Bruce Campbell will be coordinating a trip on the Upper Gulkana River, from Paxson Lake to Sourdough Campground, on August 4-8, 2023. If you are a Fairbanks Paddlers member and are interested in joining the trip, you should respond directly to Bruce’s personal email (firstname.lastname@example.org) For the club’s insurance purposes, you must also be a member of the American Canoe Association. Please send Bruce your American Canoe Association membership number, or complete the ACA waiver and check the one-event box and $10 fee. You can loin ACA or renew your annual membership from the Join/Renew link at https://americancanoe.org/ You can join Fairbanks Paddlers before the trip at https://fairbankspaddlers.org/join
This 47 mile paddle is the best whitewater learning stretch of the Gulkana River, featuring good class II stretches of rock obstacles to navigate. Again, the Gulkana is the best skill building river on the Road System if you choose to make use of the opportunities it presents. The canyon, hopefully, will have enough water to go class III. You can read the BLM brochure for the river here: (https://www.blm.gov/sites/blm.gov/files/documents/files/PublicRoom_Alaska_Gulkana-River-Brochure.pdf).
The class III designation requires special reporting to the ACA for this trip, which I am willing to undertake. Please be sure you either have the annual ACA waiver and membership, or complete the one I’ve attached. You can complete the full ACA membership and the Fairbanks Paddlers membership online.
Tentative trip plan (subject to change based on wind, input, etc.:)
Friday August 4th: Drive to Paxson Lake campground and set shuttle to Sourdough Campground. If the wind is gentle, we paddle across the lake and camp on the far side. If the wind is as it often is, we may camp overnight at the Paxson Lake campground and paddle across early, early in the morning – like 5 am early, just to put a number on it, before the wind builds.
Saturday: Paddle through the lake outfall rock garden and depending on how tired we are, either camp on the large gravel bar at the confluence with the Middle Fork, or continue on downstream. It is about 15 miles to the Canyon campground and we will likely camp before reaching the canyon.
Sunday: we paddle to the canyon, set camp, and play. Some may choose to go on short hikes, others may choose to portage kayaks and packrafts back upstream and run the canyon over and over. (Most I’ve done in one stay is 11 runs)
Monday: Depart after lunch, camping over halfway to Sourdough.
Tuesday: Finish the paddle to Sourdough and drive home.
Bruce will track water levels on the NOAA website. Generally, a gauge height of above 6 at Sourdough implies enough water for the trip. Above 9 is high, and 11 is full flood stage – too high. I do not recall gauge heights at the lake, others may have insights.
Bruce will also track weather and especially wind. Paxson Lake is not fun when the wind is blowing. It tends to die down during the night and early morning can be the best time to cross. Or it can be glass smooth – Ha!
What kind of paddling skills are required? You need to be able to read current, steer and navigate around obstacles. The rock gardens will advance your ferring and eddy attaining skills.
There is not menu plan as of yet. Please offer suggestions describing what you might cook for a group meal. Group size TBD.
Please see the message thread started by Bruce on the Fairbanks Paddlers email group at https://groups.io/g/fairbankspaddlers/
Please respond to Bruce Campbell via email at email@example.com. Tracking text messages is nor workable.
(Featured image – Gulkana Canyon – Sept 14, 2022 – 8′ and ~4000 cfs on Sourdough Gauge – photo by John Schauer )