Monday, November 23, 2009

A friend in need.

This links to a petition about Ship Creek access. Ship Creek is an amazing run that helped the development of packrafting and offers outstanding whitewater recreation in the Anchorage Bowl.

Unfortunately and for reasons that are not fully clear, the US Army has closed it to all boating. That doesn't mean that people are not still running it, of course, it just means some people are getting away with it, even after getting caught.

Last year, eyes glazed in an adrenaline daze and floating below the base of Commando Drop, two of us were waved ashore by a "Conservation Officer", who then informed us that Ship Creek was closed.

We asked, "Can we run it one more time?" and believe it or not he said, "Yea, sure."

But Tim Johnson has not been so lucky. Unlike shoutdiggity and me he is going to court.

In an effort of whitewater community service to open the creek, he is accused of Federal Criminal Trespass.

The Federal government is threatening possible fines and even imprisonment. Faced with a court date just weeks from now, he must hire a lawyer, expensive for anyone at $2,500.

The outdoor community frequently supports those who are injured in their outdoor pursuits. Tim's actions in the making of a protest video for Ship Creek access were in the spirit of freedom for all of us.

Perhaps we can step forward and help a friend here? If nothing else he asks that if you have had had a run-in with the Military Police on Ship Creek to write him a quick story on your experience and how easily you were let off the hook/warned.

When sent together with a $50 bill or a c-note (which I am sure he'd appreciate), it might make a difference but in any event it looks like Tim's out of his boat here and needs some help.

Let's do what we can.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Why a "Guard Rail" is worth installing on your packraft

This video is of a kayaker in a long, high-water swim in Idaho.

If you are considering gluing thigh strap patches into your boat think about putting more patches to encircle your boat and attach a "guard rail". It may save your life.

Mike Swims & Almost Drowns from Dave Hoffman on Vimeo.

A similar incident could happen with a packrafter on rivers here in AK or elsewhere: it's worth watching.

I take two lessons from it:

(1) This kayaker was unable to roll. Most of us will inevitably fall out of our boats, too. What do you have to hang onto your boat with? Consider putting six additional tie-down patches around your boat and tying onto each with a poly-pro hand-line. Don't rely on bungies stretched through the four, stock, bow patches or a dragging tail of webbing from the stern. You want what Brad calls a "guard rail" to encircle your boat. When you flip, you can just reach up and grab it from any point on the boat and it will feel so much better than the fat, slippery tube. Take it from a guy who's swum more rivers and creeks after falling out of his packraft than likely anyone. If you can't/won't glue the patches on yourself, then ask Alpacka or a local shop to do it. Alpacka really should do it on all their boats.

(2) One difference between packrafts and inflatable kayaks and hardshells and big rafts/catarafts is that we packrafters can flip our craft and get back in. This is a self rescue, and after the glue dries on your guard rail, get out there and practice getting into and out of your boat, preferably in moving water, but even in the deep end of a pool is valuable. Again, the unfortunate level of experience I have, due to the high frequency of falling out of my boat, suggests that the side-entry boats with codpieces are harder to self-rescue into than the old center entry. If you have an old center entry boat, don't send it back to Alpacka for a retro fit. Watch this blog here: I will soon post how-to make your old center entry boat dry.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Eskimo Roll a Packraft: No previous roll necessary!

First you need thigh straps.

Second you need to be able to get upside down in friendly water, a heated pool without chlorine seems ideal. Next while upside down reach your paddle up to the surface with blade flat and strong arm forward. Then pry yourself up with a sweep, keeping head and shoulders low until the boat's pretty much up (bow will be up more of course) and finally thrust that strong side hip toward the weak side, pulling against the thigh strap to get the final umph over, which is when you'll finally sit up.

I am no expert at this! I am just relaying what worked for us and what you can see is exactly what Tim Johnson is doing in the video.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

NEWS FLASH: Three Mere Mortals Eskimo Roll Their Packrafts

None of the crew who'd put thigh straps in their boat could make it to the APU pool tonight where Tim Johnson, kayak expert and recent packraft Eskimo roller, was going to coach us.

Except Luc Mehl and me.

Luc invited his friends Galen and Dmitri, who paddled around in my yellow boat, while I got throughly confused on what I should be doing, other than trying to muscle over in the boat. I was getting nowhere.

Luc had managed a roll in the first 20 minutes or so with some tips from Galen, who once was a surf and sea kayak enthusiast. But then, like me, he floundered. At least he was getting his belly out of the water. I felt like I was just turning my boat from side to side underwater.

Meanwhile, Dmitri was off to the far end, doing his own thing. I'd actually written him off as just playing around in the packraft. Nobody seemed to be giving him any tips and I didn't hear any hooting and hollering -- until 9 PM, when I was just getting finished with hip snapping at the pool edge, which also was going nowhere.

It was getting time to leave. Tim had already gone into the locker room, no doubt amazed at how hapless, stiff, and uncoordinated I was.

"I probably will never be able to roll a packraft, even if glued to the thing," I thought.

Then I heard, "Do it again Dmitri!" and then watched in disbelief as he did what Luc had been doing all night and what anyone with thigh straps can do: get the upside down boat up to about a 45 degree angle by using the paddle in a standard kayak-style Eskimo-roll sweep. But he was finishing it off with a plop right side up!

Three times in a row he did it!

Paddling over to see what he did, I heard him recount the technique. He swept back with his arms to get up to the your-out-of-the-water stage, then hip thrust, "Like this," he gestured exaggerating his crunching hip movement.

I tipped over (I'd gotten good at that by now) came part way up Luc style and then hip thrust with a "Dmitri crunch", and BOOM -- I was over!

Awesome! I can't roll a kayak, and neither Luc nor Dmitri had ever rolled one. Now we were all rolling packrafts, long considered impossible to roll, then rolled recently but only by a kayaking expert.

Just to be sure I did it again. And again.

Luc was in the water now, paddling over to Dmitri to get his tuteleage -- then bam, bam he nailed two rolls in quick succession.

We'd done it!

Mere mortals, not kayak gods, had successfully rolled their packrafts and done it their own way.

Again -- awesome!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Ice Worm Tunnel

Peggy and I have been going “ice worming” every week for the last month or so. It’s part of an ongoing project that I am involved with that's studying the ecology and evolution of ice worms.

Ice worms are small, dark colored relatives of earthworms, known only for sure to live from northern Oregon to Alaska, with some distant relatives living near Bomi in eastern Tibet. In Alaska and Washington State they have been studied in the summer as well as in the lab. During the summer they are common on glaciers near, and slightly below, firn line, especially at night. They are about half an inch long at most in the Alaskan populations I’ve seen, but they are bigger and more numerous in Washington State and British Columbia.

In summer they come swarming to the surface in huge numbers on some glaciers, coastal ones mainly. The glaciers draining the Harding Icefield can be thick with them below about 4,000 feet above sea level, but we have never seen them in the Alaska Range, or on the Matanuska, or in the Wrangells. There’s a bounty on them in the Alaska Range, so if you have GPS coordinates for Alaska Range populations, let me know. In Chugach State Park I have found them on the upper Eklutna and Whiteout Glaciers and Paul Twardock saw them on the Eagle Glacier near APU's Nordic Center. We looked on Flute Glacier, but it was a bad day for them, and we found none.

A good paper on ice worm behavior is by Dan Shain of Rutgers University and a handful of his students, entitled “Distribution and behavior of ice worms (Mesenchytraeus solifugus) in south-central Alaska" published in 2001 in the Canadian Journal of Zoology, Vol. 79, pages 1813-1821. He’s my collaborator on this project. My job this winter is to track their location as winter progresses. Until yesterday they were active on the surface. Yesterday with six inches of new snow and at temperatures near their lower lethal limit (~20 F) we found only dead ones on the surface of glacier ice where last week they’d been actively moving about.

There have been other interesting discoveries: like last week (and a couple years ago) when APU graduate student Melissa Becker and I saw worms crawling off the glacier ice, atop new, fresh snow over rocks. During our visits in October and November when the worms were out they were out at 2:00-5:00 PM, too. I expect that they were out all day.

Anyway, we’re getting some satisfying exploration each week out at near Byron Glacier, like inside this tunnel that penetrates a big avalanche cone that's actually a micro-glacier:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Skurking around Alaska

Andrew Skurka's planning to come back to AK next year. I think anybody reading this likely already knows that.

So what does it mean?

Well, it looks like he'll be putting athleticism into a trip that scales with a well known effort of 2008 from Seattle to Unimak. He, too, plans on several thousand miles by foot, paddle, and ski, but over, along, and through mountains and big, fast rivers. While the Wild Coast route was mostly coastal plodding -- intentionally, of course -- it was mostly impressive in that a married couple lived in their pyramid for a year as backcountry nomads. Skurka could just as easily live in his mid for a year, too, but he is strong and fast and likes to move that way, and solo, too. So he plans on nearly the same distance in less than half the time.

So, again, what does it mean? It means that he's upping the ante in Alaskan wilderness travel: fast, light, very BIG, and solo. Over 4000 miles in six months, with far more elevation gain and loss, whitewater, and wilderness than Alaska's most recent mega-trip. But more importantly it means that doing a week or two from Hope to Homer, Nabesna to McCarthy, Wonder Lake to Skwenta, or even Coldfoot to Kaktovik is something "normal" folks can do on their vacation time. By pushing the limits, extreme adventurers make what once seemed like a stretch now doable for the rest of us.

"If Andrew Skurka can do 4000 miles of wilderness travel in six months, then me and my buddies should be able to do 100 miles in six days, right?" Right!

I remember when Bachar hit the National spotlight with his incredible soloing. Just knowing what he was doing solo encouraged me do more in my own climbing. Seeing Tim Johnson roll his packraft inspired many of us -- some, like me, who may never be able to role it even if glued into my boat -- to put thighstraps in our boats and get far more control. The extremists in pushing their own extremist limits actually open up everyone else's horizons, too.

He and I have been emailing a bit about his route, which is certainly a reflection of his style: maximize trail-use (his winter route is the Alaskan wilderness equivalent of following a road -- nothing wrong with that!), travel long days, and long distances. He's embraced packrafting rivers and whitewater, and has won a Wilderness Classic, so averaging 20 miles a day for six months is doable (he averaged 30 miles a day for 200 days in his mash-up of Pacific Crest and Continental Divide Trails). He spent some time up here this past summer, walking and packrafting through south central, and got bit by the Alaska bug and showed that he's strong and smart enough to wander trail-less country effortlessly and efficiently.

His route might not be the route I'd choose, but it is his route and it's beautiful and ambitious and meaningful for the rest of us, too.

I'm excited to see its boldness.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Thigh Straps: How-to

Five of us put thigh straps in our boats with Tracy Harmon’s supervision on Wednesday. We waited until Saturday, slightly longer than the 72 hour dry time, to go check out our new toys on Six Mile Creek at about 8.7 feet or 485 cfs.

It was fun to be with JT and hear him say “Let’s just skip the first canyon and run the second and third canyons,” as two years ago on Nov. 10, 2007 Becky, Tony, JT, Brad and I ran first and second canyons and my river notes record that they were hesitant to run the third canyon. How times change with skill and experience…..and how they will when more people start using thigh straps.

While nobody was able to repeat Timmy’s Eskimo roll (or his role, for that matter!), the straps make Six Mile at these low water levels almost easy. Minus my one mistake, we all had totally clean runs, including boofs in “Jaws”.

What really stood out was the incredible control and oneness with the boat.

“This is what kayakers miss in packrafts,” said JT, wiggling and pivoting with that big boyish grin of his.

I paddled open packrafts from 1983 to 2003, decked ones since then, and now these straps. They are at least as revolutionary as decks in terms of what you can do. Decks gave us control in bigger water since we weren’t just swamped and fighting for control. But these straps are even better.

Some of you may recall the early 1980s when Fires first came out. Remember that? The first time we got sticky rubber and we all started climbing a grade harder immediately? In fact, calling a +/- a grade in whitewater, I’d say these straps increased my ability by a grade. Six Mile was the easiest I’ve ever run it.

Control was incredible – I could put the boat almost anywhere. I could grab and ride smaller tongues than usual, brace more effectively, and catch eddies faster and with more authority – in fact flat water will be easier with these to brace against, too.

Busting out of holes requires aggression that you just can’t get flopping around unanchored in a boat. But with straps you can lean forward and grab and pull, “Like front-wheel drive,” someone said. Many of us have been working to wedge ourselves in to the boat, but tight thigh straps do it better.

And best of all my straps center me – I didn’t even use my back rest (it’s blown out anyway, with a shoddy valve job) and sat centered in the boat with the shortest paddle I have ever used (200 cm – as short as the Sawyer would go), able to reach forward and get good, aggressive powerful strokes. I am ready for 197 cm with big stiff blades, now.

I tipped in one of the worst parts of the river, and hit my head hard, maybe harder than I would’ve without straps -- although the gobs of Velcro I have keep me in, too -- but the straps slide off quickly and easily by straightening the legs.

It would be simple for Alpacka to put “custom mods” in their boats for people to purchase inflatable kayak thigh straps, like the Aire brand Deluxe Thigh Straps we used: On a Yak, a tie-down just above the valve stem and behind the second seam in the bow (calling the center seam the first) and close to the floor worked well for me following Tim Johnson’s lead.

Here’s a how to video. Hope it helps.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Shockingly I did some science this past weekend. Actually reviewed a thesis chapter and a manuscript for a journal. Didn't really do any data analysis though. back into this kinda gently, ya know?

Very satisfying, nevertheless.

But I got right back to the business at hand today.

And put thigh straps in two boats.

Thanks to Tracy at Alaska Raft and Kayak for supervising the glue-huffing party of five: Tony and Becky, JT and Luc, were there, too.

72 hours from now.....the boats will be ready.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Slides and Plops

Here is my pick of the best recent You Tuber packrafting vids. I subscribe to these fun-loving filmakers who have been busy with their own hucking videos, the packrafting.blogspot "featured vids" for the month.

Keep 'em coming.

Most exotic and one I'd most like to do from "sunnyemotion" in Japan (nice fall colors and elated whoops, plus I am partial to the celebratory paddle raise a the end).

Todd Tumolo's packrafting partner "gqganey" in Vermont (maybe he could get another boat with thigh straps and loan his first one to some kayaker friend?).

Our own beloved pioneer "AlaskaCreeker" having a little fun with my first attempts at hucking on Tin Can (by the way my butt was OK -- somehow escaped unscathed from that dismount).

While we're at it I like this one of "rockymountainclimber" on the standard Bird Creek run which is my favorite helmet cam video yet and it's in B&W, adding to its coolness.

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