Friday, June 17, 2011

Upper Willow Creek

Last weekend I finally got around to running the infamous Upper Willow Creek.

I grew up hearing stories of the nasty/crazy/dangerous/class VI Upper Willow Canyon. For the longest time I had no desire to ever go in there. Before I learned how to roll I saw an old video of people running the canyon and they said that it was the best run in the entire state. I thought that they were crazy. They were paddlers from the Southeastern US and they got to paddle a lot of different rivers through out the year. In another video of theirs I watched them run their kayaks down drops that had more rock than water. At that time, when I was ten, they seamed to be on an unattainable pedestal. The next year I would float around in the raft pointing to all these cascading creeks falling into the U shaped glacial valleys though out Alaska asking my Dad if the crazy kayakers from the video would run those creeks.

The biggest deterrent for me for not wanting to run the creek for so long, was growing up hearing stories of my Dad and his kayaking partners putting on the Upper Willow Canyon by accident and having an epic. As I remember the story, after many rehashes (kayaking stories tend to become their own entity after so many tellings), was that Ken Leary, Doug Blockolsky and my Dad had been traveling around the state on one of their many "fun tours", road trips throughout the state where they would hit up as many rivers as possible. During this fun tour they stopped by Andrew Embick's place in Valdez. Embick at the time was working on the Alaska boating Bible, "Fast & Cold". He told them that Willow Creek, up Willow Fishhook Road, was a really fun Class III run that they should run on their way back to Fairbanks. Sure enough on their trip back to Fairbanks via the Parks Highway they drove up and up and up Willow Fishhook Road to where there was a bridge that crossed Willow Creek. Not knowing any better they put on there to run down to the Parks Highway. After several miles of enjoyable Class III they entered a shear walled granit canyon. They ended up running a drop or two, and portaging their boats waist deep in the water around a nasty sieved boulder drop. Upon regrouping after my Dad got swept around a blind turn upside down and Doug and Ken not knowing if he was swimming or not they decided to climb up the river right side of the canyon to portage. After two miles of bush whacking they descended back into the canyon where it finally mellowed out. After a short distance of paddling they came to a horizon line with a small sandy beach on river left. They got out there to scout, but quickly took one look at a sieved out water fall and promptly left their boats and climbed out of the canyon. They then bush whacked in the dark back to the road, hitting their shins on the guardrail (which is the marker for the regular put in). Mean while my uncle Mom and I (four months old at the time) were waiting in the dark at the supposed take out not knowing what was taking them so long. We all blasted back to Fairbanks, rolling in just in time for Ken, Doug and my Dad, all teachers, to show up to the first inservice in their best boating clothes, picking devil's club out of their hands. Ironically enough the first presentation at the inservice was on dressing for success. They went back with ropes the next weekend to retrieve their boats and paddled the regular Guardrail run.

The next generation of paddlers came along and worked their way up to running Upper Willow Creek. The run started getting run enough that there began to be names for a lot of the drops. To me it was still a fabled place that should be left alone. Slowly after hearing more and more stories and knowing more and more people who had done the run, I began to entertain the idea of doing the run at some point. I set up three rules that I had to meet if I was ever to go in there. First I would go when the water was the right level. From what I had heard it was between 650 and 750 cfs. Secondly I would only go if I had been doing a lot of paddling recently. Finally I would only go with a group that I had paddled with before and that I trusted. For several years I could never get those three things to align.

Finally this spring the stars aligned. This year I was determined to get into the Upper Willow Canyon. I felt like it was a test piece or a stepping block for bigger things. The three rules still applied, but this time the run was always in the back of my mind. I got out to paddle as much as I could. I've been trying to get out and paddle as much as I can, averaging three to four days per week. Last weekend everything came together.

Last week Xavier asked me if I wanted to go with him and Evan down Upper Willow Creek. I jumped at the opportunity. The week before, during the festival, Xavier and JD had asked if I wanted to go in there with them, but after two hard days of paddling and a late night at the bonfire I decided it probably wouldn't be the best idea for my first run down the Upper Canyon. Xavier, JD, and Evan had a mini epic that day after JD got pushed off line in Sieve 57 and partially dislocated his shoulder. They ended up hiking out above Triple Drop.

Xavier, Evan and I had a great day at a good first time level of approximately 620 cfs last Sunday. Upper Willow Creek is now one of my favorite runs. The canyon is flat out amazing with over hung granite canyon walls above your head and dark green swirling pools between amazing rapids. The canyon is definitely committing and demands a lot of respect. It is not a place to have a bad day. There are a lot of undercut walls and boulder sieves, and the rapids can be long and complex. All of the unnamed boggie water between the named drops would be a named rapid on any other run in the state.

I made a short video of our day, but it hardly does the run any justice.

2011 Willow Creek Festival

The Willow Creek Festival has been revived thanks to Susitna Sled & Kayak and Alaska Kayak Academy. The two groups got together and put on a great event! There was a doubles down river race race (two people paddling together looking out for one another as a team) down Guardrail, a singles down river race down Red Gate, a slalom race at Red Gate and a fun event from Red Gate to the take out.

I paired up with my Dad for the doubles race. We came in second, after there was a tie for first between the team of Jeff Shelton and Tim Johnson, and Evan Corral and Paul Forward. In the Red Gate down river race I paddled the Outburst in an attempt to catch Jeff Shelton in a 13 foot racing boat. Despite my best efforts Jeff was able to hold me off by 12 seconds and Tim came in third thirteen seconds behind me. The slalom race was really close with Evan taking the honors in the kayak event. A few more packrafters showed up for the slalom race and I squeaked past Luc Mehl for the packraft slalom win.

Jim at Alaska Kayak Academy put on a really fun event at the end of the festival where four teams of three had to race a beach ball from the bottom of the slalom course to the Red Gate takeout by only touching the ball with their boats and paddles. The event quickly turned into an all out rally where teams were trying to stop other team's beach ball from reaching the take out. I'm sad to report that one beach ball did not survive.

All in all it was an amazing event and I'm looking forward to going to this event for years to come! Thanks to everyone who made it happen!

I made a short video of the event. It was really hard to get the whole weekend crammed into about four minutes.

Be sure to watch the video in 720p.

Friday, June 3, 2011


Despite the late cold temperatures and small snow pack the runs North of Anchorage are going off. Montana Creek has had higher, more sustained levels that I have seen in a while. Willow Creek had levels over 1,000 cfs, which brought back the play hole. It was the first time the hole has been seen since the fall flooding of 2006. Despite popular belief the Little Susitna and Archangel Creek flowed this year and it wasn't just managable, there was high water. Last Friday I met up with John, Tyson, JD, Xavier, and Ben for a high water run of the Lil' Su. Check it out:

Despite cooler temperatures the waters have been staying up there. I'm off tonight for some more great action on the Lil' Su, then heading up to Willow Creek for the resurrection of the Willow Festival. Hope to see you out there!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

First Run of 2011

The consensus is in... last weekend's boating was an adventure. The water was cold, the ice bridges many, and the company was good. Roman put together a fun video of last years season opener, I figured it was my turn. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Season Opener....?

If last weekend was a send off for winter, this weekend was the kick off for summer.

When I finally made it back to a computer after running around in the mountains I had to check the USGS gage for Sixmile Creek. The weather had been warm and the sun was beating down and it was about time for the creek to open up. As it turned out there was enough sun last weekend for the river to start a rising diurnal trend. Later in the week I talked to some people that had been down to the gage and they reported that the channel was open and that there was shore ice along the banks. Sounded like a good adventure.

Yesterday I met up with Timmy, Jorge, Jeff, Johnny, Roman, Travis and Brian for a season first descent. With rain pouring down on the Kenai Peninsula and the snow quickly retreating from the pullouts in Turnagain Pass, it was a perfect day to get wet on the water.

After scouting The Nozzle and Suck Hole from the road we headed up to The Elbows to put on the river. Second Canyon looked good to go, but there were two big ice bridges in the Suck Hole stretch, one upstream of Suck Hole and one in Zig Zag. We had a feeling we were in for quite a day of portaging and scouting.

There were no ice bridges in second canyon, although there were some ice selfs creating for an interesting run of The Anvil. Jorge and Brian bailed after Second Canyon due to recent surgeries and confidence and Johnny, Timmy, Jeff, Travis, Roman and I headed down into Third Canyon.

There was a lot of ice still left in Third Canyon which made for slow going, lots of scouting, portaging and large seal launches. There were approximately six portages due to ice bridges. It was really cool to be on what was essentially a new river. The channel was different due to the ice shelves and it was changing as we were on the water. At one point as we were getting out to portage a seventh ice bridge and it broke before our eyes and we were able to boogie under it before it decided to collapse for good. After nearly 5.5 hours on the water, probably the longest run any of us have had on Sixmile, we were back at the cars celebrating the first run of the season with some snow chilled beers.

Roman was out paddling the new alpacka design, and has a good write up on the trip and how the new boat handles on his blog. I've got one on the way and after watching Roman paddle the Llama with no thigh straps yesterday I can't wait to get mine. His lines looked clean and effortless, and he was able to make some surfing ferries in the new boat. It looked like the new alpacka held some speed and an edge and behaved more like a kayak than in inner-tube. I'm stoked to get in mine!

It will probably be another two weeks before Sixmile is good to go.

A video is on its way at some point. In the meantime enjoy the pictures.


After two days of post work skiing at Highland and two big days last Saturday and Sunday I was looking forward to sitting at the desk and going to work last Monday. But after a call the Sunday evening before work, I couldn't pass up another opportunity to go skiing. Instead of going to work I headed south of Anchorage to the Portage Valley with Jeff, Najeeby, Paige and Allen to ski Byron peak. The conditions were perfect and some other friends had laid down a route over the glacier where we wouldn't have to rope up. It was too good to pass up.

The day started off really windy and we were worried that on our easy tour on the ridge to the peak we were going to get hammered by the wind. I was a little bummed that I might not get to skin in my shorts that I wore under my shell pants. But as we hit the ridge the winds died down and I could break out my shorts.

After four days of skiing I wasn't sure I was ready for the steep roll over to ski the face from the top so I opted to ski down the skin track and enter the face a little lower and watch Jeff and Paige ski the slope. Next time. The snow was perfect on the decent. There was enough tension in the snow to keep it from sloughing, but it was still nice, soft powder. All in all it was an amazing day with great people. The last few days had been the perfect send off for winter.

Here's a slide show of some pictures from the trip. Be sure to watch it in 1080p for the highest resolution. If you would like a copy of one of these pictures please contact me and we can work something out.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ram Valley

Little did I know that after skiing the S Couloir I would be doing more of the same the next day.

The evening after skiing the S Couloir I headed up with some friends to a party at the base of Ram Valley in Eagle River. After hanging out at the bonfire for most of the night, we woke up, cleaned up the mess, and headed over the ridge to Ram Valley. Once we made it up into the valley there were all sorts of lines to ski all over the place. A little tired and worn out, I was wondering what we were going to ski. I was thinking we would ski some mellow line in the sun on the south side of the valley since we had a group of six people tired from the party. Nope. Turned out we were heading for the proudest line you could see once you entered the valley, a corkscrewing couloir on the north side of the mountain.

Once we got to the base, half the crew turned around and headed back. Graham, Neil and I continued on. I was nervous; I had only done something like this one other time, and that was the day before. I liked skiing the S Couloir it and wanted to do more skiing like that. I felt that I was with a good group and that if at any point I was too nervous I could stop and ski from there.

No one in the group had been up that route so we started boot packing and trying to figure it out on the fly. We ended up putting our skis on before topping out because the couloir pinched to shoulder width appart and the snow was getting icy. Needless to say, there wasn't going to be much skiing (if at all) above where we stopped, and we were ill equipped for what lay ahead. We were equipped for the ride out. The skiing was a bit chossier than in the S Couloir, but there were still some good patches of powder to be had.

The Corkscrew Couloir that we skied last Sunday was probably the hardest ski that I've done, but I loved it and want to do more of that type of skiing. It combines everything I like about climbing, the places you go and the sights you see, with the fun of skiing. I'm finally getting enough experience to find the same adventures in the winter as I can in the summer when kayaking. I've got a long ways to go, but bring it on.

Neil and Graham booting up the left couloir

Graham making the first turn

Graham heading out with the line we skied in the background

The line we skied in Ram Valley

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

S Couloir

Last week Bryan proposed the idea of heading out to the S Couloir on Ptarmigan Peak. It seemed like the stability and weather was going to be good, and that there was going to be enough snow. I hadn't ever felt like I could ski the S Couloir because it was a big steep don't fall line. But this winter I have been getting out and skiing a lot and I've been feeling really confident on my skis. Despite that I still borrowed a friend's whippet (a ski pole with an ice axe on the top for self arresting) so that if I fell I wouldn't go sliding over the cliffs at the bottom.

So last Saturday Bryan, Ian, Danielle and I meet up at the Glenn Alps trail head and skied up Powerline Pass to the North face of Ptarmigan Peak. After driving across Anchorage to one of the most popular trail heads and skiing for 75 minutes to the base of the S Couloir we were blown away to find out that we were the first ones to go out there to ski since the last snow fall; the couloir was completely untracked. As it turned out the powder was perfectly consistant from the top to the bottom. It was some of the best skiing I've had this season, and definitely the best run I've ever done.

To top everything off Bryan, Ian and I went back to their place, carried the couch out onto the deck and lounged on the deck drinking Coronas and eating halibut fajitas. It was the perfect spring day.

Monday, April 18, 2011


Spring is in full swing. The days are long, the sun is warm, and the skiing is good. Last Thursday Adrian and I had to get out of dusty, grungy spring Anchorage and make some turns in the mountains. Rather than going out to Peak 3 like half of Anchorage, we decided to head North of town to the South Fork of Eagle River. The lighting was amazing and the powder was good. Rather than being completely tracked out and turning to moguls, the snow was well farmed and there was still plenty of good skiing to be had. That evening reminded me of all the good times I had learning to tele ski with all my old friends and team mates from UAA. That bowl brings back good memories. Here's a little video I made of our ski day last Thursday. Be sure to watch it in 1080p.

The skiing and lighting was so good Adrain and I had to head back out there on Friday with Bryan. I brought my SLR the second time around because the lighting and moon was so amazing. Those first two evenings out were the start an amazing 5 days of skiing. More is on the way!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Help a friend in need

A friend and ex-coach of mine, Ira Edwards, had a horrible accident this last fall. While out cutting trees for trail maintenance a tree fell on him and broke his back and shoulders. Ira went out of state for medical help and is slowly gaining some strength back in his shoulders and legs, but he still doesn't have motor function below his knees. Recently he has returned to Alaska and has been looking into adaptive sport equipment. Ira is an incredibly active guy and is a passionate cross country skier, tele skier, kite skier, and biker. As it turns out adaptive sport equipment is incredibly expensive, high end gear cost more than $10,000. After selling his classic skis and bikes he has enough for a nordic sit ski, but alpine sit skis and hand cycles are way out of reach (coming in anywhere from $6-9k). Ira has a pay-pal account at,, and any donation you can afford would greatly help Ira get back out there and enjoy the things he loves.

Thanks for the help!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Spring Time

I got out today for an amazing sunny ski. With 6 to 8 inches of new snow it was really nice to get out and play in the sunshine. It was so warm some of us were skinning up shirtless. Hopefully it will be a similar day tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Pastoral - The Rest of the Story

Here are the rest of the photos from our day out at Pastoral. It was a pretty good day. We got to ski some good corn snow down Santa Claus Chute on the side of Pastoral. The weather has been tempting to snow. It had better make up its mind; it either needs to be sunny or dump so that we can get some softer snow.

Monday, March 21, 2011


Last weekend I went out to Pastoral for a tour. Here are a few shots from Saturday that I've done up already, that I'm pretty excited about. There are more to come.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


I hadn't really done any alpine climbing before this last week. I've done some ice climbing and hiked up a few mountains, but nothing like last week.

With the clear days and lack of powder, Adrian, Bryan and I decided to go climb Mount Yukla during their spring break instead of doing a ski traverse. Mount Yukla (61 11' 26.23"N, 149 6' 45.58"W) is a 7,535 foot peak in the Chugach Mountains sharing the Eagle River valley with Polar Bear and Eagle Peaks. After racing the Tour of Anchorage the three of us packed up and drove 40 minutes north of town to the Eagle River Nature Center and started hiking. It took us 8 hours to hike into the toe of the glacier below the northwest face of Yukla. It was easy going until the last quarter mile where we encountered waist deep snow. It probably took us a solid two hours to make the last half mile to camp. Our base camp was an awesome bivy under a large boulder. The space under the boulder has been flattened out after years of climbers heading up to Yukla to attempt different routes.

The next day we rested up after racing the tour and busting trail into the peak and checked out the route. The route we were planning on climbing, "Positive Side of Negative", was a little too thin. It is probably doable, but we didn't feel like we could get the three of us up in in a timely manner. The pictures and reports we had heard of was that the Positive Side of Negative was a pretty fat 1,000 foot ice ice route with the hardest pitches being WI 4. That wasn't the case last week. It looked like 1,000 feet of thin ice and mixed climbing. Doable, but a little stressful. The next couloir up the glacier looked a lot better. It was 1,000 feet of snow climbing.

The next day we rose early to pulsating northern lights from the summit of Yukla. We reached the base of the climb right as the sun rose over the horizon and started to head up. The climbing wasn't very hard. It was steep snow with some firm and some sugary spots. The toughest part was finding a decent place for anchors an pro. At best Bryan could get in one piece every rope length and a just manage to get can anchor in some sketchy looking joint set. We topped out and headed up to the peak with clear skies, no wind, and warm sunshine. From the top we could see almost all of the major peaks in the Chugach, the Kenai Mountains, the Aleutian and Alaska Ranges including Augustine, Denali and Foraker. As we descended, the light turned golden and shone right up the glacer completing an amazing day.

The next day we slept in and hiked back out the the Nature Center and headed straight to Pizza Man to cap off the trip with a schooner of beer.

More pictures are available here.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Playing in the Snow

It took a little while to get to these pictures. The shots were pretty good, but I couldn't figure out what the object was in the shot or how to really get the object to pop. It finally clicked that the really big thing that day was the blower powder. All the other times I whipped out my camera to take shots it was because the light was amazing. The light was pretty good this time, but it wasn't the driving factor for taking the pictures. I wanted to capture my friends having a blast in the amazing snow.

I think that Karl's expression sums up the day!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


I started Twitter account. You can follow me @p_schauer. We'll see how long I keep it up. I figured I would try it out and see what it was all about.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Golden Hour

One of my favorite things about Alaska is all of the low angle light. Here are a few pictures from last weekend's excursion.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


I found these pictures (courtesy of Endless Adventure International's Facebook Photos) of what appears to be an alpacka product, but it looks more like a "packayak" than a packraft. Anyone know what it is, how it paddles/rolls, and where I can get my hands on one?

After doing a little research it looks like alpacka redid the line and have extended the stern's by 11" on all the models and made the bow pointier, but they are still working on the whitewater packraft. So I guess my real question is if this is one of the new alpackas with the extra 11" or a whitewater prototype? Either way it looks pretty sweet.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Secret Stash

After a dry spell in my BC skiing, I was pretty stoked to get out for three days this weekend. Although temperatures have been hanging around -10 F at the ridge tops, the hardy few that have been getting out there have been treated to empty slopes. On Saturday I got out with Jeff, and Ian for a day at Lipps where we only saw one other group of two. The skiing was pretty good considering we haven't had snow for a little while.

On Sunday I got out with Rob for an epic day! We got an early start and skied 4 laps, totaling 6,600 vertical feet of skiing. 5,500 feet of that was nice powder! We were even able to get back to Anchorage by 5pm so that I could work up my first video from my GoPro.

I went back out today to the secret stash that Rob and I hit up on Sunday and did three more laps with Karl, Jeff, and Andy. After a 10 lap, 14,000 foot weekend in the back country I'm worked. Time to recover for the next weekend.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A New Year, a New Adventure

2011 is here, and we are on to a new adventure. I've got a few goals for this next year. First of all I recently acquired a GoPro Helmet cam so I want to get up to par with taking video and really share my adventures with everyone. With the lack of kayaking footage coming out of Alaska, I really want to get some more out there. I've also got a big list of rivers I want to run this year including: Disappointment Creek (in a kayak), the Tiekel, the Kiagna, the Nellie Juan, Upper Willow (I've really got to get in there this year), and last but not least Devil's Canyon. I've also got a couple true first descents picked out for a packraft (no more of this first packraft descent stuff, time for the real deal). I can't possibly invision how else to get into these creeks than one hell of a hike. We'll just have to see what happens. I'll be lucky to get all of that done.

Here are a few parting shots from the last month of the old year.