Matanuska River Musings


Yesterday when I got up there was frost on the raft. That’s an unmistakable sign that it’s time to deflate the boat and put it away for another season. My last float was a couple of weeks ago on the middle section of the Matanuska River, from Hicks Creek to King Mountain Lodge. The weather was beautiful but chilly. Fall colors were past their peak, but the groves of birches, mostly stripped of their leaves, were still beautiful. I was fascinated by the fragile-looking white trunks, clinging in groups to the tops of cliffs overlooking the river, with patches of shadow providing an element of mystery. Here’s a vertical image that shows it (I’m working on a horizontal print that I will unveil Oct. 30 at our Blaine’s Last Friday reception):

A few fall colors remain along the Matanuska River in Southcentral Alaska on a late fall day. (Edward Bennett)

A few fall colors remain along the Matanuska River in Southcentral Alaska on a late fall day. (Edward Bennett)

I have long had a special tie to the Matanuska. The middle portion — the stretch Georgia and I floated recently — was the first river I floated with my first raft, a 12-foot Avon, nearly 30 years ago. I remember I was so eager to try out my new boat that I put in too early, and ended up floating through aufeis around blind corners, praying the river didn’t go under the ice. I also remember going over a strange drop, almost like a dam, that stretched the width of the channel, just upstream from Chickaloon River. That’s caused by a potentially dangerous ridge of sharp rock which is alternately buried, bypassed or passed over by the river as it changes course over the years. It always makes me nervous, and this trip was no exception. This year, the river drops precipitously and goes around the end of the ridge. Exciting but nothing that will flip a raft. I know people who have taken very cold swims because of that ridge.

Otherwise, this stretch of river has no rapids, and it is often wide and braided. So why the attraction? Partly, it draws me because of the huge mountains which tower over each bank, the Chugach range on the south and the Talkeetna Mountains on the north. And once on the river, the south side — the side away from the Glenn Highway — feels like true wilderness. Very few people float here. And on the far side, there are wild critters, including wolves.

The Matanuska is a big glacial river, so in summer sunshine it roars down the valley, powerful and implacable. I prefer it in fall, when it mellows out, settles down in one channel, and leads me to a sandy campsite, with a view that is beyond compare.

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