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Thread: Spencer Glacier/Placer River Trip Report

  1. #1
    Member Birdstrike's Avatar
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    Default Spencer Glacier/Placer River Trip Report

    I've wanted to do this trip since last year. This year the Alaska Railroad is offering the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop trip 2 for the price of 1 for Alaska residents ($64 for 2 adults, unfortunately kids 2-11 are still $32 not 2 for 1). Oversize gear such as rafts incur an additional $20 charge (for all the items together not each separately).
    http://www.akrr.com/arrc51.html





    The train leaves the Portage station at 1:25pm and arrives 20 minutes later at the Spencer Glacier. The train ride in is cool although a bit expensive for those of us just using it one way. But, it's the only way into the lake unless you have a buddy with a jetboat that can reach it. It took us about 15 minutes to offload the gear and strap the raft and frame onto a folding kayak cart (mine is similar to this http://www.rei.com/product/786433 ) Most everything else went in backpack style dry bags.



    The hike from the tracks to the lake is 1.3 miles on a slightly uphill gravel path. I took us about 30 minutes with the gear and the kids. Once at the lake we started the raft inflation by using a 4 D cell battery air pump and the old fashioned hand pump method. By 3:30pm we were on the water floating past ice bergs. The glacier itself is about a mile across the lake and a mile back to the river outlet.

    Last edited by Michael Strahan; 08-07-2009 at 23:57.

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    The first 5 miles of river are mostly class I with an occasional class II. The only real hazard is the old train trestle that the 1964 earthquake dropped in the river. It's a twisted hunk of metal about 300 yds downstream of the new trestle. It's easily avoided river left or right. There are also numerous rootballs and a few sweepers to avoid.







    At approximately the 5 mile mark the RR tracks will be along side river right and you'll see the steps where Chugach Adventure Guides ends their commercial trips.

    The next 5 miles are almost all class I with thick alder/willow lined banks and fewer gravel bars. At approximately river mile 7 you'll have to decide to take the main Placer braid to the right or the Placer Overflow braid to the left. I spoke with one of the guides on the phone before the trip and she reccomended the Overflow braid as it's less influenced by the tides ( kudos to Chugach for the river info). The takeout is a bit sketchy and will require lifting and muscling the boat a bit. The main stem Placer has a better takeout but might still not be the better choice. Whichever braid you choose it's about another 3 miles (10 total) to the Seward Hwy. If you choose the wrong one it's only about a 1/2 mile hike to the other parking lot.



    Overall this is a way cool trip, although the train ride is a bit pricey if you'll just be using it one way. Anybody that has at least one other raft trips' experience behind them should have no problems on this river. The river does require some precise handling and careful route choices in some of the gravel bar braids to avoid dragging. You'll be the last group down the river since the commercial trips will be floating before you get your raft inflated. Help will be a long ways away if you do have a problem. This is not a roadside trip...it's more a poor man's remote trip so all precautions should be taken. Plan 3 hours floating from the outlet to the highway.

    The ARR special is good through Sept. 14th. Happy floating!

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    Sorry the title should read Spencer Glacier/Placer River Trip Report.

    Is there a way to edit the title and original post? I only see that I'm able to edit the reply to my original post?

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    Member Phish Finder's Avatar
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    The trip is great when the silvers are in. You can hammer silvers on that float
    ><((((>.`..`.. ><((((>`..`.><((((>

    "People who drink light 'beer' don't like the taste of beer; they
    just like to pee a lot." --Capitol Brewery

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    Any camping around the lake?

    I was thinking if I sprung loose the dough for the train ride, I may want to linger a bit and milk the trip into an overnighter.

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    There are several spots around the lake. Sear the Alaska Railroad site for Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop. Take warm clothes....if the wind blows it's straight down the glacier.

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    Member Heg's Avatar
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    Cool photos. Thanks for sharing.

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    Default nice

    Very nice report and the pictures were wonderful. Thanks for taking the time to share.

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    Sounds like a cool trip, it's defintely on my list.

    What are the rules on firearms aboard Ak RR?

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    I found this on the ARR site under the Spencer Glacier Terms & Conditions.

    All firearms must be declared and checked through baggage. The firearm must be either disassembled (slide or bolt removed) or have a lock (trigger or cable type) installed to prevent operation. Additionally, the firearm must be in a locked case. Concealed weapons are not permitted onboard. Camping fuel, motor fuel and other hazardous items are not permitted on the Alaska Railroad. Animals must be transported in kennels in the baggage car. Please carry medications with you as you will not have access to your luggage once you have checked your bags.

    Looks like you can't bring camp stove fuel...just firewood to cook on also.

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    Thanks for sharing your trip. I had a friend that hiked the railroad out there with his Alpacka and did the same trip. He ran into an ARR worker at the beginning and he said go ahead but listen for any trains (great tip!). I think it is 13 miles one way for the hike? He said it was great.

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    I packrafted the Placer mid-July with my sons. There's were no new hazards that couldn't be avoided. However the waves leaving the lake are a bit bigger when viewed from a packraft. Lol




    Most boaters choose to stay river left for the last half of the float so as to reach the Placer Overflow parking lot and to avoid the "Placer Falls". I've wondered what the falls looked like. Recently I was able to kayak upstream to them with the assistance of a rising tide. They definitely look runnable in a big raft, albeit they are shallow. I'd plan for a possible swim if in a packraft. They can be lined or walked around on river left at normal flows. Beautiful spot.

    Click on the image to play the video.

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    I recently revisited the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop and Placer River with my 15' SB. This is a great float and one I'd recommend for all that have not done it. 2-for-1 tickets are available for the RR which makes the fare a little more palatable. The most difficult part is moving your gear the 1.5 miles from the Alaska Railroad to the lake.

    I suffered cart failure this trip which made the logistics a bit more "challenging" then it needed to be. Thankfully I had a solid crew that helped schlep everything to the water. Next time I think I'll just take a four-wheeled garden cart and then strap it to the raft for the float out. Packrafts make the logistics simple, but this time I had an older passenger that wasn't up for paddling herself out. We picked a beautiful, warm day which resulted in high flow from the glacier. The first section leaving the lake has class II wave trains which can be scouted from the new pedestrian bridge across the water. Below that is a very braided section with multiple channel choices and rootballs to avoid. The last few miles is just slow, alder lined floating to the takeout.





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    Member SteveAK's Avatar
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    You owe your "crew" more than a thank you for humping the raft this time. Still hurts thinking about it. And don't forget the frickin' battery pump next time.

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