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Thread: East fork chulitna

  1. #1

    Default East fork chulitna

    Never done this trip, fairly green on the oars. I want to take my boys out but I also want to bring them back, any do's or dont's would be much appreciated. Plan on 185 put in and big su take out. Running a 14 sb otter

  2. #2
    Member Birdstrike's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2007


    I haven't floated it in 3 years. Hopefully someone will current info will chime in?

    I would stop and scout any blind corners to look for wood in the river. The East Fork is fairly narrow in spots. We floated it in a 15' Otter and 18'cat and had no problems other than a river wide strainer that required a very short portage. Do most of your fishing above Honolulu Creek. Hopefully the weather will cooperate and you'll have spectacular views of Denali and the Alaska Range. You'll be amazed at how fast the river flows once the West Fork joins.

    Don't be alarmed if you hear a hissing sound along the raft tubes once you get in the glacial portion of the river. It's just the silt hissing along the raft and not a leak (hopefully). lol

  3. #3
    Member Erik in AK's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2006


    Quote Originally Posted by akfj40 View Post
    Never done this trip, fairly green on the oars. I want to take my boys out but I also want to bring them back, any do's or dont's would be much appreciated. Plan on 185 put in and big su take out. Running a 14 sb otter
    I would ask "How green?"
    The ability to manuever precisely is a requirement on any river. What changes with conditions is the available reaction time between maneuvers.
    A complete novice could get in trouble quickly on the Chulitna. It's not that technical of a river and doesn't have any rapids beyond the occasional splashy spot but the Chu is tougher than it appears because it's fairly smooth and it moves fast. Maneuver events can kind of sneak up on you so you have to pay attention.

    Beware that the EF can be woody with several sweepers and strainers, so be prepared--you may need to stop and line around obstacles.
    Make sure your boys understand your directions to move around the raft (as needed), and make sure you are clear when you give them.
    Go over all the terminology relating to the raft and your gear so you don't ever have to tell them to "grab that thingy right there" when the pressure's on.

    So long as your pivots are fairly precise and timely, the Chulitna is a great river to build confidence on and upgrade from novice to intermediate. If you have any doubts whatsoever, I would strongly recommend linking up with another floater for mutual support, or inviting a more experienced oarsman to tag along and coach you.

    The east fork is 14 river miles, give or take to it's confluence with the west fork where the two become just the Chulitna. The EF is usually fairly clear and not too cold (it's cold but not instant hypothermia cold) Be sure to plan on taking the EF slow if you want to fish. It's got decent trout and grayling and a small king run. The big hole at the confluence of the EF & MF is worth a few hours effort if the kings are in. Good numbers of bears, black & brown, so watch for them and keep a clean camp.

    Plan on camping on the bluff point on river right at the EF/WF confluence if there's room. I would start the float well before noon and take all day to fish my way down. Once you get to the confluence take note of how fast the WF is moving. It's glacial, and much faster and colder than the EF.

    From this point on the next challenge is picking the correct lines through the two big braided sections. You want to track your progress carefully and try to hit these braids early in the AM (before about 9:30 am) or in the evening. The reason is strong upriver winds during midday that can put alot of sand and grit in the air (and stop you in midcurrent).

    River right is generally the best bet through the braids but conditions change so read the water and follow the water with the biggest, most widely spaced bumps. You'll probably run out of water at some point (everybody does, eventually). DO NOT LET YOUR BOYS WADE in the braids. If you need to get their weight out of the boat, put them on a gravel bar and have them walk alongside you as you push/drag. The gravels can be soft and shifty. I've gone in over my head a few times dragging a boat.

    Some thoughts on reading water...
    The surface action tells you what's going on underneath.
    Water Volume, Velocity & Bottom Structure combine to determine what the surface is telling you.

    Small, tight frequency waves we call riffles occur where the current is fairly fast, shallow and running over fist-sized stones
    Rapids mean a whole lot of water is moving fast over large boulders/obstacles
    Smooth & slow water can be shallow but it's usually fairly deep
    Smooth and fast, or where it upwells/boils is always deep
    Lastly, when trying to decide where to pull over and get out remember: Where the bank is steep, the water's deep
    This applies in the braids too. Outside of the curve gets cut harder by the water and the drop offs are abrupt and deeper than expected

    I'm not trying to scare you off. I love floating this river, but it's not to be taken lightly. Have a blast, and take pics
    If cave men had been trophy hunters the Wooly Mammoth would be alive today

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Aug 2006


    I wrote about a couple of my Chulitna trips here:

  5. #5


    Thanks for the help and info guys. I have run the kenai a couple times and the willow a few also but I sold my boat and its been a few years. Erick if your going to make this trip again and are willing to let just me tag along with my boat please give me a shout. Thanks again -will

  6. #6
    Member RC23's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2008


    When are you planning on going; we just got back last night. There is a lot of new wood everywhere. You need to really stay on your toes and look ahead. There were a few times we encountered chanel wide trees in the braids we had to portage around. PM me for more info before you go.

  7. #7


    I've had the pleasure of 20 or more trips on the Chulitna from EF at 185 to Princess, Talkeetna and Susitna Bridge. I certainly agree with everything said in previous posts. I'm a little more cautious - you didn't mention how old your boys were - unless they're in their teens, listen well and have solid outdoor skills I wouldn't take them on the Chulitna on a solo trip. I remember my early rafting career back in the day and I know I would have been in trouble on the Chulitna on a solo trip.

    If you decide to press on a few thoughts. Go light - as light as you can. Leave the cooler at home unless you sit on it and then fill it with gear. Set your boat up with a bow and stern line and load the boat to allow easy movement fore and aft. Bring two spare oars. If you haven't got a gps get one and learn how to use it - better yet teach your boys how to use it. Get a copy of "The Alaska River Guide" 3rd edition by Karen Jettmar and a copy of "Cold and Fast" by Anderw Embick. Cold and Fast can be hard to find but last I checked they had a few at Title Wave.

    Don't get in a hurry. Plenty of really great camping on the EF. On the EF you will encounter narrow water, sharp corners and wood - whenever you can eddy out and scout - good time to fish. You will have to portage around trees. You will get stuck on a rock. The stretch just before and after you pass under the RR bridge will be the busiest - at lower water it's a constant struggle to stay off the rocks. When you do get stuck don't jump out of the boat. Take a breath and see if you can move people around and use your oars to free yourself. Only get out of the boat as a last resort, don't get downstream of the boat and make sure you or your boys hang on to the boat. When rowing keep your downstream oar out of the water or it will hit a rock and the oar handle will hit you in the head. Just upstream from the confluence with Honolulu Creek and the West Fork there are a few rocks that could pin you - it's a fast stretch and can be pretty bony at low water. Getting pinned on a solo trip really sucks. If you find yourself approaching a rock sideways try spinning the boat - better to hit it fore or aft than sideways. If you keep track of your navigation you can eddy out above this stretch on the left and get a pretty good view from the far down stream end of the bar. If the rocks in the stream worry you - you can line your boat down the left side or portage this section. You'll know you're getting close when you make a big right 90 with RR tracks on your left - good king hole there if you're fishing.

    Once the EF and WF come together it's a much different river - very fast and very cold. You will see deep canyons and very flat braided areas. Camping spots are fewer but still plentiful. When in the canyons you will encounter many 90 degree bends. Jim Strutz's advise about keeping your nose pointed to the cliff face is spot on. Keep in mind you will changing your boat angle as you sweep through the corner and be ready to reverse since many of the corners are a sequence of one 90 and then another 90 - think extreme S turn. The actual current in these corners may be very narrow with cobbled shallows behind you and cliff face in front. Stay on the current line - the shallows may well spin you into the cliff if you hit them. As you pass the end of the corner you will usually see a very powerful eddy in front of you - don't go in it - be ready - some of them are very powerful with large boils. In the canyons and the braids you will encounter numerous wave trains - most are fun - some have hard stuff in them. Run them on the edge until your eye adapts and you pick the fun ones from the nasty ones - if in doubt skirt. Throughout this section of river there are some pretty big holes - usually pretty easy to see but even in stretches that seem pretty benign keep your head on a swivel - always good advice.

    In the braided areas you will have to read the water - it's not rocket science but requires lot's of attention. Previous advice about reading water very important. You will encounter many instances of the river splitting on an island in front of you. At some point you will pick the wrong channel - that's OK - happens to everyone. It will help if you can stay on the seam between the left and right channels for as long as you can - gives you the option of going left or right - generally pick the one with the most water. That said I will sometimes pick less water but more downstream visibility. Once you commit to a channel it is very difficult to change your mind. When you do get stuck in the shallows it is likely you'll have to get out of the boat - hang on to the boat. Don't get downstream of the boat except as last resort.

    In the braided section there aren't a lot of good eddy options. Don't try any fast water landings - just don't do it. Generally that means if there's a cut bank and even if the water looks very slow - it's not. Previous advice about "if it's steep it's deep" is spot on. The eddy's are there.

    I hoped this helped and if you go I sure hope you have a relatively uneventful and fun trip - but it will be an adventure.


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