Outdoors Editor’s note: Trip Report is an ongoing series about trail conditions around Interior Alaska.
Party: Mike Mathers, Cathy Walling-Bell, Scott Bell, Sarah Walling-Bell, Pete Eagan, Patty Eagan, Sam Harrel, Orlin Wagner and Amanda Byrd.
Trip location: Beaver Creek.
Access: U.S. Creek Road to Ophir Campground. Start float on Nome Creek spilling into Beaver Creek. Fly out of “Cutout, below Victoria Peak.”
Trip date: May 25 — June 1.
Trip Distance: 104 river miles.
Trail or route conditions, wildlife sightings and any highlights from the trip: This trip all started when a float trip package was auctioned off at the 2017 Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges fundraiser at Birch Hill. The package included boats from Pristine Ventures and a flight from Wright Air. Mike Mathers and Pete Eagan cast the winning bid and two years planning ensued, including the addition of seven friends.
The boats provided ranged from a single kayak raft (Kork) to double kayak and rowing boats (Legend and Pioneer Extreme). Five boats altogether. Folding or inflatable boats are required for the flight out in a tiny four-seater plane.
The trip started soon after break up on the river, making us unsure of what we’d find. One week earlier the river was full of icebergs. Past reports have noted that Nome Creek has been a long slog of low water and much walking. This year, we were pleasantly surprised to find ample water for a fast float without any walking. After a few miles, Nome Creek spills into the wider Beaver Creek.
We floated between 10-25 miles a day, finding large sandy gravel bars for our party of nine to camp every night. The weather was spectacular and bugs had yet to really make an appearance. While Fairbanks was inundated with rain, we had puffy clouds hanging in a bluebird sky. One day we encountered prevailing headwinds, cutting a long day short.
We took a day off paddling to hike Fossil Creek up to spectacular limestone bluffs, where the White Mountains get their name. The bluffs of Big Bend are beyond spectacular, and the warning of “not much to see after that” was absolutely wrong. The entire river provided spectacular wild and scenic views as the river’s designation indicates, and scenic does not begin to describe the river.
We saw birds everywhere. We actually thought the river name was misleading. We saw a few beavers, much of their hard work littering the shoreline, but Merganser Creek would have been more appropriate. Breeding pairs were at every corner.
The wildlife we encountered included three moose, including a tiny newborn calf and a single moose crossing the river in front of us, a caribou, a bear, a great horned owl, golden and bald eagles, peregrine falcon, hawks, and song and water birds galore. The grayling were biting, too!
We spent a total of 35 hours on the river traveling at an average of 3.5 mph. I learned shortly after our return that it can be done nonstop in 18 hours, but then you miss out on the incredible meals and relaxing camp company.
The 40-minute flight back to Fairbanks — we had four trips (two going back to the U.S. Creek Road start) — gave us the gorgeous big picture view of where we had traveled and the sense of remoteness while still in our own backyard.