Monday, June 21, 2010

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....


  1. Forrest McCarthyJune 21, 2010 at 6:04 PM

    OK I'm sold. I'm heading into my garage to install thigh straps and move my seat fwd.

  2. I second what Forrest said. Would it be possible to look at your boat sometime Roman so I can copy your placement of seat, straps, and seat-back? I have a llama and your measurements, but a visual before I glue would be nice.

    John N

  3. You bet. Give me a call (I am in the phone book) and come one over. I leave on Thursday, back on Sunday, then leave again the fourth for most of the rest of July.

  4. Re. moving ones seat forward.
    Is that a factory mod, or can a guy DIY it?
    Even with my stretch Llamma, my 6'7" self is feeling the need to get forward.
    Great vid, and thats one DEEP pool you got caught in.

  5. Paul, definitely not a factory mod. If your seat is sewn in you need to use a seam ripper to take out the thread, then re-sew the boat forward about six inches. Then you need to fill the new space behind your back with a bigger backrest. I find the Explorer seat set vertically and with velcro to hold it in works well.

    These are all local sew shop assisted DIY.

  6. impressive! I am a sea kayaker, but that looks like fun.


  7. Wow!

    What video camera do you use that appears to hold up to water so well? I've been looking for something for everyday use hiking/kayaking/biking/rowing in Southeast Alaska that I don't have to hide when it rains. Karla in Juneau

  8. Karla, The Pentax Optio W60 is my favorite of that line.

    W90 looks cool but is spendy, W80 is cheapest but flawed, W60 is super functional and cheap ($200) at

  9. Thanks Roman. Following long distance Inside Passage kayakers, it seems most have camera failure within a few weeks of starting their trips. Karla

  10. By the way, the W80 does not have an optical zoom in video mode, whereas the W60 does



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