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Tazlina float in late June

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  • #16
    We got off the river yesterday. Self-shuttling worked out well for us this time, although in the future we may be interested in your services, Walt!

    The Little Nelchina was a bit of a challenge. We put in the morning of the 4th. My big blue 16' Sotar doubled as a battering ram through several unavoidable sweepers, and there were several bony areas with no real successful route through. The water was low and slow, which made the rock-dodging, sweeper crashing, and dragging off rock hangups fairly uneventful, but good humor and oar control was key. We didn't find the lost oar, but were successful in not contributing any of our own to the river.

    The cataraft that was with us basically walked their boat through about a quarter of the trip down the Little Nel. When we came back to the put in to pick up our car, the water was even lower, so expect a stroll through the creek unless you are in a small, lightly loaded boat. At least the water was warm! Total float time with all the funny business was about 2.5 hours.

    Things picked up steam when we got into the glacially-fed big Nelchina. The water is running high, but there were still some beaches for pullouts. We took advantage of one close to the confluence for lunch. The side streams were low but still flowing. We spent about 3.5 hours on the Nelchina. The river braids out considerably for the last mile and a half, and we weren't able to find a suitable beach until we were nearly at the lake. We normally like to camp on river right to give a little shelter from the katabatic wind off the Tazlina glacier, but the river had chewed up that side farther upriver and the main channel ended up to the left. The wind was blowing about 15-20 mph when we got to the beach about 7 pm, but had died down by about 9:30 and wasn't a problem through the night.

    We got off the beach at a leisurely 11:30 am the next morning with a light breeze. The cataraft had its chance to shine with the 20 horse Honda towing all of us across a calm, blue Tazlina lake in about 2 hours. We stopped for lunch on the right bank near the Tazlina river entrance. I have rowed and sailed the lake in the past, but the motor is the way to go in calm weather.

    Entry into the Tazlina was a breeze. The little island near the entrance was nearly non-existent. The v-wave train that marks the actual river entrance was splashy and looked intimidating, but the water was so high and spread out there was not a lot of force to it. The river was very high and although there were beaches, there were many areas that were completely blown out, with one or two small alders holding fast against the flood. As we moved farther downstream, there were many sandy/silty bluffs that were actively collapsing into the river, a little at a time. We didn't witness any major landslides, but saw quite a few small ones. The river goes from a semi-clear blue color to more of a muddy greenish hue from all of the yellow and brown dirt and gray silt being mixed in. The upper section is a little splashy, with some force going into the corners and some shallows in the center from the beaches being overtopped. All hazards are easily avoidable. We floated for about 15 miles and camped on a nice beach, about 3 hours on the river past the lake. Speed was averaging about 6.5 mph.

    We woke up on Saturday and floated off. The sun was already hot at 11 am. The river continued to get more splashy, with several sections of nearly continuous whitewater and 2-3 foot haystacks for a half mile or more. The trickiest part of this section is avoiding the larger holes, which sometimes are hard to spot in all the splashes. I learned on this trip that at these high water levels, if you can see the exploding hole behind a drop, it is probably no big deal. However, if you see a small hump pillowing up on a rock, with streamers running off to the sides, that is a problem to be avoided. We hit a couple 4 foot drops just to stay cool in the 90 degree heat, but were able to avoid all the ones we wanted to dodge with a little vigilance and ferrying back and forth. The river picks up speed and we were averaging over 7 mph.

    We came upon the only real "rapid" on the river, House Rock, about 2 hours downstream from our camping spot. It appears rather suddenly around a right-hand bend, with no beach or eddy for a look before running. It consists of a huge rock in the middle of the river immediately before a left-hand bend. The water has a tendency to split this rock at higher water, and the main hazard is the big eddy to either side and behind it. The force of the river pushes you directly toward the rock if you are in the center of the river. Staying river right seems to be the best entry. The first time I did this river, the rock was nearly 20 feet tall, and the left route was too narrow and shallow to safely run. I entered on the right and rowed away from the wall for all I was worth. This trip, the high water made either route passable, and staying off the wall was relatively easy. Two boats went right and one went left with no problems.

    We floated for another 2.5 hours or so through lots more splashy stuff interspersed with big holes, and pulled out on river left across from an actively sloughing bluff, just around the corner from the TAPS bridge. It was neat to watch the trickle of rocks and dust, and an occasional tree from the top falling down the slope into the river. It was too hot for these Alaskans, especially being tired from the constant maneuvering back and forth across the river. We all ended up wading or submerging in the river to stay cool. The Wrangell mountains were beautiful and visible from camp.

    The next morning, we got on the river a little earlier, about 9:30, and floated about 45 minutes to the takeout. The high water helped here as well; the water spread out and slowed down on river right before the road bridge, which allowed us to gently enter the eddy just downstream of the bridge on river right. There is a gravel launch here that allowed us to bring the trailers right down to the river. The eddy can be tricky. We entered it with some high-energy pull strokes and let it carry us a little ways past the takeout, and then recirculated back to the gravel. No need to fight too hard to get there directly; let the river do a little of the work once you are firmly held in the eddy. We spread our party out prior to the takeout to avoid any bumper cars in the eddy.

    All total it was about 17 hours on the lake/river. 4 days was a great pace. We saw many eagles, and also what we believe were hawk-owls and goshawks. We saw a moose and a nice looking bull caribou. We only saw evidence of bears at our last campsite. The mosquitoes weren't too bad, although the horseflies made up for them. This was a novel trip in that there was absolutely no threat of rain, and beating the heat was the main weather challenge. Great trip with good people!


    • #17
      Thanks for the great trip report. This has been on my radar for awhile. My wife and I were set for it last year but cancelled due to flooding on the Little Nelchina.


      • #18
        Great trip!

        I had a group loose a 11 foot oar on the Little New. So if any of you find it it should be james in a log jam about 1-2 miles from the put in. Give me a call and I will be happy to buy you a case of beer or what wvwr.

        Thanks guys.

        Gulkana Rafting


        • #19
          Nice write-up. Thanks!


          • #20
            Anyone been on the river recently? Comment on water levels?<br/><br/>Walt you still Shuttling?<br/><br/><br/>Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk


            • #21
              We ran it 6/25-6/28. 5 couples, 5 rafts, water levels normal. The Little Nel kept us busy dodging rocks and sweepers, although there was some unavoidable contact. The carnage from the early season pinned rafts was still there, but the giant log jam had washed through. Beyond the Little Nel everything was great aside from the bugs in spots. We shuttled our own vehicles, although Walt said he was available. Great trip!


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