Gulkana Get a What-What?
Written by Jerrica
Kevin and I took on our first multi-day river trip with just the two of us. We launched on the Gulkana River on July 19th for a 45-mile trip from Paxson Lake to Sourdough Campground. In order to get to the river you have to row a few miles to the end of the lake. We took off about an hour later than we were hoping to and we ended up rowing into some crummy winds. It took us about 3 hours to row across the lake and we were relieved when we finally got to the river.
Unfortunately our relief was short lived. The first 4ish miles of the river are shallow and we had to walk our raft over rocks quite frequently. I was on the oars and I quickly grew frustrated. I was worried the river was going to be the same the entire 45 miles. We camped about 5 miles down the river and the water was getting a bit deeper as we neared our camp. Luckily the river got much better after that first day... still lots of shallow water, but less constant.
The BLM has an amazingly detailed floaters guide to the Gulkana River. It provides super helpful information about the river, the camps, the rapids, and fun bits of history. If you're planning on rafting this section, print off this guide. It's well worth it.
There is a small canyon section of class 3 rapids. This section is short and there is a portage option. The raft handled the canyon rapids like a champ. The rapids aren't big... there are just tricky maneuvers around rocks and spillovers.
The Gulkana River is that it isn't freezing cold... a sweet relief from the glacial waters we've been rafting lately. Overall this river is shallow and we probably had to get out of our boat a couple dozen times or more for each day of rowing. I only got cold on the second day when the sun went behind the mountains. The water was never bad and it wasn't an issue stepping out to push the boat around.
I learned how to fly fish on this trip and I loved it. I'm a sissy and don't like touching the fish, so anytime I fished I would pass the line back to Kevin and he'd unhook the fish for me. He's too good to me. We caught a lot of grayling and saw a lot of king and sockeye salmon. We ate fish tacos the first night with a couple of grayling we caught.
We did the river in 3 days. The second day was quite long, but the first day and the last day weren't bad at all. We didn't see anyone after the first day. It's a beautiful, secluded river and we lucked out with awesome weather.
Besides lots of shallow water, our only complaint (and when I say "we" I most definitely mean Kevin) is that there were no bear sitings.