Juneau Icefield to Sloko to the Nakina to the Taku

I thought some of you all may be interested in some of the details of pack rafting the Sloko, Nakina, and Taku in Southeast Alaska/Western BC. This part of the world seems to be little visited, despite boasting fantastic terrain and diverse scenery. We had trouble getting any good river details before we headed out, hopefully this info may help some of your future trips.

Last Spring, two of us hiked over the Juneau Icefield from Juneau Alaska to Lake Atlin (about 70-80 miles). We used the standard route that travels from Lemon Creek Glacier over Echo pass, up the Taku Glacier to the Llewellyn Glacier, then down to Lake Atlin. From there we traveled across Lake Atlin to Sloko Lake. Timing of this section is tricky as you want to get to the Lake when it is solid ice and walkable or it is water and packraftable, not in between. We hit Atlin Lake right before the ice got too thin to walk on, so we were able to ski across the lake. Sloko Lake, connected to Lake Atlin by a short (but very snowy when we were there) portage trail, was too broken up to walk on and too frozen to packraft. Luckily, the water level was a little low on Sloko Lake so we were able to skirt around the edge rather then bush bash. If I were to do this again I would do it later in the year so that the lakes were thawed and packraftable because the upper reaches of the Sloko River didn’t have much water in it. Leaving later in the year may make the glacier section more challenging, but it should be doable.

At the end of Sloko Lake the Sloko River starts with a bang–it drops into a 200 ft waterfall that requires a bit of a bushbash. In summer this should be easy, i think there may even have been an old trail. We had ditched our skis after getting off the glacier and had to post hole through waist deep snow to get down to the bottom of the falls. We pulled the packrafts out then, but soon found the water too low to run much. It is hard to say what this upper section would look like in high water. It has some serious elevation loss. If it is runnable in higher water, it is probably pretty serious rapids. A lot of rock gardens with sharp turns, a bit of a cluster f***. For us it was boney and required long bush bashes, post holing through snow, scrambling along the slippery (sometimes icy) rocks, and river crossings. Eventually we dropped elevation enough for more water to be in the river and for a long 10-15 mile stretch we had nice paddling with easy class II rapids and shallow braids. The Sloko then heads towards the south again and the gradient picks up. This section was pretty difficult. Some of the rapids were too boney to run, but in higher water would be good fun class III or more. We hit bumped a lot of rocks along the way as you couldn’t always see all of the boulders to avoid them. Some of the rapids we ran were technical (but not pushy) class III with some serious punishment if you went for a swim. At higher water many of these rapids may very well have been too much for us. The banks are steep and cliffy. There are plenty of downed trees too. We bushbashed some and it was very slow going. The river runs through a variety of areas that could be described as a meandering canyon. I think if your were in a really rough spot you will usually be able to find a way up on one of the sides, but we did run a couple of rapids that committed us to running more rapids we couldn’t see because of cliffs on both sides.

One of the few things that kept us pushing on through this section was the fact we met an old hardcore that once lined a canoe all the way up the Sloko, then kept on going until he got to the Arctic Ocean. After seeing the river I have no idea how he did this, but he is a trusted friend and I believe him.

About 5 miles or more above the confluence of the Sloko and the Nakonake the river turns just plain fun. There is plenty of water in the river by now and the rapids run into a fun class II-III wave trains and minor holes with very little punishment if one were to swim. We ran all of these just through boat scouting, and had a blast. Once you get to the Nakonake it turns into a fast braided river. At the Nakina the river gets bigger and faster, and once you reach the Taku you are moving at a real clip. No rapids here but a lot of swirls and fast current. Picking the right braid was easy. We pretty much sat back and watched the incredible wildlife and scenery down the Taku. The current slows down near the US-CA border and near the Taku Inlet you need to watch the tides and the weather if you want to make any progress. The wind often picks up in the afternoon (and blows against you) so we found it easier to paddle in the mornings and pull out early. Lots of easy spots to pull out and camp.

The whole trip took about 3 weeks. I think there are dozens of different variations of this trip one could do and there are a lot of other unexplored rivers in the watershed that would be worth some effort. Very cool country.

You can see photos at our blog, watchingtelltales

We are now sailing around the world, but our packrafts are with us and we will be trying as many rivers along the way as we can. If you know of any good runs in Central and South America please leave a comment.

Rob Cadmus and Kate Glover

I planned that EXACT trip last year and had it scheduled for early August. I was psyched and ready to go with a lot of research done but my 2 buddies flaked and bailed on me. Oh well, it happens. Saw some of your pics on a different site and read all about it. Sounds amazing! (just like id hoped) When planning it I hadn’t heard of anyone else ever doing it or even attempting it. So right now I have mixed feelings… on the one hand i know the trip is legit and can totally work out, but on the other hand I know i won’t be the first one to do it. Ha, I’ll get over it! I hear there is upwards of 150% - 200% snowpack this year along the AK panhandle. I hope that makes for good paddling this summer. I’m trying to do it again this late July/early Aug again and the chances of it happening this time around are much better. If I remember correctly you only had problems getting around Sloko Falls and with low water in a boulder garden in the upper Sloko below the falls. I hope the shallow upper river won’t be a problem come this late summer. You did say that winter hadn’t really broken yet when you did your trip explaining the low flows. I’ve never done a river trip in AK and don’t know much about water flows and conditions in that area. I figure low is much more preferable to high/really high but don’t know the ideal water flows up there. I do have plenty of packrafting experience in the the Southwest.
Any recommendations? How did you pack in order to be out there for so long and still be able to navigate your boat decently? What did you wear for warmth while on the water? I have a spray deck. Did you fish and if so did you have any luck? I apologize if you already explained some of the things in your posts that I am inquiring about. Any information would be fantastic. I’ve talked to Nancy and Sherri (of Alpacka) and they said it sounded like a great trip! You should talk to them, I know they’d love to hear about it! They asked me to take a lot of pics for them to document it, but you’ve already accomplished that task.

Gregory O’Toole

p.s. - have you done or have you thought about packrafting the Stikine River. Looks pretty special as well

Ok, not the EXACT trip. Minus the entire Juneau Icefield (kind of a big deal). I’m very impressed. Was the glacier fairly safe that time year? Would it be OK late July or would that be absolute suicide/hell. I only originally planned on the Atlin Lake to Juneau packraft. I’m trying to understand and learn all I need about Alaska which I know is a very different beast than anything in the Southwest.

Gregory O’Toole

Hey Gregory-

Sorry we never replied to your questions about this trip. It looks like you were planning to do it last July/August, so we’re probably pretty useless to you now. But if you were thinking this July/August, I can give you some extra details. It’s an awesome trip–hope you got to do it. Sorry we’re slow–we’ve been out sailing the Pacific for the last year and a half, so we don’t get to email very often. Hoping to find some great adventures in New Zealand now…

Hello Rob and Kate!

Thanks so much for this trip report. I am planning a trip from Sloko Lake (fly in) then a hike to the Nakonake where we will begin the paddle out to Juneau. I would love to hear your thoughts on this route as there is very little info on these rivers.