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Fortymile to the Yukon

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  • Fortymile to the Yukon


    I'm planning a canoe float down the west fork of the Fortymile river into the Yukon to take out in Circle. I'm looking for any advice about the river. I have scoured the BLM and NPS websites, but I'd like some first-hand knowledge. The trip is going to go from May 28-June 9 or so.

    Thanks much,

  • #2
    i assume you plan to canoe?

    if so, i would HIGHLY suggest you get the LATEST information on the state of the "canyon rapids". we ran the river in 2008 after there was a major change in the canyon due to landslides. we ran it at 5,000 cfs. at higher water the rapids in the canyon are EXTREME. to put things in perspective, a very experienced rafter who used to guide on the colorado said that, i believe it was 20,000 cfs, the waves were grand canyon size. you can do search youtube and you'll find video of the canyon at 5,000 cfs.

    all that being said....last year's RECORD flood on the 40 mile probably has altered the state of the canyon. hopefully someone on this forum has run it since the flood and can further advise.

    but, i would be VERY cautious about taking open canoes into the canyon at anything much greater than 5,000 cfs without an update on conditions. remember, there is NO reasonable portage around the canyon.

    you can check out gauge data at:


    • #3
      Gulkana, good to hear about last year's flood. Hopefully it has improved the canyon situation. The last few years, at low water that sections was still simple, but as the water rose it quickly became dicey.

      Other than the canyon there are a couple other sections of limited whitewater. One is about a mile above the 40 Mile bridge (last one before Eagle), and another couple easier rapids 10-15 miles below. I've always done this in a raft and that made them all quite simple, but we had a moderately experienced canoeist along once and he came close to dumping it in a couple spots. He didn't want to do it again. However a good whitewater canoeist might actually get bored with it all. They were probably class II-III in most water levels.

      Personally, I would plan my date and get ready to go, but if the water is anything above low levels, I would back out of the 40 Mile idea, launch at Eagle and enjoy a lot of short slow paddling days to Circle. But then, I am a poor canoeist.


      • #4
        Ive never done the 40 mile or the Yukon for that matter but Ive seen house sized icebergs in the Yukon at Circle around the 15th of May, with ice on the shore so high you couldnt get out if you wanted to... food for thought


        • #5
          I remember seeing that creepy ice as I was in my old 17.5 ft. Discovery canoe. I wish I would have got some pictures, man was that a wild run. My first time on that lonely wide open river in the middle of May. At times when the powerful current would split to go around a massive island, I could feel the current taking me right, while I wanted to go left around the island. I once turned around to test my boat against the late-spring current near the huge shelfs of shore ice, and all the might of my little 9.8 Tohastu would only put me at 2 mph against the current with a heavy load. Some spots right in the middle of the river would have huge hydraulic-generated waves moving accross a sandy shallow sections that came from nowhere. Other times I found myself methodically meandering around drift wood with a wide-open quietness that I've never felt before. I didn't see a single boat during the decent from Eagle.....not a one. Sometimes I felt like a toothpick in an ocean of never ending and moving water as it hissed against my hull during that early May run. I came back from that trip a changed person, and I've been allergic to the Anchorage area ever since. I love the real feeling of life on a river, where one wrong move in mother nature will kill yah. Every step you take is calculated, every thought you think, is a safe and cautious one when you travel by canoe, but it's so darned addictive.

          When I saw those various branches of the 40 mile, I always viewed it as destined canoe country.


          • #6

            if you run the forty mile this summer and have time, please post a report and/or pics of the canyon. i'm real curious to see how it may have changed as a result of last summer's flooding. i've yet to do the joseph fork and might be able to fit another 40 mile trip in late summer.




            • #7

              i was finally able to locate the report on the canyon from 2008, which was the 1st year after the rockslide that changed the canyon. trip report follows. the trip report indicates the dates of 6/29/08 to 7/4/08. the water levels during that time are shown at:


              as you can see, water levels encountered by party whose report is below, ~15,000cfs, happen on a regular basis.

              the canyon is a DEADLY serious place at high water, ever for rafts.

              > A group of 16 of us just finished a trip down forty mile from first bridge
              > to the Yukon with a takeout at Eagle. Trip start date on June 29th, take
              > out
              > on July 4th. A total of 6 boats (4 self bailers, 1 non-self bailer, 1
              > cataraft). The group split on the second day with the first boat 3 hours
              > ahead. The second, third, forth and fifth boats followed paddling 10 hours
              > in the rain to make the shelter at the Yukon confluence. The sixth boat
              > (my
              > boat) remained 24 hours behind in attempt to wait out the rain. During
              > that
              > 24 hour period, the water level rose 30 feet on the shore line and 10-12
              > feet vertical. The following day, my boat attempted to find a camp just
              > above the Canyon Rapids and then scout the rapid and wait it out if need
              > be
              > until the water level came down. Needless to say, the river was running
              > apx. 20mph in the canyon and all the pull offs were underwater...leaving
              > only willows to grab onto. So, we had to run the rapid. Please note, this
              > rapid HAS CHANGED since last summer! A cabin owner just upstream told
              > members in our group (who were 24 hours ahead of us) that there had been
              > an
              > avalanche which has made the rapid nearly unrunable in high water (perhaps
              > at low water too...I don't know). And indeed it was.
              > High water description: The rapid approach comes fast as you round the
              > bend
              > to the left...leaving about 4-5 seconds to pick a line. At the water level
              > that my boat hit it, (apx. 10-12 vertical feet above normal), this is what
              > I
              > observed as I rounded the bend. Horizon line/massive pourovers on both
              > river left and river right. At the bottom of the 'V' was a turbid frothy
              > hydraulic with a very deep hole. Immediately on the river left and river
              > right and downstream sides of the hole were 10-15 foot waves that were
              > curling/breaking on the tops. My first instinct, was this was unrunnable
              > and I was going to flip. 2 seconds later, I noticed a runnable line on
              > river right if I could break the laterals on the river right side of the
              > 'V'. There was no obvious run on river left or center. So, I pointed my
              > stern toward the laterals on river right and pulled like a banchy, barely
              > passing the river right pourover, but avoiding the frothy hydraulic at the
              > V
              > point. The river right line against the canyon wall was turbid with strong
              > eddies and large whirlpool sucker holes, but it was runnable. The 10-15
              > foot tall wave train continued for apx. 15 waves...all were breaking and
              > unrunnable...similar to the waves in Hermit rapid on the Colorado River in
              > Grand Canyon at high water. I would rate this rapid as a 5 to 5+ at this
              > water level.
              > Other paddlers in our group said they would chime in on what the rapid was
              > like when they hit it. Note to future 40-mile paddlers...when the water
              > level is very high, be prepared for the above description. And, note that
              > the nearest camping spot without using submerged willows as tie-offs, was
              > 19
              > miles upstream of Canyon Rapids.


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