Lakina River

A group of four of us recently packrafted a classic route in the Wrangells that we’ve dubbed “Lacking? Nah!” for the superb variety, spectacular terrain, and fun boating.

The route starts at Kennicott, crosses the Root and Kennicott glaciers, enters Hidden Creek valley, climbs to the pass at the head of Hidden Creek and descends to the snout of the Lakina Glacier. You can then boat the Lakina River immediately downstream of the glacier for approximately 20 miles to the McCarthy Road and finish the trip by hitching or riding a bike back to McCarthy.

The walking on the glaciers is generally fantastic on the white ribbons of clean ice, though there are 13 lateral moraines to scramble through and over. We made the crossing without the use of crampons, but you might need them if there have been recent heavy rains. When crossing from the Root to the Kennicott, avoid the temptation to aim for the toe of Donahoe, instead swinging west through several lateral moraines to find another ribbon of clean ice on the glacier-left side of the Kennicott.

You’ll want to walk up the Kennicott until you are nearly past the Hidden Creek valley before swinging west over a series of lateral moraines. You can’t enter Hidden Creek valley directly but instead have to climb up onto the north side of the valley above Hidden Creek Lake. There is a footpath that starts at a low point on the “fos” of the lateral moraine of the Kennicott.

The other tricky spot is the descent from the pass down into the Lakina. Stay to the hiker’s-left side of the valley and try to pick up a footpath that descends along the north-facing slopes. The going gets particularly tricky as you reach a series of rocky ledges but there are several possible ways through.

The boating on the Lakina starts off with some fast Class III action for approximately a mile and then mellows into multiple braided channels. Downstream of Mill Creek the valley narrows and the creek merges into a single channel with lots of fun Class II and III drops for almost 10 miles. Further downstream, evidence of the 2006 flood begins to appear and you have to keep an eye out for strainers and sweepers. The total boating distance from the toe of the Lakina glacier to the McCarthy Road is roughly 20 miles that can be covered in 5 - 7 hours depending on the party.

The whole trip can be done in two days, but take at least three to enjoy the scenery.

Just returned from the Lakina. Fantastic trip and everything about Brad’s write-up is spot on. Water level was bank full in the single thread portions of the float. This is about as high as the water gets during the glacial melt peak and the difficulty was still II and III. Most of the difficulty is just spotting and weaving around pour overs and no real distinct drops. There was one tree to walk around in the lower section. Float time was 5:12 at this stage with plenty of breaks to dump and stretch.

Ran the Lakina this weekend. I was wondering whose fresh boot prints I saw. The route was pretty straight forward. I only had some minor route finding which is to be expected. The Lakina was rowdy and you really need to be on top of your game given the remoteness. Don’t think I would do this again alone.


I ran the Lakina behind you guys, starting on Sunday 7/31 and finnishing 8/2, same float time as Jeff. It rained the whole time I was out and I was worried the river would be a little higher than I signed on for but it turned out to be a blast, I couldn’t find a partner for my time frame so I went solo without regrets, let me know if you are ever looking for partners. really awesome trip.

Cody A

Here is video, photos, and beta from a September run on the Lakina:


Our group of seven completed the “Lakina Loop” July 4-6, 2013. Here’s the scoop:

We hiked the Root Glacier trail to the glacier, crossed the initial moraine and headed NW towards the forest south of Donoho on white ice. Shortly before the southern tip of the forest we headed west, crossing gravel-ice moraines towards the nearest long strip of white ice that runs SE-NW. We followed the white ice strip for awhile, but when it became jumbled we found easier walking on a broad, flat gravel-ice moraine between two of the long white ice strips. We followed this NW for a couple miles then got back on the white ice for another couple miles until we were slightly N of the mouth of the Hidden Creek drainage. We headed west from there, following the path of least resistance through the jumbled, gravel-ice, to the bench (fosse) a couple hundred feet above and parallel to the Kennicott’s lateral moraine. While getting to this bench appears steep with loose rock from a distance, there’s a relatively mellow, semi-vegetated ramp onto the bench that deposits you on the faint game trail that will take you south, up, then west (above the cliffs on the north side of the Hidden Creek valley entrance), and down into Hidden Creek. Other than some minor scrambling and bushwhacking, it’s a straightforward route into Hidden Creek valley once you’ve found this trail.

Once in Hidden Creek we followed the stream, taking the path of least resistance, towards the pass above the terraced lakes. There were numerous stream crossings, very manageable even with the relative high water of our trip. There are some short canyon sections that I’m sure are easily walked through later in the season but are currently still choked with snow (DEEP from avy debris), necessitating some side-hilling earlier than anticipated. Further up valley we were able to walk on deep snow that filled in the creek bed until the upper canyon. We side-hilled on some easy-walking tundra on the south side of the valley until above the (always?) un-walkable canyon, after which we again followed snow covering the creek bed all the way up to the pass.

From the pass we again took the path of least resistance down through the terraced lakes. At the fourth lake, the large lower one, we easily spotted the sheep trail on the west side of the valley that we followed down to the cliffs. The trails lead to and peters out in a steep, cliffy, gully (just west of the creek) which we scrambled down and again found the trail. The trails heads west from here into and above more cliffs, but from this point you can see the Lakina glacier and river. We followed a manageable, but very sketchy route down through the cliffs. In hindsight, it would be much better to follow the mellow open scree slopes to the east of the cliffs that you come across very shortly after the gully descent (it’s obvious - don’t keep following the sheep trail). Either way takes you to the toe of the Lakina.

Water was high enough for us to float from the headwaters, right at the toe of the glacier. You get a very short warmup, immediately followed by an intense but short stretch of shallow rocky rapids (Class 3+). Things then mellow out as the river braids (Class 2-). It stays pretty mellow until the river converges into one channel, with a significant increase in flow and volume (Class 2+ to 3- with some short sections up to 3+ for several hours). Within a few miles from the Lakina bridge the river mellows back to Class 2 , but there were a lot of wood obstacles to keep our attention.

The float took us a lot more time than expected (~10 hrs) to due the large group size, high water, and general rowdiness that had us frequently dumping boats with some scouting, numerous swims, and rescues of individuals and equipment.

At the water level we ran it, I’d say throw ropes and dry suits are a necessity. Kahtoolas or Ice-trekkers are also very helpful for the glacier travel.

Looking back across the Root glacier:

At the Root/Kennicott confluence, scoping our route to the white ice strip faintly visible in the distance:

On the bench above the Kennicott’s lateral moraine (striated W face of Donoho in the distance):

The crew arriving at the lower terraced lake:

Dinner at the lower terraced lake:

View of the Lakina glacier shortly after getting on the sheep trail:

The crew shortly after getting on the sheep trail:

Descending the steep gully:

Descending the cliffs:

The put-in:

According to Embick, at least, the Lakina is floatable to the Chitina from below the road bridge at comparable difficulty to the section above the bridge. Would be cool to go from McCarthy to Chitina via this route.

I was on the previously mentioned trip. A few things to mention having done the trip once before a few years earlier :

When exiting the glacier onto the “Fos” it may be easier to go further up the moraine about a quarter mile or so to find an easier entrance slope than attacking the slope directly below the game trail that takes over the shoulder of the ridge. With a group larger than three you end up spending more time climbing one at a time and getting spread out on a sketchy slope due to knocking rocks down on each other. Probably faster to attack it directly when in a group of two or three with lighter packs and you are definitely ready to be done with walking over endless piles of loose rock at that point. I took light weight crampons and only used them briefly but they enabled us to walk a straighter line to the entrance of Hidden Valley. You could get away with the simplest of traction devices or nothing at all if you look around a bit for mellower ice. I really appreciated my full length gaitors the entire time (keeps the pebbles out and the shoe laces tied).

When you reach the mandatory “goat trail” that takes you down to the head of the Lakina if you try to descend to the valley floor immediately when reaching the bench at the bottom of the scree gully it looked like there was a much better descent route than the one we took. It seems like continuing down the valley on the bench and then descend is the obvious route but it appeared that when looking back up at it that an immediate descent would have been easier ( I think ). Maybe poke around a little bit.

The level of the Kennicot River was 20.89 the day we ran the Lakina. I would say there are three mandatory portages down low on the Lakina due to wood. We only portaged one but the ones that we didn’t walk around led to several swims and time consuming gear retrieval (some of it quite sketchy and mosquito infested) I have never used my throw rope as much as I did on this trip. The upper Lakina was floatable but bumpy with slightly rowdy water, if your boat goes for a swim on its own its not gonna stop for a while. If I were to do it over I would have walked to at least where Mill Creek dumps in (easy walking on river left or right). It was not a good warm up section. Once we got to the single channel floating the action was enjoyable. At our water levels (bank full on the Lakina) the difficulty was sustained PR 2-3 with one crux rapid that I would call PR 4. Some of our group ran it and others easily portaged it on river right, it does go clean if you stick the turns, you’ll see it coming and you can stage a person on one of the boulders with a throw rope before the first person goes.

The river is definitely worth the walk and the walk is definitely worth the river. 99.9% of it is “read and run”, scout the wood and the really big boulders if you’re not super confident in your ability. I would compare the difficulty to Sheep Creek(minus the giardia and bears but including the angry moose mother and child) at medium high levels the day we ran it.

2019 Update…
Just got back from a quick overnighter on the Lakina loop over solstice weekend;

We crossed the Root Glacier and accessed a trail to the Donoho lakes via a steep scree slope. This trail follows the northeast side of the first two lakes then disappears. From there we followed a nice drainage to a small upper lake that provides access to the Kennicott Glacier (little to no bushwhacking). Both Root and Kennicott were crossed without spikes, I don’t recommend this unless you know what you’re doing because there’s some slippery supraglacial streams we jumped across that eventually flow into moulins… Hidden Valley is still best accessed by a slightly lower gradient scree slope ¼ mile north, up the moraine from the valley. At the top of the scree slope there is a nice game trail leading over and into hidden valley. After the first two miles in Hidden Valley we had some moderate side-hilling due to high water and swift currents. After the last large creek flowing in from the north we walked up the snow covered creek to the waterfall/canyon section. From there we climbed the southern avalanche chute up to a series of benches and traveled easily over into the upper alpine terrain of hidden valley. At the pass we dropped down past two large lakes and followed the game trail on the left-hand side of the valley over to the scree gully. After the gully we followed the game trail another 800ft then dropped down to the valley floor.

We put in 150 ft from the glacier. The Kennicott River was at approximately 6000cfs. This was a perfect level to cover all the upper boulders and provide enough water to float through the braided section, the lower meandering section was bank full with some over topping. The first 2 miles is fun continuous PR class 2-3, This would not be a fun section to swim due to all the boulders and lack of recovery eddies. This is followed by a 5 mile braided section. The first 7 miles in the meandering channel are busy with lots of PR class 2+ (mostly dodging packraft flipping holes). We didn’t find any wood blocking the channel when we floated it. The last 8 miles are PR 1&2, the main channel didn’t have any river-wide strainers but a lot of the side channels did… stay in the main channel. The 22 mile float from glacier to bridge took 4 hours with frequent stops so my friend could pour all the water out of his packraft & re-patch an old hole (whitewater decks are a game changer). The 15 mile bike ride back to McCarthy took less than an hour and was mostly downhill!

Just got back from a Lakina trip, the Kennicott was running 10,000 CFS and all of the rivers including the Lakina were super high, bankful and then some. The canyon section was big fast glacial class 3 with a couple of class 4 drops. Even at this high water eddies were still present and made scouting possible in this section The most technical drop has a huge rock river left that has a large log between it and the river left bank that must be avoided. Below the canyon it was fast, very few eddies, bankful and enough wood that it was a pretty stressful run. Like previous post didn’t see any cross river wood in the main channel but several spots in the side channels had cross river wood. In my opinion this section didn’t feel safe at this level, wouldn’t go back for a second go at that section until water levels drop.

Ran this course August 1-3.

Nothing really to note that has not already been noted. It took us maybe 30 hours of hiking and about 4 hours of paddling. River was action stage and at high water mark. I’d say at most it was class III. Some wood, alot of rocks, nothing terrible unless you lose your boat or something silly like that.

Here is a video guide in case pictures are better than words.