*Based on a run July 21st 2008. In an Aire force and Aire lynx 1
*Flow-Willow creek was running about 900 cfs with rain all day.
*Level of difficulty- class lll for intermediate boaters with backcountry skills and the willpower to get the proper gear to the river. You should treat this trip like you plan on staying a day or two in bad weather/ be prepared. Do not think you will simply walk out 25 miles if you run into a problem.
The hike is about 2 miles in a straight line which makes it about 4 or 5 miles reality walking, taking at least 3 hours or more. The tundra was uneven up high and the brush and devils club during hike down the canyon/ valley was equal to eternal punishment, I advise, stay out of the ravines, trust me. As I sat on a an alder branch, sweat running into my eyes with a tangled piece of devils club across my lap, I asked myself, "fool what are you doing?" but like most other things in life, the moment passed and I found myself by the river with my partner Chad.
Within 5 minutes the first bear appeared and we found out that yelling and whistle blowing etc. did nothing but arouse their curiosity,( he stood up looked at us and went back to fishing) but when he got our scent he ran like he saw a ghost. We saw 6 bears some were close encounters (25 yards) my first 8 miles were not enjoyable, but gripped with the fear of being eaten. At one point a bear would not leave so we could pass we spent 5 to 10 minutes trying to convince it to fish elsewhere (scent won again, just took a wind shift). Understand this, I have traveled threw some bear country but this was ridiculous, as it is nearly impossible to hunt so the bears just exist and eat.
The rapids start off right away where we put in, class ll and ll+ for about 2 miles then the river eased for about 5 miles. The vegetation on the banks was totally beat down by the bears and the nature of the river was wide and shallow swift water. Once the river leaves the mountains it steepens in gradient and the fun begins. The whitewater run was awesome and continued for 8 to 10 miles or so. The river is never boxed in a canyon or constricted and all rapids are scout able from your boat. There is a spot several miles down where a red bluff will first appear on the left then on the right you soon will see a few canyon walls and nice fun rapids but are no harder than the others. We saw a giant bear here also. lol Almost all rapids have more than one line and are not harder than class lll+ ( example camp ground - eagle river or 5 fingers- guard rail-willow creek as the hardest) but heres the catch there are so many quality rapids you will lose count. The rapids do have bigger waves than guardrail but these are straight forward and all holes I hit were punchable, one hole did get Chad however. I do remember running tongues by some good sized holes that play boaters would drool over. The river eventually eases and you realize your not food and life goes on. I took 200 pictures and when I look back its an amazing run.
The rapids will require dodging boulders and running tongues between holes or through them and punching wave trains that don't belong on a creek this size.
I recommend running this creek at a good medium to high flow maybe look for willow to be between 600 and 1100 cfs, more or less could be less favorable conditions. Experts doing this creek at high water wouldnít be able to get it off there minds, the waves would be awesome
I didn't think the oxbow section was that bad only a few portages around wood in the cottonwood tree section.( forgot to mention two logs in the upper section before the whitewater. 4 portages total only one over 100 yards.
To prepare, run Moose creek until you are comfortable, or Little-Su below the bridge to the other bridge, and you will be fine.
Not as hard as guardrail at 850 -1000 cfs or lionshead at low water but much more fun. However these would be good runs to practice before you go out in this valley a walk out could be a daunting task.
You should consider going when the salmon are NOT spawning, thereís a good chance sooner or later someone will get it, the bears are very bold. I imagine hunting is barely optional up there and human interaction minimal so they donít have sight and noise fear of humans as bad as hunted bears, and there hungry. They still hate our scent though, one whiff of a human armpit and watchem run
I will share pictures and video if anyone wishes have fun Mark O.