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Alaska waterways

American Creek

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 > READ MORE


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.

July 30

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.

July 31

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 flight.

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 lake.

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.

August 1

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 photographic opportunities.

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 disc reading.

During the day a Mallard operated by Wien flew over on way to Wien's Kulik Lodge on Nonvianuk Lake.

August 2

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 downstream.

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.

August 3

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 channel existed.

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.

August 4

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.

August 5

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 small channels.

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 material.

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 log.

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.

August 6

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.

August 7

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 damage.

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]


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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 | Utukok River

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