This was before Alaska Airlines offered Pen Air as a travel partner and before Thor Tingey showed that the Gates of Aniakchak's Class IV rating did not apply to packrafts (ah, another example of how packrafts deserve their own rating system! But I have given up on that battle to move onto other more important ones -- like universally dry spray decks).
Thor eventually took his Mom (Alpacka's Sheri Tingey) and Dad (former NPS superstar Ralph Tingey) from Pt Heiden to Aniakchak Lagoon, initiating a rush of early acceptors to follow suit. This wasn't quite a cheap, dirtbagger's trip, just yet, as it it required a $2000 charter flight out from the Lagoon.
I wanted to do a loop coming back on the Meshik and walking the Bering Sea coast back to Pt Heiden (like big rafters do, as the walking from Aniakchak to Meshik Lake area is awesome on crow berry flats of cinder ---- big boaters even bring wheeled carts for their portage!), but Brad Meiklejohn suggested walking to the Chigniks (Chignik Bay, Chignik Lagoon, Chignik Lake), another 65 miles on and flying out from there -- on Alaska miles.
Somehow the small initial group of JT and Brad plus Luc, Sarah, and Anthony swelled to Brad, JT, Luc, Sarah, Anthony, Este, Brooke, Toby, Ole, Joe, Gordy, Thai, Suzie, Monty, and me. Somehow all 15 of us managed to get flights into Pt Heiden and out of Chignik Lagoon within days of each other. And somehow we all managed to meet at Surprise Lake in the caldera for a party that lasted two nights, included day hikes all over the Caldera with several summits like Vent Mountain, plus a day of flipping the Gates Class III rock gardens, which failed to cut any boats, despite well over 20 descents with and without loads. And somehow we all managed to gather round one big bonfire after the 20 mile whitewater stretch and dry out and eat popcorn.
I was most impressed with the coastal walking and with traveling as a group of eight (Toby, Ole, Joe, Gordy, Thai, Suzie, Monty, and me) to Chignik Lagoon. It was refreshing to share food again after a string of trips with people who only feed themselves with their individual cook pots and food-in-a bag. We had 14 hour camps and lots of long breaks.
When we moved, we moved fast, often trying to keep up with the athletes of our group, Toby (who held the Crow Pass record for a while) and Suzie who seemed to be all leg.
When the tide was low we walked the beach and when it was high we walked world class bear trails. And I mean world class! I can now see why Hig has taken Erin down the Alaska Peninsula twice.
Willow fires in the rain were a real highlight of the rafting and driftwood fires on the beach for the walking. We only cooked breakfasts on stoves in the rain in the Caldera and eventually went to all campfire cookery -- a real packrafters' trip it was. We used the boats on each of the eight days except the first two leaving Pt Heiden and the first day of beach walking. One day we used them twice: first on Kujulik Bay and then on Dry Creek.
We had great weather, some rain, and friendly locals in Chignik who gave us dry wood, half a case of beer, and cooked us king salmon steaks smothered in cream cheese.
Overall the trip felt to many of us like a Wilderness Classic, minus the race part and with lots of sleep, rest, and fun -- very social yet wild. Many bears, most big, all shy, but occasionally scary as you'll see in the video.
Pt Heiden to Chignik Lagoon is now on my list as a fat bike ride, taking my 2011 Super Scout (extra six inches longer and with mylar/spectra spray deck) for crossings and brushy low land creek bottoms where the walking is bad and the creeks give beach access. I ran the Gates twice in my Super Scout wearing rain gear and all the rapids downstream too. It's an excellent wilderness travel boat, also very Retro with its 10 inch tubes, a foam pad for a seat (Z-Rest), and lots of bag paddling and ferying to take the driest line.
Here's a video of the beach trip. It's long and includes voice, sort of new territory for me. I hope it's enjoyable for those who didn't go -- I made it for those who did.