if you feel yourself getting backendered.

Just a thought, give it a shot next time you feel yourself going over backwards.

Timmy J.

Bird Creek beta…

and vid:

Good footage Roman. Had fun this weekend. Wished I could have bombed it a 2nd time if we weren’t heading towards Canyon & Six Mile that same day. The water was so low that carnage was pretty much as low as it could possibly be:^) Compared to Ship Creek, Bird is a bit more difficult, only because portaging is much less of an option once you drop in the canyon. The drops aren’t really too much more difficult. For the pack rafters that haven’t been in there yet…

Put in below Mushroom, run a tight slide on the left then line up right of center to run Commitment Cauldron (the 3 ft. tall slot w/ a boiling cauldron). Once you run this, there is about 40 ft. of recovery (but really not much of anywhere to get out or swim to shore) before the water starts washing into the Dog Leg/Elbow Hole. Run left of center w/ as much speed as possible, this is a sticky hole at most water levels. Then let it flush you 90degrees to your right and another small recovery exists above the next drop, Whirly Bird. Whirly Bird starts out w/ a small slide into a 3 ft. riverwide ledge, another small boulder garden, then quickly washes into a fast S-turn (where Whirly Bird gets it’s name), just follow the water and drive hard left up top to avoid the rock wall.

Below Whirly Bird is the best recovery pool on Bird Creek which slowly flushes towards Center Falls (scout/portage river-right). Run this 10 ft. off-vertical waterfall left of center & squeeze inbetween the walls at the bottom. This quickly flushes into
Bronco, which is a boulder garden S-turn sluice ending in a 4 ft. ledge which loves to back ender packrafts & kayaks alike at almost any water level (except for extremely low levels).

After Bronco take out on river-left just as the creek drops over a shoals and heads 90 degrees to the right to walk around Bird Falls on the portage trail.

As far as put-ins, there are 2 options. Romans option above is good if you want a quick hit, but the hike is only about 10-15 minutes less than the classic Bird Creek put-in, which gives you an additional 2-ish miles of fun class II-III+ rapids, and also takes you through a really cool & narrow mini-canyon. There is usually only 1 spot to portage around (easy portage around a log jam… you’ll see it coming when big boulders after a fast class II wavetrain come to view). Portage on river-right - takes about 2 minutes. Put back in and you get to run some really cool rapids and a 4 ft super clean ledge. Take out above Mushroom on right-right and put back in to run the Lower Sanctum. This put-in is almost completely flat for walking (although you have to walk around a few mud puddles, but you get your feet wet anyway if you take the Lower Sanctum trail as you have to walk across Penguin Creek and walk across Bird Creek itself). I feel like you miss a good part of Bird Creek by not paddling this top stretch, but if you’re in a hurry than the Lower Sanctum trail would be good, although it has a few steep spots to hike up and you have to walk down a privately owned road. Just respect the property and try to be friendly if you get confronted over there.

Anyway, have fun out there guys. Wonder how much longer we’ll be able to boat?

I just wanted to remind everyone that the description I wrote above is for running Bird Creek at low water to extreme low water (extreme low in the video). A normal summer water level for this creek is a medium flow & it frequently runs at a high flow, especially for the 1st half of the summer. This creek has the potential to be pretty dangerous for swimming at medium to high water mainly because of:

Commitment Cauldron: if you swim in this slot and the water level is up, you will get recirculated back into the hole and there isn’t much of an escape. Not much of a place to set a throwbag/rope either. If you swim the cauldron than you will definitely swim the Elbow, which is pretty stout w/ water, but would probably be ok. Bronco has a moderately dangerous hydraulic at the base when the water is up. I’ve seen some boaters get really pounded in there, and you probably wouldn’t want to swim… but safety could be set here w/ a rope while scouting Center Falls.

Anyway, just making sure that everyone knows what’s up if you go in there with more flow in the creek.

Here’s another video of the same day on Bird (and two seconds of Six Mile’s 3rd canyon action too:^)

I took JD’s advice and headed down to Bird Creek for some “packlapping”.

Check it:

Disclaimer: no “Bird” cliche’s attached.

Anybody interested in Bird Creek tomorrow (10/25). We need 1 more to add to our group. PM me if you want to check it out…

Bird Creek on Sunday 10/25. Ship creek flow approximately 4.6.

Bird Creek’s Lower Canyon (the Inner Sanctum, between Mushroom and Bird Falls) is clean right now (Sunday Sept 5) but pushier than than during last fall’s flipping Bird extravaganza – Ship’s reading 4.8 on the USGS site.

Bird’s closer than Montana Ck maybe not quite as exciting but still well worth the drive and walk (for once not a 4 wheeler trail to a packraft put-in) for an afternoon – the lower stretch below the Bird Falls is not as scrapey and would make for a good beginner run – just portage around the strainer when the creek goes into the bushes.

Bird from the usual upstream put in is clean of wood except the place it’s had a big wood portage for the last few years. That’s still there, a few corners down from the put-in and where you eddy out river right.

Overall the recent highwater has left the run in good shape and it’s fun, especially in the new boats with their anti-bandersnatch butts. Toby said, “these boats feel like you’re cheating.” They just launch out of holes and land drops like Center Falls really well.

Bird is great.

However, the low water runs of Upper Willow last week have to rank as the best high end whitewater packrafting yet. It feels like Ship Creek did five years ago – the “can we really be doing this packrafting???” kind of run.

For those planning on checking out Bird Creek, last weekends deluge of rain washed out the log that we use to get across Penguin Creek. We just put our drysuits on to get across the creek, but the flows were larger than last week’s run. I think you can use the 4-wheeler trails to cross on the bridge and make your way to the put-in. The creek is clear of wood through the canyon, except for the spot where Roman mentions above.