some first descents in Alpackas

Forrest McCarthy, Derek Collins and I did “Cant Talk” a neat, modern packrafting route through the Northern Talkeetnas during a week in June. Forrest may have posted some trip comments and Snapfish photos but I thought I’d lend my perspective as well. In addition, I did the Farragut River in SE AK, a burly, log infested Class V run a bit north and east of Petersburg in August. Both are great routes best done in Alpackas with spray decks and the ability to run Class IV with lightly loaded boats.

“Cant Talk” refers to the fact that the North Talkeetnas have some FDs still to do and I didn’t want anyone to know about them – also it starts at Broad Pass, near CANTwell and finishes in TALKeetna. We hiked up horse and ATV trails on the lower East Fork of the Chulitna, turning round and running the lower two canyons of the East Fork, which I would call PR 4. The lower canyon was particularly spicy in its entrance rapid. We continued on and spent our second night at the head of Tsusena Creek, which was non-stop PR 3 and a bit of PR 4 as we approached the unmapped 120+ foot waterfall at the 2000 or so foot contour. We portaged on bear trails river left, then put in at the first trib downstream of the waterfall and ran the PR 5 rapids from there to the Big Su. The Tsusena is a creek that just getsbigger and bigger with each passing mile and is non-stop action in granite boulder gardens. Super fun and scenic, if a bit hectic below the waterfall.

The Big Su was fast and casual. We camped on its banks and headed up to Stephan and Murder Lakes the next day. We paddled across the 5 mile Stephan Lake in like an hour and a half, proving that Alpackas on flat water can be paddled at up to 3 mph, in contrast to previous claims.

We then scraped down the slimy shallows of Prairie Creek until it channelized. It’s a simple PR 2-PR 3 low volume creek, probbably not worth doing.

We camped upstream of the confluence of Talkeetna River and Cache Creek and followed Cache Creek to its head waters, crossing over to the upper Chunilna, known locally as Clear Creek. Bear trails were numerous and the tundra pretty good. An alder patch stole one of my four paddle pieces and I was forced to strap the remaining three pieces to Forrest’s trekking poles to make a serviceable paddle. Straps are far superior to P-cord and I would suggest that all packraftres rid themselves of P-cord for tie-downs and go to 4-5 foot accesory straps with fixed sliders (not fastex buckles).

The upper Clear Creek above the airstrip marked on maps at its uppermost confluence (marked on USGS 1:250,000 Talkeetna Mountains with an airstrip and a winter road which connects a mine to Gold Creek on the Big Su) was too shallow to paddle and may be too steep. We walked on fantastic ridge walking to the north, then followed the ridges nose down on bear trails to the mine. Clear Creek was a splashy creek to start with then entered a canyon section visible on the map and characterized by fun pool drops. After that it opens up into boulder gardens interspersed with flatter water. It’s a full PR grade easier in our opinion than the ever-popular Sheep Creek (north of the Kashwitna).

We camped at the mine and made it to Talkeetna in one long day, with a fire enroute for dinner. We found the new Alapacka prototype drysuits a bit moist for big (Class IV water) but fine for hiking and Class III or easier (i.e. no swimming).

I think we did six bodies of water in six days and would recommend this to anyone who likes Sheep Creek at high water. It’s a wilderness traverse, so it’s worth going light. Derek and I shared a two person insulating system with insulation on top and nylon on bottom. I slept fine and warm but Derek needed a bit more insulation. We slept in a superlight (Cuben Fiber) megamid-style shelter using a broke down kayak paddle as pole.

This is an Alaskan classic, better than great, but not really world class. It’s also cheap and ethical (no flying in). June seemd like a great month. It could be done at slightly higher water although the Tsusena might be a bit bossy then, with Clear Creek and Prairie Ck being more fun.

The Farragut River starts about 30 miles North of Petersburg on the AK mainland and goes about 26 miles or so to the salt-water at Farragut Bay. We flew in to Glory lake and were picked up by boat. In between were 4 gorges, one of which we portaged in its entirety (Class V drops with spiky trees) and another which we portaged its entrance and exit rapids which were of about Six Mile third canyon difficulty – the 14 and 16 foot rafts and one of the two kakakers were not skilled enough to run these two drops, although they were packraftable. I ran two class IV sections, one of which (Staircase) dumped the 16 foot raft and the other (Hat Pin) which pinned the 16 foot raft and broke one of its oars. I would run this whole river again using a hike-in approach and cleaning up some of the sections I missed. The lower River is glacial, the upper section beautiful, clear, and warm. There were many, many complete river-crossing log jams. It took us ten days, but if we had been all packrafters (I was the only packrafter) we could have done it in 3 days. The temperate rainforest was beautiful. This may be one of the few full rivers to paddle in SE and one that’s far better suited to packrafts than anything else. I would give it three stars – it’s great but no classic.

This run should be aired up on a Discovery Channel show in April called “Expedition Alaska.” Watch for my red boat.


Congratulations on the Farragut descent and the Discovery channel Expedition Alaska show - great film and a wonderful expedition. I’m a 53 year old film-maker and ex whitewater guide (Salmon River, a million years ago) and have done a quite a few trips in Alaska. I’m thinking about running the Aniakchak from the Caldera to the sea, as a part of my pilgrimage to visit some of the forgotten battlefields my dad served in in World War two, including the Aleutians and Port Heiden, where he was stationed in the 11 Airforce. He tried to climb Aniakchack in '44 but was turned back by deep snow. Anyway, that’s the vague plan. Wondering what sort of boat you think it could be done in, but I think I know what you’re going to say.

All the best,

Fraser Heston

Hi Fraser,

Aniakchak is super cool – I have heard. Never been there myself, but certainly plan to go, as a bunch of people who post here have done it and just rave about it. One fellow says it’s the best packrafting trip in the world, or maybe he said in Alaska, and he’s done my favorite packraft creek in the world, too, so Aniakchak has to be pretty darn nice if it’s better than Ship Creek :sunglasses:.

My advice would be to get a decked Llama. It’s more stable and with the new seat you sit more centered, even with a big boat which is a plus.

I’d also suggest that you go hiking around Ft. Glenn (the secret millitary base from WWII) on Umnak Island and visit the geyser basin there. Pretty cool, if you can get out to the Aleutian Islands themselves. Umnak is the first island after Unalaska, where Dutch Harbor is. It’s a neat walk from Ft. Glenn to Nikolski, 60 miles in about a week, and there’s even some cool sea raft paddling to be done there, I suspect, when the weather’s nice.