We had warm, dry weather with the Talkeetna gauge (above the RR) reading in the 4500-5000 cfs range -- ideal for packrafting.
Here are the basic stats: six of us in two 206s (Brad, Luc Mehl, JT, Becky King, Tony and me) flew in after work on Friday to Murder Lake and were in our boats by 6 PM.
The paddle down shallow Prairie Creek to the Talkeetna the pilot said takes "rafts" 4-6 hours. We were down in one and a half, camping just upstream of Cache Creek by 8 PM.
A clear but shockingly warm night for October gave way to a cold, frosty morning with ice on our boats, even when we put in a little after 9 AM. By 10:30 AM I'd dropped into the Entrance Exam without studying and failed. Fortunately at the low flows of fall, the Toilet Bowl below Entrance Exam is not flushing ("The Outhouse"?) and I self rescued easily. The others studied their lines and passed with flying colors. They are so good!
The Washboard immediately below offered a variety of lines among exposed boulders. Some good students went right, some diagonaled left, most stayed upright. I went down the middle and swam again! Both swims were due to my limp response to lateral waves tipping me into the beautiful blue water -- not the ugly gray of summer.
Fortunately I wore a layer of wool, two layers of synthetics, and a big, puffy jacket beneath my 15 year old "dry suit". I never shivered nor even felt chilled the whole day.
The third swim was another lateral wave that got me in what seems to be the longest rapid in the Canyon, about an hour below the Entrance-Washboard complex. In between these two "Class IV" rapids was a river-wide hole that got everyone but me and Becky. She styled all the Canyon and swam nothing.
Miraculously I had somehow managed to stay upright in the river-wide hole but failed to get video of the colorful carnage of boats flipping like dominoes. With so many swimmers I had to practice whitewater triage.
My last swim was in a groovy wave train -- one of many that make for exhilarating but stable rides-- that I was running one handed, trying to capture something of the feel of the Talkeetna's biggish water feel (see above).
We camped at Sheep River by 6 PM, off again on Sunday morning at 9:30-ish and out to Talkeetna where we went and ran S. Fork Montana Creek's lower canyon.
For $130 each and gas money to Talkeetna, this had more value than the Happy River.
It's also totally doable in a 12-14 hour day from Murder Lake in packrafts with a small, skilled group. Our group was plenty skilled, but biggish, and wanted to camp, socialize around the fire, and do all that other fun stuff.
Me, I can't wait to run it all in a day.....Thai, maybe this weekend?