Results 1 to 13 of 13

Thread: Copper River float

  1. #1
    Member
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Location
    Anchorage
    Posts
    36

    Default Copper River float

    Thinking of trying to do this early in the year -- some folks coming from the Lower 48 have a May 15 to 22 window. Anyone run the Copper in May?

    My main concerns relate to ice and access... Will Miles Lake clogged with ice and bergs? Will the road out to Million Dollar Bridge be open?

    I'm also worried about flows. USGS records show they are in the 50 to 80 k range at the bridge near Cordova in this time frame. With summer flows usually in the 150 to 200 k range, does anyone have experience dealing with the braids if flows are this low? Also, does any one have experience or a good guess on how such low flows might affect rate of travel (we are thinking Chitina to the bridge in 5 to 6 days -- might this be unrealistic?).

    Finally, even if we don't go in May, does anyone have contacts for shuttle arrangements from the bridge to Cordova or experience getting rafts and frames etc. on the ferry. Do you have to have a vehicle to carry everything?

    Thanks in advance....

  2. #2
    Member
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    Location
    Anchorage
    Posts
    1,449

    Default

    You do have to put everything in a vehicle of some sort, as the ferry will no longer take it otherwise. Oddly, they will take a kayak, but not a rolled up raft, nor loose piles of gear anymore. Personally, I found it easier and cheaper to put someone on the ferry in Whittier with a truck, and have them drive out to meet us at the Flag Point Bridge.

    I have done it the other way, with a local pickup that took us the 25 miles to town, but that also required a hotel stay in Cordova in order to catch the early ferry schedule. And that did not solve the problem of getting our gear on the ferry in a suitable vehicle. But one time we just showed up at the terminal early and asked drivers of empty trucks if we could load their trucks for the ride to Whittier or Valdez. It worked that time, but the last trip we did it (2008) there were no empty pickups on the ferry that day, and we were glad we had our own. We had it loaded quite high though, with two rafts and gear for seven people for ten days (from McCarthy).

    Even at low water you can easily make it from Chitina to Flag Point in 5 days. It's never taken us longer than 4.

    I do think May is too early though. I don't know for sure, but I suspect Miles Lake will still be frozen. I did an early July trip and found 8' snow drifts at Million Dollar Bridge.

    Here's my write up about my experiences on the Copper. There is some contact information for various outfits that will do the pickup for you. http://paddling.jimstrutz.com/page11.html

    BTW, I prefer to float to Flag Point rather than get out at the Million Dollar Bridge. It adds most of a day of rather nice floating, the takeout is accessed easier, and the drive is 25 bumpy miles shorter. There are those that say the water no longer runs close enough to the Flag Point take out, but we found that to clearly not be the case in 2008.

  3. #3
    Member
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Location
    Anchorage
    Posts
    36

    Default

    Thanks Jim. A few other sources have also advised against a mid to late May attempt, so there seems to be a consensus. In the distant past, I might have been tempted to push the calendar to see if it could be done, but I'm trying to show a little more wisdom in my 5th decade.

    I remain curious about when it does open up -- and would love to hear about stories about whether it is truly impassable, a little scary, or just uncomfortable (e.g., camping on snow, maybe having to portage over ice a la early Gulkana trips across Paxson). If anyone knows more, I would appreciate it.

    Jim -- Thanks also for the info on your web pages too -- helpful when I put together an eventual mid-summer trip.

  4. #4
    New member
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Location
    Alaska
    Posts
    931

    Default

    Last season, my earliest raft rental party was on The Copper from June 15th-21st. The group came in on the red-eye flight from Virginia to Anchorage. I shuttled them directly to put-in with one stop for food, an orientation/safety talk, and they where on river by noon to find an early first camp for some needed R&R. Best used to be having river pick-up at take outs plus ferry to Whittier... now logistics are better by spending one night in Cordova, flying back to Anchorage, and using air freight.

    Even in June... lots of combination wintry/early-spring-like weather conditions. Water levels are generally just fine at this time for everything. It is the ever-present up-river winds that a party needs to keep in mind when boating and establishing camps.

  5. #5
    Supporting Member iofthetaiga's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Location
    Tanana Valley AK
    Posts
    7,217

    Default

    I've been looking for a link to an article for you, but I can no longer find it. It was a first hand account from someone who nearly died, about the danger of attempting to float the Copper early while it still had ice cover in places. I'm really disappointed I can't locate it now because it was a very convincing read. It can't be emphasized enough that no one should ever attempt to float the Copper with the idea of portaging around ice! No matter your skill level, the potential for something to go wrong at just the worst possible moment, resulting in someone ending up under the ice sheet is far too great! Anyone contemplating pushing the calendar should spend the money to fly every inch of the river from the mouth to the put in point, immediately prior to getting on the water. If there is ice on the river, don't float!
    ...he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods & errors. ~Thomas Jefferson
    I would rather have a mind opened by wonder than one closed by belief. ~Gerry Spence
    The last thing Alaska needs is another bigot. ~member Catch It
    #Resist

  6. #6
    Member
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Location
    Anchorage
    Posts
    36

    Default Copper ice and requesting advice on early Nelchina trips

    Thanks again for the replies.

    More sources have been weighing in directly to me. One included a reference to a boat being swept into ice on the Copper (probably the same event remembered by iofthetiaga above). Apparently this happened about ten years ago between Slana and Chitina -- so not in Miles Lake). I'd be interested in the account if someone can dig it up.

    Jack Mosby emailed me about similar scary conditions on an early Upper Copper trip with lots of aufeis on the banks, which makes stopping challenging if you do see a shelf across the river. I've been with Jack on a Sheenjek trip where we had to stop several times in "mini-canyons" of aufeis to scout ahead and it was spooky -- tiny eddies and only a foot or so of gravel to stand on with sometimes 5 to 10 feet of sheer walls of ice to try and peer over. On the flight in we saw there was always at least one braid of river open, but other braids went into ice tunnels and we noticed one serious looking rapid too (we were in an inflatable and pak canoe). By the time we got out of the aufeis several hours after the put-in, we still hadn't reached the "phantom" rapid -- which we ultimately decided must have been a recent collapse of an ice shelf that had melted by the time we got to it.

    In any case, I respect the warning. I would never "just hope" a river as fast as the Copper was clear and would depend at the minimum on a report from someone who had recently flown the river. And likewise, the only ice I'm willing to consider crossing is lake ice -- as some people do on early season Gulkana trips across Paxson -- and in dry suit mode. I was just asking because I believe the trouble spots may be in "Miles Lake" -- and since I haven't been there, I didn't know if it had much current. Sounds like there can be, along with large bergs from the glacier, which makes it all a non-starter for me. Even if the river was clear, it sounds very cold in the glacial areas and lots of snow drifts at camps well into June.

    So -- does anyone have other multi-day trip suggestions for the third week in May since that is the window my friends have? Anybody tried to do a Little Nelchina-Tazlina trip that early? I've heard that can be good around Memorial Day. Otherwise, I suppose we'll do 2 or 3 nights on the Mat, which is usually okay in May.

  7. #7
    Supporting Member iofthetaiga's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Location
    Tanana Valley AK
    Posts
    7,217

    Default

    Doug, I appreciated that you understand the dangers associated with ice on moving water like the Copper. My earlier comment wasn't directed solely at you. I was concerned that the existence of this conversation might give someone else glossing through this some inspiration, and reinforce the false notion that being on the Copper while there was still ice on the river was doable. Again, I appreciate that you recognize it's a bad idea. It seems that every couple years someone with less common sense comes up with the notion that they can do it, and that they'll 'simply' take out and portage when they come upon an ice sheet... such is the nature of Darwinism.

    I've lived on the Tazlina and I think you'll usually find the same dangers as on the Copper during that time of year. If it was me, I think I'd stick to Southern South-Central waters in May.

    Good Luck. Stay safe.
    ...he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods & errors. ~Thomas Jefferson
    I would rather have a mind opened by wonder than one closed by belief. ~Gerry Spence
    The last thing Alaska needs is another bigot. ~member Catch It
    #Resist

  8. #8
    New member
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Location
    Alaska
    Posts
    931

    Default

    As some on the forum know... several of my apprenticing years was guiding for Sepp Weber.

    The early May account you may be looking for is by Sepp in his classic book, WILD RIVERS OF ALASKA.

    In Sepp's book he described that Miles Lake was 'too calm'. Calm, because it was frozen!

    The Copper river mud had become exposed for miles (no pun) becoming a risky and laborious mu-flats to cross. Once through this, reaching some open yet ice-clogged water (to his description scarcely to not really navigable)... Sepp made it safely off river to a higher camp just in time to witness the violence of ice dams breaking with the resulting water pressures causing ice chunks (weighing tons) to be shot some 20 feet in the air. He said they were 'prisoners' of that high camp for 2 days.


    Sepp Weber is a truly admirable adventurer --- not a man to exaggerate his wilderness skills, under or over state weather plus water conditions, and never hyped-up his Alaska experience.

  9. #9
    Supporting Member iofthetaiga's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Location
    Tanana Valley AK
    Posts
    7,217

    Default

    The account I was thinking of was a long and detailed open letter to, if memory serves, the head of Wrangell-St. Elias NP, after ignoring advice from same about the dangers of Ice on the Copper, and nearly dying as a result.
    ...he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods & errors. ~Thomas Jefferson
    I would rather have a mind opened by wonder than one closed by belief. ~Gerry Spence
    The last thing Alaska needs is another bigot. ~member Catch It
    #Resist

  10. #10
    Member mod elan's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2006
    Location
    Glennallen
    Posts
    1,476

    Default

    Memorial weekend on the Taz? I know folks who used to fly into the lake and float the river. Most of the time the lake was froze over with the exception of the river mouth where there was just enough room to land the loaded beaver. I wouldn't count on doing a Lil Nel to Taz bridge trip that early. Don't think the Lil Nel would be doable anyways but am less familiar with it than some others here.

  11. #11
    Member
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Location
    Anchorage
    Posts
    36

    Default

    Thanks for the continued good info. Ice chunks popping 20 feet in the air sounds like a sight -- but one of those experiences that would be much more fun after you were safely ensconced at a bar in Cordova.

    I also concur with Tiaga's second round of comments...all this mid-winter musing about early Copper Basin trips is not intended to encourage any run on these rivers till there is certain knowledge they are clear.

  12. #12
    Supporting Member iofthetaiga's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Location
    Tanana Valley AK
    Posts
    7,217

    Default

    Then again Doug, you never know when something freakish is going to happen and unexpectedly provide opportunity. A few years ago, the glacier lakes went out mid winter and blew four feet of ice off the Tazlina. It stacked ice up everywhere like a train wreck, flooded peoples homes with ice, water, and silt and then froze in place. That was fun... But the river remained open for quite awhile following the event and you could have floated it then. That was about this time of year. You never know what's going to happen on glacier fed rivers.
    ...he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods & errors. ~Thomas Jefferson
    I would rather have a mind opened by wonder than one closed by belief. ~Gerry Spence
    The last thing Alaska needs is another bigot. ~member Catch It
    #Resist

  13. #13

    Default

    Doug,
    As mnay of the folks had said, I think you have your head about you getting beta from the community. One thing not mentioned by many is the weather. I think to keep it in mind because the weather may dictate a phenomenal run in May. I took my UAA intermediate Rafting class on the Little Nel/Taz put-in on June 1 just after memorial day. We had excellent water in the Little Nel and made great time, had a great trip, awesome experience for the UAA Students. The little Nel is very technical with lots of single oar maneuvers, sweepers and stariners--keep your head up and look ahead. I think it depends on the weather and too bad we do not have many gauges up here to help in the decision making process.

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •