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.
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: