Whitewater Rafting Anyone?
Gwin’s Lodge provides a full concierge service for our guests. One of the companies we use is Chugach Outdoor Center in Sunrise, Alaska that provides guided whitewater rafting on Sixmile Creek. Its website says, “[d]ropping over 50 feet per mile as it flows out of the Chugach Mountains, Sixmile Creek, near Anchorage and Seward, has cut its way through three separate canyons offering memorable Class IV and Class V Alaska whitewater rafting.” So one day in early August, the four of us left the comfort of the Lodge and went to Sunrise near Hope, Alaska.
After signing away our lives, we were grouped with other would-be rafters to get our dry suits and life jackets on. It took a while to don everything properly. We also had to find shoes that fit from a pile of used and beat-up sneakers, which is better than wearing our own shoes into the water. After everyone was finally outfitted, we got into vans and were transported to the launch site a short distance away.
We were divided into six-people groups and we chose Mudflap adorned with a mullet to be our guide. In addition to the four of us, another lady joined our group. Keith knew Mudflap personally and we learned later that he is actually “famous.” Mudflap made an appearance as Sarah Palin’s whitewater rafting guide in episode 6 of her reality show, Sarah Palin’s Alaska. After that episode aired, a comedian (either Kimmel or Cobert) made fun of his name in a the monologue portion of the late night show.
Before we proceeded, we all had to undergo a swim test. We lined up, waded into Sixmile Creek, and had one last check of our equipment before we launched, one by one, into a swim toward the opposite shore. The guy pulled the straps of my already tight life jacket and helmet to make sure they were on securely. We were told to swim toward the opposite shore and then kick up our feet and float toward a rocky shore where all the rafts are parked. Because of the current, it felt like I didn’t swim very far at all. The dry suit and life jacket constrained arm movement like a strait jacket. However, I didn’t feel cold at all. The neoprene gloves I brought really helped to keep our hands warm and protected. One man actually cut his hand on a jagged rock while he was getting out of the water and had to abort his rafting trip.
Once we settled into the raft, we were off. Mudflap explained what instructions he will be yelling out (e.g., two strokes forward) and what we needed to do (paddle exactly two strokes and no more no less). This is serious stuff as there will be five class V rapids in the third canyon. He needed everyone’s cooperation to get the raft going in the right direction and approaching the rapids in the right way.
The first two canyons were smaller rapids up to class IV. My son actually fell out of the raft on one of the smaller rapids. He quickly swam to the side and we were able to pull him out right away. That was very scary for me! Mudflap was excellent in yelling out precise instructions and we all tried very hard to follow exactly what he dictated.
Here is more excerpt from Chuagach Outdoor Center’s website: “Rising over 500 feet in places, these towering canyon walls are draped in a lush carpet of old growth rain-forest with cascading waterfalls pouring in from the sides. Crystal clear water with healthy salmon runs make this a river runner’s dream. Safely running Sixmile’s narrowly constricted passageways takes a coordinated team effort with technical and precise paddling. Working closely with your guide, you’ll be paddling while (s)he handles the oars. This oar paddling combination gives you power when you need it, as well as precise maneuvering capability."
At the end of the two canyons, all the rafts were put to shore to give us a chance to rest and to back out before we venture into the third canyon that features five class V rapids called appropriately “Staircase,” “Suckhole,” “Merry-Go-Round,” “Zig Zag,” and “Jaws.” Images of Meryl Streep going down the Colorado with Kevin Bacon in the River Wild danced in my head but we only hesitated a second before committing to the third canyon.
Not sure if it was one of the class V rapids,but Keith almost tumbled backward out of the raft. I had to get off my seat and scramble over to yank him back in. Mudflap always had a smile on his face, and enjoyed every minute of it. At one rapid it was so narrow that the raft barely fit through between the boulders on either side. But with Mudflap’s expert steering and our paddling, we threaded through the rocks with ease. It was pretty intense!
What a blast! Zion thought this was definitely the highlight of our trip (on which we saw Denali, hiked the Matanuska Glacier, and rode the Alaska Railroad train).
This was my TripAdvisor review of the trip: “As a group (two middle-aged parents with two older teens) we were unsure about going down all three canyons and ride down class V rapids with names like Staircase, Suckhole, Zigzag, Merry-Go-Round, and Jaws. I guess Meryl Streep and Kevin Bacon going down that class V rapid in The River Wild traumatized me more than I knew. The swim test was strenuous, which put further doubts in my mind. However, Mud Flap (of the Sarah Palin’s Alaska episode 6 fame) made the trip entertaining, fun, thrilling, and safe for us. Mud Flap was very good about giving paddling instructions, and what to do if you do find yourself out of the raft (swim left or right, tuck into a ball to get out of the Suckhole, or take the whitewater rapid float position). We only had one swimmer (my son) the entire trip (and some close calls), and it was in the very first canyon. He easily swam to the shore and we were able to pull him in quickly. I would highly recommend Chugach Outdoor Center for your outdoor adventure!”
One final note. Earlier in the same year in May, there was actually a death on the river. A British guy came to Alaska to climb Mount McKinley. He successfully conquered that mountain and decided to do the rapids before he went home. Due to high waters from snow melt early in the season, the rapids were especially treacherous. He came out of the raft at Zig Zag and was not recovered. Another raft company was involved in this accident. http://www.adn.com/article/20130528/uk-mountaineer-killed-alaska-whitewater-rapid-accident