Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Classic 2010 Video -- short version

Luc Mehl and Eric Parsons short but durable adventure:

Monday, June 21, 2010

Paul Schauer: Butt-boating hero

Like so many runs I thought maybe a bit too stiff for me and my packraft, Disappointment Ck was Bradford’s idea. That would be Bradford Washburn’s namesake, Brad Meiklejohn.

Canyon, Little Su at 800 cfs, Honolulu at spring run-off, Happy under 800 pounds for four, and Wolverine at peak flow had all been his ideas – ideas that left me swimming, all too often, with him chasing my boat.

Plus, Disappointment is one of those "Mountain Tooth Empire" runs (think Mooses and Bear Tooth), test-pieces with only sketchy info in Timmy J’s guidebook based on sand-bagger beta from Brad Gessner and Rod Hancock.

It’s no wonder I was a bit apprehensive.

We’d talked about walking in from the Railroad, which seemed great in concept and groovy in practice for girlfriend/wifey runs, like Clear Creek, but not so good for a IV+ 10 mile creek with several hours at 200 ft/mile that Tim Johnson had not run and whose description was based on a five year old first descent.

I’d run Honolulu with overnight gear and it was not-so-good.

I need an empty boat for Class IV….So, fly-in?

Why not. I’ve paid off my house, her car, our truck; got one kid through college and another ¾ of the way through. There’s some money invested and retirement. Besides, Brad and Tim got me hooked on fly-in my packraft trips with three rivers in the last nine months –- I could splurge on $117 for what looked like a good substitute for the 2010 Wilderness Classic (but really there is no substitute for that).

We just needed to fill the Alaska Bush Floatplane Service plane with somebody who could fish us out: a class V kayaker who also packrafts. Thai was busy with his sailboat in Homer; Tim didn’t want to fly without more water and his hardshell; fortunately, Paul Schauer had been trying to get into Disappointment for weeks.

I offered him my loaner Llama, the one with thigh straps and a seat sewn forward six inches. He accepted and picked me up at 7:30 AM.

By eight AM I was shopping at Fred Meyers in Eagle River for breakfast (maple bar and glazed donut), brunch (ham and cheese), lunch and dinner (three Cadbury bars and a small bag of barbeque chips) and Paul was loading gear into Brad’s Rav.

We reached Fish Lake in Talkeetna by 10 AM and discussed lake options with the pilot.

“Oh yea, I know that lake,” said Elbert, referring to the one in Tim Johnson’s book, “it’s got too many rocks. But we’ll have a look.”

I’ve been around long enough to know that when a middle-aged pilot says that "we'll have a look", we’re going to get a fly-by of where we want to land and end up somewhere we hope we have a map for.

He flew us up the Talkeetna River and soon we were flying over Disappointment’s non-stop whitewater, set deep in a remote, steep-walled canyon.

“How many groups you fly-in to Disappointment?”

“Two others. Both to Frenchy Lake, up the main fork of the creek.”

He jabbed a finger at a long lake on the map. Now I knew why it took the first descent party five hours to bushwhack to the put-in.

“The other lake up there is eight miles from the river.”

“What’s that one called?” I asked.

“No name lake.”

As we flew toward Frenchy, the voice of conservative reason came across my headphones. “No, let’s go to the other one. That looks bad.”

Cottonwoods stretched across a little stream surrounded by alders and deciduous forest. “It looks like great hiking back there. That down there looks bad.”

Elbert circled back, headed up over the tundra to No Name and put down the bird.

He pulled up to the shore, tossed us our stuff, and left, an unconcerned taxi driver.

“What time is it?”

“Eleven,” said Paul as he strapped his boat and dry bag onto his PFD and grabbed his paddle and helmet in his hands. He wore wet suit booties and a dry-suit. We’d all come equipped for a mile walk not an eight mile hike.

“We’ll be there in three hours,” said Brad.

I had my doubts. But if we hadn’t stopped to suit up when the all-day rain arrived, we may well have made it in two and a half. The hiking was great. Open, smooth, dry and flat tundra. We had to step through a couple patches of willow, a few short patches of alders and cross a creek, but the going was great and we even found an animal trail that led us to the river bar.

We blew up and loaded our boats with our meager gear. Good thing we were light because the it was scrapey. In the first hour it seemed we were doing L-sits with paddle and hand in water to get over boulder bars every 15 minutes. But soon enough we were careening down a shallow granite gorge with super fun drops and bedrock rapids. A little more water would be fine here. A lot more would be scary.

Before two hours were up we’d paddled upper Ship Creek-like shallows, the little Honolulu-style granite gorge, and mini-Little Su like steep boulder drops. And Paul had a hole in his bottom. We stopped in the rain and he patched it with duct tape.

The river dropped steeper but its low volume made the rapids not just doable but fun. But by 5 PM we came to the first waterfall, a 15 foot long, steep slide with a nice pool that looked doable but possibly a butt-boat ripper, something we didn’t want to do with thirty miles of paddling still to go. So we portaged, two of us river right, one river left.

“Look how steep it drops.”

After the waterfall several other drops were stacked back to back, but fun and doable. We paddled onward with lots of drops in the 2-4 foot range, some culminating little boulder gardens, others over bedrock.

Half an hour later we came to a six foot ledge with a circulating, undercut wall that grabbed Paul. Below that under a high overhang Brad patched his boat's bottom in the rain. Fifty yards downstream was a five foot drop that looked too nasty with a little pocket hole in its back to run so far from home. We all portaged on its left.

Generally, there were steep but open small-boulder gardens that culminated in either a corner drop through bigger boulders or a ledge drop where the entire creek folded into a narrow, violent plunge. There were plenty of eddies to boat scout down all of this and following the steep plunge-drops we enjoyed often 30 foot tall twisting gorges with moving but smooth water.

Of all the creeks I have run in Alaska and elsewhere, Disappointment satisfied most with its diversity. It offered up Ship Creek ledges, Little Su boulder piles, Montana Creek slip mazes, Honolulu granite bedrock. Many steep sections reminded me of Six Mile’s “Jaws”, with chaotic power shoved through sharp rocks. Blessedly it was low volume and technical, not high volume and bossy. It took skill and technique but not balls and bluster.

Well mostly.

The two named drops, “Sprained Ankle” and “Three Blind Mice”, both rated IV+, and both double drops with steep waterfalls into deep pools on their second drop, were juicy. We portaged the “Sprained Ankle” on the left, climbing up one gully past devils club, traversing a heath meadow, and dropping a second gully of d’club back to the creek.

Below the lower plunge pool of “Sprained Ankle” and on to “Three Blind Mice” was the best reach of the creek. I kept thinking, “Too bad there’s all that scrapey stuff to get here, but I don’t really want any more water than this.” We wondered if it was coming up from the all day rain.

This stretch was packed with slalom action and plenty of fresh, New Zealand-style slip rapids of broken, sharp-edged granite where we boulder hopped down, boat scouting to the final bedrock drops at the bottom of the dozens of drops. At one drop I got bandersnatched in a basal hole and did my first Class IV combat role between drops. For the next 30 minutes I was the studly hero. But at “Brad’s Log” I handed that title over to him.

This was a blind corner between two of the biggest boulders in the creek. We did a bank scout from both sides, but could only get so far. Brad decided to give it a go, even though the creek disappeared around a corner between the rocks. I filmed him (2:32-2:46) as he too disappeared with his left hand pressing against the big rock.

We couldn't see, but Brad was swept into and beneath a log jammed between the boulders.

“Brad says don’t go!”

I was working my way back to get my boat.

“He’s holding up his hands crossed.”

Brad had lost his paddle swimming under the log but found it.

Now I could see him holding up his paddle, running his clenched hand along it like a more familiar shaft, using the signal Paul had shown us at the put-in for “wood”. A bit like stroking a woody, in a vulgar way, but it gets the message across clearly.

Paul and I portaged on the left, scrambling down to a visibly shaken Brad who was clambering over boulders in the rain. I hopped in my boat and quickly got upturned on a corner, too freaked to roll between choked drops, I busted free of my skirt and banged my head.

I stood on a rock with my boat and paddle, throwing one and then the other toward Paul, then swam aggressively into the water, missed my eddy and asked Paul , “Give me the paddle!”

He pulled me onto a rock and said, "Oh man, look at your knuckles." My whole hand was dripping wet blood, but painless.

"That's going to hurt tomorrow."

Downstream more recent slides choked the creek into jagged falls that we portaged.

By 9 PM, almost seven hours into the paddle and ten hours since flying-in we’d reached the crux, “Three Blind Mice”. The first drop is a separate rapid, a six foot chunder followed by a curve and then the 15 foot falls.

We scouted and I charged off. It looked like a simple drop into a big pool.

“I’m gonna drive right and aim for the eddy at the base,” volunteered Paul as I slipped my knees into my straps and cinched down the velcro deck.

I heard him but wasn’t listening. It looked straight forward: ride the smooth tongue into the biggest pool on the creek. If I swam, so what. It looked totally clean.

I had forgotten what Tim Johnson had written in his book about the first decent party's experience: “the largest recirculating hydraulic that they had ever seen for a rapid of its size.” It extracted three of the four kayakers on that trip and it not only extracted me but it sent me deep into the darkness, where I thought I was going to run out of air. It sent me deep and flushed me out but kept my boat.

This was the first time ever I’d been sucked downward so deep. Usually I have hold of my boat, but this time as I was being sucked back toward the maw, I recalled "Breach Baby" on Ingram and the cave at the back and feared somehow my boat was dragging me somewhere I didn’t want to go, or would keep me where I didn’t want to be. So I let it go and was slammed deep by the plunging tongue.

It was the first time I thought, “I have to swim to the bottom or off to the side to get out.” And this thinking on just half a breath.

But I got flushed out and swam to the talus spilling into the plunge pool, signaling a concerned Paul that I was OK, took a breather to find some oxygen and shoot some vid, then worked my way back to the far side to see how to get my boat, bouncing in the hole.

Brad, perched on the lip, asked with his hands if there was a route down on my side of the bowl. It looked like there was but it would be sketchy. I nodded, “yes”.

As I waded the outlet of the pool, something yellow, driving hard across the smooth tongue caught my eye.

It was Paul dropping the falls!

He landed just behind my boat, knocking it free and coasted into the eddy, nailing the 15 foot drop cleanly! Not only was he a studly boater, but he was a hero, too.

I sure didn’t want to have to swim after my boat into that plunge pool of doom.

His move and save was the neatest thing I’d ever seen in a packraft, right up there with Tim Johnson’s first Eskimo roll and Roman’s run on the Grand Canyon from Hermit to Havasu with a mere two swims.

Yea, Paul’s drop and save was great, typifying his quiet skill and helpfulness.

Paul had been a great companion on the creek. He had level headed judgment, beautiful paddling style, and never hogged the lead. He found eddies and evaluated holes and drops and now he was rescuing my boat, towing it in behind him with his tether.

“Wow! That was awesome! Thanks sooo much, Paul, thank you man!” (John Schauer, if you are reading this, good job on a fine son.)

Then another plop of yellow came dropping off. This one like mine, folded up and flipped, but at least landed in the eddy and not the hole. Brad swam to shore with his paddle but his boat was stuck like mine had been.

This time Paul tied into my throw rope and my rope into his as I belayed him out to the hole to fetch Brad’s boat. Brad’s dry bag of gear (velcroed inside his bow as a foot platform) came free, drifted out of the hole but was recirculated back in.

Paul paddled as close as he dared and poked and prodded the upside down boat with his paddle, eventually pushing it free and paddling after it, throwing it on his bow as I pulled him in.

Paul Schauer, double hero.

“Wow, I’m getting to practice all of my swiftwater rescue skills!” he smiled.

“Yea, that’s why we brought you along, Paul! To pull us and our yard sales out of the creek!”

From here it was 45 minutes of Class II and III to the Talkeetna, running highish in rain and melt at 6000 cfs. We paddled that from 10:15 PM to 2 AM, stroking hard to keep warm in the rain and dark of solstice.

“Well Brad, that gave you what Honolulu didn’t,” referring to the all-day dose of adrenaline that we’d got. I had scraped what looked like a couple square inches of skin form my knuckles but hadn’t felt a thing and wouldn’t until a day later.

“Yea, but I can’t really think of anyone I can recommend it to.”

I can.


June 19, 2010
Brad Meiklejohn, Paul Schauer
Alaska Bush Floatplane Service (907) 733-1693, Fish Lake 4 miles from Talkeetna $350 for 750 pounds (5 seats?)

Clear creek with sharp rock from active slides (two cut boats) and polished boulders.

Everything! Slides, Six Mile Third Canyon drops, WIllow Creek Guard Rail style races, Ingram style drops, Little Su style boulder drops (rounded granite), 10-15’ waterfalls, wall rapids, NZ “slip” style boulder gardens (BIG broken angular rocks).

Long day of steep water sandwiched between 3-4 hrs of walking and 3-4 hrs Talkeetna River boating.

Very committing, very technical, LONG walk out, hard climb up. Go light….

Thigh straps rule. I don't care who says otherwise.

Everybody who slips into a pair of Aire brand thigh straps in an Alpacka, particularly with the seat moved forward, is in agreement: once you go strap you don't go back.

And as the king of upside down packrafting, I must disagree with the queen of manufacturing: they are a cinch to get out of quickly and easily. Just straighten your legs.

This month I've been able to put a few days in while strapped into my heavily-modded yellow Llama. First Scott Solle invited me out with his swiftwater rescue class on Eagle River. NOLS Alaska was there in numbers and everyone who tried out the thigh-strapped packraft was in agreement that it's a qualitatively new and different experience. Straps got my son back into boating and the swiftwater class was the best money he's spent this year, he said.

Before that Brad Mieklejohn finally got his thigh straps in and we ran Wolverine Creek out in the Valley. It has a decent walk in on ATV trail(s) to about 1800 feet elevation. The first mile or so drops at 300 feet a mile with only about 3 defined drops. It's super steep water over rounded granite boulders, no real channel, blind corners, combat butt-boating, but surprisingly no wood. The steep stuff ends with the end of all that "mini-Su" boulder bashing and the creek enters a canyon that has bluff-turn rapids -- or so I hear from Brad. I got swept out and lost my boat at the end of the steep stuff. Brad chased it down. I climbed out and walked back, understanding why Embick gave Wolverine Creek no (i.e, 0) quality stars in his book Fast and Cold.

Moe Witschard, who ran a bit of Peters Creek with Thai and me last year, came up to guide a trip in the Brooks Range this year. Moe had just outfitted his boat with thigh straps and seat moved forward. Moe, Brad, and I went out to Bird Creek but balked at its level: too high. Paul Schauer said it's got wood in the canyon and he had quite an adventure at its current water level last week. This year's melt-off busted the long standing log-jam apart and spewed wood all downstream. The high water also flushed the wood stuck in the Mushroom down into the canyon with a log over what I call "Bird Brain" (first drop below Mushroom) and "Center Falls", the 10 foot high slidy-thingy. So anyway, Moe, Brad and I went and put into Crow Creek below the miner's wee footbridge and ran Glacier Creek as a consolation run. The Crow Creek start is only good if you want to cut your boat or bounce your butt on mining debris. Glacier Creek is a good PR3 run for intermediate boaters in decked boats. It was a good run for Moe to find that he really liked his seat moved forward in conjunction with his thigh straps.

The next day, Brad and Moe and I drove up to Hurricane Gulch on the Parks Highway and walked to the first obvious drainage into Honolulu (see map -- look for drainage just east of waypoint "011") to do "Waikiki Beach", a put-in about a mile shy but two hours earlier than "Waikiki". There was no brush on the walk-in and if you follow the drainage's right rim you can miss the talus, too.

This is the best 10 mile walk-in packrafting trip IN THE WORLD. The water level was a bit low, but super, super, super fun. At the Honolulu Bridge the gray boulder was dry and the white boulder had about 5 inches of water. We put in just above the "California Ledge" (watch your head -- see the video at 1:30) and really enjoyed the clear water and smooth granite below California Ledge as well as the three beefy drops in the final schisty canyon ("Monkey's Garden"). There's a shallow canyon between these two, just below where a major trib comes in on river right, with a really powerful right-sliding drop called "Slideways". The hole at the bottom is sticky on the left but too far right sends you careening into the right wall. This is my favorite drop on the whole run (see the video at 1:40). The last hour or so is a bit of a buzz-kill and cold in the evening. We took 4 hours to hike in and 3 hours to boat out. This really is a five star trip: great hiking and great boating, but a bit of a long drive.

Brad and I took a rest day and then teamed up with style-king Paul Schauer, whose first time in a packraft wowed us on Montana Creek, to fill a float plane into Disappointment Creek.

Here's the video:

Details to follow....

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Canyonlands Grand Tour

Peggy's cleaning out the cellar and found this old story, one Mountain Bike Magazine never did run. Some of the folks whose blogs I read are interested in this sort of stuff -- mountain bikes, packrafts and the great SW sandstones. I wrote it at the tail-end of my outlaw days, when I still had an outdoor adventurer's version of Libertarianism viewpoint inspired from a dozen years in Fairbanks. Reading it made me smile so I thought I'd take the time to type it all up here in hopes it makes you smile, too.

I dug into the current, propelling myself and my overloaded 4-pound 5-foot nylon packraft across the Southwest's mightiest river, the Colorado. Downstream roared Cataract Canyon.

I dug deeper, paddled faster, a chill coursing down my spine in spite of the exertion. Worry mixed with apprehension. This was fear. Fear, not of the physical challenge, but rather of arrest.

Arrest for possession. Arrest for possession with intent to distribute, so far as I knew, for there I sat in my yellow packraft, deep in the sacred wilderness of Canyonlands National Park, in possession of not just one, nor two, nor even three....but four mountain bikes.

Not only that, but I had no river permit. Hell, I didn't even have a backcountry permit. And to think Thoreau had said wilderness was a state of mind. Not a chance. Wilderness is a section of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).

A code that we four hellbikers had been doing our best to uphold.

We had embarked on a mission. A mission that, with the exception of this renegade crossing, lay entirely within the letter of the law.

It all began with a phone call to Flagstaff. My end went something like this:

"Heh Bill....Yea, doing OK. You....? Good, good.....A route? Yea, I do indeed."

I fondled the map. "It's a beauty. Starts in the Needles, crosses the Colorado into the Maze District, crosses the Green, finishes on the White Rim. Gotta fly back from Grand Jct on Tuesday, but you guys could loop back to the start on the Lochart. I call it the 'Canyonlands Grand Tourismo'.

"How long? Four days, 140 miles: We spend the night in the van. Leave Squaw Flat pre-dawn and hammer down to the river. Cross. Then hammer through the Land of Standing Rocks. Gotta get out of the Park to camp....

"Permit? Naw, no permit. Don't need one if we don't camp in the Park.

"Why not get one? They'd never believe us if we told them.

"Legal? Yea, it's totally legal.

"OK meet you and the Mutants in Moab."

Five years earlier, Carl Tobin, Jon Underwood and I dragged our mountain bikes around a small watershed in central Alaska. We'd done the route before, both on foot and on skis, and knew that the first four miles climbed 2000 feet to an open tundra plateau, the next five curved trail-less around a spot of bog, a bit of brush, and a fell-field before looping back to the start via a wonderful six miles of rolling singletrack.

A footrace now covers the 15 mile loop, winning time around two and a quarter hours. Our first hellbike trip took seven hours, but opened our eyes to the possibilities of cycling the Alaskan wilderness.

Since then, we pedaled road and trail-less routes through deserts, tropics, and tundra. We called any type of bike trip requiring that a significant portion be paddled, portaged, or pushed a hellbike trip, a play on the words "Live to Ride, Ride to Die Mountain Bikes from Hell" Tobin came up with on our first extended trip in 1988.

For many, perhaps most, hellbiking seems absurd. Yet the gains in confidence and control over our immediate destinies are emotions common to ultra-marathons, mountain climbs, and trans-continental junkets through third-world countries. Hellbiking's primary rewards include the thrill of wild singletrack after a gnarly portage; the satisfaction of exercising technical skills while fatigued, hungry, cold and wet; the sense of freedom reading rivres and brush; the revelation of true, yet often hidden values of food, water, shelter, and companionship -- all reveal the symmetry of outdoor adventuring.

To take a wild landscape and extract a route satisfies a primitive creativity. We see wildland as a dynamic, re-useable, physical canvas to paint bold strokes of uncommon adventure. But, yes, hellbiking's hard and no place for novices. The unseasoned will hesitate to take a bike where they'd hesitate to go without one. Still, hellbiking is really little more than ramped-up backyard exploration. Other cyclists, too , might see that the essence of exploring for new trails is the distillate of the helltripping urge that carries us onwards for days and weeks. Rather thn areturning home for a shower, full meal, and a soft bed, we live the ride on rations, bivouacs, and B.O.

Yes, it's hard, often damned hard. Things get broken: patches of skin, parts on the bike, regs on the books.

Rideable jeep trails lace the spectacular steppe that stretches beyond Moab. Were the landscape not incised by 2000 foot deep canyons, the three main districts (Needles, Maze, White Rim) could be linked and toured by jeep as well as bike. Of course, each district makes for a spectacular destination, but stitching all three together with portage, paddle, and push -- now that makes for one hell of a bike trip.

Wilderness photo-journalist Bill Hatcher and Team Mutant members Yod Branch and Steve Garro met me in Moab. Our plan: the Canyonlands Grand Tourismo.

We dared no backcountry permission from the NPS. Our plan was too bold, ambitious, and mostly unconventional. The imaginations of too many rangers have been dulled by dealing with the lowest common denominator of American Culture, the car-camping touron.

Our unfortunate public servants, we feared, would neither believe in nor allow for our trip. First the river crossings would seem out of the question. And second there was that piece of the CFR: in US National Parks [outside of Alaska] bicycle possession off roads or parking lots is subject to fine and/or imprisonment.

This meant dismantling bikes for single track portages. It meant middle ring sprints between campsites made beyond Park boundaries. It meant humping Elephant Hill, each of us with 3 gallons of water, 4 days of food, camping, boating, and biking gear, no permit and an incipient ulcer about getting caught.

We left in the dark, hammering beneath a full moon through the bread box canyons of the Grabens. At dawn we arrived at the "no-bikes" sign welcoming us to th ehead of Lower Red Lake Canyon Trail. Curiously, bike tracks snaked down the trail. We resisted their temptations.

We stopped, stripped, and stepped onto the trail perfectly legal. Not one of us possessed a bicycle. Garro and I wore two frames each around our necks as "double-triangle, perpendicularly indexed pack frames"; Yod and Bill each carried four wheels as "radial-framed satchels".

Using one small raft to portage 4 men and all their equipment demanded innovation. Otherwise we'd be ferrying all day and unable to camp outside the Park boundary and so be legal by nightfall.

In a triage of rule-breaking we decided it a less egregious crime against America for me to possess 4 bikes for 15 minutes while crossing the Colorado at Spanish Bottom, than for four of us to camp inside the Park without the esteemed permission of the public's proxy, the likely outcome of pursuing the no-bike rule.

Perhaps now, at this confession, I risk imprisonment for possession. But I swear, I had no intent to distribute.

"Just say 'NO!', Yod," I pleaded as I beached the far bank and he reached for a bike.

Once across the Colorado we portaged big awkward loads out of the canyon via the Spanish Bottom Trail, reaching the Doll House and the jeep road. Beyond we passed through the Land of Standing Rocks, pedaling sand bogs crusted into rideable conditions by recent snows and no recent vehicles, sprinting for the safety of no-man's-park where we could camp without official papers.

The rest of the trip sped like most accounts of touring the wild jeep roads of Utah: we mined water from iron-colored, rust-flavored springs; we enjoyed day-long downhills dropping off pine clad mesas, coasting past undercut dry-fall drops of 500 feet and sandstone towers of 1000, arriving at the tamarisk-lined Green River in a November desert drizzle.

Of possible use to readers is our crossing of the Green River at Queen Anne's Bottom. Here the White Rim Road comes nearest to the east bank of the Green, before climbing upwards to Holeman Springs Basin and the White Rim proper. On the west side of the Green is another jeep trail which leads into Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and the Maze District. We waded the Green River here, where it braids into two wide channels. Garro balked and Bill fell in, but the crossing was not much deeper than the level of our testicles.

If, like Steve Garro, who was born and raised on an Indian Reservation in Arizona, you prefer not to dip your dry goods into the Green, then can I suggest a packraft? In any case, cross the river and tour beyond.

And whenever possible, avoid government permission for your RIGHT (which lawfully requires NO permission) to walk, camp, and travel by non-damaging means across YOUR PUBLIC lands -- unless you are too timid to try and stand up for your rights and so betray everything fought for by American Revolutionary soldiers.

Thigh straps and the locations of D-Rings

Motivated by Ben King who asked about thigh straps and D-rings:

For those outfitting their boats, I put the front metal D-rings pretty low (just below the curve of the tube but maybe a couple inches from the floor) and far forward (in my Yak my feet can push against the tubes while wearing the straps). I think lower is better for forward ones and rear ones are limited by valve placement in my old boats.

The dimensions on deflated boats are as follows:

My Yak: Center of metal D-rings in bow are 8 inches above floor and 3 inches forward of the the second seam from the front. Center of metal D-rings at my hips are 6.5 inches above rear end of front seat seam and 4 inches forward of the the hip seam.

I have two Llamas with thigh straps: (1) My boat has bow D-ring center 4 inches above the floor and 3 inches forward of second seam from the front. Hip D-ring center is 8 inches above rear end of front seat seam and 4 inches forward of the the hip seam. (2) Loaner boat has bow D-ring center 6 inches above the floor and 4 inches forward of second seam from the front. Hip D-ring center is 8 inches above rear end of front seat seam and 4 inches forward of the the hip seam. I use Aire Brand thigh straps and D-rings.

Remember to move your seat forward or you may find yourself getting pulled off the seat and onto hard rocks -- OUCH!

Motivated by Moe Witschard:
"I put thigh straps in my Alpacka and LOVE them. Used them on the middle fork flathead trip. Need to do a little fine tuning on tailbone padding and some sort of foot brace, but I think it's just great."

My response: "What you need to do is move your seat forward. Take a seem splitter and take out the seam that sews the seat to the boat. There are four attachments, two in the front and two in the back. If you attach th rear tabs on the seat to the front tabs on the boat you'l be more centered and protect your tail bone. Then you will want an Explorer seat and velcro that in as a backrest to fill the space you made behind your back. I have done this one three boats and am preparing to do it on two more -- everyone who tries it really likes it."

More from Moe: " Am considering moving the seat forward as I can see how that would be a boon. I have a side opening skirt from two generations ago- much better than the current skirt. Have you seen any mods to this skirt that would accomodate the more forward seat?"

My reply: "Ah yes, the skirt. That may need some additional velcro, both to help from blowing out and to give the additional fabric needed to accommodate the knees pulled up. There is 4 inch wide velcro available. I have someone sew the 4 inch all around the skirt and then glue some 2 inch wide velcro on the boat next to the stock velcro. The additional velcro helps prevent the skirt from opening up, as the knees are going to put more tension on the skirt and so make it come open even easier than it does now. It's especially important to get that side velcro beefed up, the stuff that comes to the top opening."

1) what glue do you use to glue the velcro to the boat.

I use the same glue that I put the patches in for the thigh straps -- Stabond? forget right now....the velcro has a sticky back and if you clean the boat with MEK and then glue, it stays on. I don't use sticky back for sewing as it gooes up the needle.

2) I assume you glue the fuzzy velcro strip on the side away from the
paddler, i.e. toward the side of the boat from the existing strip. Correct?

I use the same hook/pile orientation that is already on the boat when doing skirts. When doing my seat and back rest, I put pile side on boat and hook side on seat and backrest. When I glue velcro on the boat for the seat, I put it up on the tubes at the same elevation that the boats have the seat attachement sewn.

3) who does your velcro sewing? I wonder if I could make an appt. with them to get the extra velcro put on before we go boating. I could show up with the fuzzy velcro strip already glued and with an explorer seat in hand.

Eric Parsons.....bring a meal, a six pack of good bear, and a $50 bill and maybe he'll do it on the spot -- if he can be spotted!

If others would like to measure and comment on their thigh strap locations, that would be useful information that many could use.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Skurka, Hig and Erin

Hig and I had lunch specials at the Thai Orchid on Dimond yesterday. He was doing some consulting work with Nuka Environmental that brought him to town. We talked about his next couple trips doing Ground Truth Trekking w/his wife and Katmai and then a later trip doing geomorphology with Alpacka's Andrew Mattox.

We also talked about Skurka.

We both follow him on Twitter and the NGS Adventure Blog. We are both heartily impressed by his ability to stay on such an ambitious schedule. Hig and Erin were on schedule to the Lost Coast coming up from Seattle but then consciously decided to travel at a more natural pace thereafter, stretching their trip to 12 months rather than 9. But Andy has to beat freeze up, and he will, not because he's "kicking Alaska's ass", which can't be done, but because he is efficient and driven and it's his 8 to 9 job to do so. Plus he's skilled, smart, and lucky enough to do it.

His style and personality we admire -- but don't care to try and emulate -- mostly 'cause we simply can't, seemed to be the essence of our conversation, I think.

Anyway, I am feeling a wee bit old and out-dated to learn that not only Ryan Jordan, but Skurka, Hig and Erin all sleep in their daily "work clothes" each night. I like my 'jammies, warm and dry and unsalted to sleep in, but guess I'll give the 'ole one-set-of-clothes-for-all strategy a go again, although I abandoned that back in the late 80's, I guess, for all but adventure races. Too stinky and clammy -- but what the heh? If it's good enough for the life-stylers, might be good enough for a summer-time hack like me.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Skurka Week

I'd intended to post something other than video on the time with Skurka and Mike Brown, but Skurka's beat me to it with his post at National Geographic Adventure.

Andrew offers up a day-by-day highlight list of our run through "Copper and Gold". He hit pretty much all the highlights, although I'd add some others like having him bust trail over Chitistone pass, post-holing above our inseams. The lack of bugs and the abundance of sunshine. The pleasure of doing a trip adventure race style (light, fast, diverse) but with plenty of sleep and no competition and with a one man media crew, as not as an interference, but as a congenial part of the team. I'd toss in the personal satisfaction of steering a double inflatable kayak (IK) backwards, forwards and sideways over rapids, through canyons, past icebergs and seals and a wolverine so that Mike Brown, who at 32 years old has already shot a half dozen assignments for NGS (if you have not seen his work and are into photography look here NOW).

In fact, that was the main highlight for me: sharing a wild time in wild country with two of the most accomplished young men out there exploring the world in an adventurous way: Andy Skurka and Mike Brown.

And yep, the drunken softball game in McCarthy was the highlight among highlights.
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