"Waikiki" -- The best of Honolulu

Brad M and I hiked into N fork of Honolulu in early June to run “Honolulu Loop” (http://packrafting.blogspot.com/) which was too exciting to recommend. The Honolulu Creek Canyon downstream of the confluence with Goat Lake Creek is just too steep, deep, sharp, twisty-turney, bush-infested and remote for fun packrafting. It was an overnight trip with a longish, but wild walk in.

However, yesterday, Thai Verszone, Gordy Vernon, and I walked in from Hurricane Gulch on an ATV trail for about an hour and a half, then walked on wonderful alpine scree and tundra to drop into Honolulu Creek downstream of the dodgy upper bit. Total walk-in time for the slightly less than 10 miles was ~6 hours. We then spent ~4 hours running the wonderful ~10 miles of lower canyons of which there are really two with open valleys between them.

If you like Willow Creek Guardrail, Six-Mile First Canyon, low water Ship Creek Canyon, and high water Sheep Creek, then this is for you. You just need the right water level.

It’s the right water level when you drive to Honolulu Creek Bridge on the Parks Hwy (~200 miles from Anchorage) and look at the two, 5 ft diameter, round sister boulders that sit at waters edge and adjacent to the parking area that’s upstream and river left of the bridge. (That’s on the right and before you cross the bridge if driving north.) If the white boulder’s base is in the water, and the gray boulder’s not in the water, then it’s going to be fun – lots of PR 4 and two PR 5 drops. If both boulders’ bases are in the water, it’ll be a bit bossier, less fun, less forgiving, maybe drive north and do East Fork of Chulitna upstream of highway, instead. Even so, if both boulders’ bases are in 2 inches or less of water then you may just be portaging more than you’d like, but everything is portage-able at creek level and easy to scout.

But at yesterday’s flows it was the most fun creek I have done in two years. We ran everything, bank scouting only
“Cave Rocks Drop” (PR 4) and “California Ledge” (PR 5). We boat scouted another PR 5 drop called “Slideways”.

Not sure how much longer Honolulu will have enough water – crystal clear, “warm” water. It was scrapey and we all wanted a little more skin on the bones, but after the June trip, this was perfect – a stress-free and fun run with many 2-3 foot drops, three 4+ foot drops, and many exhilarating boulder races, a la Echo Bend, but on sharper, sometimes undercut rocks. The technical sections have splashy fun water in between.

Go as light as you can as the water’s really shallow right now and you need as much maneuverability and as shallow a draft as you can muster. Drysuits, throw-bags, helmets and good partners (three people minimum) and sunny weather all must-haves.

I’ll have waypoints and video at http://packrafting.blogspot.com if you want more info.

Here’s the video;

I had been meaning to get back to upper Honolulu Creek ever since it gave Roman and I some trouble in June 2009. My dim memories of that dark day were of a sharp and nasty canyon with unwelcome surprises. We could not reconcile the ugly and undercut 10’ falls and countless other stiff drops with Tim Johnson’s description of Class II-III boogie water. The nightmares had subsided; it was time to confront what Roman had labeled on his map as “yukky” and described as “too steep, deep, sharp, twistey-turney, bush-infested and remote for fun packrafting.” A surprising choice of words for Roman Dial, as this is usually exactly what he likes.

Getting the timing right on Honolulu Creek is tough, as there are no guaged rivers anywhere nearby. Conventional wisdom is that the creek is only feasible during early season run-off. Reports throughout the summer had it running extremely low. But recent rains had cranked up the creeks across Southcentral Alaska, so Toby Schworer and I went against conventional wisdom and made the 3-hour drive, armed with Plan B to run the Bull if the water was not in Honolulu.

At the Parks Highway bridge we found Honolulu to be just right, with 4" of water lapping over the base of the lowest large boulder. We backtracked to the Hurricane Gulch bridge and enjoyed the spectacular 15-mile hike to Goat Lake through stunning alpine basins, past granite walls and grazing caribou. We found the creek draining Goat Lake to be too shallow to boat, so the following morning walked the 2 miles to Honolulu Creek.

The picture on page 99 of Alaska Whitewater that is labeled “the mellow section below the big drop at the put-in” is in fact the big drop at the put-in. Little Rubber Yucky Canyon serves up dozens of these short, sharp drops over the course of the next 4 miles. Set in a 50’ deep shisty canyon, this section was best described by Toby as “Canyon Creek on steroids.” There are numerous 3-4’ drops, two in the 4-6’ range, including Right On shown on Page 98 of Alaska Whitewater, and a scary 10’ less-than-vertical left-to-right undercut slot that Toby named Upper Sandbag Falls. You will see this horizon line within the first 15 minutes of starting down the run, and it can be portaged by climbing up the wall on river right. The drops continue seemingly forever until a creek entering on river left signals that the end of the upper canyon is near. After the canyon ends you enter a boulder garden that continues until the Waikiki put-in is reached.

Toby has some excellent video of the run at http://www.teleturn.blogspot.com

If you are going to hike in to run Honolulu I strongly recommend going all the way to Goat Lake. The hiking is as good as the boating, and at least half the meat of Honolulu is found in Little Rubber Yucky Canyon. It is an intense section that will make the lower half of the run feel like a stroll on the beaches of Waikiki.

Two of us followed the “Waikiki” route that Roman documented and ran Honolulu a few weeks back. I didn’t think the hiking could beat the Hardage approach to the Upper East Fork of the Chulitna, but it was definitely better. The water level was super, super low (see the end of the video) and we scraped our way through a couple sections, however the run was still awesome and totally a go. There are very few tributaries from the put in to the bridge, so if the bridge looks runnable, give it a shot.

The drop at 1:10 is almost unrunnable at low water, but the consequences are small, too … despite the carnage in the video.

Hononlulu to Hurricane is the perfect bike shuttle. Don’t do what I did - attempt to hitch hike, watch about 1,000 rental cars swerve to avoid me by 50ft, and finally just run the four miles.

I’ll definietly return for this one with more water and to Goat Lake. At our levels, the whole thing seemed class III at most.

Great video! Floated the upper EF Chulitna the same weekend and were eyeing Honolulu on the way back. Looks super fun!