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September 8, 1975
From: Pat Pourchot
Subject: Trip report -Middle Fork of the Gulkana - July 21-25, 1975
During the week of July 21, 1975, myself and three others made an un-official
canoe trip from the Denali Highway through the upper Tangle Lakes, down the
Middle Fork of the Gulkana, then down the Gulkana Sourdough on the Richardson
Highway. The Gulkana River and its principal tributaries, the West Fork and the
Middle Fork, are currently under study for potential inclusion in the National
Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
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 >
We left Anchorage at approximately 5:00 AM and arrived at the Lakes campground
on the south side of at noon. The Denali Highway intersects the 7 or 8
interconnected Tangle Lakes approximately in the middle. A campground with a
boat ramp is located on either side of the highway -the south one provides
access to the Upper Tangle Lakes, while the one on the north provides access to
the lower Tangle Lakes and to the Delta River.
From the campground we paddled south up the Tangle Lake system. At the south end
of the first two-mile long lake we fished and explored the mouth of the Tangle
River which drains one of the Upper Tangle Lakes (elevation 2865) Grayling
fishing was good, %any ducks seen and several muskrats. The Tangle River was too
shallow right above the mouth to line the canoes up two miles to Lake 2865
without great difficulty.
We then paddled a short distance to the low divide separating the first lake
from Upper Tangle Lake (incorrectly shown on the map as connected by a short
stream). There was a good trail between the lakes about 300 yards long and we
two-tripped a portage in 15-20 minutes.
The entire day was sunny and warm with some scattered high clouds, a suggestion
of what was to follow.
Dick Tindall and Darryl Fish arrived about.8:30 a.m., with two men from Darryl's
staff. After transferring gear from the vehicles to the rafts, Darryl's two
staff men took both vehicles back to Glennallen. They later took them to our
takeout point at the bridge near the town of Gulkana.
Darryl had put BLM's motor on the raft he shared with Dick, and begun to tow
Chuck and I in the second raft down Paxton Lake about 10:30 a.m. We reached the
outlet about 1 p.m. It is-approximately seven miles from the wayside to the
outlet and the start of the boatable reaches of the river. (The Gulkana
headwaters are about five miles to the north of Paxton Lake in Isabel1 Pass.
This upper reach is too shallow to float a boat.) While crossing the lake, five
powerboats and two fishermen's camps on the west shore were passed. One immature
bald eagle was spotted also on the west shore. Darryl left the motor near the
outlet to be picked up by his staff on a later day. We talked with three
fishermen at the outlet, grayling fishing was good but no salmon were up to the
lake yet. (There are good king and red runs in the Gulkana) A man and woman were
just breaking camp at the outlet and preparing, to float the river (passed us
later that day).
The current was about 4 mph starting about one-quarter mile from the outlet and
continued for the three miles to the confluence with the Middle Fork (Gulkana).
Class I1 rapids starting at the same place also continued to the confluence. Saw
five more fishermen before the confluence, all catching some grayling. Arrived
at Middle Fork about 3 p.m.
At the confluence of the Gulkana and Middle Fork, we saw eight people in two
groups camped. One group had caught about 15 grayling, but still no salmon. The
king run had started two days before in the lower Gulkana. Two riverboats and
one raft were being used to float the river. They had broken the shaft on one
outboard motor (riverboat) in coming down the three miles from Paxton Lake. An
easily seen trackster/snow-mobile trail crosses the Gulkana at the confluence
with the Middle Fork. The trail starts at Meirs Lake road near a gravel pit and
runs northwest to the Gulkana and then up the south side of the Middle Fork to
Floated on about 3/4 mile to an old log cabin located on the east bank and made
camp. The river's current remained at 4 mph but without rapids from the Middle
Fork to camp. Water depth varied for 1" to 5' and due to spring runoff not being
completely over, was tea colored on the four miles floated. Saw some signs of
moose and bear along the riverbanks. Caught a few grayling after trying several
lures and flies. The day was warm and sunny with some high scattered clouds.
The next approximately 12 miles to canyon rapids (sign on left river bank and in
BLM's Alaska Canoe Trails brochure marks the canyon rapids) are gentle and
slower Class I. Exception is the 200 yards prior to canyon rapids which is rocky
and faster, 4-5 mph, but still Class I. The water remained tea-colored. The
canyon rapids are Class IV water, not floatable by open canoes, possibly okay
for experienced rafters, and a challenging experience for kayakers. It is a
short (less than 1/2 miles) narrow and rocky canyon with heavy water. We
portaged around on a decent, but steep and muddy 1/4 mile long trail.
Saw one beaver, one bank beaver lodge, two bald eagles, dozen different ducks,
Arctic terns, and caught eight grayling. The day had been gray, ending in rain
at our camp in a pure stand of Black Spruce.
Day started cloudy, stayed that way with some sprinkles of rain. The next eight
miles below the canyon rapids were fast (4-5 mph), with large boulders in the
channel, good Class I1 whitewater. The river stayed tea colored and varied in
depth from 1' to 4'. The West Fork was very muddy, greatly coloring the main
stream. From nine miles beyond the canyon rapids to camp one mile past the West
Fork the river slowed to about 3 mph, with no rapids and occasional rocks. This
section is Class I.
There were two or three separate fishing camps in the two miles above the West
Fork, counted 10 tents and several riverboats (motors). All had come up the
river from Sourdough.
Saw two eagle nests and eight eagles, and a tern nest with chick and unhatched
egg on a gravel bar. Red salmon had reached the West Fork but not in any
numbers. River is lined with good stands of white and black spruce and some mix
with cottonwood and -quaking aspen along entire river (Paxton Lake to Gulkana
Floated about 16 miles this day, camping about 10 miles below Sourdough. There
is a BLM campground and gravel boat ramp at Sourdough presently receiving heavy
use particularly during the salmon runs. The river flows through a tight
meandering pattern from the West Fork to the Gulkana Bridge. It is about 30
yards wide, varies from 1-6' deep, flows 2-3 mph, no rapids, many erratics,
light brown in color, good Class I water. Day started cloudy, followed with rain
sprinkles, then hard rain and wind from noon on, very cold!
Saw five eagles, including one nesting pair with nest, and one immature. Also
saw dozens of Arctic terns and about two dozen ducks.
The oil pipeline crosses the river on a bend about one mile above Sourdough. It
is only visible for about 300 yards along the river. River travelers should only
see it for a few minutes while passing. However, at present during construction
one can see much equipment traveling along the route that creates loud
objectionable noises. The Richardson Highway parallels the river from Sourdough
to the Gulkana Bridge, but could see it only at Sourdough and two other spots.
Can hear some road traffic most of the way but not very offensive.
Partly overcast day without rain. Floated the remaining miles to the bridge in
about five hours. About nine miles above the bridge is a fifty yard long set of
Class I1 rapids, but no other rapids along this stretch of river. It is Class I
water with scattered rocks, 3/4 mile, and varies 1-6’ in depth. Saw one fairly
new bent up canoe on rock xxx, the Class II section.
Saw three bald eagles, terns, dozen ducks, one cow moose and calf. A family in a
19’ square stern canoe with a sever hp motor xxx McKenzie lift passed us; met
them later at the bridge and found xxx they put in at Sourdough and had no
trouble navigating the river. xx view from the lower river of the Wrangell Mts.
Is very good, xxx a finishing touch to the float. Close-up view from the river
is of xxx leveled cliffs, and a mixture of heavy white spruce and willows.
We covered the approximate 70 mile long river in five average length days. The
first three miles were Class II at 4 mph and some xxx. The next 13 miles to
canyon rapids were Class I, easy slow moving river. The canyon rapids are very
fast (5 mph), boulder filled, Class IV water, about 1/2 mile long. The eight
miles following were fairly rocky, Class II water. The remaining length is Class
I and rocky all the last 35 miles, except for a fifty yard-long set of Class II
rapids xxx miles upstream of the bridge. It is a pleasant river for the
experienced canoeists and for rafting by those with some experience. The canyon
xxx should be portaged. Riverboats (motor) presently run the section between a
point a few miles above the West Fork down to Sourdough.
Views from the river are of rolling timbered hills and rock cliffs, pleasant but
not outstanding. The exception is along the last 15 miles where one has broad
views of the Wrangell Mts. Red and king salmon and eagles are the outstanding
fish and wildlife values of the river. The river offers exceptional recreation
opportunity in that it is road accessible (Richardson Highway) at either end and
at its midway point-Sourdough and it is varied with lake, fast rapids, and
meandering quiet reaches. Its accessibility makes float trips of different
lengths and times possible. A three day week-end allows enough time to float
from Paxton Lake to Sourdough.
Alaska Area Office
Bureau of Outdoor Recreation
August 16, 1977
Recommendation: Recommend the Gulkana River be designated as wild.
Recommend management by the Bureau of Land Management.
Length: The main Gulkana River from Paxton Lake to Sourdough - 42 miles,
the entire West Fork - 60 miles, and the entire Middle Fork 25 miles, for a
total distance of 127 river miles.
Land Status: The entire West and Middle Fork's and the main Gulkana from
Paxton Lake to two miles beyond the West Fork lie within Sec. 17(d) (1) of ANCSA
lands (approximately 88%). The remaining portion (12%) of the main Gulkana lies
within lands classified under Sec. 17(c) of ANCSA as a utility and
transportation corridor (oil pipeline).
Study Status: The Wild and Scenic River Analysis and draft EIS are in
General: The main Gulkana River begins in Summit Lake in the Alaska
Range, then flows south 10 miles before emptying into Paxton Lake. From there it
continues to flow south for 70 miles to its confluence with the Copper River.
The West Fork begins with two 20 mile long major forks and flows southeast for a
total distance of 60 miles (including the two forks) to the Gulkana. The Middle
Fork begins in Dickey Lake just five miles from Tangle Lakes (Delta River) and
flows southeast 25 miles to its confluence with the main Gulkana. The northern
half of the Gulkana and all of the West and Middle Forks traverse the broad
rolling valleys and low ridges of the Gulkana uplands, while the southern half
cuts a narrow bluff lined valley as it traverses the Copper River lowlands. The
study segment includes al1 the river except for the lower 30 miles of the main
Attributes: The river is closely flanked by low rolling hills, almost
vertical bluffs in some stretches, and in the background by the Wrangell
Mountains which give the river a distinct scenic beauty. It also transects
vegetative ecosystems which create a changing landscape adding to the scenic
The river provides habitat for both resident and anadromous fish species
including Arctic grayling, rainbow trout, and steelhead. It is the leading king
and red salmon spawning stream in the Copper River system. A variety of wildlife
inhabit the area including bear, moose, waterfowl, and bald eagles. Numerous
bald eagles nest along the riverbanks.
Recreation values are high in the river area. The main Gulkana is accessible by
the Richardson Highway at Paxton Lake, Sourdough, and six miles above-the rivers
mouth. The headwaters of the West and Middle Fork's must be hiked into for
several miles from gravel roads. The river offers excellent recreational float
boating and powerboating opportunities. The river offers s a variety of
whitewater from Class I to Class IV on the International Whitewater Scale.
Hiking, sportfishing, sport hunting, nature study, and nature photography add to
the recreational opportunities.
Special Considerations: The Delta River flowing north from headwaters
within five miles of Dickey Lake (Middle Fork of the Gulkana) is also being
recommended as an addition to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
Complete river log
Gulkana River [712 kb]
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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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