Advice Solicited: Floating Copper (Tazlina-Cordova)
Hi, I'm planning to float the Copper in mid July. Currently working on best place to portage near Cordova. Not sure what river access (for vehicle pick up) exists along river after Million Dollar Bridge. Desire to get the most out of the river before taking out in that general area. Anyone willing to share advice/ideas is appreciated.
14' Kenai Drifter & 17' Cata Raft.
The usual take out is at Flag point. I think the locals call this 21 mile, as that's how far it is from town. It's the first bridge over part of the Copper if you're driving from town. If you stay right after boating past Childs Glacier the take out is just before the bridge on river right. I have heard that this channel was filling up in past years, and may not exist in the future, but as far as I know it's still boatable today. There is a nice parking lot there.
There used to be a lady in Cordova that ran a bus/truck out to the Million Dollar Bridge & back every day. For $25 (ten years ago) she would haul you, your boat, and your gear to the ferry terminal or a down town hotel to await the next days ferry. Also, there is a local rafting company that would do this shuttle for you as well. I wish I had contact info, as I'm planning on an early July trip myself. If you find a solution for the pick up before I do, please post it here. Anyone else know of specifics for this?
Also there is an issue with getting boats & gear on the ferry. In the past, the AK Ferry system insisted that large amounts of cargo like this be loaded on a truck or trailer for the ride out of Cordova. You can usually find people with empty trucks waiting for the ferry that will haul your gear for a few bucks, but that always seems risky to me. I have a hard time feeling good about not knowing if I have a ride for my stuff. Does anyone know if this policy still exists?
Another logistical issue is shuttling your vehicle from Chitina to Valdez, if you end up there. The lady running the art store in Chitina will do shuttles either from McCarthy to Chitina, or Chitina to Valdez. Her prices were very reasonable last year.
Great info...Flag Point/21 Mile it is.
We speculated an encounter with some "wrangling" from takeout ->Cordova ->ferry. Plan to eliminate guess-work and have my wife-unit bring pickup over from Whittier to meet us. (She has a sister visiting during this time frame and couldn't make the trip). Looks like the ferry departs Cordova for Whittier every day @ 0830...at least it works out on paper.
If I might trouble you with a few more pesky questions:
Best Regards and thanks again for your keen insight,
- Is eight days about right to do this run from Tazlina?
- After Million Dollar Bridge, is the rule of thumb to stay right?
- Are there any other good resources on the web about this run?
- Are you aware of any areas on the run requiring extra caution/preparation?
We floated from McCarthy to Flag Point in 2006. Here is my advice based upon our experience.
Yes, stay river right after the Childs Glacier. To stay river left puts you into the Gulf of Alaska. That said, there was no need to jump into the smaller river channels to right as a large channel pushed us into the bank upstream from the take-out at Flag Point.
As far as your eight-day time frame, I don’t know. We floated from McCarthy to Flag Point in 3 days during the highest flows of that year.. But I might be getting a reputation for doing these trips way too fast.
As far as hazards, watch out for high upriver winds. In the Bremner River Flats we encountered extreme high river winds to the point that we once got pinned on an upriver sand bar. Trying to extract ourselves was very hazardous as the silt bank was much like the stuff people get stuck in on Turnagain Arm. It took a couple hours for us to get our raft off the upriver bank despite the fact that the river was running in our direction! Best to wait for low winds in this section but that didn’t do us much good since we entered this section at about 3:00 a.m. I hope that our conditions were a rarity since the daytime temps pushed above 80F so the wind never really did subside much as the warm temps kept sucking the cool gulf air up the canyons day and night. The other issue with upriver winds is that given the extremely fast current if someone falls out of your boat they will likely succumb to hypothermia and even perish before even the strongest of rowers can chase them down to an eddy. We protected against this by rigging up tethers to the boat with a quick release device. I know that this goes against the cardinal rule of never tying oneself to a raft but I believe that the wind/current conditions we encountered warrant such. I was warned about these conditions but didn’t fully realize the hazard until I saw the speed at which wood flowed past us down river even as we rowed hard down current. Another, and much more entertaining upriver wind hazard, occurs downriver from Child’s Glacier. As we floated downstream we were chased by up to small house sized icebergs. As the wind held us up-current, the icebergs (rooted deep in the river) chased us down. It reminded me of a childhood video game called, “Frogger,” where we moved left to right, forward and back to avoid the hazards chasing us down. Although very entertained by the experience, we were careful to not get run over by one of these behemoths. Wind or no wind, don’t get too close to one of these large icebergs on the down river side. As they wash up on gravel bars they roll over, jumping higher in the river and creating a different kind of hazard in the process.
According to the River Forecast Center, we ran Abercrombie Rapids on the highest flow day of that summer. We did well by staying river center right, avoiding large holes at both hard river left and right. This route was only haystacks although very large and scary ones even in an 18’ cataraft. We tried to scout the rapids but the only small pull-out at river right was occupied by several brown bears (and they only had a few small feet to stand on between the river and the alders). As we floated by them one roared at us. I told Dan, “I guess we’re not going to scout these rapids.” This was one of those points at which we attached our quick release tethers prior to entering the rapids.
Becky (runs a car rental service and Inn in Cordova) arranged for our pickup at Flag Point and took good care of us in Cordova. Call the Cordova Chamber of Commerce and if she is still there they will know her. She has been there for decades.
We encountered no issues with the Ferry System as far as hauling gear up the ramp and onto the boat. But then again, this was the year that they had promised Cordovan’s a fast ferry then didn’t deliver so not only were they friendly, the rates were ½ price that summer.
This is a beautiful trip and I’m not trying to scare anyone away with the accounts about the upriver winds. ‘Just trying to be ultra-safety-conscious. Have a great trip and do write about your experience – particularly about the Tazlina to Chitina section.
Great report, cjines. I wrote about my experiences here: http://paddling.jimstrutz.com/page11.html
I was talking to another yesterday boater who said last year's high water filled in the channel to Flag Point, so we'll have to pick another option. I understand that some people get out at the Million Dollar Bridge, but that cuts off the last days float past Childs Glacier. Personally, I think that's one of the funnest parts of the trip. Especially if the glacier's calving.
On rare occasions the calving has caused flooding and even damage to the far side of the river, but normally it just makes big waves. If you see the ice falling, don't run from it. The waves get far larger as they crash against the left side of the river. Stay left of river center and charge into the waves coming from the glacier on the right. You'll be fine. By the time they get to where you are the waves will be a series of 8-12' rollers with no crashing.
In the three trips I've done on the Copper, two were pretty much filled with strong headwinds, but perhaps not as strong a cjines experienced. I didn't bother with a tether while in a raft, but I did when paddling an inflatable kayak. It just seemed like the sensible thing to do. If I would have rolled, the boat would have been going in the opposite direction with no way to chase it down.
Bremner Flats are where the headwinds are most annoying, as the silt will be blowing in your eyes for a few hours. We preferred to camp early and head through there in the morning, as the winds "usually" pick up in the afternoon.
We have always figured four days from Chitina. This means about 25 miles per day. I would add another day or two from Tazlina. Longer days can be done, especially with high water, but I prefer 4-5 hours of floating max.
On the last trip I experienced much the same things as cjines except for the wind. Very high water made Abercrombie a wild ride, and right of center was the only safe line. Right side had the biggest hole I've ever seen in a river. If you fell into that you'd be recirculated in there until fall. There was no getting out of it, so anything left of that was far safer. But far left was a series of huge crashing waves that could surf and flip a boat if you ever got less than perfectly lined up for the next one. We did have one small boat (10' self bailer) that got stuck in a major eddy just below the huge hole on the right. Took him 20 minutes to get out, and that was with two people, face to face, rowing for all they were worth. Crazy place at high water.
We were also going to scout this before running it, but there was a brown bear that was far to curious of my yellow boat in her favorite fishing hole. She got within 15' of us before I got turned around and out of the little eddy I was resting in. She chased us down to the next pullout, but after that I just committed our boats to the river. It was pretty easy to see where the line was though.
I've been in there at moderately high and moderately low water with no issues at all. At low water there is no rapids, and at mid to moderately high you can run down the right side.
Once past Abercrombie, the easiest and most interesting thing to do is stay to the far left crossing Miles Lake. There is a 2-3 knot current that takes you through without rowing, and you will get close to Miles Glacier, and a lot of ice bergs will be floating in the lake. You will have to find a path through them, as they are all lined up on the edge of the shallow area in the middle of the lake. All interesting and easy to do. If you decide to take out at the M.D.Bridge, it's probably easier to do it on the right side just before the bridge though, so a right side lake crossing may be preferred.
The icebergs after Childs Glacier are a hoot to be floating with, but are never a safe thing to play around. As the river gradually shallowed below the glacier, they would ground out and rise up right in front of you, and then fall over one way or the other. If you were behind one when it hit bottom you could easily be upended with it.
I'm still trying to run down a shuttle service for the take out, and the location for the best place to do it below Childs Glacier. I think this is doable on the second bridge in from Flag Point, but I'm not sure.
It's good to hear the changes in the ferry system's requirements for boaters, but agree that having your own truck to meet you is the best plan. We did this on our last trip, and it worked great. Cost's more and you need a willing driver, but it works slick.
I've recently received some information from Mark & Robin Irving of Alaska River Expeditions (http://www.alaskarafters.com). They say that the Flag Point Channel is still probably the best option. Not much water in it, and it flows real slow, but the other option of getting out at the 37 mile bridge is a bad one, due to fast-fast water right there. Perhaps getting out on river right above the Million Dollar Bridge isn't so bad after all. You can drive right to the waters edge there too. I do like the ride in front of the 600' high face of Childs Glacier though. That's an awesome thing to give up. Still, I guess you could camp in the federal campground right there & watch the ice fall all night.
For anyone not using their own vehicle at the pickup point, they suggested calling either Cordova Coastal Oufitters (424-7424) or Chinook Auto Rentals (424-5279) for a ride to the ferry terminal. They also said that the AK Ferry system is sticking to their guns about requiring all rafting groups to pack their stuff in a truck or trailer. No loose piles of gear hauled on board. Makes supplying your own truck look better all the time.
Searching for past info, I came upon this post from last year, and realized I should have posted the outcome of our trip.
We went from McCarthy to Chitina in 6 days, and took another 4 to Flag Point. The water was low, but not slow. There were no rapids at Abercrombie.
We kept right after Childs Glacier, but at the last split, a couple miles above the take out, the channel nearly ran out of water. We managed to row through the end of it, but... We would have been far better off ignoring that last nearly currentless split, and hanging with the main current that leads to the second (from Cordova) bridge. Right before the bridges, there is a really handy connecting current that will take you over to the first bridge, where the usual take out is. Nice.
The ferry system has a summer sale where if you book a round trip fare for your car, the driver rides free. So we took them up on the offer. My son-in-law drove/floated from Whittier, met us at Flag Point, spent the night and hauled us onto the ferry the next morning.