Monday, September 1, 2008

McClaren Summit to Eureka Creek Traverse

Andy and Lisa head north from McClaren Summit and into the Alaska Range.

I headed south to the Alaska Range with Lisa and Andy over the Labor Day weekend. I had heard that from and old college friend that this was a superb packrafting route (thanks Jeff). The fall colors were just about peaking and the wildlife was abundant. We saw numerous groups of caribou grazing on lichens in the open expanse of tundra. This was quite an unusual traverse in that there was very little bushwhacking and a surprising lack of wet, soggy, tussock infested tundra.

Our 45 mile traverse began along a short 4-wheeler trail at McClaren Summit on the Denali Highway. We followed the trail north a couple of miles until it petered out into a series of game trails and easy tundra walking to 7-mile Lake. From the west end of the lake we paddled about 5 miles to a cabin and climbed a divide and eventually descended to Eureka Creek. We floated most of Eureka Creek down to its confluence with the Delta River and eventually pulled out at the Richardson Highway.

We came across a nice set of stone circles. These man-made looking features are formed as repeated freezing and thawing of the soil pushes rocks up to the surface. They are characteristic of tundra areas where frost processes are active and permanently frozen ground occurs in some form.

Paddling across the crystal clear waters of 7-Mile Lake. We went about 5 miles to a small framed cabin on the north shore.

We camped near the cabin before ascending a drainage up to a pass over an unnamed mountain.

The evening light on the lake was amazing. Its hard to describe the quality of light that radiates across the northern sky...its quite spectacular.

Looking back at 7-Mile Lake as we ascend the ridgeline to the north. It was about a 2000 foot climb up to a narrow pass.

We passed a tarn lake tucked high up in a valley on the mountainside - another potentially great camping spot.

Near the pass we encountered some very curious caribou.

The view from the north side of the pass was quite expansive. We carefully descended the rocky scree slope and made our way across a high plateau to the Eureka Creek drainage in the far off distance.

The climb down was nerve racking for a few moments as loose angular rocks shifted beneath our feet.

More and more caribou. They were extremely curious and would circle us several times before running off.

Eureka Creek at last and the start of our 20 mile or so of floating. There were plenty of game trails through the brush so the walking was rather pleasant.

The upper part of Eureka Creek was narrow and a bit rocky but easily paddleable in the packrafts. As more tribs entered and the volume increased there were plenty of fun class II wave trains to bob through.

My friend Jeff had done this traverse earlier in the summer and scouted out a portion of a narrow canyon where Eureka Creek is pinched and the water becomes much more challenging. We portaged the boats for about 4 miles along the south side of the canyon to avoid the more technical water.

The flavourful Alaskan blueberries were ripe and abundant.

After about 4 miles of following bare low hills and weaving in/out of some brush we dropped back down to Eureka Creek and continued our float towards the Delta River and the Richardson Hwy.

The lower stretch of Eureka Creek was in a deep, scenic canyon with some fun boulder gardens and a few nice standing waves to break through.