Gulkana River (Paxson Lake → Sourdough)

Summer in Alaska is for family visitors. Some years no one shows up- Other years they show up in mass – a week here, a week there. Sometimes 2 weeks. Sometimes 3 weeks- sometimes more. Not that I’m complaining- when family visits it’s a chance to show them how you live. And how you live might mean a long rafting trip in torrential rain, a lazy day floating the Kenai without any sign of fish or a brutal slog through dense brush in the middle of Chugach State Park. And even if that summer visitor isn’t ready for what you’re about to give them (like endless fishing in torrential rains) – it really doesn’t matter. We’ve got all of 3 months to pack in a summer (even if that summer is 35 degrees and raining) and the summer visitor is along for the ride whether they like it or not!

So when my brother Charlie and his wife, Liz, showed up we automatically piled them back into the truck and forced them to drive 5 hours – even though they had just driven 5 days to reach our house. And even though the forecast was calling for heavy rains, wind and cold – we opted not to tell them. After all they’re from Idaho so their idea of summer rain is a brief thunderstorm that drops the ambient temp to 80.

We drove north towards the eastern Alaskan Range and then spent 5 days fishing and floating the Gulkana River.

The Gulkana is a wonderful float. It’s a National Wild and Scenic River – which means it leaves the road for a significant distance (the Gulkana leaves the road for over 40 miles). The upper portion of the river is non-motorized, there’s a fun canyon with a solid Class III rapid that makes you think – and as a bonus – there’s a significant king run!

The first day was rather long with an arduous 3 mile paddle across Paxson Lake. After you exit the lake you have a few miles of class IIish ripples until you can find a suitable campsite. Day 2 is flat water – but the grayling fishing is excellent and in places you can catch one every other cast.

On day 3 we floated through the canyon. There’s a great portage trail next to Canyon Rapid and we portaged the important cargo (beer and dogs) and left them at a takeout at the base of the rapid. I then rowed the canyon with Charlie and Liz in the boat. Charlie and Yvonne then took the Culebra down laughing with glee!

On Day 4 we camped next to a wonderful fishing hole. Both Liz and I landed a king; Yvonne both managed to lose her king – and Charlie spent all night casting from a river bank neglecting his wife who called out from the tent repeatedly. As the saying goes: “Ain’t no Nookie Like Chinookie“.

We pushed hard on the last day and put in 15 miles finally passing under the Alaska Pipeline and reaching the take-out in late afternoon.