This photo needs editing.
Difficulty IV
Length 114 Miles
Gauge N/A
Flow Range
Reach Info Last Updated 09/22/2011 8:12 pm

River Description


Put-In 
Typically, parties fly from the Chitina airport into a gravel bar strip on river right about 8 miles south of the entrance to the canyon, using either Wrangell Mountain Air, Ultima Thule, or McCarthy Air Alaska. In addition, it is possible to land a float plane on a channel of the West Fork of the Tana, approximately 18 miles from the entrance to the canyon.

Take-Out 
The standard take-out is on the Copper River at O'Brien Creek on river right, which is 75 miles downstream of the Tana/Chitina confluence.  The Chitina joins the Copper river 2.6 miles upstream of the O'Brien Creek take out.  The Copper River comes in from the right and the confluence is notorious for high winds and huge unpredictable boils.   It is recommended that boaters be prepared for trouble as they enter this confluence.  Flips and swims are a dangerous possibility in the turbulent mixing currents.  Wear your drysuits. 

Description 
The Tana River is a tributary of the Chitina River, flowing roughly 36 miles from the Tana Glacier spilling off the Bagley Ice Field north to the confluence with the Chitina River. Whitewater on the Tana River is a source of a great deal of conversation amongst Alaska boaters. Tragic deaths early on earned the Tana River canyon a reputation that is a bit overstated. However, this is about as cold and remote as a North American whitewater river can be, and deserves a great deal of respect.

From the put-in strip, a fast float gains the entrance to the canyon, marked by a large dune set encroaching on a spruce forest on river left, above a huge shallow eddy. Camping below the dunes back in the protected trees is good for wind, bad for bugs, and great for hiking up the dunes for views of the Wrangell Mountain peaks.

Whitewater in the Tana River canyon can be characterized as continuous gradient class II-III cold-temperature big-water, with two drops pushing toward III+ - IV-. The total time it takes to run the canyon is a fraction of the trip length - about two to three hours. Rafts will be busy looking far ahead, and preparing to miss sticky holes and keeping their speed up to maintain forward momentum in the large wave trains. Kayakers have plenty of options to choose from in the wide channels, and can play on several large waves and holes. Scouting from the ground is tough, as the drops are long and the banks aren't very conducive to moving up and down. Scouting from the air is an excellent idea, but remember that the features will be much bigger at river level. Eddies are few, and can be unfriendly for both rafts and kayaks, with woody debris and funny water. Flipping a raft is a very real possibility. Swimming to shore would be very difficult due to the width and the swiftness of the river, the water temperature, and the lack of slack water between drops. Therefore, your best safety lies in a good drysuit allowing you to spend some wet time and avoid hypothermia, and a good partner boat to pick you out of the water.

A large set of class II waves mark the entrance to the canyon. This is best run down the center for a fun ride, while being mindful of large holes on the right side. The river continues to pick up speed and meanders through a series of random class II big water style rapids. After the river splits into two channels around a gravel bar island, a clear water creek flows in on the river left side. This is a good spot to collect fresh water untainted with glacial silt. It also signals the beginning of the first notable rapid, a long, class III+ big water style drop. The entrance consists of hole dodging down a large wave train, and is known as Onramp. The river than takes a right hand turn, and enters the meat of the rapid, known as Freeway. The river right side is a shallow rock and gravel gradient drop, and the outside wall is a steep bank. The top of the drop is a straightforward wave train down the middle right, avoiding a big hole on the left that toys with 18' rafts . The middle of the drop contains a large rock that creates a huge hole at high water, and a pretty convincing barrier to travel at low to medium flows. Consensus seems to be cheat right as much as possible, then pull to the middle below the barrier rocks, and ride the wave train out.

Things pretty much continue as characterized with one exception - after a long, fast wave train, the river pushes into a river right wall. The reflection waves coming off the wall make for chaotic water, and have caused both good kayakers and rafters a bit of trouble in the past. The general plan seems to be pull as hard away from that wall as possible. Note that it is very possible to ram this wall with a lot of force.

The canyon walls then recede, and class II-III rapids remain for another 5 or 6 miles. At one point, the river makes a lefthand owbow turn around a huge gravel bar. The outside of this bar is an excellent beach, and makes for a fine view camp. A couple of miles after this camp, the confluence with the Chitina River is reached.

After 75 miles the Chitina joins the Copper River.  "The winds at the Copper river confluence and the strength of the river can catch you off guard. The locals said that the wind at the confluence is a pretty standard phenomena at the confluence. In addition to the wind, with the increase in volume comes some serious powerful boils in certain spots. One in particular was on the corner RR of the Copper confluence, I'm sure there tons. Because the weather was incredible, and the river was pretty calm the last few days we were not in our drysuits, next we will be!. WARNING: Boils at the Copper Confluence could easily flip a 16 foot boat and if one is not in their drysuits, they would assureadly be in a fight for their life because of the strength, and temperature of the water."  (Moenkopi, 2011)

Additional Information 
Slackerdom.com has a trip report from 2002.
Wrangell-St Elias National Park & Preserve
Jake's Bar cabins & airstrip
Moenkopi Riverworks trip blog from 2011

Rapid Descriptions

Put in

Class - N/A Mile - 0

With the very fast current, boaters on a long expedition will want to launch as far upstream as possible.  The pilots will land on which ever gravel bar they think is safest at the time.  

Tana River Landing Strip - Wind Free Camp

Class - N/A Mile - 8
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

There are few campsites in this river that will be free of strong winds.   This location has areas protected by a high ridge.   The topo map indicates that there may be a cabin located a short ways downstream of the landing strip.

Dunes

Class - N/A Mile - 16.6

A large expanse of sand dunes on river left signal the entrance to the canyon.

Freeway

Class - III+ Mile - 19.3

Granitic Creek entering on river left signals the beginning of the first notable rapid, a long, class III+ big water style drop. The entrance consists of hole dodging down a large wave train, and is known as Onramp. The river than takes a right hand turn, and enters the meat of the rapid, known as Freeway. The river right side is a shallow rock and gravel gradient drop, and the outside wall is a steep bank. The top of the drop is a straightforward wave train down the middle right, avoiding a big hole on the left that toys with 18' rafts . The middle of the drop contains a large rock that creates a huge hole at high water, and a pretty convincing barrier to travel at low to medium flows. Consensus seems to be cheat right as much as possible, then pull to the middle below the barrier rocks, and ride the wave train out.

Tubby's Tilt

Class - III+ Mile - 22

After a long, fast wave train, the river pushes into a river right wall. The reflection waves coming off the wall make for chaotic water, and have caused both good kayakers and rafters a bit of trouble in the past. The general plan seems to be pull as hard away from that wall as possible. Note that it is very possible to ram this wall with a lot of force.

Chitina Confluence

Class - II Mile - 33
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Jake's Bar Cabins & Airstrip

Class - N/A Mile - 36

These cabins are available to the public on a first come first served basis.  They are accessible by river and by a small airstrip.   They are 3 miles downstream from the Chitina confluence on river right in the woods at the downstream end of a large gravel bar.

Jake's Bar cabins & airstrip

Copper River confluence

Class - N/A Mile - 111
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

"The winds at the Copper river confluence and the strength of the river can catch you off guard. The locals said that the wind at the confluence is a pretty standard phenomena at the confluence. In addition to the wind, with the increase in volume comes some serious powerful boils in certain spots. One in particular was on the corner RR of the Copper confluence, I'm sure there tons. Because the weather was incredible, and the river was pretty calm the last few days we were not in our drysuits, next we will be!. WARNING: Boils at the Copper Confluence could easily flip a 16 foot boat and if one is not in their drysuits, they would assureadly be in a fight for their life because of the strength, and temperature of the water."  (Moenkopi, 2011)

O'Brien Creek below Copper River Confluence

Class - N/A Mile - 114
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

O'Brien Creek on river right is the standard take out for trips down the Tana and Chitina.  This take out is 2.6 miles below the Copper River confluence.  

Comments

No Gage

Gage Descriptions

As a large volume, glacial river, the Tana peaks with the period of most daylight and subsequent glacial melt, somewhere between mid-July to mid-August. Normal flows are in the 4000 to 30,000 cfs range. There is a glacial lake at the head of the valley which has sent down a glacial lake outburst flood in the past. This would be catastrophic to anybody on the river or camped nearby. Your pilot should know the lake status.

Permits

NA

Directions Description


We have no additional detail on this route. Use the map below to calculate how to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.

Date Flow Result Factor  
1997-08-14 High Fatality Solo Paddling Read More

Alerts

News

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Todd Kelsey

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Paul Martzen

Revisions

Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1189842 10/14/04 Todd Kelsey n/a
1200684 09/20/11 Paul Martzen Added rapids
1200694 09/22/11 Paul Martzen Changed take out coordinates
1200692 09/22/11 Paul Martzen added links