By Jon Fowlkes
Rumors ran high of big unrunnable drops, a long hike in, tough portages, and a drop known as the 'Inner Sanctum'.. All of this meant Bird Creek was definitely high on the "must do" list for our Alaska adventure.
This delightful creek flows into Turnigan arm where it provides great salmon spawning grounds-at least until the poor buggers reach the big falls a half mile upstream, but we'll get to that later.
It was another gorgeous Alaska summer day and we were psyched. Pulling up to the trailhead we all fumbled around with straps and carabineers, slings and buckles trying to make "yak packs" to haul our boats the six miles up to the put-in, all the while swatting at mosquitoes and horseflies.
With no semblance of order, we started up the 4WD road, across the creek, over some hills..
Of course, it didn't take long before it started..
"Which fork do we take?"
"I don't know, didn't you look at a map?"
After just over a mile several guys riding four wheelers came tearing around the corner. In a somewhat flippant manner, Jim suggested they haul us up to the put-in. Within moments, boats strapped to their racks, we were heading up the trail and breakneck speeds ( wearing our helmets or course! ). The put-in was a welcome sight. We brushed off the dust had a big round a thanks to some awesome Alaskaners, donned our gear and were off.
Shortly the creek bed narrowed and bedrock appeared. The first drop was a little manky with a big undercut boulder right in the middle and a sketchy looking sneak on the right. After a short look Jimbo fired it off and we all followed in short order. (We later found out the locals portage this drop). Then came some fun boulder gardens and a few small ledges. A few required scouting, but mostly the point man could figure it out from the eddy-pretty standard "Alaska V+".
Eventually we came to a big horizon line. We all hopped out to take a peek. Below, the creek dropped 8' over a ledge then tore downstream over a 25 footer. The bottom of the falls was completely walled in on both sides with no possibility for safety.
The portage didn't look too friendly either requiring either running the lead in and catching an eddy just above the falls or carrying you boat across a small log 5' from the lip. All three options had their risks and benefits…. Some of us immediately decided to carry while others looked a little harder.
We set up for photos and video and positioned safety as best we could. Once again, Jimbo lead off and came tearing over the lip of the falls. He went deep, came up on the boil and paddled out after a couple cartwheels. Mike followed suit and there were cheers all around when we were all back together at the bottom.
On the paddle out, we stopped to try and catch a salmon for lunch. Now we didn't have fishing poles or hooks so instead we took after them with our hands and sticks. We managed to touch a few but realized it was a good thing we weren't depending on this to feed us!
That afternoon, there as supposed to be one of the bigger tides of the season (~45' change) combined with wind from the east which, according to the tourist billboard would produce the most vicious tidal bore coming up Turningan arm. In the visitor center, there were photos of huge crashing waves with their tops blowing off tearing up the arm.
Mike Long drops into the Inner Sanctum
For those who aren't familiar with it, the bore is a wave formed as the incoming tide meets the water rushing out of a channel. Most places, the change in tide is too slow and mild to create this effect, but a few places in the world have big enough tide changes combined with appropriate geology to whip up some big waves. After some discussion (mostly concern that it might be more than we bargained for) we slid back into our damp gear and paddled out to await the coming tide.
It was eerie sitting out in what felt like a river delta with big mud flats around us and the outgoing tide moving along at a couple miles and hour. A bald eagle was fishing from the bank as we waited. Cars had lined up along the roadside to view the bore.
I suddenly realized I was no longer moving out toward sea, but back inland. I looked over near the shore where Jim and Mike were and saw they were surfing a wave that had formed there. Some hard paddling and I too caught up with the bore. The water just behind the wave/hole was moving the same speed as the wave so it wasn't too hard to catch. We all rode it for a mile or two with varying degrees of control and finesse (creek boats aren't exactly state-of-the-art rodeo machines). Exhausted, we slowly made our way back over towards the shore, carried our boats up to the road and caught a ride back to the truck.
A little wild turkey finished the day quite nicely!