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Alaska waterways

Talachulitna River

From: Pat Pourchot

Subject: Talachulitna River Field Inspection August 1 -6, 1976

As part of our river resource study of River for the State Division of Lands, the Talachulitna an interagency inspection was conducted. The "Tal" is located totally within state patented lands.

Participating in the inspection were the following personnel:

Russ Cahill - Director, AK Div. of Parks
Ed Barber - Area Manager, AK Div. of Lands
John Crutcher - Director, BOR, Washington, D.C.
Maury Lundy - Regional Director, BOR, Seattle
Gerry Zamber - Asst. Dist. Manager, BLN, Anchorage District
Jim Riis - ADF&G, Anchorage
Pat Pourchot - BOR, Anchorage

Three 12-foot Avon Redshank rafts were used for the inspection.

August 1

Russ, Ed, Jim, Gerry, and I left Anchorage 2:30 pm., via OAS goose. Arrived Judd Lake at the head of Talachulitna Creek at 3:00 p.m. We set up camp on north side of lake 1/2 mile across from the Tal Creek outlet near an old cabin. Tent sites in tall grass but adequate.

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

As soon as we got set up, two boys in a boat motored up from the lodge next to outlet and asked if we were from Fish and Game. They took Jim off to the inlet where several men were reportedly snagging salmon. Jim did not observe any snagging but two men left soon after his visit taking a chum and red salmon with them. Jim said there were silvers at inlet also.

Boys work for Silvertip Lodge owned by Gary Archer, an Anchorage cardiologist. They had 17 guests today staying overnight, many were there for 3-7 days. Peak season. Lots of boat activity between lodge and inlet. Also three floatplanes at inlet, three at lodge - all took off in late afternoon except one.

Beautiful clear day in 70's. 9:00 p.m., air 56F, lake water 62F. Russ went swimming.

Lodge run by Bob Arnold and wife who live there year-round. Built in early 1974. Charges $125/day, includes fly-in from Anchorage.

No pike, burbot, lake trout reported in Judd Lake.

Looked like six cabins on lake; one near inlet on north side, one near our camp, one on east end, the lodge, and two adjacent lodges to west. Cabin near us old, but being used. Beds, stove, cooking stuff inside.

Saw beaver swimming in lake near camp. Spruce hen and four or five chicks near camp.

August 2

Except for brief, heavy afternoon rain, clear and sunny most of day. 7:00 a.m., air 49" lake 59; 12:30 pm., air 68" river water 62.

Left camp 8:45 a.m., paddled across lake to outlet in 15 minutes. Hank Rust brought Maury and John in at 9:00 a.m., by Cessna 185.

Lake calm, very clear (visibility 30-40 feet deep). Left lake 9:15 a.m., arrived new camp on Tal Creek 1 mile above Trinity Lake Creek 7:00 p.m. Traveled about 10 miles in 7 to 7 1/2 hours on water.

Very slow, hard going most of day. First 3 miles mostly walking boats through very shallow, rocky water. Basketball sized boulders scattered throughout channel. Next 3 miles in and out of boats lining through shallow riffles. Last 4 miles walking every other riffle. One 100-yard portage around logjam; one carry/line through little channel around another jam. Logs were sawed through in 2 other places permitting us to squeeze by.

River was at very low stage -looked like recent levels had been 1 foot higher. River 20 feet wide, 1 foot deep, 2-3 mph current, very clear.

Thousands of salmon in Creek. In the upper few miles below Judd Lake, mostly kings and reds. Then mostly pinks but also some silvers and chums. Caught rainbow at lunch stop, saw a few grayling. Kings spawning and spawned out, many 30-50 pounds; counted 229 kings.

Saw a beaver, lots of lodges and cuttings, only a few moose tracks, one set of wolf tracks, several bear tracks which looked like both black and brown bear. Also saw kingfisher, white-crowned sparrow. Dowitcher, mallard, harlequin and brood, bohemian waxwing, mew and glaucous - winged gull; Arctic tern, spotted sandpiper, greater yellowlegs, and rusty blackbird. Saw two bald eagles and great horned owl and old raptor nest in cottonwood along river.

Over the first several miles mostly spruce and large cottonwood forest with birch on adjacent bluff sides. Then spruce/poplar (or smaller cottonwood) open forest.

Saw German fishermen and guide from lodge fishing about 1 1/2 miles below lake. Saw two rafters (Pay N Save yellow bomber) camped 3 or 4 miles below lake. They were going to Skwentna Airfield - planned to be on river one week (good luck, I hope they made it in that raft).

Stopped at cabin along river about a mile above camp. Apparently trapping cabin used mostly in winter. Owner Oliver K. Torsen.

Lots of trash and fire rings along Creek all day. Low-grade coal chunks on bars and a few outcrops.

August 3

Beautiful clear day. 8:00 a.m., air 63, water 56; noon air 72,water 62; 9:30 p.m., air 62 water 64. Swim at evening camp great.

Left camp 8:15 a.m., arrived "Tall" River 11:15, arrived "Hiline Pick-up camp 6:00 pm. Traveled about 17 1/2 miles in about 8 hours on water of steady, moderate paddling. Long day with few stops. Pick-up point at southeast end of 1/2 mile straight stretch of river, 2 1/2 miles south of Hiline Lake.

Some dragging through riffles to Tal River. Trinity Lake Creek very small only trickle coming in. Tal River 3/4 size of Tal Creek, 5-7 yards wide, 1' deep, 2-3 mph. Very slow river most of day (probably due more to low water levels than gradient). A few shallow, gravelly riffles separated by long, slow pools. A few rocks just down from Tal River confluence along bluff outcrop on east bank. River by new camp 20 yards wide, 2 1/2 feet maximum depth, (most areas averaged 1' deep), 1 mph current. Looked like river down 1 - 1 1/2 feet from normal.

A few places during day 3 mph current. Bottom in Tal Creek mostly golf-ball size gravels. After couple miles from Tal River confluence more stratified clays and sands and fewer good-looking spawning areas, and numbers of fish notably less. Above bluff area two miles below Tal River/Creek confluence thousands of pink salmon in river, hundreds of kings (339 counted), some silvers, reds, and chum. Also saw grayling, suckers, and whitefish.

Saw tarpaper roof cabin on west side of river near slough about 1 1/2 mile below Tal River confluence. Tin-roof cabin on west side one mile above new camp; a cabin and two boats on east side across from it.

Saw adult and young eagle, a beaver, Dowitchers, mew gull, greater yellowlegs. Several good views of Beluga Mt. and Alaska Range. Small, pretty bluffs east of river. Lots of birches on bluff sides. Open spruce, poplar (or cottonwood) east of river. A few big cottonwoods (2-3 feet diameter) similar to those seen just below Judd Lake. Largest white spruce 12-18" diameter. Mostly willow, some alder along banks.

Hank Rust picked up Maury and John and Russ at 7:00 p.m., in two loads and shuttled them to Hiline Lake and from there to Anchorage in one load. Although had to make downwind take-off with very low water, pick-up went smoothly. Bugs moderate during day.

August 4

Rain most of night but day clear and sunny. 2:00 p.m. air 72, water 68; Friday Creek water 60; 7: 00 p.m., air 74', water 69 (warmest river temperature I've ever recorded). Bugs light all-day and evening.

Left "Hiline pick-up camp 9:40 a.m., (Jim Soplanda has mailbox at pick-up gravel bar), arrived Friday Creek noon, arrived new camp below two islands in Section 3, T. 19 N., R. 12 W., at 4: 30 p.m. Traveled about 9 miles in about three easy hours on water.

River still very low 1-2 feet below normal, 4-5 feet below ice and high water marks. Got out of boats couple times to walk through shallow riffles, bumped rocks frequently.

First gorge 1 1/2 miles downstream of Hiline Pick-up. River cuts through ridge in 100-yard long narrow, boulder-filled slot. Easily run, Class II whitewater. We bumped into tight rock chute; not really enough water to be fun. Huge rocks in channel would be tricky in higher, faster water - there was sand deposited by high water on tops of 4-6 feet high rock ledges. Bedrock exposed here very sharp, tightly-folded (graywacke?).

Below gorge current increased, more rocks in channel, steeper gradient riffles, cobble bottom. About 7-8 miles below Hiline Pick-up at entrance to second gorge or small canyon were three sets of good Class II rapids, possibly one or two which might be Class III in higher, swifter water. One made a sharp left turn against a rock wall. Long deep pool through second gorge.

River in front of camp 15 yards wide, 1-2'deep, 3-4 mph riffle. Pools 1-2 mph current. After night rain we noticed current had picked up 1/2 -1 mph in front of old camp. Friday Creek 15 yards wide, 6''-1' deep, 4 mph steep gradient, very rocky, 1/2 water of "Tal."

Caught a couple grayling, pinks below 1st gorge and rainbow just above. Caught a grayling in 2nd gorge. At new camp Jim caught three grayling and three rainbows in 20 minutes for supper. Grayling 11-15", rainbow ll", 12", and 16".

Hundreds of pink salmon in 1st and 2nd gorges. Thousands of pinks, many silver, some chum and kings lined up downstream of Friday Creek. Many pinks seen going up the Creek like taxis at the airport taking their turn. We caught two 6-8 lb fresh silvers for lunch. Also caught several fresh pinks.

Thousands of fish also schooled up along 1/4 mile of river below Deep Creek, mostly pinks. Deep Creek looked unnavigable by salmon-only trickle of water coming down steep gravel bank. Saw 75 kings today. Not as many salmon noticed going up river at new camp like higher up river.

Saw immature eagle, Bonaparte gull. Not many tracks on gravel bars.

Mostly spruce and cottonwood (and/or poplar) along river; some birch. Willow and alder along banks. Checked typical mature stand along river one mile below Friday Creek. Found seedpods of cottonwood (three parts); larger cottonwood 60" circumference at breast height. Larger spruce 41-48" circumference.

Scenery beautiful. Gorges very narrow and 100-150 feet high on either side. Much rock exposure.

Saw stashed riverboat and motor above 1st gorge. Went for long? enjoyable swim in evening - stayed in warm water over 20 minutes.

August 5

Light rain most of morning and early afternoon, then clear, sunny. 9:45 a.m. air and water 58; 9:45 p.m., air 53, water (Skwentna River) 47.

Left camp 10: 30 a.m., arrived new camp at Skwentna River confluence at 4:30 Traveled about 11miles in three hours of light on river.

Just below old camp entered 2-mile long canyon. Several rocky rapids through canyon with 2-4' drop over several yards. Large rocks in chutes made for several good bumps. Small rollers. Class II-III, not passable by most canoeists.

Lots of Class II whitewater down to confluence. Many shallow, rocky riffles with a little dragging off rocks and lots of bumping. Also deep pools below canyon rapids. Two miles below 1st canyon, river enters another small canyon about 2 1/2 miles long.

River averaged 20-25 yards wide, 1-2' deep, riffles 6"-1' deep and 3-4 mph current, pools over 6' deep and 1-2 mph current. Mostly cobble bottom with softball and basketball-sized rocks. Lots of bedrock fragments in canyon; also large smooth, glacial erratics.

First canyon very spectacular with steep sides and much rock wall. 100-150 foot canyon sides. Second canyon less dramatic but very scenic.

In second canyon we found ripped up yellow Japanese raft, lots of clothes, cooking gear, tarp. Plates arranged in shape of arrow pointing downriver. We picked everything up and carried it downstream with us. We found out later that they had been picked up okay and a charter pilot was coming out and would pick up their gear at lodge at mouth.

In lower canyon we met two Austrian fishermen who were spending a week at lodge at mouth (Silvertip-Part II). Two more fishermen further down. Saw Stan Kubik (ADF&G) in helicopter over river counting salmon.

One mile above Skwentna saw first "civilization," a big raft and motor parked in front of the Talachulitna Lodge on south side of river; across the river was a gravel bar airstrip; further down on north side were three cabins or houses and a lodge under construction, two airboats and two riverboats in front; then further down on north was riverboat and path leading up to Silvertip Lodge.

We camped just above confluence where the first side channel of Skwentna entered the Tal. The Skwentna had been very high due to the warm weather (glacial fed) and the side channel was clouding up the Tal considerably (by morning channel had dried up almost entirely).

Lots of activity near new camp. Two or three riverboats up and back several times, aircraft landing and take-off from gravel bar on Skwentna opposite Tal mouth; four or five fishermen along Tal; gun shots (bear hunters at lodge). Talked to young "guide" employee of lodge and to Henry Elliott, Archer's brother-in-law and manager of Silvertip Lodge at the mouth.

Saw 150 kings today for a 575 total count. Lots of pinks, especially by Thursday Creek. A few going up the little steep gravelly creek. Caught a few small grayling and rainbow -not hot fishing. At new camp caught several very fresh silvers and pinks and a small Dolly Varden.

Very few animal tracks along river. Saw two bald eagles.

August 6

Misty, rainy day -in 50's - Skwentna 4 6. Left camp 9:15, arrived Skwentna airfield 2:00 p.m. Traveled about 13 miles in 2 1/2 hours offloading on river.
We stopped to look at the USGS water gauging station and cable car two miles below Tal. Then stopped and hiked back up 1/4 mile to old Skwentna roadhouse (we didn't get in far left channel). Although we couldn't ford small channel between us and buildings, could see two old tin-roofed structures. Old cabin roof washed upside down several hundred yards below Skwentna site.

Skwentna very swift through narrows at gauging station, 6-8 mph. 5-7 mph downstream to Skwentna airfield. One riffle just below Tal with 2-3 foot standing waves; easily sneaked. River very deep and wide. Easy floating -no difficult channel choices.

Saw several beaver and lots of beaver-cut trees along Skwentna. Saw black bear cub at Skwentna strip.

A guide and assistant and five clients came up into Tal to fish as we were leaving. They had flown into Skwentna airfield and motored up. At Skwentna five motorboats tied up, two or three belonged to FAA people there. Met 30-year resident of river who came to airfield from nearby residence to get his mail,
had car at strip. There was a lodge and several cabins along river around Skwentna.

We 3-tripped our gear up the 1/3-mile road to the airfield from the river. Got everything up by 3:15 p.m. Twin Beech (Griffith came in and picked us up at 4:00 p.m. Arrived Anchorage about 4:30 p.m.


We traveled approximately 47 miles on Tal and 13 on Skwentna over the course of five days averaging 4-5 hours per day on the water. The upper 15 miles of Tal Creek were very tough with lots of walking due to very low water levels. The upper 12 miles of the Tal River proper had very slow, shallow water requiring steady paddling. The lower half of the river was quite different with moderate to swift water (although still very low) with many rocky riffles and rapids through several gorges and canyons. Readily raftable or kayakable, but lower river only for expert canoeists. Good, strong raft required.

Scenery over river good to spectacular. Wildlife observation at time of this inspection poor to fair. Fishing poor to excellent. Salmon fishing in lower river excellent, grayling and rainbow poor to fair. Fishing probably much different at different water levels and different times of year. Number of salmon, especially pinks, in river was awesome. Except at Judd Lake and at mouth, river very primitive with only a few signs of man.

Easy put-in and take-out access from Anchorage.


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