Montana Creek, South Fork, near Talkeetna

This may become the Ship Creek for Talkeetna: nicely technical drops that are suitable for packrafts at low volume flows in a short, shallow canyon with quick access.

Some beta and a video on my blog:

We also discovered this weekend that the center of the “Big Sky” waterfall is runnable but that the hole is nastier there than on the river left side.

Gordy Vernon and I ran the lower canyon with the NOAA and USGS gauges reading around 450-465 cfs or 5.4-5.5 feet yesterday. This is about 100 cfs higher than when I did it last year.

The center line on “Big Sky Country” the tallest waterfall at the entrance of the lower canyon looked pretty bad, a real sticky deep hole. However, with the extra water it made getting over to the extreme left side pretty easy. That’s where you want to be. This is really what the Talkeetna butt boaters should be doing after work. Get some young guys to go with you and show you it’s doable, if you are nervous about running Class IV in the little creek.

I have to say that running many of last years runs in thigh straps this year really underlines how much better the boats are with thigh straps, regardless of what Sheri Tingey’s comments to the contrary. Maybe we should pitch in and send her a boat with thigh straps so she could see what Industry Standards are like in a packraft. Of course classic butt-boating trips like a traverse of Gates of the Arctic or a loop around the Savage and Sanctuary in Denali or Nabesna to McCarthy or most stuff Class III or below doesn’t need them. But if you are getting butt-boat-bit by whitewater thrills, you will be super glad you have thigh straps, the real ones, like Aire Brand Deluxe that you glue in with real D-ring patches 4 inches in diameter (not Alpacka tie-downs).

More on my blog, including a couple vid clips.

After having a place down the road for a few years now, multiple hiking/scouting missions, and at least one episode of chickening out at the put-in while staring at the falls, I finally summoned enough courage or stupidity to put on my big-boy pull-ups and introduced my own (lame) version of “paddling” to my new Talkeetna Mistress.

Holy @$(&%#)(@! awesome.

5.3-5.4. Here’s what I know and/or how I remember things:

Off the Talkeetna Spur, turn onto Yoder Rd (signs for Benka Lake). Keep going straight, cross the bridge, keep going past pavement ends, Right at the start of a steep hill there is an ATV trail to the left that leads to the creek for takeout. There’s an island in the middle of the creek and a downed birch right past this takeout to help remember it. I don’t recommend floating all the way back to the bridge, too much downed wood. Park at this short trail. Hike up the hill and just after the road turns to the right there is a 4wd/ATV trail to the left. Follow that. A Jeep could maybe handle it on a good day but after the first 1/4 mile its devolved into primary ATV with endarounds away from some likely deep puddles.

Note a “turn-out” area to the left after about a mile. There is a rough trail down to the creek at the end of the canyon from here that makes for a put-in to do the non-canyon parts of this run (which makes for a nice short PR2-3) or for an emergency take-out if your raft is still in the canyon but you aren’t.

After I think about 1.5-2mi, there is a large tree wrapped with two strings of pink flagging tape. Turn left here into the brush. Unless you love devil’s club, do not go to the ATV mud-pit mentioned earlier/elsewhere to get down! Walk through the brush staying on the ridge-line. A trail will appear after a few feet, but for the entire way down always stay high while maintaining general direction, do not take any trails that go straight down until that is the only option. This will lead to a nice high-point to look over the first couple drops. Then go down to the right, under a downed-tree to the put-in.

I don’t believe there is any hiking out option from the canyon once started, so don’t leave anything behind and realize you’re committed. There’s about 10 seconds of warm-up time before the first drop, then a nice pool prior to the big falls. As Roman said, you want to be as left as practical, you’ll still end up right after the drop. After that, I forget, maybe 5-6 major drops through the canyon. Most are scoutable. There is one double-drop that I wasn’t able (or unwilling) to scout but fortunately the water took me exactly where I needed to be (left). Then I got lazy and thought I was out of the canyon and done with the rough stuff which was a mistake, the last drop is a surprise choice of chute-left or boulder drop right, or do what I did and become hesitant in choice-making and go backwards and upside down through the chute. Helmets are a good thing.

After the canyon, as mentioned, its a pleasant run back to the take-out not totally devoid of excitement. Couple of butt-scraping places and a couple of portages but overall fairly sweet ride back to the car. About 3 hours for hike-in float-out. Mosquitoes currently class V.

If you’re bored:

A day late and a dollar short. Mark and I followed your foot tracks in yesterday and found the water had come down a little too much. It looks like the 300-320 range is just a tad too low.

Did you end up running Big Sky Country by catching the eddy on river right and then getting left, or by doing it all in one shot? I noticed that in Roman’s original video he ran it different than Paul, and in his second Tim styled a more central line. Sorry if it’s in your video, I can’t get it to load on my phone.

John forgot the bug spray, well ok I did too. OMG… class V+ barely survivable. It looked like you did the line I like just a bit left of center.

Here’s a video that has different runs in different boats, packrafts, Ik’s, kayaks, and has clips of Montana Cr.
Another one of my lame videos.

The song is kind of annoying,very annoying, but the creek was great, even though James and I took a dip in the pool below Big Sky after hitting that rock above the lip which killed all momentum. I tried to roll but could not posistion my paddle before I came out of my thigh straps. (wah) Other than that we had a clean run with minimal scraping, it was sweet. John swam too, in flat water, getting out of his boat, so don’t let him tell you otherwise. (lol)

No way, not even close.

Just in case anyone else thought that there was some miraculous way the SF was open for business. Looks to be weeks, not days, from being runnable. The main Montana from Yoder to the Parks appears to be open, which got my hopes up, but you could still run a snowmachine up much of the SF. Looked for new wood and didn’t see any, but there was so much snow and ice …hard to tell. Winter continues…

Big Sky Ledge

if i thought Montana would be a little mellow at a moderately low 5.24 on a nice sunny fall day (Friday Oct 4) for somebody that has run it a few times already, I was sorely mistaken. Rocks come out to play havoc with maintaining balance and direction. Upside down entering the canyon, had to abandon raft at the falls, watched it run the first two drops (flawlessly, of course, without my input), thirty minute hike up, around, and back down, to fortunately find it waiting for me. Another flip at the last big drop, along with generally feeling like I don’t know what I’m doing (which is a possibility).

Anyway, that’s about as low as I think is do-able. Guess 5.3-5.4 is the sweet spot.

Heading up to run Montana today. If anyone is interested give me a yell @ 717-578-7391. It is going to be a bit over recommended at 6.4’ so if you are feeling frisky give me a yell.

There is quite a bit of wood in the SoFo Canyon this year. I suspect it was also there last year, though I didn’t run it due to low water and am not sure. Above Big Sky Ledge are at least 7 trees that must be portaged with several more spots to duck under or scoot around. The upper-canyon drops are fun, but the wood makes a lower-canyon-only run seem more appealing.

The drop immediately above Big Sky also has wood that can just barely be skirted.

One of our crew lost a Werner paddle just below Big Sky. If anyone finds it - beer is on him. Call 801-fivefiveseven-(89)39 if you locate it. Thanks!

Our level was about 420cfs … good for bigger drops but still bony above and below.

Are the rapids below big-sky wood free? I was putting off running this because I figured it was pretty woody.

The drops below Big Sky are good to go. Big Sky is runnable, but a small amount of work on that one piece of wood would go a long ways. There is a log or two below the canyon on the run-out back to the take-out, but they are easily managed.

The South Fork of Montana Boaters Coalition (SoFoMoBoCo) did some wood work the other day, but there is still a bit more to be done.

The log immediately above Big Sky Ledge is gone thanks to Coley.
Most of the wood below the Big Sky (Lower) Canyon is gone thanks to Coley (though there are still two river-wide strainers).

We chopped branches in three spots on the upper section (above the Ledge), but there are still at least three and possibly four spots that require walking. I’m hoping to get up there next week with a chainsaw and finish the job, but we’ll see.

We ran the upper and lower canyons at 385cfs … still scraped a tad in a few places but I think this is my favorite level. Higher water (above 450) makes it so that the first person will have a hard time cleaning themselves up if they flip and swim at the ledge. Lower water (below 340) guarantees some butt-scraping.

FYI there are some issues with access at what was the normal take-out (atv trail at bottom of steep hill on Yoder). Apparently that was private property and the new owner is apparently building a home/cabin as there is a driveway, a chain, and NT signs in place of that atv trail. Further downstream possibilities now have same also. Trying to gather intel as going all the way to the bridge or Luthman trail is a pain, as well as finding and going up the steep “trail” upstream just as the canyon widens out.

The normal take out is now blocked off by private property.

Park at the top of the hill where the ATV trail begins. After 5 min or less there is a picnic table. One minute further there is a “parking spot” - basically a small pull out - on the left. You can access the river here via a faint trail. This very well may be private property also, so tread lightly, though there are no NT or private property signs at this spot. From the river, the take out is flagged and immediately upstream of two enormous cottonwood strainers that you can otherwise run underneath.

As of yesterday there was only one mandatory log portage - well below the canyon section. This is a big improvement over the past few years. There are a few spots where creative paddling, boofing, or ducking are required to avoid getting out of your boat in regards to wood, though all of the big drops are clear.

This seems to be the only thing with a good flow right now. Has anyone run it yet?

No new wood; Ice in one section but passable and a non-issue. Take out is still an adventure with the new private property. Goal is to have a solid trail system built this summer for easy access and quick canyon laps.