Saturday, June 20, 2009

McCarthy's Forest

"McCarthy Forest" * * * *
25 miles
1 day 
Cheap trip from Anchorage
Resurrection Trail hike 
Trail walk 
1,200 foot gain 
13 mile walk 
Resurrection Creek paddle
PR 3(4)
Low volume -- 100 ft/mile
12 mile paddle

An easy walk up the Kenai Peninsula’s finest trail to paddle back down a warm, splashy, clearwater creek. Hike is fast, level and popular. Best done in early season or after rain as Resurrection Creek is shallow. An out-and-back trip that begins and ends at the Resurrection Pass Trailhead near Hope. A good outing for intermediates -- or more experienced boaters who want to introduce beginners to the next level beyond Twenty-Mile River (“Clark’s Classic”) or Girdwood to Eagle River (“Griffith’s Gold”). Passes through beautiful spruce forest on a good trail and beautiful creek.


A twenty-five mile day of easy trail walking and backcountry packrafting. The hike-in takes about 1.5--2 hours to 7 Mile Bridge and 3--5 hours to the uppermost put-in above Fox Creek. The float to 7 Mile Bridge takes about 1.5--2 hours, depending on portages of beaver dams and log jams. From 7 Mile Bridge to the take-out requires another couple hours with additional time to scout/portage the Cascades. Plan on 8-12 hours for the entirety of McCarthy Forest. USGS 1:63,360 Seward D-8, C-8.  Start Resurrection Pass Trailhead at  Resurrection Creek Bridge: 60.87035o N , 149.62791o W  Finish An out-and-back.


The Resurrection Trail system comes as close to a Lower 48 style backcountry experience as any in Alaska. For packrafters who have mastered Twenty Mile, Placer, and Eagle Rivers and those who enjoy upper Ship Creek and South Fork Eagle River (particularly “Sunshine” or “Ship of Temptation” and “Porcupine”) this 13 mile run of a steep, shallow, and low volume creek is very fun. The entire trip, Anchorage to Anchorage, is a full summer’s day, split evenly between walking, paddling and driving. Generally, if the Six Mile Creek NOAA Gauge is 10 feet or above, there should be sufficient water to do the uppermost section.


The walk-in is straightforward. Leave the Resurrection Pass Trail parking area about five miles south of Hope, cross the Trailhead Bridge over to the west side of the creek and head south on a wide, relatively dry trail. Even when wet, this trail is not muddy. The trail first parallels within sight of the creek, then, after about a mile and a half, it climbs uphill and diverges as the creek passes through its lower canyon. Beyond this hill another mile or so (about 2.5 miles from the trailhead) the creek and trail come very close, within a few yards of each other. Use Put-in 1 for a quick run down to the Trailhead Bridge. Southward the trail passes through an old burn and climbs again away from the creek. About 4.5 miles from the trailhead, high above the creek you may hear the Cascades rapids. Look through the birch and hemlock on the canyon rim to see the constricted, boulder-strewn PR 4 drops, the most challenging and potentially dangerous stretch of Resurrection Creek. A short, indistinct trail leaves the main trail onto a birch-covered bluff and allows a bit of a scout (marked on the USGS map Seward D-8). Carry on another two miles or so to cross Resurrection Creek at “7 Mile Bridge”. Put-in 2 provides a two-hour paddle to the Trailhead Bridge. From 7 Mile Bridge continue up the trail past Caribou, Pass and Fox Creeks. Fox Creek is about 12 miles from the trailhead, a mile from Put-in 3. The put-in is recognizable as a high bluff over the creek about 20 yards from the trail. Perched atop the bluff, look left for the cottonwoods growing on the old, bluff slump and work your way down to the creek.


The general nature of Resurrection Creek is a very small to mid-sized, steep, wooded creek with canyons, boulders, clear, warm water and non-stop, fairly consistent action. The paddle down to the parking area divides naturally into three legs separated by the mapped put-in points. The uppermost stretch is steep (PR 3) and tiny with several wood portages. The middle stretch is bigger and more technical (PR 4) with rocks and ledges and some wood in its canyon. The final stretch (PR 3) is highest volume and boulder-filled but usually clear of wood.

The uppermost stretch (100 feet/mile),  is on a very small creek, 100 cfs at most, with very few to no eddies and many sharp bends.  A typical paddle to 7 Mile Bridge will encounter several portages in the form of beaver dams and log jams. In addition, new cottonwoods toppled by beavers and wind-thrown beetle-killed spruce can easily span the creek. As the upper creek has many blind twists and turns with midstream boulders, consider boating with an open spray deck at times, ready for a quick exit. Back-paddling and good maneuvering skills (especially back-ferry) are handy, but again, because the volume is so low, the run always feels in control. It’s also very beautiful. There are a half dozen mini-canyons with exciting PR 3 drops between constant PR 2 water in a vibrant spruce forest. Several creeks come in from both sides adding flow. At the time of writing there were two beaver dams above Fox Creek, and two log jams between Fox and White Creeks. Upstream of the put-in also looked log-prone. From White Creek to 7 Mile Bridge was a bit higher flow (maybe 150 cfs) with no portages.

About 15 to 20 minutes below the 7 Mile Bridge, watch for a large rock on river right, the biggest boulder on the run. It signals the coming of the Cascades Canyon (160 feet/mile), a series of five big drops in a shallow schist canyon, the second of which is usually spiked with wood and must be portaged. After the large signal rock, a canyon-spanning log high above the creek offers another signal of the Cascades Canyon. Eddy out right outside the canyon to scout and portage the Cascades rapids from the canyon rim. Generally, the first drop, an entrance rapid, comes quickly as a powerful PR 3+ followed by enough calm water to eddy out right (now inside the canyon), nosing between the wood choked drop’s bounding boulders and a rock outcrop on the right. Portage this second drop and scout the third and fourth. The powerful fourth drop sends you into a hidden fifth drop. The sequence of these last three drops is PR 4 to PR 5 depending on wood content and water volume. The two and a half mile stretch from Willow Creek  to the Lower Canyon is splashy and fun (75 feet/mile).

Sometime after passing the trail visible as a board-walk on river left, you may see old mining debris on river right as the creek again constricts for the half mile Lower Canyon (150 feet/mile). Solid PR 3 with holes and violent drops follow, including a manky section of big boulders and confused water where a swim could be long and bruising. The last mile and a half of rehabilitated/reclaimed section of creek (85 feet/mile) is marked by a sinuous series of drops over submerged boulders with piles of logs on the outside corners, put there to reduce erosion, but looking pretty scary! After the rehabilitated portion the creek is channelized for the final wave-train run to the take-out bridge.

NAD 27 Waypoints (mapped yellow dots)

Put-in 3

60.72239 N, 149.72401 W

beaver dam portage

60.73182 N, 149.71979 W

beaver dam portage

60.73600 N, 149.71927 W

log jam portage           

60.74291 N, 149.71319 W

log jam portage           

60.75204 N, 149.70258 W

Cascades Canyon scout/portage

60.80703 N, 149.64949 W

Parking Area

60.87035 N  149.62791 W


1 comment:

  1. Great post - Wish I had found this sooner. Last summer I ran both cascades and the lower canyon The six mile was closer to 10. Today was a different river. We scouted Cascades, but it looked massive. We ran Put-In 1 to the trail head and it was cranking. The six mile gauge was 11.4 and rising this evening. Just before the canyon there was a sweeper you can normally duck, but we portaged. Not a great eddie either - almost had a swimmer. The high flow took us by surprise and we spent a lot of time scouting the lower canyon. There was a new sweeper at the beginning of the canyon with a tight sneak around to the right. Just before the sweeper a large standing wave increased the potential for a swim. Out of six of us only two of us decided to run it. It was impressive and at the peak of my ability and the my packraft. Was wishing I had thigh straps and the new boat design today. Thanks for posting this beta - Heather


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