When it comes to hiking Death Valley canyons, there are many challenging aspects to contend with.  These include hiking in intense heat, not getting lost, climbing difficult dry falls, and taking exposed bypasses.  Now that I have hiked Happy Canyon, I can add another huge obstacle to the list-- trying to hike through impenetrable brush.  When I first began researching and planning a hike of Happy Canyon a few years ago, I had heard about the overgrown brush which made progress up the canyon difficult.  But I never could have imagined that it would be as thick and difficult to get through as it proved to be.  The brush literally chokes the canyon from wall to wall much of the time.  There are four springs in Lower Happy Canyon that we spent most of an entire day trying to work our way through.  The 1st spring is particularly beautiful because of its majestic waterfalls and cascades and is easy to hike for the most part.  The 2nd through 4th springs get progressively harder and nastier to pass through.  The biggest problem is that many times there is no pathway (or even semblance of a pathway) through the overgrown brush.  It's simply a matter of fighting your way through by breaking branches, pushing forward with lots of energy, backtracking and trying another route when the brush gets too thick, and accepting the bruises and cuts which are inevitable.  If you had seen our sliced and bloodied arms, legs, and faces after we finally made it through all the hard parts, you would have thought we had just been in a knife fight with a rival gang.  Another problem is that many times there is no way to bypass the brush on either of the surrounding hillsides.  The bypasses we did use were very creative and involved climbing up higher than normal.

Many of you who are reading this have hiked up the legendary and beautiful neighboring Surprise Canyon at one time or another.  To give an accurate comparison, Happy Canyon is literally about 50 times harder to hike up than Surprise Canyon. Happy Canyon makes Surprise Canyon look like a walk in the park.  As a group, we later agreed that this would be the one and only time that we would ever hike up Lower Happy Canyon.  It's a once in a lifetime kind of experience.  We hiked up Happy Canyon as the 1st day of our 4 day backpacking trip, which went up Happy Canyon, crossed over to the Happy-Surprise Ridge, dropped down to the mines and Panamint City, and finally continued down and out Surprise Canyon.  This report covers the 1st day of our trip, while the report for the Hudson River Mine covers the 2nd and 3rd days.  At the end of the 1st day, we camped outside of the Weston Cabin at the 5th Spring.  Believe it or not, it took us an entire 13 hours to hike only 6 miles up Happy Canyon.  Definitely a record for my all-time slowest hike.  Joining me on this trip were my brother Jim (on his first trip to Death Valley with me) and my friends Ryan and Tobin.  The Google Earth map below shows you our route up Happy Canyon to the spot where we camped at the 5th Spring.
Camping just inside the mouth of Happy Canyon the night before our backpacking trip began:
Wild burros woke us up during the night several times.  In the morning, they were watching us as they climbed a nearby ridge:
Beginning the hike into Happy Canyon by crossing the wilderness barrier:
Flowing water from Happy Canyon Creek shows up almost immediately:
The creek pours over a small ledge right here:
Backpacking up Lower Happy Canyon with the beautiful narrows section just ahead:
It was an early morning on May 5, 2011 as we crossed the creek here.  We wanted to start early because we knew it would be a very hot day:
Coming up on our first obstacle, which was a small waterfall:
Tobin and Ryan are at the top, while Jim is climbing the waterfall on the right:
A close-up of the 1st waterfall of Happy Canyon:
Steve climbing the 1st waterfall with ease.  On this trip, my backpack weighed about 35 pounds (for a 4 day trip), while everyone else's backpacks weighed 60-70 pounds.  It took years of trial and error, but I finally learned how to pack light:
One final look down the 1st waterfall and back around the bend in the canyon during the early part of the narrows:
Heading further up the narrows.  It was all easy going to this point:
Reaching the majestic 2nd waterfall of Happy Canyon:
Jim bypassing the 2nd waterfall on the left side:
The next three pictures show you close-ups of the 2nd waterfall:
Preparing to bypass the 2nd waterfall.  Caution is in order, especially when bypassing it with heavy backpacks:
A small window out into Panamint Valley from above the 2nd waterfall in Happy Canyon:
The narrows section of Happy Canyon continues to be very pretty throughout:
A large tree towers over the wash which starts to become more overgrown:
The cascades section of Happy Canyon Creek begins:
The 3rd waterfall appears up ahead in the midst of the cascades:
The 3rd waterfall also has a unique beauty which rivals Surprise Canyon:
The next two pictures show the 4th and final waterfall of Happy Canyon:
Welcome to the true essence of Happy Canyon, which is thick, overgrown brush:
The super thick brush starts up right past the 4th waterfall and presents immediate challenges:
The brush was literally impenetrable and we desperately began trying to find bypasses around on the hillsides.  In this case, it worked perfectly:
Zooming in on some barrel cactuses lining the hillside:
Looking back down Happy Canyon as we continued working our way through the 1st Spring.  As you can see, it is wall to wall brush with no room for passage:
Moving ahead we had to drop back into the canyon as cliffs surrounded us:
Steve forcing his way through some nightmarish brush:
At one point, our group split up and we tried opposite sides of the canyon since there was no clear route.  In the next two pictures, Tobin spots Steve on the other side of the canyon:
Steve's head pops up here above the brush as he tries his route:
Meanwhile, Ryan and Tobin are way over on the other side trying their route (which looks a bit scary).  There is no right or wrong way, you just have to choose the path you feel comfortable with:
At times, it seemed to be easiest to stay close to where the creek flowed:
Steve looking back down canyon while taking a breather on a hillside:
Once again bypassing the 1st Spring on the hillside.  There was no bypass trail, we had to invent our own:
Finally emerging with great relief from the 1st Spring.  That was quite challenging, but there were much harder parts to come:
In the next two pictures, notice the beautiful yellow flowers in bloom in Happy Canyon:
The break didn't last long, as we soon came face to face with the thick brush of the 2nd Spring:
Again trying to stay out of the brush as much as possible:
But it wasn't always possible.  Here we are backpacking directly through the brush with no help of any kind:
Jim literally crawling under some brush.  Crawling on our hands and knees happened quite a few times during our journey:
We finally reached the old milling camp, where we dropped our packs and took a much deserved break:
An old run-down cabin above the Happy Canyon wash:
Full view of the cabin looking back down at the brush we had just defeated:
Looking across the brush at the milling site.  It literally took us like 30 minutes to cross over the short distance to reach the rest of the ruins:
The building has mostly fallen down but the concrete patio and wooden stairs remain:
A huge storage tank sits among the ruins of the milling site:
The storage tank, fallen building, and metallic hopper all in one picture:
Three pictures of the metallic hopper as it appears today:
Ryan and Tobin checking out the topo map before moving on.  The punishment dished out by the thick brush took a heavy toll on them by the end of the day, but they did an excellent job making it through and pushing on:
The next two pictures show you an overview of the rest of the 2nd Spring above the milling site, before it came to an end:
We came across two adorable chuckwallas who didn't appreciate the invasion of privacy:
Moving on and getting into the 3rd Spring of Happy Canyon:
One of the tricks we sometimes tried to minimize brush contact was to hike close to one of the canyon walls:
The 3rd Spring would give way to the 4th Spring just ahead.  I didn't include a lot of pictures of the 3rd or 4th Springs, because it was too difficult to get good pictures.  We were literally trapped in the brush for hours through here with depleted energy:
Crawling through a portion of the 4th Spring in complete desperation to find a way:
Jim overlooking the final portion of the 4th Spring.  It was a moment of victory and relief when we finally escaped the brush for the last time.  The First Aid kit had to be accessed several times during our hike to tend to some painful and bloody wounds, but now we wouldn't need it any more:
A stone wall in the middle of the wash past the 4th Spring:
Just beyond, a cableway stretches over the wash and up a side canyon:
The cableway is attached to the rock right here:
View as the cable stretches up into the side canyon:
Old machinery just sitting in the wash:
Heading further up Happy Canyon.  The final 2 miles were much easier and more enjoyable to hike, with no bushwhacking necessary:
The next two pictures show how late in the day it was getting, as shadows appeared and sunlight faded:
The first tree in Upper Happy Canyon appears in the wash:
Off in the distance you can see where Happy Canyon splits into the N Fork and S Fork.  The hillside which starts in the middle of the picture and heads right is the divide between the forks:
Sunset in Happy Canyon as Day 1 of our backpacking trip came to a close:
We set up camp outside of Weston Cabin but couldn't find running water, which created some worry among our group.  The next morning, we took three pictures of where we had pitched our tents:
Tobin caught Steve writing in the Log Book so he took a picture:
Steve's entry in the Log Book thanking the caretaker and previous visitors to Weston Camp.  Notice how I wrote about the difficulty of finding running water.  We did eventually find it here, but it required more bushwhacking:
Overview of the 5th Spring of Happy Canyon, with Weston Camp hidden behind it.  To continue with us on our journey, please visit our Trip Report for the Hudson River Mine:
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