Willow Creek

In July 2007 I ran several segments of Willow Creek on the west side of Hatcher Pass. I put on much higher than folks normally do, accessing the river near where Craigie Creek flows into the Willow in the vicinity of Grubstake Gulch. I ran about 10 miles of Class II/III, taking out about 3 miles below the bridge that crosses over the Willow. I did the shuttle with a bike. The river was running at about 3 ft according to the NWS guage, which was too low to be ideal for this upper section. I think this section could be lots of fun at about the 4 foot level.

I subsequently tried to follow Embick’s directions for the Guard Rail section of the Lower Willow. Since he wrote that in 1986 there has been a lot more development and a lot more “No Trespassing” signs. I did find the “red gate” that folks refer to (approximately Mile 39) but did not go in that way because I didn’t want to do deal with more mean dogs and angry owners. (Apparently the “red gate” owner does not fall into that category, but I didn’t know that then.) After trying all the roads and driveways in the vicinty of Mile 41 I found a way into the lower part of the canyon. At the 3’ level some of the drops were pretty exciting, Class III+/IV-. I’ve been told that if you put in at the “red gate” you will miss all of the harder canyon drops.

I ran down about 5 miles to the Shirley Town bridge, where a bike completed the shuttle.

Brad Meiklejohn
Eagle River, Alaska

Todd Kelsey has a good write up / description of the Guardrail to Shirleytown run here:

The current level on the Willow (3.2 - 3.4 feet) is a ton of packrafting fun on the Guardrail and Red Gate sections. There is one cottonwood strainer several drops into the Guardrail section that can be portaged or passed on river left.

5 of us ran Red Gate yesterday at 3’ – 600 cfs. It had been raining TH-Sat but today was not raining on the river and only a little rain was falling on the Willow side of Hatcher Pass. The river was running surprisingly clear since the rise from 200 cfs TH to 600 cfs Sunday had to be rain driven.

We drove home over Hatcher Pass and looked longingly at the upper sections of creek along the road that Brad describes. I want, I want, I want . . . . to run those upper miles of Class II-III next summer when there is more water or if we get really heavy rains this call and the gauge comes up to 800-1000 cfs.

At 600 cfs Red Gate was a little scrapy, very splashy but rarely anything more than an occasional good splash in the face. :stuck_out_tongue:

See the pics at http://www.meetup.com/AnchorageAdventurers/photos/690387/

If you are a beginning to intermediate pack rafter looking for partners check out the Adventurers MeetUp http://www.AnchorageAdventurers.org

At about 450 cfs today it was again splashy with good surf waves every where. Must have been good - 6 pack rafters spent ALL day on the Red Gate section.

Just an FYI for those paddling Willow Creek.

If you use the Red Gate Put-in/Take-out CLOSE THE GATE!!! Even it it’s open be sure to close it and wrap the chain so it looks locked. Also, when you leave and your buddy is closing the gate, pull up closer to the road so as not to spin out and create even bigger holes than are already present. On other thing, that should go without saying, pick up your trash or anyone elses for that matter, before leaving.

Given current conduct concerning this access point the owners might just swing to the “mean dogs and angry owners” category. Especially given that someone has now taken it upon themselves(most likely fishermen) to drive around the gate. Respect the land, Respect the owner. Access is tough enough as it is.

Starting to come up 600 cfs.
For an extra thrill in the future, catch the waterfall/ Maxwellhouse, which is two drops above the guardrail put-in, at around 300 cfs for a safe fun place to practice running larger drops. The backwash is not bad, the current does not plow left into the cauldron at that level, and the bottom is shallow in the pool on the left just beyond the falls.
Time to check out some valley streams, since I am on vacation and bored.

30-40 people on the river today. I saw about 8 packraft. Lots of fun. I wonder how many runs can be done in a day with a bicycle shuttle…

Ran Guard Rail at 600 cfs and it was a real exciting level for packrafting.

Let’s hear tell of running it at the current 1200 cfs level? Easier because rocks are covered; or more challenging because holes are ‘deeper’ and more numerous?

Although I don’t have nearly enough experience on this section to be an authority, my guess is harder. This past weekend the holes at warm-up and the other ledge drop were quite a ride for a packraft.

Has anyone been down guardrail or redgate sections since the flooding? I’m most curious about wood. I also heard a rumor that the gauge is underestimating the flow as of late. I’m hoping to get out there now that the water level is down.

Two friends went two days ago, there are sweepers, and the gage is off, double the reading would be more accurate

We ran Willow three times in the past week. Very different creek . First, the guage is reading about 60-70%. The higher it reads, the more it’s off. 500 on the guage felt like 800-900cfs. On Guardrail, The main difference is the boof next to the big rock at the top of warm-up is GONE. There seems to be more holes, and they are bigger. The boof after 180 now has a tongue through the middle. On the Redgate section, There are lots of catch on the fly surf waves. At wave train half the water is taking the left channel. Play wave is gone. Three knuckle is Way bigger. Most of the easier rapids got a little bigger. There are also Lots of sweepers to paddle around. We will be cutting the sweepers out soon. Make sure you scout the take out. There is a sweeper that you can not paddle around just up stream of the bridge.