Tanada Lake to McCarthy

Todd Tumolo and I decided to add on the Jacksina Creek to the Nabesna to McCarthy route. We traveled approximately 200 miles 127 walking and 73 rafting. We had unbelievable weather. We had blue bird days, sucker holes that seemed to follow us. It would rain where we were going and when we got there it would be raining where we came from. It looked like it hadn’t rained in the Chisana watershed in a month. We didn’t set up a shelter after the third night. Our packs were light (40-41 lb.). We brought a alcohol stove, dry suits, 2 pfd, helmets, and 7 1/2 days of food. We made energy bars (marshmallow, cocoa rice crisps, plain rice crisps, peanut butter, vanilla protein mix, vermont maple syrup, butter) and 20 oz of goo (8 oz expresso, vermont maple syrup, vanilla protein mix). Our total time was 7 days 19 hours and 55 minutes.

Day 1: 15.5 mi.

A friend shuttled us to the Tanada Lake Trail from McCarthy where we left our truck. We hit the trail at 3pm and it was wet but relatively dry based on the information the parks service provided. We passed a pair of surveyors measuring permafrost and a pair of hunters who seemed puzzled by our lack of a gun. We hiked into the dark and yelled to scare off a pack of wolves howling in the area we camped.

Day 2: 16.5 total mi. (approximately 6.5 mi. packrafting)

We had moderate walking up the drainage coming out of sheep lake. We crossed the stream many times. As we got close to the lake we went higher on the ridge and passed a tent that we assumed were hunters. While passing the lake we spotted a float plane anchored off shore. When we arrived at Grizzly Lake we decided to give our feet a rest and float. We were lucky enough to find a Yak sized creek flowing towards the Jacksina. We paddled this for nearly a mile before we took out and hiked to the Jacksina with our rafts on our backs. We floated the Jacksina for about 4.5 miles and made camp along the shore of the canyon.

Day 3: 34.5 total mi. (approximately 29 mi. packrafting)

Dall sheep were high on a perch above our camp. We were excited to continue down the canyon. Embick rated the Jacksina class III at low flows. What we found was class II at a very low flow. The braided section at the end became a little tedious. Significantly more tedious was the Nabesna. We were hit with 30-40? mph winds and basically a sandstorm blowing across the river from river right. We were on the Nabesna for 8 or 9 miles. We spent the first four ferrying into the wind to avoid being beached on river left. We then took out and walked the gravel bar to Cooper Creek. Followed the gravel bar a short ways up Cooper then cut the corner by going higher. It might have been easier to just take the creek the whole way. We made camp about 5 miles up from the Nabesna.

Day 4: 30 miles all walking.

We spotted more Dall sheep 10 total on the ridge high on the left looking up Cooper Creek. We made good time heading up the pass. Notch Creek was bone dry. A small flow started near William Creek which became bigger by Cross Creek but never even close to floatable. We also saw fish! Bottom feeders similar looking to those in aquariums. We forded Cross Creek and bushwhacked in the evening eventually crossing the Chisana upriver of Dot Lake at night. We heard bells in the forest near Chisana that night. Spooky.

Day 5: 23 miles all walking.

We awoke to discover the bells were for horses as they marched through our camp on the river. We went up the Geohenda drainage to the small tundra ponds. We were excited to discover the Cabin near Solo Mountain. It took some work to find water we ended up going a mile back up valley.

Day 6: 20 miles all walking.

We made good time through the frozen tundra. We found a few horse trails close to the White River and made good use of them. We crossed Lime Creek and the Middle Fork after they had braided together. It was knee deep. Flood Creek was shin to knee deep and one minor channel where we crossed it. Traveling the Moraine was tricky. The first Skolai lake in the pass seemed about 50-100 feet lower then the high water mark. We ended up camping in the shack near Upper Skolai Lake.

Day 7: 13 miles (2.5 mi. packrafting with portaging)

We decided based on the observations we had about water levels that the Chitistone River would not be floatable. Foolishly we thought that walking down the Skolai Creek drainage would be easier than Chitistone. The day started with crossing Skolai Creek and frozen tundra. The Sun couldn’t come out soon enough. We hiked on the north side of the creek. There was a 50+ foot waterfall in the “Upper Gorge”. We checked out the cabin which was in poor condition near where the Frederika dumps into Skolai Creek. Frederika Mountain looked amazing. This valley had the best views of the entire trip. We also had views of Regal to the West. Skolai Creek was bony at this point but runnable. We really wanted to put in. The 200’+ drop per mile told us otherwise. We crossed the Frederika drainage and decided to head up high to avoid bushwhacking. From up high we noticed that there was a tundra bench just above the “Lower Gorge”. Either way we had to bushwhack. Frustrated from the bush, the elevation gain and loss, we dropped into Skolai Creek where the the gradient was approximately 150 fpm. We put in at 6 p.m. in what we assumed was a partial first descent. This section was perfect for a class III/IV canyon run. We scouted everything! We instantly had a ton of energy. The rapids varied: moderately technical boulder garden, narrow shoots, large waves. Eddies and or pools at the end of every major rapid. We portaged a 10-15 foot waterfall that looked runnable (V/VI)? it had a really scary hole. We also portaged a spot where the canyon narrowed. It looked like (V) but flushy. Probably would have ran that with enough people, but the waterfall seemed fatal . We made camp around dark. It was a very warm day and we likely ran flows near the peak for the day. We were very lucky to run this river. Most of the river appears unrunnable. We imagined an expert kayaker could run the whole lower canyon at the levels we saw, but we happened to put in at the right water level and difficulty of rapids.

Day 8: 36 miles total (28 miles packrafting)

The water level of the creek dropped and it was a little bit bony. We took out a couple miles from camp. We were afraid of not being able to get out of the canyon before it plunged into the Nizina Glacier. We went high on the hills on the east side of the Nizina this time with much benefit. We took a drainage all the way to the east side of the Nizina that required some difficult down climbing. From there it was a couple of miles to the lake at the toe of the glacier. We paddled a mile or two across the lake, portaging across a iceberg. We walked across the terminal moraine to the Nizina River and put in. Splashy, fun, big waves at first then becoming more mild. A black bear sprinted away from us a minute after we put in. We made it to the McCarthy Bridge at dark. We had no information on the road and although we were painfully close we did not find it. After looking at the area with google we actually might have been on the beginning of the road. We camped a few miles down river.

Day 9: 12 miles total (5 miles packrafting)

We paddled to the Kennicott River. We had to ferry across the river twice. When we reached the car we were comforted with advil, aleve, chocolate and cherry pie.

Video to come… maybe…

Todd made this… pretty good I think

Here is one of just Skolai Creek

totally cool.