October 15, 1975
From: Pat Pourchot
Subject: Field Inspection of American. Creek, July 30-August 7, 1975
As part of BOR'S technical assistance to the National Park Service in evaluating
river-related resources, within proposed Park System areas an interagency field
inspection of American Creek was made. American Creek is located almost entirely
within (d)(2) lands proposed for inclusion in an expanded Katmai National Park
(one mile of the river at the mouth is located within the existing Katmai
National Monument). Although originally recommended by BOR for possible
inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, no field work had
previously been done on American Creek and the river is not currently proposed
for wild river designation.
NOTE: These reports may not
contain important information about: 1) safety, 2) land management and ownership, 3) fishing and other
regulations and 4) possible errors >
Participating in the inspection were:
Mike Tollefson -NPS, Katmai National Monument (King Salmon)
Roger Barclay -NPS, Alaska Task Force (Anchorage)
Jules Tileston -BLM, Alaska State Office (Anchorage)
Ross Kavanagh -BLM, Anchorage District Office (Anchorage)
Richard Russell -ADF&G (King Salmon)
Patrick Pourchot -BOR (Anchorage)
Twelve foot Avon Redshank rafts were used for the river inspection.
After being delayed by rain and low ceilings, I flew out of Anchorage about
11:00 a.m., with Charlie Allen in his Cessna 185 on floats to American Creek for
an overflight of the river. Flying time down was
about 2 1/2 hours via Lake Clark Pass.
We landed at the outlet of Murray Lake, the highest of the two source lakes of
American Creek. The creek flowing out of the lake was very small and dropped
over two 3-4 foot ledges at the outlet. The first 1/4 mile was very very shallow
and rocky and not run able by raft or canoe. It might be possible to line down
the remaining 1 1/4 miles to Hammersly Lake. No fish seen in the creek or lake
around the outlet.
The mountains rise spectacularly around Murray Lake and large snow patches were
still on the mountain slopes. What looked like pieces of old tent cloth were
lying in the tundra along the lake shore - possibly an old bear hunting camp.
The terrain surrounding the lake was covered with thin alpine tundra with rock
rubble outcrops on higher knolls and ridges.
We then flew down Hammersly Lake and down American Creek, checking for
obstacles, water levels, and taking pictures. The river appeared of normal flow
but still extremely rocky. Two brown bear, one moose, a bald eagle, and what
looked like a peregrine falcon were seen along the river. Lots of beaver ponds
and lodges were seen along the river, particularly along the lower 1/3 of the
river. Many red salmon could be seen spawning the river.
We arrived back in Anchorage about 7:00 p.m.
After again being delayed by weather, Jules, Ross, Roger, and myself left
Anchorage at 11:15 a.m. via an OAS goose. We arrived at the outlet of Hammersly
Lake around 1:30 p.m., and dropped off the rafts, gear, and Jules, Ross, and
Roger. I then went in to King Salmon and picked up Dick and Mike. We arrived
back at Hammersly at 3:15 p.m. Saw a brown bear near the river on the return
The weather was partly sunny in the late afternoon, 5:30 p.m., air temperature
was 64" and the lake temperature at a depth of 6" was 60" F. Camp was made on a
low, grassy area along the lake near the outlet.
That afternoon four rainbow trout about 17" long and five or six red salmon
(about 23") were caught just below the outlet. Many more reds could be seen on
spawning grounds near the outlet.
In the outlet area there were several tall willows and several isolated dwarf
spruce "bushes," but mostly alpine tundra vegetation. A large variety of wild
flowers were in bloom around camp including wild flag, rhododendron, geraniums,
monk's hood, shrubby cinquefoil, and mountain avens.
American Creek coming out of Hammersly Lake was small and rocky averaging about
1' deep with a channel of 2' deep, and between 10-15 yards wide. Current was 3-4
MPH. Around the outlet the lake appeared to have recently gone down about 6"
exposing many rocks with aquatic vegetation on them.
In the evening we hiked along the north shore of the lake to an unnamed
tributary entering the lake about 1 1/2 miles above the outlet. Very easy
walking along the shoreline and along small tundra-covered ridges nearby. We
found many shell fossils in the rocks along the lake. Pieces of weather balloon
and instruments were also found near the lake.
Along the lake just before the tributary was what appeared to be an old hunting
camp with cut poles and stakes, a willow shelter partially covered with sod, and
a moose rack. The old driftwood logs used around the camp and some others along
the lake were much larger than trees we observed presently growing around the
Two small lake trout (15") were caught at the tributary’s mouth in the lake.
Moose, bear, and fox tracks were seen in the vicinity and several beaver lodges.
Several ptarmigan were seen.
The weather was mostly sunny in the morning, cloudy by late afternoon with a
brief heavy rain in early evening. At 10:30 a.m., the air was 64¬° F., the lake
at (6") was 62°F. 3:00 p.m., temperature air 60° F., 10:30 p.m., temperature air
57° F. lake 58° F.
Leaving Jules to fish the river, the rest of us hiked north from camp to see a
waterfall Mike had seen from the air on a tributary of American Creek. Left camp
at 10:30 a.m., and arrived at small lake just above falls at 1:30 p.m., a
distance of about 5 miles. The lake is situated in a small tundra-covered bowl
at the base of gently rising mountains, 4 air miles south of Kulik Lodge on
Nonvianuk Lake. No fish seen or caught in lake.
A hundred yards below the lake outlet the small creek plunges 60-70 feet over a
bedrock ledge into a pool in the narrow canyon below. This upper falls is quite
spectacular. The falls coupled with the narrow canyon below, large snow fields
present mixed with blooming tundra, and bedrock exposures provide exceptional
On the rock cliffs adjacent the falls was one active rough-legged hawk nest and
at least one abandoned nest. A pair of adult rough-legged hawks and one juvenile
hawk were seen in the falls area.
We then walked down the creek about 1/4 mile a second falls about 30-35' high.
Between the two falls we saw a few sculpins in the creek which must have an
interesting origin in their isolated and precarious location. In the hollow
below the lower falls were some boards in a small erosion cave which looked like
a shelter of some kind that had been damaged by falling rocks. Stream
temperature below falls was 52° F.
We left lower falls area about 4:00 p.m., and arrived back at camp at 6:00 p.m.
Hiking was generally very good over low growing alpine tundra. The route
traversed a succession of low ridges perpendicular to our course whose tops
gradually decreased in elevation from the falls to Hammersly Lake (500 feet).
There were a few short marshy areas and one or two short stretches of thick
alders. From the highest ridge could see Nonvianuk Lake. We crossed several
small snow fields in some of the sheltered ravines between the ridges.
On the hike we saw some old caribou or reindeer antlers, an arctic hare, parka
squirrels, a marsh hawk, and a bald eagle. Jules saw a bull moose along American
Creek. In evening, saw weasel run through camp with mouse or vole in its mouth.
In evening we hiked around to west shore of lake to investigate a large bull
moose skull and rack along the shoreline. Near camp we found about 50 feet of
leaded set net and few old wooden floats up on the beach at the highest water
line. Rich suggested it may have been used by bear hunters to lure in bears with
fish. It would be very unlikely that fisherman would fly in to net fish.
Two lake trout about 18" long were caught around camp in evening. Jules caught
one red salmon during day. Rich and Ross while in a raft noted the lake to be
exceptionally clear and estimated lake visibility at 75-100 feet on a secchi
During the day a Mallard operated by Wien flew over on way to Wien's Kulik Lodge
on Nonvianuk Lake.
The weather was mostly sunny all day. At 12:30 p.m., air temperature was 64° F.,
river was 60° F. At 3:15 p.m., air 65° F., at 7:00 p.m., air 60° F., water 58°
F. Bugs were light most of the day thicker in evening.
We left Hammersly Lake at 10:15 a.m., and arrived new camp on American Creek at
5:10 pm., covering a distance of about 10 river miles.
The first 4 miles of river were shallow with many rocks above or just below the
water but current was 3 MPH or less and navigation by our 12' Avon rafts was
fairly easy. We walked rafts through several shallow riffles in this section.
Very transparent water; judging by vegetation on banks, looked like fairly
normal water level.
Over the next six miles the current increases substantially to 5 or 6 MPH and
shallow rough rapids were more or less continuous. Beginning 4 miles below the
outlet the river is confined by steep rising bluffs to a narrow canyon for about
2 miles. In the middle of this canyon the river drops about 10-12 feet over
about 15 yards including a single "falls” of about 4 feet. This section was very
exciting yet easily rafted with some water taken in over the sides. A quarter
mile downstream is another 2-3 foot drop.
Beyond the upper canyon was about 4 miles of extremely shallow, rocky water with
no clear channels and lots of bumping and scraping on and over rocks. We got out
several times to walk through shallow areas. Between rocks the water was between
1 and 2 feet deep. Immediately above camp was the rockiest yet encountered.
Could probably canoe up to canyon "falls" - class I and II – but not through
"falls" (class IV) or beyond because of rocks. Would be very hard on Klepper.
Could kayak through upper canyon but would have to walk boat down through 4
miles of rock garden.
Miraculously, and due to the smooth, slimy rocks, we did not rip or puncture two
of the rafts and third required only a small patch in the bottom.
Just down from the outlet we scared a sow brown bear and two cubs from an island
in the river, and they ran into the adjacent bushy tundra up from the river.
Just above our new camp an adult brown bear watched us from along the river,
than ran off. Later that evening we saw what could have been the same bear
"grazing" on the hillside above camp.
In the upper canyon we saw four bald eagles and three or four rough-legged hawks
and several young hawks. Several raptor nests were on the cliff walls above the
river. Also saw several harlequin ducks and two northern shrikes.
Lots of red salmon in the river above canyon. One rainbow hooked below "falls".
A couple dolly varden and rainbow trout 15-18 inches long were caught near camp
in evening, but fishing generally slow. A round whitefish and a grayling were
seen above canyon.
New camp still generally above treeline, although a few balsam poplar groves are
on hillside above camp and on some slopes below upper canyon. Along river are
many patches of tall willows, also just below canyon several large areas of tall
grass along river. A few small isolated spruce were observed. From a hill above
camp could see poplar forest, then spruce forest surrounding river 2-3 miles
Quite scenic country surrounding river all day. The conglomerate rock walls and
tundra covered bluffs surrounding the upper canyon were especially beautiful.
The open rolling tundra below the canyon broken by grassy fields and poplar
groves was also striking.
The Wien Mallard and a couple other planes flew over again today.
Several of us took a brief but refreshing swim in the river at new camp.
Weather partly cloudy most of day, clear in morning, 8:00 a.m. temperatures air
49° F., Water 46° F., 3:00 p.m., air 60°, water 54°, 7:00 p.m., air 65°, 9:00
p.m., air 52°, water 54°.
Left camp 10:00 a.m., arrive new camp 4:00 p.m., covering about 14 miles. River
very swift most of the day, easy to make miles despite frequent stops.
The first mile was very shallow and rocky similar to stretch above camp, lots of
bumping and grinding. Beyond this the river narrowed somewhat with sufficient
water to float raft without bumping or scraping rocks. The entire distance was
rapids and chutes broken by short swift runs of less that 20 yards. Last three
miles above new camp river entered lower canyon with many very tight S-bends and
steep gradient. All class 11 with several class I11 rapids in lower canyon with
drops of 2-4 feet over a yards and standing waves 2-3 feet high. Could be
kayaked but still many rocks at or near surface. We had no problems with rafts
except for a little bailing of water, some bumping on rocks where no clear
Current 5-7 MPH, river 2-3 feet deep, 15-20 yards wide, a few pools below rapids
4-6 feet deep. Much like Gulkana River below canyon "falls" only more rocks &
slightly less water.
In the morning we saw a brown bear sow with a cub up a tree along the river.
Then we saw two brown bear together at two difficult locations along the river.
In the lower canyon we saw several bald eagles and a nest with a young eagle
along the river.
Two lake trout (20" long), one small rainbow, and a red salmon were caught
during the day in river. Fishing generally slow. Many reds spawning in backwater
eddies and less swift sections of the river, even in lower canyon.
In spruce and poplar forest most of day. Also birch trees in canyon. Lower
canyon very impressive with conglomerate rock palisades above the river
interspersed with forested ravines. River covers most of canyon floor in many
places as it snakes through. Can look downstream short distances to next bend
and see river drop below you.
New camp located in lower canyon on northern most point of American Creek. From
on top of 200 foot bluffs over river great scenery and contrast in landscape and
light on trees and river and rock outcroppings. Very well defined game trails
follow ridge line above river.
Across the river from camp was an old cable partially buried along the
streambank. After some investigation, old pulleys, and nails, and chain on trees
were found indicating a cable crossing had long ago been constructed there. Some
old holes which looked like mineral prospecting sites were also found across the
river. There was reported mining claims in this area filed in 1918.
Several airplanes again flew over today, most or all connected with Kulik Lodge.
Bugs were good most of day allowing for another brief swim at new camp, but
became bothersome in evening with debut of no-see-ums.
Mostly cloudy in morning, sunny in afternoon and again cloudy turning to rain in
evening. 8:30 a.m. temperatures air 48° F., water 46° F., 12:OO a.m., air 56°,
water 50°, 2:00 p.m., air 60°, water 53°, 7:30 p.m., air 54°, water 54°.
Left camp 10:40 a.m., and arrived new camp 5:00 p.m., covering about 8 miles
with several long stops.
Over first mile were several good class III short rapids with lots of drop. We
shipped water on a couple. The next three miles down to first tributary from
east more or less continuous class II whitewater. Only a few rock scrapes in
this section but lots of rock dodging and got out once in shallow rapids to walk
raft down. From then on the river changed to class I with fast pools and riffles
and no real rapids. Beyond this tributary the river became braided with many
logs and sweepers in and over channels. In the divided, smaller channels were
several log jams which made for a few tight squeezes, a couple of short
portages, a one wet body.
River still small, easily forded in hip boots in many places one to two feet
deep, 15 yards wide, 5-7 MPH, still very clear.
Heard bear go into bush along river. Saw otter and lynx tracks, magpies, glacous
gulls. Fishing fairly slow but a few large fish caught -22 1/2 inch dolly varden,
22 inch lake trout and several other dollies and rainbows. The lake trout had
four smaller fish in its intestine including an 8 inch dollie. Again, many red
salmon spawning in river, even thicker than on previous days.
State Fish and Wildlife protection officers flew over today. Saw nail in fallen
log at lunch stop, some man-made cuts on trees at afternoon stopping place.
Overcast in morning, gradually clearing, clear in evening. 8:30 a.m., air
temperature 49° F., water 50° F., 12:00 a.m., air 56°, water 50°, 7:30 p.m., air
62°, Coville Lake 63° F., 10:15 p.m., air 48°.
Left camp 10:00 a.m., arrived mouth at 4:30 p.m., arrived new camp on Lake
Coville at 5:00 p.m. Traveled about 8 miles down river and one mile down Lake
Coville. A few long stops on river.
First 3 or 4 miles were very braided, many channels divided by dense brush and
trees. Some of the channels were very shallow in places and had to be walked
through with rafts. One channel divided several successive times and what little
water remained ran under a log jam, leaving us no choice but to line back
upstream several hundred yards and take another channel. Many sweepers across
Much slower water today, 3 MPH first 4 miles next 3 miles 2 MPH or less, and
last mile very slow water. River still quite small (15 yards wide) but somewhat
deeper. Last 3 or 4 miles 3 to 4 feet deep along cut banks. The mouth was very
shallow, 1 foot deep or less. We had to walk rafts out into lake and across lake
several hundred yards to east shore.
Even 100-200 yards off shore lake depths were only 3 or 4 feet so we paddled
down the lake about a mile so the Goose could land for pick up. Camp sites were
very poor along lake, but finally found tent sites about 40 yards up from shore
in grassy clearing. Lake shore very rocky and lake looked about 1 or 2 feet
lower than normal high level. Lake very weedy out from shore.
After passing location of major tributary coming in from west about 4 miles
above mouth, water became much less clear with much more sediment and/or organic
About 3 miles above mouth, river passed out of spruce-poplar vegetation into
largely willows and then marshy grasslands around mouth.
On overflight we had seen a cabin on a tributary to the east just off the river
which was reported to be Roy Fure's old trapping cabin. Although we looked for
the tributary coming in from the east we were unable to find it and did not
visit the cabin.
About 3 ½ miles above the mouth we ran into a party of seven fly fishermen from
Wien's Kulik Lodge led by Van Hartley who had flown into mouth with floatplane
and taken motorboat up to the old National Marine Fisheries camp, then walked
and fished 1/2 mile upstream. Van said it was his sixth trip in this year and
largest party. He said fishing in American Creek was about the best around this
year -several 20-22" char and rainbow were the biggest fish taken this season.
They caught some lake trout early in season no grayling.
We then floated down to National Marine Fisheries fish counting camp where there
were three tin-roofed cabins which had been badly damaged by bears. The fish
counting tower which was used was present but disassembled. Found 1966-67 radio
Near mouth we went up a back slough and visited an old cabin which was believed
to be a cache or line cabin built and used by Fure. It was small but well
constructed and in pretty good shape. Some old cans, traps, lying around. Tin
roof on cabin, squared-off logs. On the river near this cabin was an old wooden
tower which was later reported to be a photographic tower used in filming bears
for a Walt Disney movie.
Also near mouth was an old garbage dump presumed to be used by National Marine
Fisheries, bears and animals had dug up and strewn litter around. Also near
mouth was a boat and motor up on shore along river reported to be owned by Ed
Seiler who runs a lodge off Nonvianuk Lake and brings guests into river to fish.
Four 21-26" pike were caught in Lake Coville in front of camp in evening. Saw
sucker and little pike in slough off of lower river. Mink and bear tracks seen
along lower river, lots of beaver lodges on river banks. 'Saw two osprey,
immature eagle, glaucous-winged gulls, rusty blackbird, and loons along lower
river and lake.
At least 12 airplane passes over today including Kulik Lodge floatplane, Wien
Mallard serving Katmai and Kulik, Ed Seiler, and perhaps others.
Another beautiful day today. Clear and warm all day -around 70°F. (I broke my
thermometer in an unusual act of clumsiness).
In the morning we went over and revised preliminary BOR report on American
Creek. We then hiked east from camp and climbed a small mountain marked at an
elevation of 1345 feet (lake elevation 107 feet). The 6 mile roundtop took
approximately 3 hours up and 2 hours back. Hiking fair with a few marshy areas
and some bushy areas through spruce forest. Beautiful view from alpine tundra
top across Coville, Grosvenor, and Naknek Lakes to Aleutian Range.
On hike saw two arctic hares, four varying hares, a lynx that howled at us, a
porcupine, spruce grouse, marsh hawk, bald eagles, osprey, two mice (one
swimming in the lake) fresh wolf tracks, and an otter skeleton parts. Lots of
winter moose browse sign but no fresh moose sign.
In evening 12-15 pike were caught in lake, the largest about 10 pounds, the
smallest about 3 pounds.
In the morning Will Troyer of NPS landed at camp in Citabria. He was conducting
a bear survey and stopped to see if he could do anything for us -he came back in
evening and picked up Mike and took him back to Brooks camp. Several other
planes flew over today.
As usual, bugs were pretty thick in evening but good during day.
In morning we walked rafts further down lake about ¾ mile to a point where we
hoped plane could get in easier for pick up. After flying by us the first time,
the Goose flew around the lake, spotted us on the second pass and landed about
12:15 p.m. He was unable to get the plane closer than 20 to 30 yards from shore
because of large rocks on the bottom, so we shuttled gear and people out by
raft. Jules equipped with chest waders made the final carry to the plane with
the deflated raft.
After dropping Dick off in King Salmon, we returned to Anchorage that evening
about 6:00 p.m.
Of the portions of eight days which we spent in the American Creek area, four
days were used in actually descending the approximately 40 miles of river. Those
four days were relatively short and involved many stops for fish sampling,
photography, and exploration.
The first 14 or 15 miles were very shallow and rocky with few clear channels
sufficiently deep to avoid scraping and bumping rocks occasionally to
frequently. One five-mile stretch from the upper canyon, five miles. below the
outlet, to about 10 miles below the outlet was extremely shallow and rocky
requiring much lining and involving much bumping and scraping. Kayaks, canoes,
and all but the best made rafts would have considerable difficulty through this
stretch avoiding damage. However, lining our Avon rafts was relatively easy and
we were able to float and walk this stretch in a couple hours with virtually no
Overall whitewater difficulty was class II. One short stretch through the upper
canyon was low class IV and easily run in our 12 foot rafts or could be easily
lined. In the lower canyon over a five mile stretch were 5-8 short class III
rapids. The upper 30 miles of river is more or less continuous whitewater with
swift water and steep gradient. The lower 10 miles is less swift but very
braided in places with many sweepers and several log jams.
Because of extreme shallow rocky rapids, this river is not an outstanding
boating river, especially for canoes, kayaks, and folding boats. However, it is
highly scenic, especially the Hammersly Lake, upper canyon, and lower canyon
areas. Wildlife observation opportunities are excellent, especially for brown
bear. The fishing resource is outstanding, although during the time of our
inspection sport fishing was relatively slow - however, notably large fish of
several different species were caught. Several major vegetative eco-zones were
traversed in descending the river.
The wilderness character of this area is especially outstanding with the one
exception of frequent aircraft overflights of the areas.
Attached is a listing of birds, fish, mammals and insect species observed by
Richard Russell during the inspection. [Webmaster’s note: this is not shown here
but exists in PDF document]
Complete river log
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List of rivers for which information is available on this website
Alagnak River | Alatna River
| American Creek
| Andreafsky River | Aniakchak River | Awuna River | Beaver Creek | Black River | Bremner River | Canning River | Charley River |
Chilikadrotna River | Chitina River | Colville River | Copper River | Delta River | Fortymile River | Gulkana River | Huslia River | Ivishak River | John River | Kakhonak River | Kanektok River | Karluk River | Kasegaluk Lagoon | King Salmon River | Kobuk River |
Koyukuk River North Fork | Little Susitna River | Mulchatna River | Nigu Etivluk rivers | Noatak River | Nowitna River | Nuyakuk River | Porcupine River | Saganirktok River | Salmon River (Kobuk) | Selawik River | Sheenjek River | Squirrel River | Talachulitna River | Tlikakila River | Togiak River | Unalakleet River |
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