Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Talkeetna Canyon Video

The clear, warm waters of the Talkeetna Canyon fully met my expectations. Perhaps the rapids fell short of what JT had pictured, but they likely surpassed what Becky had dreamed.

A real boater on a variety of watercraft, JT had waited 10 years to run what Embick wrote as “possibly the best all-around whitewater river in Alaska.” For Becky, it’d been an apprehensive drive up the Parks Highway to Talkeetna.

For me the Talkeetna felt as I’d hoped the Happy would: rolling, white-cresting waves and churning, bottomless holes. A river-scape I’d been edging toward by packraft since the mid 1980s, when its gray summer flood made its way onto Fairbanks cabin walls, projected but frozen on suspended sheets with hardshellers in long boats and copper-colored helmets wrestling muscular flows.

Foolishly I asked if it was packraftable.

“No way!”

“There are riverwide holes in there.”

“That river flips BIG rafts.”

Packrafts aren’t real boats.”

And for some reason, while none of these people had ever actually been in a packraft, they all somehow knew what was packraft-able.

I decided to find out first hand.

In September 1990 Mark Stoppel and I took a single Sherpa Packraft, open and long, with yellow 10-inch tubes and parallel sides, from Yellow Jacket Creek to Prairie Creek, he walking bars and catching a ride in the boat for crossings, me paddling with double packs. It was packrafting abstracted to its near purest functional expression: one boat, two people, big country.

In 1990 we feared the Canyon – like we had the Happy’s the year before -- and walked highlands to Gold Creek. We raft-packed as much as packrafted. But we had only rain gear and foam pads, no dry-suit or even PFD and just the single boat.

Seven years later, Bob Kaufman and I pedaled from Eureka Roadhouse to Yellow Jacket where we met a friend of Bob’s with two big rafts we rode down the high waters of July. Even steering Bob’s little Puma with a paddle in the “fourteen miles of continuous whitewater” I think felt like JT had – something near disappointment.

By 2003 Alpacka Rafts were fairly well established and the first condom-style spray decks were out as prototypes. With a spray deck and a drysuit I discovered whitewater to Class IV. No longer did a packrafter need suffer out of control in a swamped boat full of water. Spray decks opened up clean runs of Six Mile’s three canyons, Little Su, Ship Creek and the Talkeetna’s Entrance Exam, Toilet Bowl in “Outhouse” conditions, Washboard, and the longest rapid on the river about an hour downstream, maybe called "Pearly Gates"?

The Talkeetna that Autumn at the 3k-4k cfs showed itself ideal for packrafters; there just weren’t any packrafters out there who felt ready to do it.

Now there may be dozens. If you can paddle Six Mile’s first and second canyons cleanly and practice self rescue and throw bags to your partners, then you can packraft the Talkeetna below 5k cfs, especially since all the biggest rapids (at most six I’d call PR 4 or Class III+ to Class IV-) are not only scout-able but portage-able

This last weekend I had the honor of joining a group of close friends who honored me with their humor and skill.

I thank Brad and JT for inviting me; and Becky, Tony, and Luc for joining us. …. Such a wonderful trip.


  1. Brilliant video. Looks like a great weekend. What tune is playing there?

  2. It's called Weather Girl by Shiny Toy Guns....It's a song my daughter Jazz introduced me to and it seems to work well on a bunch of levels like the weather was good, we had Becky King along, and the relationship you have with your fellow boaters is important as they save may save you when you fall in!

  3. Roman,
    Great video, nice work putting that together. I've been out of state a while for work, but that video makes me want to get back in a pack raft something fierce!
    Dave Looney

  4. Thanks Dave,

    I didn't know you were away -- every time I see a big black helicopter flying over the State I think you're the pilot....


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