Happy River (Alaska Range)

Twenty years ago Mark Stoppel and I reached Puntilla Lake shod in worn-out boots. We’d started walking from Healy headed for Lake Clark (Mark had started solo near Black Rapids, me with Carl Tobin and Jon Underwood in Menatasta with Mtn Bikes), but decided to bail by floating out the Happy. We were too frightened to do it then. We walked the whole bush-infested Happy Valley and didn’t blow up our Sherpa Packrafts 'till the Skwentna.

Too bad I found out recently. This last Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Brad M, Gordy, Thai and I flew in and out to do the Happy River in packrafts.

We found it’s an ideal river for intermediates who can confidently run Class III+ and want to improve their skills. If you can do Sheep Creek and like it, then get Happy! This water’s for you.

It need not bust your wallet either.

I blogged a bit of it at http://packrafting.blogspot.com/ and will post a YouTuber too.

The vid:

Hey Roman a group of us in IK’S were two days behind you and found a bag of sugar pop cereal and some Bens 100 bug dope by a steep creek on the left. Do you guys always eat like that? lol. What a wonderful place to visit.

Boy, we sure needed that bug dope on the walk out! Wondered where it went…where’d you guys take out?

Yes, that’s great fun creek turning river there.

Who’d you fly in with Mark and from where?

Willow Air, and a friend picked us up in Skwentna in a Air boat.( 340.00 total a person for transportation)
I am going back at higher water, I loved that place.
Honolulu is next when the wa rises.
Sounds like everyone had fun.

it’s the new summer reverse Iditapaddle!

  1. Thursday, Use a wheel plane (like a 206) with 4 people going lean and light to land at Puntilla Lake airstrip (i.e. Rainy Pass Lodge) early in AM. Leave food and shelter for rest of trip to Skwentna here. Follow awesome horse trails to above Sheep Lake (ask Shane at Rainy Pass Lodge for trail beta). ~15-16 miles up there; carry just one overnight worth of food/gear (sleep in cabin/wall tent at Sheep Lake?).

  2. Friday, float Happy (my favorite part – lots of granite boulder gardens) down to Indian Creek and follow good horse trail back to Rainy Pass Lodge to get remainder of gear.

  3. Saturday, paddle down to end of Happy (side trips en route…Glacier Creek?)

  4. Sunday, paddle down to Hayes River (side trips en route)

  5. Monday, paddle to Skwentna

  6. Tuesday, catch mail plane to Anchorage.

This would be nice in the Fall too

I put the map on my blog page as the file size is too big for here…http://packrafting.blogspot.com/

Great looking trip Roman. Looks like a ton of fun. Thanks for posting the youtube vids. Helps break up the work day. :smiley:

Always wanted to walk to Nome in August and beat the dogs by a couple months.

There are a chainsaw and a cordless drill tied to my bike right now, but sooner or later it should be ready to rally again.


A big group of us are planning to do this trip next summer. We want to bring a couple 14 foot rafts or catarafts in addition to some packrafts. Is there enough water/river space on the Happy in July (or ever) to float such large craft? From Sheep Lake? What about lower, say Halfway Lake or from near Puntilla?

Any info much appreciated. Thanks!

Ryan Hickel

Ryan, people do raft the Happy, but the upper third from Sheep Lake is pretty small and tight. I would opt for smaller rafts, such as a Puma or Super Puma. The carry from Sheep Lake to the creek is not bad, but from Puntilla Lake is a major hump. There should be good flow in July.

That cat will come in handy on the upper Happy, so you can straddle rocks. Think of the Little Su above 16 mile, and Sheep Creek mixed together. The gradient is about 100fpm on the upper section around the Indian Ceek vicinity. We ran it at a low medium level, or so, and I thought it was 90 percent class II, with some class III on the upper section. With some wa, the Happy would be a blast, so thats why I’m heading back, with plastic kayaks though. The lower canyon is a treat, as far as scenery goes,and never gets boring.
Have fun.