Monday, November 23, 2009

Legalize Ship Creek!

Ship Creek, an amazing class IV creek, has been deemed illegal to run by the military. People have been sent to court and fined for running this gem of a whitewater run. Please help open up this amazing run by signing the petition at Life More Natural. Allan, the founder of Life More Natural (a non-profit organization to help promote a sustainable lifestyle), has put together a petition to save Ship Creek. Once again, please help save Ship Creek.

Also, Timmy J has a court hearing coming up in mid December for a Federal Trespassing charge he received this summer for kayaking on Ship Creek. Many of us have run into the MP's trying to get on or getting off of the run and have had no such charges, but rather polite run ins. Timmy would greatly appreciate a brief letter stating your encounter with the MP's. Your letters will be left anonymous, and it will not be tied back to you. You can reach Tim at I'm sure he would greatly appreciate any donation you feel acceptable to help pay for court and lawyer costs. It is a small community of kayakers up here, lets help a friend in need.

Thank you!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Stay safe, be careful, and have fun!

As the back country season is getting under way remember to brush up on your avalanche safety and first aid skills. Nothing could ruin an awesome powder day than better than watching your best friend get swept away and not know how to handle it, or getting buried yourself. Get out there with your friends and practice using your equipment. Unfortunately, I missed out on some good ol' beacon practice being stuck in Petersburg last weekend. I'll just have to organize one myself. Anyone game?

I have always been nervous and anxious in the back country. I never really went up unless I went with someone that knows more than I do or I went to places that I knew really well, under conditions that I understood. Nothing really drove home the safety concern as watching someone get buried. Thankfully I didn't have to do this first hand; someone posted a helmet-cam video of themselves getting buried and dug up. It is a very powerful video, and is definitively worth watching if you are even considering going out in avalanche country.

Since watching the video I have been reading as much as I can on snow science and avalanche safety. I couldn't imagine getting buried. It seems like one of the scariest things ever. Please, stay safe, be careful and have fun out there.

For avalanche conditions in Turnagain Pass check out the Friends of the Chugach website. They have web cams, weather stations, accident reports, and (as the season gets underway) seven day a week avalanche advisories. A friend of mine told me that his Dad sat him down and hand him read all of the avalanche accident reports before heading out in the back country. Recently, as I have found this information, I have been reading them and learning a lot. Take the time and check them out yourself. It is nice to learn what conditions and judgment calls led to the accident; learn from other people's mistakes and try not to let the same thing happen to you.

If you need to refresh on your avalanche safety, or learn up on it, you can visit the Alaska Avalanche School. They have classes and courses throughout the winter.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Viva La Révolution!

Packrafts are real boats, as Roman likes to say. It finally occurred to me this fall that not only are they real boats, but they are also really fun.

This fall Roman finally got me out and in a packraft. (Roman Dial is a packraft extraordinaire, and perpetual innovator in the sport). I had been dieing all summer to get out on Montana Creek near Palmer. The water was up early in the season, but it was EARLY. There was still a good possibility that some of the canyon could still have ice bridges. I had been into Ingram Creek as soon as the water levels got high enough, which was in May sometime. It was ridiculously early for Ingram, and there was still ice in there. So I figured it wouldn't be a good ideal to get into some of the canyons in higher elevations or further north, such as Bird Creek, Peters Creek, and Montana Creek. Well with the fall rains the water levels at Montana Creek finally creeped towards the runnable level and I made a few calls. I knew that Roman really wanted to get in there, and that the run could potentially be a packraft classic. So, naturally I gave him a call. I knew that if anyone could run it in a packraft that he could do it, as he ran some of the meatier drops in Ingram Creek last summer. Well, when it came down to the wire the water level wasn't high enough to run it in a kayak. But Roman had told me that if I was still willing to go in there I could borrow a packraft. Since the run is such a gem, I couldn't turn down the invitation, although I was supper nervous.

Montana Creek is a solid class IV creek with a drop or two that is pushing class V. It isn't anyrun to be taken lightly. The first time I went in there we had to walkout due to very high water and two bad swims. Since then I have been in there two other times and had a blast. I would say it is as dificult as Six Mile (the standard for comparing runs against in AK, a solid class IV Alaskan river that gets up to class V at high water), but has more of a creeking feel. In otherwords it is a really fun run, but has the potential to make your day really bad if you don't give the river the respect it deserves. So naturally I was a bit anxious about getting on the run in a small, stubby little boat that if you screw up dump trucks you into the river. Thankfully that anxiety was over run by the demanding need to become one with this creek, tap into its power, and breifly join the millions of water molecules on their exodus to the sea. Corny, sure. Addicted, yes.

Pictures are worth a thousand words, and videos are worth a billion. All I can really say about the run is that it made me hooked on packrafting, and that I couldn't stop thinking about it for a week. Just watch the video:

Roman also has a good write up of the run on his blog. What was really nice about the run was that one of the other packrafters, Thai, is also a kayaker. When packrafting the strokes, moves and how you read the water is different than in a kayak. It was really nice to have a packraft to kayak, kayak to packraft translator.

While running Montana Creek it finally occurred to me that runs that would be really hard or really expensive to get to with a kayak are now easily accessible. Exploratory runs in packrafts are the next big thing. It wouldn't be any big deal to hike through the woods with a pack raft on your back to check out a new run. If it goes, awesome! If not, its still not a problem, you got a great hike in. Next year, when the kayaking gets bogged down with low water, I can still get out on the river. I've been missing getting in long hikes, like I used to when I was ski training. I've been opting out of doing hikes recently in order to get more paddling in. Now I can get some quality paddling done, as well as get great hikes in.

After running MT Creek I went packrafting a few more times. One evening after work I ran the few miles up to Echo Bend on Eagle River to run the rapids back there in a pack raft with Toby and Ian. I never really wanted to carry my kayak three miles back for a run I hadn't heard anything about (if it was good the people I had asked about it would have raved about it, must just said it was okay), but a 5 lb packraft, no problem. We started out from the nature center, and in 30 minutes we were to the put in. By 8:00pm we were off the water, just as the light got too dim to paddle, and by 9 or so we were back at the car after hiking out in the dark.

A couple days later Roman invited me out to "flip the bird". We walked up (note the verb usage, as it is not a hike with a packraft) to the Inner Sanctum on Bird Creek and "flipped" the run 4 times, as it is literally a walk in the park to go back up the short run for another go at it. Timmy J, another class V kayaker, joined us on that run in his Jolly Green Giant (the NRS "packraft"). We had a blast. It felt obsurd to be playing in the water in October in Alaska. We were literally playing in the water. At the water level we ran it at it wasn't a big deal to fall out of your boat and climb back in. After getting over the initail shock of the cold water we were laughing about how much fun it was. There were consiquences, but for some reason the just seamed to be out weighed by how much fun people were having and the whole obsurdity of paddling in October. Both Timmy and Roman have videos of the run, their both worth checking out.

Roman's video, and his blog account of the run.

Timmy's video

After that day on Bird Creek, it seemed to me that packrafting really started to evolve. Now that there are quite a few packrafters that can run class IV and class V kayakers that have seen the potential in packrafts, we have a recipie for inovation. The revolution has begun.

Soon after running Bird Creek Timmy and Roman went and the first decent in a packraft of the Throne Room on Tin Can Creek (a series of tea cup waterfalls). Timmy then installed thigh straps in his packraft and showed the world (via YouTube) that it is possible to eskimo roll a kayak. Now winter is here and it is time to think, plan and devolope the sport of packrafting. It won't be long until there is a first decent of a class IV creek in a packraft. I'm sure that some time soon packrafts will be running class V whitewater. Alaska is the perfect breeding ground for the advance of extreme packrafting. The accesability is hard, the runs are unknown, the packrafting community is small and close knit, people are stoked, and there is a six month incubation period for innovation. Viva La Révolution!

Videos of the 2009 revolution in packrafting:

Videos thanks to Roman Dial and Tim Johnson. Check out their channels on youtube: Packrafts Plus and AlaskaCreeker.