Happy River

I joined Shasta Hood, Sarah Heck, and Paul Forward for a 4th of July trip to Happy River in the Alaska Range. Shasta did the logistics work and got us flights for $325 each, flying to Rainy Pass and from Skwentna.

The father/son owners of Rainy Pass Lodge were at the landing strip when we pulled up, and when we were talking about our bear spray the father volunteered, “My bear protection goes bang.” Shasta, a voice major at one point in life, realized after the fact that he should have said, “My bear protection goes Brahms.” Shasta belts out the baritone (bearitone?).

I was really looking forward to the hike over the mountains to reach the put in, a ten mile hike followed by 90 miles on the rivers. The first half was a pleasant ridge walk, and the views from Squaw Peak were awesome: Kichatna Spires, Foraker, Denali, Gerdine.

Sarah Heck, Kichatna Spires
Squaw Peak
Kichatna Spires from Squaw Peak
Patterned Ground

But then the ridge got rockier and we descended a gross snow/scree slope that was close to being really nice snow or scree, but was neither.

Puntilla Valley

It was 9 pm when we put in late on the Puntilla Creek; we wanted to reach the Happy that night. Water was high, and if not, it probably isn’t floatable. The high water flushed out the Happy River boulder gardens too, but the rapids were still fun, class III with 2 or 3 class IV lite.

Happy River Rapids
Paul Forward

When we floated past Rainy Pass we collected our food cache, consisting of beer, smores, and an apple pie. The Happy River had a few sections with steeper gradient and then turned into a very scenic 17-mile canyon with several class III rapids.

Happy River Canyon Camp
Happy River Canyon
Happy River Canyon Bend
Eddy out

The confluence with the Skwentna was marked by a color change and widening of the valley. I had expected the Skwenta to be kind of a bore, but the canyon walls and mountain views were great.

Skwentna River Confluence
Spires in Skwenta River

Shasta buried his ipod speaker in a dry bag for the final float, so we rocked out in style, covering ~6 miles/hour.

Shasta Hood
Skwenta Airstrip

On the flight back to Anchorage the pilot spent some time studying the aviation charts but assured Sarah that he wasn’t lost. We landed at Merrill Field, so Sarah, Shasta, and I walked the 1.5 miles home to Airport Heights. The first person we saw was a friend from the bakery who gave us a delicious lemon tort. Nice welcome home!

"I know where we are"


  1. Wow! Another fantastic trip done and documented in fine style! I’m inspired. My packraft shipped from Alpacka today. Excited about new adventures. The Happy has been on my list for a long time. May happen in August. Tough decision to take my kayak or new packraft, though.

    1. Thanks John! It wouldn’t make much sense to bring the packraft if you fly direct to the put-in, but with our bonus hike, packrafts were the right vessels. The 2014 model paddles really well, it was the first time I’ve been confident that I could run class IV with a loaded boat!

    1. The pattern is a strange marsh feature. The entire area looks that way. It would be pretty slow to travel through!

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