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Saturday, May 02, 2009

Change of seasons – time to go rafting!

Time to admit it, it’s 60 degrees out and sunny – I guess spring has finally arrived. I doubt it will snow in town again and the classic skiing across Buskin Lake is done for the year. From now on the only skiing I will be doing is up on high in the mountains. Spring also marks the beginning of the whitewater canoeing and rafting season.

Kodiak has really good whitewater opportunities right close to town (see map). Best of all, it is something that is at its best when it is raining. Our creeks and rivers tend to be skimpy water wise - unless it is raining. And once it stops raining the water levels drop quickly – so you got to get out there when it is still raining. This time of year, if it is sunny I’ll go downhill skiing, but if it’s raining I’m off to ride the water. How can I lose?

The three most convenient opportunities are Buskin River, Virginia Creek and Sargent Creek. When doing whitewater always wear a life jacket and a helmet is a good idea. Also, the first few times go with somebody who knows what they are doing. It can be a VERY dangerous sport.

Buskin River is the easiest of the three and the one that everyone should try first. This river also tends to hold water better than the others because of the lake at the head that tends to moderate the flow. Go with a friend and drop a car at the river mouth in Buskin State Park. Then drive up the road to just before the highway bridge over the Buskin before the airport and take a right (this is the road to the golf course and Anton Larsen Bay). Right before you cross the first bridge there is a small dirt road on the right. Follow this until you see a pond on the left near the road (about 300 yards or so). This is where you put in.

The worst rapid on the whole trip is right at the start (you can see it from the bridge where you turned off onto the dirt road). While nothing on the Buskin is too tough (a couple of class 3 rapids), when it floods it can get very impressive. Watch out for the logs jutting out into the river and places where the river jumps the banks and floods through the alders. Also – do not float down from the lake! The part of the river that flows through the antenna field is restricted access by the USCG.

Sargent Creek is for intermediate paddlers, and needs to be checked each year to make sure there are no new sweepers (trees that fall over the river). It has a lot of class 3 rapids, but water levels tend to drop quickly after a rain. At low water there is often not enough water to even make it down the creek.

To access Sargent Creek take a right on the first Bell’s Flats access road and take the first right at the ‘Y’ towards the Volunteer Fire Department. Right before you get to the VFD there is a small road that goes right and leads to the creek – this is a good place to leave the shuttle car. From there follow the main road past the fire department and take the sharp right at the top of the hill and then follow the dirt road along the river a mile or so, past the Jack Lakes area, until you come to ‘little Kosovo’ the impromptu shooting range at the end of the road by the river. This is where you start

Virginia Creek is for advance paddlers only, and is only good when it is flash flooding. There are sections of class 4 on this one – so beware! It is a super narrow canyon and can be quite exciting and fast in high water.

To access the creek drive out Monashka way towards white sands beach and just before you get to the bridge immediately before the access road to the reservoir you will note a pull out on the left. This is where you park your car. Then you carry your canoe or kayak up into the woods as far along the creek as you want to go. About a mile up, there is another canyon that’s offers some serious challenges (like class 5 if it is flooding). We usually only paddle the bottom ¼ mile or so, but often do several runs. It is a water luge of a run! It ends when you go through the culvert under the bridge near where you parked your car. Immediately after going through the culvert you land your boat and climb back up to the road. Have fun.

Photos: Mike, Jeremy and Brent at the bottom of the upper canyon on Virginia Creek. Jeremy paddling a rapid on Virginia Creek. Bottom - me in an inflatable canoe in the 'Green Grotto' - a little too much boat for the size of the creek! For more rafting photos see the archives from June and July last year and from June of 2007. Patrick

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