Ship Creek -- Lower Canyon

Ship Creek is my favorite. The upper section (see Brad M.'s post below) is great for beginners at low water (i.e. May & Sept) and for intermediates at high water (June & July).

The section downstream of the Arctic to Indian Trail is pretty darn radical. I think in a packraft it is harder than 6 Mile, a run I have made 4 times now (each canyon packrafted at least three times). That middle section of Ship Creek is just unrelentingly steep, rocky, woody and technical.

But the last, lower canyon, the one that’s about a mile long just upstream of the Reservoir is pretty much my favorite stretch of whitewater anywhere. The first time my son ran it when he was 16 he said it was the most fun he’d ever had in his life. It’s hard though! In my enthusiasm I have taken maybe 15 different people down it over the last four years, mostly below 5 feet on the NOAA guage (,1,1,1,1,1,1,1), but at least once at 5.2 to 5.3 feet (with Thai Verzone who looked freaked). Most have chosen not to come back, but a handful have found it to be as exciting as I do.

Recently, several people have been flipping and swimming in the first section of the canyon, called “Tunnel Visison” by Tim Johnson in his new whitewater guidebook. Since 2004 there’s been a log extending all the way across. At flows above 5.2 feet, it was possible to boat over it, but below 5 feet, the strainer needed a portage. While I sort of liked the log as it offered up an interesting portage, others have been working on getting it out-- notably Brad M.

So after witnessing a nasty swim under the log last week, where a head was bumped, ribs brusied, and a paddle broken, I decided that the log really did have to go.

Today I took a couple APU students into the canyon without boats and on a mission. We rappeled down over snowy slopes, dressed in dry suits and carrying saws. I slid over the log on my belly, feet downstream, and cut the thin end of the log until my saw blade bound in the water tensioned wood. Trying to free it, the saw blade broke. My APU students, Ian and Alex, lifted the log over the boulder and as they did so, the new saw cut broke and the log fell free. We pulled it up onto the river right side atop the slice of log that Brad M. cut earlier this summer.

So Tunnel Vision is clear of wood as of today.

I’m going in tomorrow to run the whole thing.

Roman Dial

Nice work Roman, rood ridence to that thing. It will make that first section a bit less stressfull.

so how did you get students to help on a sunday??!


It was easy to get them to go after taking them to Borneo, from Nabesna to McCarthy, and down Echo Bend – Indeed, they aspire to run Ship Ck and so thought getting the wood out a good thing. Besides it’s active learning…

Ran Ship Creek Canyon today after work --super sweet water level. If it doesn’t get super cold, it might stay super sweet. It’s running at 120 cfs which is 4.67 feet. This is like half the volume seen at 5.0 feet (210 cfs), so it’s not pushy and the Tunnel Vision Log has been removed and with it some anxiety.

It’s still highly technical :astonished: ! There are more rocks and some narrower slots than usual. The drops are longer 'cause the water is lower. But mistakes are more easily forgiven. The log drop is not runnable – get out and portage behind the big boulder.

I parked in my favorite spot, dressed warmly and in my dry-suit there, blew up the boat with an electric pump at the truck, and 20 minutes later had put-in. From the put-in to over the last and biggest drop (YAHOOO!) was twelve minutes! Oh was I psyched. All the places that usually flip people are so much less sticky and flippy (IMO).

There’s almost no ice on the rocks – far less ice than when I went with Captain Swallowtail, Tony, and the red-headed mom.

I was back to the truck 50 minutes after leaving it. What a great post-work/pre-dinner experience. I am still buzzed.

If the weather holds I wanna run laps on it this weekend, although I bet all the other packrafters out there’ll be riding boards through fresh pow.

Brad M and I ran Ship Friday after work. It was a gas! So much fun that Brad rounded up three more packrafters, including Ship veterans Nora and Tony, and newcomer JT. We met at 11 AM at the golf course. It was in the 20’s, with powder fresh snow and clear skies.

I’d left my house suited up in my dry suit over a puffball pullover and woolies. I even wore neoprene gloves.

20 minutes down the snowy trail we put in and ran the lower canyon. It was so much fun we ran it three times :laughing: , literally running laps, finishing about 4:30. Walking up with inflated boats, sometimes dragging them by the tether through the snow, other times clutching the seat after reaching behind it with our hands, it felt like we were making ski runs, taking our up-track back for yet another go. The dry suits and gloves, the warm clothes, the sunshine, the adrenaline following the run down, the uphill walk – and the super attitude of everyone – made for the best day I can remember having on Ship Creek.

We would’ve finished earlier, but Brad had brought a mini-bow saw and it took us a half hour to an hour to cut, break, swim, and wrestle, the log that juts from the big boulder midway down the canyon. We didn’t remove it all, but enough that a packraft can slip by on a fun bank and slide on river left.

Out of the 15 runs we made (5 people x 3 trips) 12 were clean and all were great, really great. There is one more piece of wood, just downstream of the pool after the Pinnacle wall drop (first rapid after Tunnel Vision) that needs to be cleared for safety’s sake.

Water level was right aound 4.6-4.5 feet, puting it down near the 100 cfs range. So much fun that we all talked about doing it again, even though the low temps iced up our paddles, our boats, our helmets, our drysuits, and pfds – and in my case my spray deck to the point that the velcro didn’t work.

It is now possible to run the canyon in one go, without getting out, even at low water. It’s a real treat and totally worth the icing conditions.

I didn’t run Ship today, although I had planned to. With a friend undergoing surgery, I thought it best to stay closer to home. But I still think about that Ship Canyon a lot!

Please indulge me while I reminise – I ran it in 10 minutes on Monday, but heard someone else ran it in 8 minutes! I was too busy putting names to rapids to run it that fast.

Timmy Johnson’s Guidebook calls the first rapid “Tunnel Vision” – OK, sort of unimaginative and not too descriptive but I’ll use it to refer to the opening drop into the slot canyon, going past the three rocks. I’d prefer:

  1. “Judge, Jury, and Executioner” – PR 5

  2. “The Two by Fours” The two ledges above the old log jam we cut out in October plus the two drops below it – they’re all about 2 feet high and named in honor of the wood that used to be there: PR 4

  3. “Pin Ball Wall” the long splashy drop that pushes you right (and river right) into the wall at both the top and the bottom and has flipped more people, with more experience, than any other rapid other than the last one on the run (“Commando!”). There’s a nice eddy that you can wait in below it. Nicest party eddy in the canyon.
    PR 5+

  4. “Off Ramps” a series of a corner drop and two ledge drops; above the first you can climb out of the canyon on river right to go home. PR 4.

  5. “Rolling Papers” – reminds me of ZIgZag in 6 mile: here on a sharp turn to the right, you dodge a big boulder on river left then quickly go right on a banked tongue, then left then right then left again YAHOOO! my personal fave after “Duck Chute” (see below). PR 4

  6. “Saw Blade” another creek piled on left side, turning right next to big boulder followed almost immediately by a ledge drop with a sticky hole. Seen many swims here too. Named for a boat I cut on a sharp rock back in 2003 and a saw I droped in the creek when Brad and I were cleaning this rapid this spring (I retreived the saw). PR 5

  7. “Duck Chute” – the newest runnable rapid. Goes far left along wall,then takes a sharp right, where we cut out the log that’s stuck behind the big boulder: Duck the stump, then slide down the chute, but watch for the rock at the bottom! PR 4

  8. “Waves of Joy” – an organsmic ride down a series of wave trains with a little drop & curl at the end. PR 4

  9. “Surprise” the first big drop when the paddler in front of you disappears from view over the horizon line; my line’s on the right, next to the wall. Others go way left; I can’t recall what that’s like… PR 4

  10. “Sticky Little Kitten” – A sweet little drop with a sticky hole below it; left has rocks at low water, right is fun. PR 5-

  11. “Snake” – a couple shorter drops in an S-turn PR 4-

  12. “Commando” the last drop beneath the “commando style” Burma bridge PR 5+

There are more rapids worth namimg, but these I have seen people swim on – or almost swam myself! – so they seemed worthy of names.

By the way, when the kayakers run this they run it high and don’t even notice half the fun stuff they are punching through 'cause it’s washed out. Low water in butt boats is the only way to go.

Roman you are obsessed! I look forward to running it again next summer. Thanks for getting rid of the wood. Inspired-I started one of my own creek clearing projects yesterday.

The wood clearing on Ship has been and will continue to be a group effort, inspired by Brad and Dick Griffith who each adopted packrafting runs and kepttem clean.

Dick for almost 20 years has kept “Griffith’s Gold” clean – that’s what i call the hike over to Eagle River via Crow Pass and the run down to the take-out above Echo Bend. He has taken a saw and cut out the strainers for two decades – a much appreciated task.

Brad M. has made his local S. Fork Eagle River a project and stays active keeping that clean and fun. It was his wish to clean out Ship, he lead the way, and I just followed, but now like it clean better than the obstacle course it was.

Wood is the worst thing for our little boats, our little bubbles of joy, and unlike the steep creekers in hard shells back East, we Alaskans favor clearing debris.

thats is, he’s lost it. someone get the boat out from under roman before it blows, or he blows…


You’re right, Captain Swallowtail. It’s time for an intervention.

Step away from the boat, Roman. Your wife and children need you. Don’t do this to them anymore.



Calling all crazy butt-boaters (you know who you are).

My wife comes home Sunday night. And I want a December packrafting run but she doesn’t want me going alone.

Saturday or sunday anyone?

You know what creeks I am interested in…

It’s crusty and low but looks like a go.

I socialized long and hard today, ensuring that I’d run out of daylight and only scout the thing before unshelling the nut.

No different than some of the fall runs other than the day length and lower water – maybe a wee bit more ice.

Of course nobody called. All the Alaskan packrafters are out skiing, boarding, watching TV, or thinking about how to keep their boat dry and their pack sturdy – but not me. I can’t sew, ski, or tune a TV, so I went out to run Ship Creek.

I started up the road at 10 AM, the creek running 4.64 feet about 110 cfs. Lots of ice on boulders, particularly submerged ones. “Judge and Jury” were too iced-in to fit through so I put in below them and ran that final slot I call the Executioner. The Two by Fours were steep and icy as was that Pin Ball Wall.

The submerged boulders are all icy and easy to boof, but the ones that protrude and have cauliflower ice build-up are sneaky! Usually when you run your boat up on an exposed boulder the hull friction increases and you can pivot off. Not so these icy ones – you’re soon squirting and riding high up the slick ice. Danger of flipping is greatly increased.

All the rapids had this soft ice build-up. I was reminded of travertine, like the soft rock on Fossil Creek in AZ. December icy-creek boating is a bit different than October: more slippery and more big drops. There were whole new rapids and runnels, channels and chutes due to the ice forming from the bottom up and diverting the flow. The Duck Chute was especially harrowing and narrow. The last big drop, Commando, was too icy on the right so I just boofed off the central icy ledge and dropped in. Felt like it was a whole boat length high.

Because the Arctic Valley Gate is closed, I parked at the Snow Hawk Cabins turn-out bridge crossing of Ship Creek, walked the road to the dam, followed the tail on climber’s right of the reservoir, then crossed the shallows between the reservoir and Commando, walking up the road and down to the usual put-in to scout the entrance rapids. After taking out I walked the road up to the kayaker’s trail that takes you back to the creek and below the dam. This run was really fun with all the ice. The old dam drop, right past a cable crossing, is a particularly fun series of “glacier-tine” ledges, slippery and steep, improbable and totally doable.

Ship Ck sounds a nice convenient little trip - a bit like going to the local hardware shop for “a fix” - are there any piccies of it anywhere? Wish we had something similar in Oz. Best we can do are some grade 1-2 rapids 35 minutes drive from home!!

I have a few pictures from paddling Ship Creek with Derek Collins and Roman Dial posted on Snapfish:

Eric Parsons’ Youtube video;

Alaska 381.jpg


Ship Ck looks great on the u-tube site - it also shows how well Alpackas bounce over significant obstacles, and from a personal point of view has made this comparatively novice Alpacka user a lot less anxious about a forthcoming trip ( I had the misfortune last year on our first river run of hitting a large rock side on, then tipping out upstream , and then ending up floating a rapid, and having to swim furiously downstream to retrieve the raft and paddle before they continued on through the next rapid etc - it was one of those regretably negative first experiences)…however, watching this video has done a lot to undo the damage done previously!

Unfortunately, the snapfish site always askes for a password etc, and I can never remeber mine, so haven’t looked at those piccies .

Ship Ck looks a hoot - wish we had something like that near Melbourne!

Roman, you’ve lost your mind. You need to get yourself in a kayak before you kill yourself (and so you can start joining us on the steeps):^) lol. Looks like we’re the only ones boating in December in AK? Ha. Skiing is for quiters!

As of August 6th, 2008 the lower Ship Creek canyon is clear of wood and running at a great level.

Really? I mean, really really?
Lets do it.