Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Alaska Update

Well, after a good spring with plenty of water, the Anchorage area is finally starting to get a little bleak. Rest assured, there is still whitewater for those that are looking for a bit of an adventure! And that is indeed what we got when we imbarked on our Nellie Juan River Expedition.

Below the first portage

For those wishing to skip the Blah Blah Blah, click the link to see what photos we have of the run.


The first drop

Located on the eastern side of the Kenai Peninsala, flowing north to Kings Bay in Prince William Sound, the Nellie Juan River is about as remote as one can get in this part of the state. If you were to search for info about the Nellie Juan you will quickly find that there isn't much. The best source of information out there, aside from talking with others who have done it, would be Andrew Embick's Fast and Cold. His description pretty much hits it on the head. After getting dropped off by float plane at Nellie Juan Lake, one paddles 20 miles down the Nellie Juan River to Tide Water at Kings Bay and then continues to paddle out 16 miles to Deep Water Bay where you can be picked up by boat. This bit of information, accompanied with the fact that the weather in this area is very unpredictable, boardering on wet, was beginning to sound like a good time.

Somewhere in the 2nd or 3rd canyon

Having done most, if not all, of the planning back in July when my two friends from California, Aaron Stabel and Norwood Scott where in town, setting it up this time would be a cinch. Now just so you know, Norwood, Aaron and I had spent the better part of three days doing all the leg work for this trip. Figuring out who would fly where, how many flights it would take, what it would cost, etc. Up here where the Bush plane and the boat are your main methods of transportation, logistics can take a bit to work out and we had figured them all out. Our original plan had been to fly in and float the river out and then paddle about 20 of the 54 miles back to Whittier where we would meet up with a water taxi who would exchange our whitewater boats for tandem sea kayaks and my wife and then the four of us would paddle the remaining 34 or so miles back to Whittier by sea kayak and truly get the most out of the trip. The ground work was laid, the plan was set and all arrangements were made. Only problem was the weather would not allow us to get off the ground. This meant the rest of their trip was spent sea kayaking rather than river running. Hey, you can't win them all, right?

One of many glaciers you see along the way

Introducing Eskimo's state of the art, German engineered, sock drying rack

That pretty much brings us back to how this trip went down. Having another group of friends coming to visit, Brent Heitzenroder from Pittsburgh and Adam Putnam, an ER doctor now living in New Mexico, I put the plan back in action. This time however, it only took two phone calls and we were ready to roll. That is provided the weather was on our side. As it turns out it was and the trip went off without a hitch. Although we did end up with a little more water than we would have liked. In all, we had 3 big portages, which seems to be the norm and were treated to some of the most incredible scenery anywhere. Did I mention the Nellie Juan is for all intents surrounded by ice? There are glaciers coming into the canyon from all around you, top to bottom. While we were fortunate to have great weather I can easily see how it could be as miserable as Embick describes. That said, if you plan on going, save yourself the hassle and take a synthetic sleeping bag and a good tent and tarp. Nonetheless, we had campfires all but two nights and only awoke to rain on two mornings. It could have easily been much worse.

Our first look down the throat of the final gorge

Figuring out the way around the final gorge

A big thanks to the Dwayne and the crew at Scenic Mountain Air in Moose Pass for the flight in to Nellie Juan Lake ( http://www.scenicmountainair.com/index.asp ) and also to Brooke and Obadiah from Epic Charters in Whittier. ( http://www.epicchartersalaska.com/ ) These guys have styled us out with a few water taxi's this year and run an awesome business. If you are ever planning on kayaking in or around Prince William Sound be sure and look this outfit up. Be it Sea kayaking or Anchor n' Huck, these guys can make it happen. Thanks again guys!


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