BWCA Am I asking for trouble? Boundary Waters Listening Point - General Discussion
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schlumpyj
member (10)member
 
05/13/2022 08:58AM  
I've made a bunch of BWCA and backpacking trips over the past couple of years and I'm ready to step it up.

My friend and I (mid 20's, fit) want to float the Birch Creek river up by Fairbanks, Alaska around the first week of July. I have not paddled a true river before but it sounds like, for the most part, the river has Class I and Class II with the occasional Class III that I would portage around ideally. I'm confident in my planning ability and general outdoors knowledge, but not sure if I'm biting off more than I can chew with this river.

Has anyone done a similar trip or has any advice for us? Thanks!
 
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Ioway
member (14)member
 
05/13/2022 09:42AM  
"Sin boldly" Ben Franklin
Get local intel/guide advise and keep your wits about you.
 
05/13/2022 10:00AM  
I lived in AK for 3 years and did a whole lot of paddling there but mostly in south central AK so I can't help you much. Make sure you have some sort of emergency beacon (SPOT, In Reach, PLB) with you. I didn't worry about Grizzley bears near as much in Interior AK, away from the Salmon runs along the coast but you should still carry bear spray, gun or both. We carried a 12 gauge and spray when I worked for the federal government there.

Buy Karen Jettmars book Alaska River Guide, and log unto this forum in the link I will provide. It has a forum like this one (BWCA.com) specifically about canoeing, you should ask your question there. I believe you have to become a member before you can post. Good luck, I read some about the river and I think you will be fine.


Alaska Outdoors Forum/canoeing subsection

Karen Jettmar Alaska River Guide book
 
user0317
distinguished member (371)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
05/13/2022 10:06AM  
schlumpyj: "I've made a bunch of BWCA and backpacking trips over the past couple of years and I'm ready to step it up.

My friend and I (mid 20's, fit) are wanting to float the Birch Creek river up by Fairbanks, Alaska around the first week of July. I have not paddled a true river before but it sounds like, for the most part, the river has Class I and Class II with the occasional Class III that I would portage around ideally. I'm confident in my planning ability and general outdoors knowledge, but not sure if I'm biting off more than I can chew with this river. Has anyone done a similar trip or has any advice for us? Thanks!"


You'll be fine so long as you procede with caution and common sense. I'm not familiar with Birch Creek, but most of the rivers up there can rise and fall dramatically within a day or less. Setup a water gauge (stick in the mud next to shore) when you camp to give yourself an idea of what the water-level is doing. On the Alatna river last year we saw the river come up about a foot on our first night. Build extra time into your float schedule and be willing to sit a day out if the water comes up to much. It isn't just the water and rapids that you have to watch out for, but entire trees with rootballs can wash downstream. Sometimes they are just under the water and hard to see.

I would also be a little more prepared for incliment weather and cold conditions then I would for a trip in the BWCA. In 10 days of paddling last August, we had 1/2 of a sunny day (the first day) and it was in the 40s and rainy the rest of the trip. I don't think I was ever really cold, but I was sure to always have a dry set of sleeping clothes to change into, and a spare set of clothes to wear during the day that I kept dry at all costs. The water is very cold and if someone falls in they could get hypothermic pretty fast.

Have fun! River paddling is a blast.
 
MacCamper
distinguished member(556)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
05/13/2022 01:07PM  
I have not explored the Birch Creek River, however have travelled in the Noatak watershed four times with a fifth planned for 2023. Trouble? Not if you are prepared. One tool to consider is reading/studying Cliff Jacobson's Canoeing Wild Rivers. A wealth of knowledge.

If you haven't done so, and if the companion fare program is still available, get an Alaskan Air Credit Card and garner the rewards of a two-fer (almost) to Fairbanks, and back, saving bucks for gear. Invest in the best rain gear you can afford. As 317 indicated, trips in Alaska can be wet the whole time.

Bringing a gun has always made me nervous (although I always have) because I don't know if I have the patience for a big bear to get close enough for me to kill. With only one chance for the kill shot, if you have limited skills with firearms I'd be hesitant to bring the firepower necessary to do the job. If you do bring a gun secure your titanium 12 gauge slugs well before the trip as they can be hard to find. The only time my gang had a grizzly come into/close to camp (that we were aware of) we scarred it off with whistles, shouting and making our small group look big by waving our arms and had the pepper spray and shotgun as the next layers of defense. Although I suggest being vigilant, bear are not your biggest challenge, being prepared for the many possible issues is of paramount importance.

Have a plan. Have an InReach. Be mindful of fast rising water. Get and use good gear. Take enough time to immerse yourself in the experience. This might mean more, but shorter, days on the water. I am always disappointed on a river when I "run out" of water to paddle due to the logistics of extraction or flooding. Checking a wild river off my bucket list, (and I have paddled many) is almost meaningless if I haven't spent the time necessary to get "in my groove" and embrace the trip.

Most of all, have fun!

 
schlumpyj
member (10)member
 
05/13/2022 02:22PM  
Thanks for all the tips. I am curious, how do the mosquitos compare to the BWCA? Every person seems to talk about Alaska mosquitos like their the size of softballs and never let up.
 
05/13/2022 03:14PM  
All of the above. I’ve paddled rivers on the Kenai, several rivers near anchorage and the susitna. Generally fairly easy, sweepers are always a concern. Expect rocks and silty water that can add to the challenge. Kevlar canoes will not survive this. Also learn river skills before you go to Alaska, this is not the place to practice whitewater paddling unless you’re with someone skilled in this
 
MacCamper
distinguished member(556)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
05/13/2022 06:21PM  
Mosquitoes! Two trips none at all, one trip here and there. Final trip, grateful we had our bugshirts!!!! They are so big it sounds like hail on a tent when they fly into the hood of your bugshirt. Seriously. What is your plan for rain days? Lean, tent or tepee? I much prefer the last for 24-48 hours in camp. If a tepee, make gravel bags to guy out the sides. Stakes can be destroyed in the gravel bars. Inexpensive tepees are available. And tyvek makes a light weight indestructible gravel bag.
 
schlumpyj
member (10)member
 
05/13/2022 07:58PM  
MacCamper: "Mosquitoes! Two trips none at all, one trip here and there. Final trip, grateful we had our bugshirts!!!! They are so big it sounds like hail on a tent when they fly into the hood of your bugshirt. Seriously. What is your plan for rain days? Lean, tent or tepee? I much prefer the last for 24-48 hours in camp. If a tepee, make gravel bags to guy out the sides. Stakes can be destroyed in the gravel bars. Inexpensive tepees are available. And tyvek makes a light weight indestructible gravel bag."

Assuming there aren't big enough diameter trees to hang my beloved hammock, I would probably go with a tent. I've never heard of anyone using a tepee outside of winter, I'll have to look into it.
 
05/14/2022 06:49PM  
jwartman59: "s. Also learn river skills before you go to Alaska, this is not the place to practice whitewater paddling unless you’re with someone skilled in this"

THIS!!!!

I can't imagine going to Alaska and not having any experience in river paddling. PLEASE prepare yourself first by at least doing some day trips on rivers near you.
 
907Tundra
member (35)member
 
05/15/2022 12:48AM  
I have paddled Birch Creek and numerous other AK rivers. I used to live in Fairbanks and currently live in Healy, near Denali National Park. Email me at the address in my profile and we can exchange numbers, happy to answer questions and offer suggestions.
Al
 
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