In remote northwest BC, in Tahltan territory, lies the Iskut River. The Iskut is the largest tributary of the Stikine, joining it near the BC/Alaska border. Far upstream in the headwaters, the Iskut has a fantastic 2-3 day overnighter packed full of class 4-5 whitewater in a canyon with geology reminiscent of the Stikine itself. This may look like a roadside section but be warned it has taken groups days to hike out after encountering difficulties. The whitewater section ends right where the Iskut makes a turn to the west to cut through the Coast Mountains and there is no easy access to where you need to get out of the river (unless you want to paddle to Alaska). Do not let this put you off - the trip is well worth the effort for its great whitewater and awesome camping along the river.
Level and Gauge
Crews generally paddle this section when the Stikine is a bit high (400-600 cms). While the Iskut has an online gauge, it’s 100 km downstream and below multiple significant tributaries so it’s not very accurate for this section. There is however a convenient gauge rock. On hwy 37 a couple of hundred meters north of Burrage Creek there is a pull-out spot that looks out over the river where you can see an obvious gauge rock in the middle of the current (see photo below). The photo shows an ideal medium flow. If water is lapping over the rock, then the section is high. If the rock is covered, the section is too high. The lower section from Burrage Creek down can handle more water than Willow Creek to Burrage Creek.
The one unfortunate component of this trip is access to the takeout. The road to the takeout is also the road to the Forest Kerr IPP, which is gated. The gate is 2 km from the highway. The walk from the take out bridge to this gate is 5 km of dirt road. On top this is, this bridge is over the Ningunsaw River approximately 3 km above its confluence with the Iskut meaning you have to walk up the Ningunsaw from the confluence to reach the ‘take out’ bridge. Despite the fact that the road is gated, it passes through crown land and we have been told by the BC Government that we are allowed to walk this road.
To reach the takeout get on hwy 37 and head north. After reaching the Bell II lodge and gas station continue north for 45 km. Take the left signposted ‘Alta Gas NorthWest Projects’. Continue down this road for 2 km to the gate. Park out of the way.
Burrage Creek can be used as a takeout for the upper portion of this run. The hwy bridge over Burrage Creek is 83 km north of Bell II. There is a pullout spot just before the creek on the right. Walk up the Burrage to the highway.
105 km North of Bell II is the Willow Creek FSR. 500 m after driving over Willow Creek take a left. Drive for 3 km until you reach the bridge over the Iskut. Park out of the way.
The whitewater on the Iskut offers good variety with miles of nice read and run connecting the dots between a dozen or so rapids and sections of solid class IV-V. Much of the river is in a canyon, and while you can scout everything the portage options in some areas are tough. The best way to break up this run would be to paddle from Willow Creek to Burrage Creek on day 1 (short day), Burrage to below the whitewater on day 2 (excellent camping) and then deal with the exit on day 3. It’s possible to paddle from Burrage all the way down and hike out in one long day if you’re pressed for time.
From the Willow Creek put in the river is wide open and the scenery is amazing. There is about 10 km of flatwater before reaching the first rapids. This first day down to Burrage Creek is mainly a series of short, sheer canyons and one notable class V rapid. You quickly enter the main canyon below Burrage Creek so you’ll want to try and find a campsite at or very near the confluence of the Iskut and the Burrage.
The second day of whitewater is the best one. There’s a fair bit to consider – scout and/or portage as necessary. Everything is runnable, though there is one enormous hole that is likely only favorable at low water. The big rapids are all obvious, and remember that the crumbly canyon wall on this river mean the rapids can and do change over the years. Once the rapids fade away it’s a fairly long slog to the Ningunsaw confluence, but there are many good campsites if you’re doing a 3 day.