Upper Willow

Not sure I should even post this here, and it’s not meant to sandbag anybody, but Upper Willow is my favorite packrafting creek – in the world (sorry Ship). It feels like Ship Creek did in the early 2000’s: right at the confluence of terror and control, and so improbable that when you do it (and I do it about a half dozen times a year now) you can’t believe that you did.

Now, I am not saying anybody reading this should head in there (especially not with all the subzero temps and new snow) but Todd T. and I put in a portage around Triple Drop on river left. Triple Drop is the super dangerous rapid that keeps all but the most elite kayakers from going in. It can kill. Upper Willow is the kind of run that somebody takes you down the first time and guides you. I guess if all those fucking ass holes out there hadn’t been such shitheads about creativity I’d call it a PR10, but since I am now so indoctrinated in the hyper-fucking-conventional I guess I’ll go ahead and call it Class V, even at low water, so don’t go in unless you have run everything else around, like Six Mile in your sleep and Bird and Canyon Creek and Magic Mile and Talkeetna and Montana and Disappointment and maybe Ingram too (although I try and go in there only once a season cause it’s hard on boats). And then don’t go in unless someone takes you and says yea, you’re ready.

Todd put in seven bolts and fixed a bunch of lines past Triple Drop. Maybe bring three slings a person and an equal number of locking carabiners (one for you, one for your boat, one for your paddle). Be ready to make a ten foot jump in after your boat at the end of the traverse. Yes, it’s a great adventure.

We also have a pretty good trail in to about a quarter mile above Gazebo (the three-tiered more or less opening event – Class IV/V- at least). Still some private property issues but way better than the alternatives upstream where kayakers used to or typically put in.

I know nobody will believe me when I say this, but it could become the best packrafting run around southcentral when it’s at say 200-300 cfs on the Willow gauge. It’s really fun but yes it will be very scary when you first go down (and maybe every time after, too) even if your guide has a big smile on his face. So many drops. More drops than anywhere. Big drops, lots of real Class IV, Class IV+, and I guess a couple Class V (real ones). Only a handful have names (the burly IV’s and V’s), and the ones that don’t have names would if they were in Six MIle - that’s what they are like. I swear there are drops like Staircase in there (“gnarburger” is a new one since the last floods) that don’t have names (I just named it).

So I shouldn’t really even be writing this. Maybe I’ll delete it. But no.

This is the new Alaskan whitewater packrafting testpiece.

Thanks to you and Trip for taking me in/showing me down this summer. Not sure if I was ready, but now that I know, I’ll go back every chance I get. Incredibly beautiful in those moments that you can stop holding your breath and look around.

Lots of Willow clips in here:

and here: