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In the summer of 2013, I looked out the window of a 737 and saw a high treeless river valley. An inspection of the map indicated that the name of this lonely river amid the Alaska Range was—the Styx. A possible loop route was conjured, with ever more intriguing titles: Nagishlamina—Skwentna—Styx—Happy back to Skwentna. Roman Dial saw the possibilities too, he even had a name for the proposed route, “Happy Feat.” An Alaska pack raft team had tried it once. Weather foiled their plans.

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Although the loop had never been completed, the Styx had been paddled, in kayaks. The first descenter was Jerry Jakes, who flew his Piper Cub into a gravel bar, soloed the run, and got an airplane shuttle from another pilot. Later, Jakes landed two other paddlers on the Styx. One of them was my friend Susan Negus. That was serendipitous news, because our basecamp for the Styx—Happy loop of 2017 was due to be where else, but at Sue’s Anchorage home.

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After a frustrating wait through foggy un-flyable weather, Austin from Sportsman’s Air got us into the mountains, dropping myself, John Govi, and Joel Griffith at a picture perfect marine blue lake. First step: Up the Nagishlamina.

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We were immediately engulfed in alders. Crashing, stumbling, kneeling, snagging; bear tunnels offered the only route through the low jungle. Emerging onto open moraine, we detoured around the green, following small dirt hills surrounding azure ponds.

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After one last brutal alder bash, our first camp came on a ridge of soft gray lichen. Upstream, a wide valley led to the next glacier, the next moraine, and our next real test.

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