It is an understatement to report that I am still smiling after the three days Sherrie and I spent travelling from Kennicott to the Lakina River bridge on the McCarthy road. We had some beta from the Alpacka forums indicating that this was a super beautiful route that could be done in 2 days, but should be enjoyed with 3. Since we thought we may be a bit worked post-run, this seemed perfect.
All I have to say is: wow. We were more-or-less consistently shocked by how beautiful and pleasant this trip was. We had perfect weather, amazing fall colors, and super friendly river levels. This, coupled with the amazing area and my super-fun and travelling buddy, made for an unforgettable trip!
There were too many pictures, so enjoy the slide show!!! Story will continue below :-)
So, Sunday we left Kennicott at about 1pm and headed up the Root Glacier trail to the glacier access. We ran into a guy we'd met the night before who kindly steered us in the right direction, immediately crossing the Root to the "white ribbon" on the other side of the moraine. It does feel like you should walk up the Root a bit, but crossing put us on a superhighway that continued pretty much all the way up glaicer until we had to head toward Hidden Creek. Along the way, we saw super cool moulins and investigated their depths with rock throwing . . . creepy! We also got to stare at Mt. Blackburn and the big mountains, as well as Donoho - unreal beauty. We walked up the Kennicott past Hidden Creek and then took a hard left to cross to the "fos" at the glacier edge. It looked like we could get shut down any minute, but the glacier let us through pretty easily . . . no crampons needed, never wished we had them. It was a fun navegation too . . . surprises around every corner!!! Once on the "fos," a beautiful trail appeared and took us right over the ridge we needed to go over, very pleasantly through the alders, along the sidehill on the other side, and down to Hidden Creek. Oh so very nice :-) We camped pretty soon thereafter and watched the beautiful moon come up . . . what a day!
Monday we awoke to more sunshine and started up Hidden Creek. We found an airstrip and a cabin pretty shortly after starting and had fun investigating. Walking along the creek, we were following footsteps and wondered what humans we might run into . . . turned out to be Chris Walker, hunting guide, and his client with a freshly shot goat. We gathered some beta (turns out their base is on the Lakina, so Chris had travelled that route before), and were off again. The walk up Hidden Creek was incredible. Beautiful, pleasant travel, amazing colors, blue sky, and great conversation. We arrived at Hidden Pass and chilled out to take in the beauty of the other side . . . a nice lake, cool colors on the hills. Having left the Kennicott Glacier, we sorta figured the big mountain views had ended and we'd be in nice foothills instead . . . but were we ever wrong!!!! Holy smokes, we went around the corner and were faced with just about the best mountain vista ever. The best part was how unexpected it was, confirming how nice it is to have some route beta, but not too much! Castle Peak came out, as did the unnamed "bump" to its north and the mind-blowingly steep face off the ridgeline along the Lakina . . . all reflected in a series of perfectly calm lakes with vibrant fall colors abounding. We walked pretty slow and stopped a lot to celebrate where we were and drink it all in :-) And again, just when we were ready for one, a lovely trail appeared and escorted us to the scree slopes leading to the toe of the Lakina River. We wandered a bit to find the best way down, and ultimately came back to where the trail met the scree and descended directly. Arriving at the Lakina, we found enough water to float, and so put in, nervous that a cold night could dramatically reduce the river levels and send us on foot [gasp!]. The water was class II is, super aerated and not very pushy. The hardest part was spotting the rocks that we tended to high-center on, veiled by the silty waters until it was too late. Oh well, it was still super fun packrafting. At one point, a plane flew by and tipped its wing . . . Chris and his client headed back to their camp downriver. We floated almost an hour, and then chose to make camp and have a huge bonfire . . . lovely way to spend an evening!!!
Tuesday dawned sunny yet again and downriver we went. When we got to the hunting camp, we decided to check it out and see what luxury wilderness living is like. They had the super-sonic setup . . . planes, wall tents, horses, generator, kitchen with running water . . . and the beautiful backdrop of the Lakina to take it all in! Most had taken off that morning on horseback, but Chris and his client were there, meaning a cold beer for Sherrie and I!!! What a wilderness treat :-) From there, we continued butt-boating the braided section of the Lakina (wouldn't have minded a bit more water!) and then the river converged into a single channel and the fun began!!! The majority of the paddle was super fun class II-III festive paddling. At the levels we had, the water wasn't too pushy, but it was the kind of water that kept you paying attention, and kept us emptying our boats with frequency! We got a system of swinging leads at boat-dumps, mixing up the descent with the fun of reading the rapid first and the fun of watching your friend paddle through. Again, we were amazed at how cool it was . . . super unexpected :-) Near the end, the gradient lessened and the water levels rose (class I), but we had three cross-river logjams to keep things exciting. We arrived at the car (that Chris and Chris had kindly shuttled for us on their way out of McCarthy - thanks guys!!!) around 5ish and were on the road in a jiffy. The only bummer was that we had to rush outta there, both needing to work the next morning (and Sherrie having to work a 12-hr shift at 7am!).
Overall, I am still shocked at how much fun we had and how varied and beautiful this trip is. I almost don't want to tell the truth because I feel like it will become a super highway. But, then again, it is all the way in McCarthy and isn't a paved road, so something tells me it will be just fine :-) I should say that, although we had very manageable rapids on the Lakina with our water levels, I could see that river getting a lot more festive at midsummer higher flows. Even as it was, it's not a river I'd want to paddle my first time in a packraft . . .