Peters Creek

By Jon Fowlkes


Copyright © 2005, Jon Fowlkes and Oregon Kayaking. No part of this page may be reproduced, linked, or copied without the express written permission of Jon Fowlkes and the Oregon Kayaking webmaster.

Our first kayaking trip to Alaska had been quite an adventure so far. On this particular day we were getting a late start ( somewhere around noon ) but hey, in Alaska it's light all day and all night so what does it really matter?

The last few days had involved lots of driving, so if I remember correctly the main criteria we had that morning was that we didn't want to drive very much.

Not knowing what the local runs looked like, we flipped open our handy Gazetteer. After scanning the nearest blue lines, lo and behold, Peters Creek looked to be short, close, steep and roadside!

( Now, it should be noted that the scale on the Gazetteer doesn't always allow for the best resolution of details such as: Contour intervals, Devil's Club, Gradient, Grizzly dens, Meth-swilling poachers, Logs, TyrannoSquito nests, etc, but hey it looked good and we didn't have many other options.. and all that other stuff seemed like minor details on such a fine day.. )

A spark went off and James piped up and said: "Hey, I saw a write up of Peters Creek online a year ago, hold on a minute.." as he disappeared into the basement. A few moments later he was back with a three-page printout of a trip report from some local paddlers. How he remembered this from a having read it a year ago, I'll never know. So with a guide, a map and lots of enthusiasm for a roadside run, we piled the gear into the truck and headed for the river.

At this point, I must digress to allow the reader some understanding of what was about to occur.

The truth is, we were feeling like badasses. Things the guidebook had been calling class V-V+ we were boat scouting. Drops they called "certain death" we would scout and run. Drops that were "long difficult portages" we would pull off a short river level jaunt around the worst of it, seal launch in and run the tail end. This seemed to apply to everything we had been running (e.g. low volume creeks). It should be noted, however, that the guidebook was written back when the Dancer was a state-of-the-art creekboat.. Minor details!

Needless to say, we had become a little cocky about running "Alaska class V.."

On the short drive to the creek, we flipped through the write-up James had found. Sentences which we would later remember with great detail were glanced at and ignored such as: "... Steep and difficult ... Class V at 350 cfs and lower ... Gets much harder at flows over 500 cfs ..."

After skimming the description, we homed in on the really important stuff: the part about the put-in and take-out. The take-out was easy, at the bridge, the put-in was supposed to be an easy 1/4 - 1/2 mile hike up an old logging road.

I dropped the boat and boys at the trailhead and ran the truck down to the bridge. After parking, I ran out on the bridge to get a glimpse of the creek. What I saw was something that looked like 500-600 cfs of silt-laden water tearing down easy class II rapids with several logs in sight.. hm.

Now this should have been the first warning sign but hey it's "Alaska Class V", right? A friendly local gave me a ride back up the river on his way to paint some watercolors in the woods. In retrospect, maybe we should have joined him. Of course we didn't and I headed up the trail and soon caught up to the crew with boats and gear in tow.

After three miles of hiking the "1/4 mile to the put-in", we were still well above the creek running parallel to it with no signs of getting closer. We finally decided "screw this hiking thing, let's go boating" so we bushwhacked down to the creek to find a muddy overgrown stream ripping down some class III-IV with virtually no eddies ( reminiscent of the upper EF Hood ).

Bushwhacking, Alaska-style..
Photo by Jim Pytel

We dressed rapidly to avoid being eaten alive by the blood-sucking-flying-TyrannoSkitos, snapped on out spray decks and headed off downstream. As Mike and I went past James and Jim, they called out "watch out for wood!!" We quickly split into teams of two in order to conserve eddy space. It should be noted that on Peters Creek, we found that "eddy space" referred not to those nice tranquil areas of calm water formed by an obstruction to the flow of the river, but rather a comfortable armful of alders in shallow enough water to get out of your boat before you were swept into the next logjam..

We proceeded on for three miles of these continuous class III-IV-holy shit-I-just-about-missed-that-alder-grab-above-that-log maneuvers until we finally came to a 12' waterfall. After an extensive scout, the only reasonable line seemed to be catching a sketchy eddy on river right five feet from the lip, then peeling out and hitting a boof with left angle to avoid a nasty undercut, which resulted in: One deep plug, two good boofs and one Ow-that-hurt-but-it-hurt-my-boat-worse line resulting in a boat looking like daffy duck..

James Bagley Jr. nails the boof at the first falls on Peters Creek
Photo by Jim Pytel

As we headed around the corner, the canyon walls rose and we rapidly found ourselves deep in 'the shit'. One person would catch the surging one-boat eddy at the lip of a drop, signal the rest of the crew what the line was, and we would all run it blind.

This was one of the most intimidating runs I had ever been on. The rapids, while not huge, were stout enough and to complicate matters, there was no way out of the canyon, often nowhere to get out and scout and with the brown water frequently no way to know if your paddle was going to give you some purchase or just bounce off a rock, letting you slide into a big hole with no momentum.

Surprisingly, there was little wood in the canyon proper and luckily none in bad spots in the big drops, but the psychological stress of having already portaged some 10 logs in 4 miles and running class V drops blind or almost blind amounted to something out of a nightmare..

The scariest moment occurred when the probe boater flipped on the eddy line of the last-chance eddy above a large smoking horizon line and was swept downstream, rolling up just in time to straighten out as he disappeared into oblivion.. yeah, it was that kind of day.

After a couple miles of this, the canyon opened up and we paddled the last bit of class II to the take out. We all breathed a huge sigh of relief once we were off the river and all alive and well. As the great linguist on the trip put it: "It was the kind of boating where you forget what your name is, what day it is, and where you are. The only thing in your mind is surviving.."

It was about then that I remembered it was my birthday..

Happy Birthday to me! the author ( front ) and the crew ( standing: James Bagley Jr, Jim Pytel holding boat.. )
Photo by Michael Long

That night ( Day? Night? It's all the same up there! ) We went and drank some whisky and had a great dinner, then mingled with the locals.. Good times were had by all!

Later that night.. Michael Long wows the locals with his whiskey-laced rendition of 'I've got friends in low places' or something like that..
Photo by someone other than Michael Long..

The next day we were off again, on our way to paddle some more great ( and sometimes terrifying ) rivers in that grand state of Alaska..