May 31, 2012

First Swim

So the first time I swam in my packraft, I got stuck upside down 50 feet from our put-in on the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River. In my panic to avoid drowning, I flailed at my spray skirt, firmly velcroed in what turns out to be a very efficient design. The velcro wouldn't give, and i didn't know how to right myself. I paddled in a mostly likely ridiculous manner towards my friend Jon's kayak, my head above water only by my ability to arch my back out of the the upside-down boat to keep my head above water (thanks yoga!). 
Once I reached his kayak I had a moment to locate the spray skirt release point and I swam out of the boat into the big calm pool beneath the first rapid of the day. The first rapid that Kirk had suggested I walk around. 
"No, it's ok, I got it," I said and promptly dumped at the end of the wave train. It took me a while to get over my jitters and the "I don't want to die" feeling while back in the boat and successfully navigating the rest of the river. 

My fear of water has a lot to do with the fact that when stressed, I freeze. When you are underwater and need to react or not breath, this turns into a serious situation, and I become more stressed. While backpacking my stressful times don't seem to happen with quite the seriousness or the frequency. Boaters definitely flirt with disaster more than hikers.

I'm going to spend some time with my spray skirt partially open, just until I know where that handle is.

May 30, 2012

What is a packraft anyway?

There are a few good websites out there that trace the evolution of the packraft. According to the folks at Alpacka Raft, packrafting can be loosely defined as "boating with a small packable boat that can be carried easily to wherever you want to use it."

Pretty simple!

The folks at have a pretty extensive history of the packraft beginning with Lieutenant Peter Halkett of the Royal Navy in 1844. 20 years after the invention of waterproof fabrics, Halkett introduced the "Cloth-Boat" that could also be worn as a cloak. Fast forward to 2000, and the modern packraft as we know it begins to take shape and can actually be used in moving water with some control. (check out the above links for more info)

Alpacka Rafts has been setting the bar high with their recent design by changing the bow and stern shape from the traditionally oval boat. This improvement has allowed river runners to actually run the rivers, waterfalls and navigate with much more control.

So light, so amazing
The Alpacka Denali Llama are the boats we decided to choose, there are several other brands and sizes, but Alpacka has the best boats (in our humble opinion). With the larger Llama, we will be able pack some gear inside the boat under the skirt/deck, and also move the seats forward.

The boats are not designed to roll, but with some modifications Kirk and others have been making, rolling is now possible and makes this little boat about six pounds and able to go down almost anything!

May 29, 2012

North Fork of the Crooked River - May 29 - Part 4

Waking up to some of Trader Joe's finest instant coffee

We woke up to the sun warming the side of our tent, and rolled out for the last round of coffee. Today the plan was to put on the river from camp and float back to where we had scouted the first day and then hike back up to the car. When I mentioned the only problem with the plan was that the float was too short, Kirk offered to hike up to the car and meet me where the river meets the road, another 5-6 miles down the way. Hell yes! Because he had boated that section of river before (although water levels were much higher then) he knew there were no big obstacles and I was confident that I could navigate that stretch alone.

North Fork of the Crooked River - May 28 - Part 3

Not too shabby!

Packrafting rocks. Yesterday bodes well for the rest of the summer. We are going to be able to hike in and boat some incredible stuff around here that few ever see. Very exciting!
Kirk the playboater finds a wave to surf
It was a warm night and I woke up from our river-side camp and made as much coffee as our limited fuel supply could provide. Read a fair amount - my attention span is much greater when I am out in the wilderness…I always try to bring a book in the backcountry with me; my retention is much better when all there is to do in the world is drink coffee and read.

Kirk finally emerged from the tent and we slowly packed up for our hike upstream. We had to climb almost 1,000 ft to get to a point where we could make some distance around all the deep finger ridges that funnel into the river canyon. We still had to drop into several creek drainages, but the landscape was open and stretched for miles and I was glad to move my legs.

North Fork of the Crooked River - May 27 - Part 2

We took very careful steps up the river.
Bushwhack attack!

As Kirk asked for the tweezers this morning to pull out the thorns in his hand, I looked at my palm and noticed thorns there as well.

"I'm sore," he said.

"Me too," I replied. "And I just twisted my ankle for the second time."

The hike yesterday was arduous to say the least. The bushwhack - canyon traverse - creek walk had us on 45 degree slopes of scree and talus in a very steep and deep river canyon. It was worth it though. We had to hike the 3-4 miles from the car to the river so we could find our take-out spot for when we packrafted back downstream. We lost several thousand feet of elevation after leaving the car and followed defunct two-track roads to the water. Our packs were heavy. Probably 35-40lbs. Heavy for the typical ultra-light backpacking we do. We both have obvious way of making our loads lighter, and next time I won't have forgotten the waist-belt for my pack! I have a webbing in place of it. NOT much of a substitute at all.

North Fork of the Crooked River - May 25 -Part 1

Kirk called me at work today, Fall Creek (a tributary of the Willamette River in the Oregon Valley) was flooding and we would have to go packrafting on some other river. Fine by me! As a solid class 2 boater (I will do 3s and 4s on occasion) the flooding of anything is a no-go for me. He also said he was called into work earlier than thought and would not be able to go packraft the Minam river next week as we had planned. Guess I'll be doing a backpacking trip instead!

Time to rock-n-roll
This river thing can be hard to plan for. Unlike a trail, the water levels change at the drop of a hat and with too much or too little, a trip can suddenly be out of the question for boaters like me. Kirk measures water features as class 5 or below, and can navigate and read anything. Having only IK'd (Inflatable Kayaked) for a few seasons before this, I have a long ways to go - or maybe never- before I'm packrafting class 4+. I feel more fragile as I get older and more unwilling to get hurt doing risky things. I need to be able to hike above and beyond all other activities. It keeps me sane.