Sunday, May 30, 2010

Friday, May 28, 2010

Toby Creek Peak on "Copper and Gold"

The Chitsistone Gorge and River is a place I have been to many times, on foot, mountain bike, packraft, racing, funning, even climbing long, big ice with Chuck Comstock and Carl Tobin.

This is my favorite peak in the area, first climbed by Danny Kost in the late 80s, I think. Wish I had got the first ascent as it's like Mt Deborah's kissin' cousin.

"Copper and Gold" is the name of a route I've long wanted to do by combining two other routes: Nabesna to McCarthy and McCarthy to Cordova.

Just finished that up chasing Skurka with photog Mike Brown. Video is TK, map and info too.....

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Flathead in Montana

Forrest's awesome video of the Flathead -- his best yet, IMHO.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Wrangells to Cordova

All day today NGS photog Michael Christopher Brown and I ran around town getting ready for our Skurka-chasing trip from Solo Creek on the White River to Cordova via Skolai, Chitistone, McCarthy, Nizina, Kennecot, Chitina, and Copper.

Yesterday the writer for this Yellow Book story had been by to drop some of Andy's stuff off at my house.

"Yea he was a day behind schedule," said Dan Koeppel, "now he's a day a head."

I knew what that meant. It meant expect a garbled phone call soon.

Food shopping at Fred Meyers my phone rang. I looked at the screen to see the long, weird number.

"Hello? Hello?" I repeated. Long Pause.

"Roman?" Across space Skurka sounded drunk.

"It's Andy. I'm at Pioneer Outfitters, Terry Overly's place in Chisana. I'll be be at Solo Creek tomorrow night."

"OK. I'll call the pilot."

"The weather looks good. I think you'll have no problem getting in."

"Great. See you there."

As expected a day ahead. And he waits for no man.

No sooner than I'd hung up there, in the breakfast aisle, where I was buying Pop Tarts as a treat for a famous long-walker, I dialed Michael -- "Yep, he called. We have to fly in tomorrow." -- and then I called the pilot.

"Hi Gary? Yea, it's Roman Dial. Yea, you think you can fly us into Solo tomorrow night instead of the 19th?"

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Wilderness Classic: "Independent Sheep"

Here's another trip I did with Jason Geck and Gordy Vernon a few years back over Memorial Day Weekend (2005). It's in the Talkeetnas and starts on the Willow side of Independence Pass. Three days was too fast. Five might be too slow. I have passed this route on to others but all of them have ended up floating out the Kashwitna instead of hiking over the mountains to access the Sheep Creek run, which is classic packrafting whitewater.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Alpacka WitchCraft

Brad and I hit Eagle River today and I paddled the Witchcraft fully outfitted with its ensemble X-Ray, foot bed and back rest. It was the first time I had dared all three components at once. And the first time I'd seen how they all work together.

An act of genius this boat is.

My earlier stints in the boat had either not fully inflated or not included all the pieces. That was clearly a mistake. The back rest makes me sit up straighter than my mother ever could. The foot bed offers a secure and familiar but much, much improved pushing platform common to non-thigh strap packrafts. And the X-ray, while a bit scary in concept and images, clearly adds benefits I have not seen with thigh straps, namely the "knee-cup" effect that so many kayakers would like in a packraft. I was able to role over and over and over and over (sweep rolls not C to C) in the icy cold river today and surfed more waves and play-holes than ever before. It's a joy to paddle.

The boat is faster forward than a conventional Alpacka but just as nimble. While tippier, the added control afforded by the X-Ray more than compensates for the tip and gives an incredible oneness/snugness with the craft. In fact it's neat to work on bracing out on the edge and sculling to keep it.

The boat was so much fun that I couldn't bring myself to accompany Brad back to the car below Campground Rapid and joined a trio of passing packrafters for an extended float down to the play hole on Base and beyond.

Thanks Alpacka for another great idea: a class V packraft. Now I just have to become a class V boater.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Adventures this Weekend

Looking for vids at Blockbuster I got a text from I love this new millennium of wilderness travel. He was bemoaning the possibility of skis and packraft on the next leg. I told him to drop the skis which of course is what he wanted to hear. I did some great trips with skis and packrafts -- across the Harding Icefield and several trips in the Alaska Range as well as my first trip from Nabesna to McCarthy in 1986...but I know where he's coming from: the go-light attitude for its own sake, not just to make room for boats and skis and bikes like we went light in the 80s and 90s.

More interesting to me was yesterday's near-mini-epic on Six Mile at 9.75 feet (which looks like a completely different river than the standard packrafter level of sub-9.0 feet) when I swam not just First Canyon but Second and Third -- never done that before. Not all in one big swim of course, but three different swims each with a self rescue (Ok, not second canyon when I passed Luc the precious Witch but missed the eddy myself and swam the Nozel). I was paddling the new Witchcraft which is an awesome boat -- I'm just not skilled enough to paddle it yet. But I will be, promise. Good thing I got a new dry suit and bigger bouyancy PFD until I've improved enough to stay in the boat.

While Luc Mehl ran shuttle I ended up adopting an orphaned hard-sheller who'd never been down Six Mile before. By the end of the day he'd caught one of our boats and we'd found his and dragged it up to the road, after he swam the infamous Suck Hole and lost his paddle (as well as his boat -- run away kayaks look hard to catch) in a desperate swim to an eddy (and my waiting, extended paddle) just above a 2/3 river-wide log above Merry-Go-Round.

Anyway -- wow. Reminded me I need to carry food and fire starter on my person even for a roadside run like Six Mile.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


This last week I got a couple of calls from Andy Skurka -- one a cell phone call a week ago when he asked if he should take skis on the next leg. I said yep and leave his raft. All the rivers including the Delta would be fordable now and the skis would come in handy with late snow and any remaining overflow.

He called a few days later on his sat phone after getting hit by a storm.

"Heh Roman, it's Andrew Skurka..

Long pause.

"I'm up here on the Wood River by that cabin just below the pass to the Little Delta." We both knew the place from the Classic last summer.

"It's snowed a foot out here and I am pinned between break up on the Yanert and avalanche hazard. I'm thinking I should just call for an airplane to come pick me up."

"No, no just sit tight. Don't give up yet," I advised. "Let the storm play out and the snow settle. How much food do you have left -- four, five days?"

"Yea, fiver days," his voice warbled through outer space.

"Then just be patient. It's spring time. I know it'll be hard not to eat your food out of boredom but there's no need to run back to Healy or call the pilot. Be patient. Wait a day. If it doesn't improve, then head down toward Cody Creek, and if it takes a day to get there, then head out to Healy. If you make it easy, then head over Kansas Creek. You can still make it across to Delta."

"OK, ok. That sounds good. Thanks. This kinda thing doesn't happen on the Appalachian Trail. It's kinda new for me." We both chuckled, unable to hear the other's laugh over the garble.

"Just be careful going over the pass. Look at what sides are sloughing and go early in the morning. See you in a couple weeks."

And that was that.

I follow his progress on Twitter. Not really a fan of that abbreviated internet medium, but it's pretty amazing to see where he is each day posted via tweets on a sat phone and what he's going through.

The Nat Geo photographer and I are planning to meet him at Solo strip in the Wrangells in a couple week to hike the Goat Trail and float the Chitistone/Nizina/Chitina/Copper in packrafts.

We should be able to keep up with him there!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Videos I like this week

From the crew that did Lotus Flower Tower with a packraft approach and retreat, Mt Rainier by ski and paddle:

This guy, Ganey in VT, needs to come to AK for a week of paddling with us:

Not sure who this guy is or what he's doing but it looks cool and I like the video production:

Six Mile May 1

We couldn't find any open water other than Six Mile and it was up to above 9.5 feet or so which makes it a bit challenging for a first boat of the season if you're a packrafter. It'd be my 2oth day of boating since Jan 1, but that's 'cause I had a month in New Zealand, unlike Forrest who'd been skiing all winter and Brad who's been his usual international man of leisure.

We had the new Witchcraft to try out, but I couldn't coax Brad out of it in the first canyon, but by the middle of the second canyon he was willing to let it go. Unfortunately by then we were done, wet, and cold....

Forrest tried out a thigh strapped boat for the first time and reported that once he realized that he had to have his knees fully engaged in the straps, with feet flat on floor and not pushed against tubes in the standard Alpacka position, that he could sit up and use his stomach muscles, then he got it -- but that, too, was not until the end of our go at the second canyon.

Brad has yet to use a thigh strapped boat in moving water.

A couple kayakers (who had skied Sunburst before they boated Six Mile) got in the Witchcraft and really liked the hull shape, despite it having lost pressure and we unable to get it hard again. We packrafters are not yet used to its tippiness yet.

"More data needed," commented Brad. Next weekend I will try it in moving water. So far I have only been in gently moving water with it.
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