Big Mountain Scenic Tour
Cabin Time—Day 1-3
The Park Service cabin is about 300 yards from the current air strip, easy walking distance to shlep gear. It has a wood stove, 2 single bunks, and an outhouse. It’s very comfortable, in great shape, and is first come first served. Closest drinking water source is one mile away towards the glacier lake, so collect rain water off the roof when possible. The lake put-in is about 1.5 miles away, no trail, through some brush and across some boulders. There are landing strips and places to camp closer to the river, but you still have to search for silt-free water.
Our first full day at the cabin we put together our collapsible canoe and hauled it to the lake. There is now a roughly 1 x 2 mile lake at the terminus of the Nebesna glacier which makes for a nice warm up paddle. Canoeing, exploring, hiking, taking in the mountain views gave us plenty to do for the days we spent at the cabin. The glacier and mountain views made this a top shelf experience.
River Travel—Day 4-6
Day 1 on the river: after single hauling the rest of our gear, filling all our water containers from clear pools in the moraine, then canoeing across the lake for about 30 minutes, we were on the river. It's a glacial fed, class II, pushy, fast river with some braids. Our first day we traveled 18 direct (as the crow flies) map miles. In this section we faced some standing waves, quick choices to avoid obstacles like gravel bars, wall shots and hydraulics. We didn't see any rocks above the surface but the water from the waves forced us to stop and bail a few times. Of note is that we didn't see any clear water coming into the river. We camped across the river from Windy Lake on river right. We got lucky and found a place where the river has scoured out a channel which allowed clear ground water to seep from the sand and pool up, so we stocked up.
Day 2 on the river: we covered 21 direct map miles today. The river became much more braided and showed more trees and wood. Occasionally we had to paddle hard across the current to avoid areas with extensive sweepers. Generally class I with uber channel finding/water chasing skills. We saw one clear creek, which probably was Totschunda Creek, flowing into the river on river left, otherwise no other clear water. Once again, we found a clear pool of water at our camp site which was about 6 river miles up river from Hill Point on river right.
Day 3 on the river - out to Northway Village. The river becomes much calmer and a lot less braided; we had smooth and easy paddling most of the way. The only obstacle was the occasional headwind. We paddled 26 direct map miles to an easy and obvious take out at the end of the riprap.
To wrap it up, the views everyday, even when cloudy, were spectacular-some of the best of the best. Remember to look back as you travel down river. The winds and weather changed often, sometimes in our favor and sometimes not so much. We saw lots of sheep, bears and moose on the awesome flight in. Thanks, Zack! Birding on the river was great.
Ben May and Gretchen Specht
Intermediate paddlers in a collapsible Ally canoe.