Coffee River, Alaska Range

Hi there,

I’m fishing for any information about the Coffee River, which flows out of the Coffee glacier and into the Susitna. The satellite images make it look reasonably floatable, but has anyone been on it or know of anyone who has floated it?


I have not floated it but last year I was speaking with Artur Mannix in Talkeetna and he told me that years ago he took a canoe with a motor up the Coffee years ago to attempt the Broken Tooth. So I’m guessing pretty mellow if they got a canoe up the river.

I don’t have first-hand knowledge of the Coffee but I did hear from Tucker Chenoweth and Mik Shain that the Coffee is fairly burly. I believe they came out the Coffee after a ranger patrol in the Ruth Glacier. The Coffee is glacier-fed and probably changes significantly during peak melt.

This river is big time. Call the Talkeetna Ranger Station and ask for Mik or Tuck for specifics, but it is burly. They each tell the story with a “I’d never do it again” tone in their voice!

Hey Chris! Hope the season is treating you well up there!

I did the trip with Tucker and Mik. No way anyone ever motored a canoe up there at any flow. Loads of Class V and VI. But totally doable with a bunch of portages, moderate flows and confidence that you won’t flip: Something I learned on the trip is that a flipped packraft with a heavy backpack in moving water is next to impossible to get to shore while in another packraft. Getting out of my packraft to then swim two packrafts to shore was the only option during one continuous class III-IV section with who knows what around the bend. The other option was waving goodbye to some of the stuff that was going to get us out of the mountains in a comfortable, reasonable way.

The “sea anchor” effect of flipped packrafts with heavy backpacks is another compromise you make when you decide to take a packraft onto a serious river over a hardshell kayak - or even an inflatable kayak. A big, heavy thing tied on top of a floating whitewater craft isn’t good. Rig low is the MO of all river runners. The sea anchor problem can only really be solved if the craft is big enough to tie heavy loads down low - but then you need an inflatable floor so that the floor won’t rip, and you are looking at something more like an inflatable kayak and a lot more weight. So there are loads of choices…hopefully there is a really compelling reason to take a packraft. In our case, the long hike in merited it.

I’d consider a fight onto the Coffee Glacier with a hardshell kayak (or IK) next time. The lower gorge was a long beautiful Class V section which would be great for a kayaker and frustrating and dangerous in a packraft. Portages would be a bit tougher, but there would be fewer, and there would be less equipment as we used in the travel from the Ruth to the terminus of the Coffee.

Here’s a trip report of packrafting the Coffee River of the Alaska Range. Cheers!

Thanks for the information! We scrapped the Coffee River plan for this year and just went climbing, but its great to have a better idea of what is in there and what the river looks like. Certainly enough to chew on for the future.