The adventure to Windy Creek began last week on an outing with my family. We headed to the Denali Highway for some boating and fishing on the Brushkana, but arrived to late in the evening to boat down to a camping spot. I had read that Windy Creek had some nice pools with great fishing, so we headed up the road, towards the Susitna,to Valdez Creek Mine Rd where Windy Creek crosses it. After crossing the Susitna Bridge coming from Cantwell, we missed the road because of mining equipment which was blocking the road, so it did not seem like it had public access. It also did not help when six or seven long haired Viking looking guys were glaring at us in our camper.
About a half mile on up the road was another road, kind of, but it was good enough to drive a vehicle down, so I thought, “this must be the access road I was looking for.” It took about an hour to figure out that we had made a mistake and was looking down at Windy Creek; above a canyon, hmmm… and of course I had to take a peek. Not having any information about the creek, I scouted the canyon entrance and the canyon itself in three places, and it appeared to be fantastic, mostly continuous, class II-III from the canyon rim. Leary of going by myself, I knew I had to twist John’s arm and convince him it would be worth the trip, and that was about as hard as tying a shoe. After staying the night in Windy Creek Valley I wanted to check out our original destination, and I knew the other road was the road we were originally looking for.
The next morning my wife asked me what our plan was, and I said “I’m going to talk to the scary guys so we can find the fishing,” and I thought, “who looked like miners that kill people for walking across their claims.” However, as usual,most Alaskans are decent people and the scary guys were actually more than happy to share fishing information, as well as logistics, and also had their fair share of warnings about Valdez Creek when I mentioned the word kayak. We found decent fishing at Windy, where it crossed the road, and also at Valdez Creek where it crossed road, which also had a sweet class III+ IV- drop that was drawing me to investigate further upstream.
I knew this creek has been boated before, and it was supposed to be class IV according to Paul Schauer one of Alaska’s best exploratory kayakers. With this in mind, I got a good look at the creek above the canyon as well as one spot in the canyon, and it did indeed look like a steep,fun, technical run. The creek also looked to be very continuous whitewater above the canyon, and by the sound of the water in the canyon, it was harder yet. A couple of days later John and I loaded his VW bus with bikes for shuttles, and boating & camping gear, and we were on our way, to boat not only Valdez Creek, but also Windy right next door.
We could find no information on this Windy Creek, there are several, which added an interesting twist to the trip, so we were eager to check it out. We put on the Creek at 3136 ft after hiking from the road about a half a mile to a spot above the whitewater. The creek dropped about 600ft in 4-5 miles,with the bulk of the steep section beginning about half a mile after the put-in, and ending after the second short canyon-ish section, which then left about a half a mile of ripples to the road. The creek could have had a bit more water,to pad it out a bit, but that will also increase the intensity as the water speed gets even faster, and the bumps turn into waves and holes. As it stands; the creek was mostly class III at a flow of about 350cfs, probably had two sections of class III+, and some class II.
The entire creek is littered with steep boulder garden drops, with narrow lines, that require decent reflexes, and good ability to run technical water on the fly.Also, as it always seems to go, the bulk of the steep rapids, sadly, are on those blind corners which we all hate. The lines do improve after about first mile, or so, and numerous really good sections of foaming white, continuous class III rapids are encountered. There is one small ledge drop with a decent pocket that you don’t want to ease into, just run it left for an easy line, if you choose, or hit it left of center with some speed. I believe it was towards the end of the first canyon section, and other than that it is all boulders and gradient creating the fun.
The run is suitable for packrafts, kayaks, or IK’s. I would say a class III boater may be fairly gripped because of the continuous nature of the creek; it really comes at you fast, and it is fairly steep, probably well over 200fpm in the steep section. Put in at the mouth of the first valley across the creek, as you drive up the road which is the second road, on the left, after the Susitna bridge coming from Cantwell on the Denali Highway. I would really like to try it again with 50-100 more cfs, and I’m certain it will be a spankin run.
I’ll try and get some clips posted next week, as well as some Valdez Creek info and clips. I probably should see what John got on his Go-Pro I could barely film onthe water, but did get a little footage on the water and some from shore.