Sixmile (& E. Fork Sixmile), Alaska, US
|Usual Difficulty||V (for normal flows)|
|Avg. Gradient||43 fpm|
|Max Gradient||57 fpm|
|SIXMILE C NR HOPE AK|
|usgs-15271000||500 - 3000 cfs||V||00h23m||1480 cfs (running)|
Once famous as the site of the 1895 gold rush, this creek is becoming increasingly well known as the gathering place for Anchorage paddlers and in recent years has been marketed as a destination for high-adventure commercial raft trips. The reasons are obvious: the quality of the whitewater is exceptional, the water is a beautiful, the scenery is breathtaking, the season is long, and it's close to Anchorage making it convenient for locals or those cruising through from out of town.
The run can be divided into two sections. The upper section is actually on the East Fork. Here the river squeezes through a narrow bedrock canyon, the first canyon which contains several fun class IV rapids, and although the road is close by you feel secluded down at river level. This short upper canyon ends as the river opens up at the confluence with Canyon Creek. This major tributary pumps up the flow considerably and from this point you're on Sixmile Creek. For the next few miles you won't find much action as the river bubbles along through class II, but as you enter the two lower canyons the intensity begins to pick up.
The second canyon begins just after Boston Bar, a beautiful site on the river recognized by a dramatic avalanche chute on river right. Even though the rapids are mild leading up to this section, the scnery is truly impressive. Just downstream the river squeezes between the walls of the short but fun second canyon. Generally regarded as class IV+ at recommended flows the drops come in quick succession before the river opens up again between the second and third canyons. This stretch between the two canyons is characterized by class II/III rapids and if you feel like you had your hands full in the second canyon, now is the time to take out.
The third canyon, generally regarded as a class V run, starts to build slowly in intensity but eventually you'll reach the first major rapid at Staircase. Here a large midstream bedrock outcrop and a distinct horizon line mark the entrance to this challenging drop. At higher flows, routes open up to the left and at low flows all the water squeezes down through a narrow chute on the right that feeds into a pretty good hole. Additional rapids are relatively easy to scout. A signature drop on this run is Merry Go Round. As you approach a horizon line with another big midstream boulder you'll see most of the flow disappear off to the left. Ride the main flow up high on the left which then makes a hard turn back to the right and behind the boulder.
Eventually the canyon opens up shortly before Turnagain Arm on Cook Inlet. A convenient take-out on river left should be fairly obvious.
From Anchorage head just over an hour south on the Seward Highway. Within 2 miles of crossing the East Fork of Sixmile Creek you will come to a pullout at highway mile 59.0. This provides access to the East Fork above the first gorge that accommodates rafts. The road parallels this upper section but you only catch glimpses of the creek with the exception of a trail down to a footbridge 1.6 miles downstream from the put-in. There is no formal parking here but it's worth a quick stop to check levels and a couple of the rapids. Continuing on downstream you'll pass a large parking area and then cross Canyon Creek. In 2.6 miles from the put-in and immediately after crossing Canyon Creek, turn right on the Hope cut-off road. A take-out for the first canyon is available at mile 0.9 down this road. Here an unmarked dirt road turning off to the right leads down to the river and provides good bankside access for rafts or kayaks. The next good access, sometimes used as a put-in for the lower run that provides a bit of warm-up is at mile 2.2 where the river comes right against the road at a good pullout with easy access. A popular dividing point between the upper and lower run is at Boston Bar. This access is reached from mile 3.4 at a paved pullout with a dirt road that heads down to the river and then continues as a trail. This access is just upstream of the start of the second canyon which is just visible as you look downstream. The next access downstream is at mile 4.4 where a dirt pullout and a trail down to the river provides access downstream of the second canyon. The take-out for the third canyon is reached from a dirt road that turns off the Hope cut-off at mile 7.1 and winds 0.3 miles down to the river. This access is suitable for rafts or kayaks. Shortly after this last access point this creek flows into the Turnagain Arm.
The description in Embick's guide, Fast and Cold, includes a description of the run and also some interesting historical background.