Friday, October 29, 2010

New Map with Outdoor Data

Beside being a water hucker (both powder and liquid forms), Luc Mehl is an MIT-trained earth scientist. Recently as part of his work with ecological databases, he put together this map. I don't know enough to make the map look embedded here, where it should be, so all of you Alaskans and those planning on visiting Alaska could more readily use it, but I suggest you bookmark its location as it is super useful.

Luc has compiled real-time sensors all across the State, including web-cams and put them here in one place.

Thanks, Luc, for taking the guess work out of planning my next quick trip and for putting so much good, live data in such an easy to reach place.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

End of the season?

Tim Johnson continues to lead Luc Mehl and me down ever steepening creeks: Magic Mile, Upper Willow, and, this past weekend, Upper-Upper Bird and its handful of stout drops, namely "Walls of Jehrico", a "20 foot" waterfall.

Several interesting things occurred: first Luc wants to turn to the "hard side" -- not to give up on packrafting, but rather to improve his technique, to "paddle like Timmy and Paul and", he adds, "to go down easy rivers with my friends who are just getting started in packrafting."

Second, four of us piled on Tim's 4-wheeler to drive the four miles to Upper-Upper Bird. This seemed pretty weird, riding an ATV to go packrafting, instead of walking.

Third we worked on the first rapid, "Cave Man", like rock jocks on a boulder problem. We kept getting flipped (we being Luc and me -- not Timmy) at the cave wall at the bottom of the drop. Tony Perelli watched us closely, then took his turn and made the drop, hit he cave wall bow-on, bounced off and paddled away. Luc and I were able to replicate this technique and so move on to "Walls of Jehrico," the big drop.

After Caribou Creeks' drowned "Skyscraper Falls" this is one of the cleanest drops around. We studied it and decided that we could drop off its right side and the "horn mid way down we won't even feel." I was not so sure and planned to miss it.

First Tim and then Tony hit the horn and both face planted as the horn caught the boat bottoms and slowed them. Luc, going third, was intent on making a good roll in the pool below (he's been hitting his combat rolls consistently in Six Mile), but instead made a fantastic boof that cleared him of the horn, sticking the huck and sending his fist upward in glory.

Next, we came to the another waterfall, "Inside Out", which was too bony for us to run. The plunge pool was great but the entry slot was narrow and overhung. We three packrafters jumped into the pool feet first, then Tim, the kayaker, folded up his butt-boat and anounced he would be late for his date if he didn't leave. So he walked to his 4-wheeler while we finished the run, a run too bony for fun, exhausting, frustrating and slow

It wasn't just scrape-y but bang-y as we hit our paddles on the rocks in six inch of water for the next couple miles and what seemed like hours.

Luc said, "If I've learned one thing, it's always do what Timmy does: if he takes a line on a waterfall, take it. If he walks around a drop, walk around it. If he leaves the river with his boat rolled up, leave the river. He's always right."

Sunday, October 17, 2010

November 2009 to October 2010

Not since Alpacka came out with fat tubes, a big bow, and a sporty cut has there been such a big advance in packrafting as thigh straps. And Tim Johnson should get the credit for leading the way on that modification to a stock Alpacka Raft.

Thigh strap are not one of "40 add-ons" to a packraft that just make the boat heavier. They are a single addition that we in AK have seen on dozens of boats that give people control and confidence in whitewater from Class III to Class V, as well as leverage for paddling the flat and windy.

People are not getting entrapped -- yet. If a single chambered boat with extra velcro (added to keep a boat dry) were to go flat in the wrong place at the wrong time, then it does seem like being trapped in thigh straps will be bad. Indeed, besides practicing your Eskimo roll in a thigh strap equipped boat, think about letting all the air out while you are in the boat in the pool to see how you'll get out! Simply having a single chambered boat go flat under you, even without thigh straps, is a dangerous entrapment situation and one reason I find the Feathercraft Baylee so attractive. Unfortunately the Baylee is not as maneuverable or boofable as an Alpacka.

It would be nice if Alpacka made two chambered boats as durable and long and lean as the Witchcraft, and if Feathercraft made nimble boats with spraydecks that stayed up. Until then, we'll all be modifying our own boats and paddling them like this:

Monday, October 11, 2010

Bird Carnage and Honey Sweet Upper Willow

It's Bird season -- low water and warmer down on the arm in the hemlocks and Sitka spruce. Took my son Roman and Todd Tumolo and Matt Johnson down to do the long version of Bird Creek. Be sure to take the second left after the wooden trail marker about 45 minutes in from the parking....not the first left after that wooden trail marker. We had sunshine and carnage at the Center Falls. Matt came up with a great name for the drop after Center Falls -- "Bird Cage" -- as anyone who's got grabbed at the stern in low water can appreciate. His video offers up good low water names for the series of rapids below Mushroom: "Bird Brain", "Chicken Wing", "Whirly Bird", Center Falls and "Bird Cage". I'd stick one more name in there for the ledges above "Whirly Bird" -- "Breast Meat"?

That canyon has become quite the packrafting scene -- there are about six or seven You Tube videos on just Bird (OK, well two are mine) and for good reason.

On Friday I tried out the BayLee 1 by FeatherCraft on Bird. It comes thigh strap ready and with two chambers feels oh-so-safe compared to a single chamber should you cut your boat and go flat midstream with thigh straps tight and four inches of velcro holding your skirt shut....anybody who wants to downsize from an inflatable kayak (IK) to a packraft will absolutely love this 9 lb (w/straps) boat. It paddles more like an IK than an Alpacka and has two chambers and solid fabric. Rafters will appreciate its conventional valves. The seat is well forward and the spray deck surprisingly dry for version 1.0, seem like. Pulls up high on the chest and actually stays there. It's like Feathecraft has been reading the Alpacka Forum and blogs like this and listening....but for me, I still prefer the nimble cut of an Alpacka Raft even if the Alpacka needs some further mods to make it suitable for Class IV.

So when Timmy J, Luc, Tony Pirelli and I went to paddle Upper Willow, I took my trusty Super Llama.

That was the best day of boating this year, with uncountable big drops and filler that felt like Little Su's main events. I emailed Brad, "If Magic Mile is Little Su on steroids, then Upper Willow is Ship Creek on crack." It was an icy day with frost on the walk-in and verglas on the boulders, but my hands stayed warm under the influence of "A", that natural high substance we all crave.

I shot some video but it doesn't do the magnificence of the canyon any justice. Nor did I capture the intensity of the drops. The boogy water is basically like Bird Creek canyon rapids and the big drops, the ones with names, are like nothing I'd ever done in Alaska -- more like a mini version of the Upper Hokitika Canyon, challenging, committing, and often sievy. The longest rapid "Sieve 57" was wild and finished with a big juiced up version of Commando Drop, twice as high and following a bunch of linked Six Mile Staircase like drops. WILD!

The Triple Drop portage on the right was an adventure. We had to get into our boats from a cliffside and I got surfed in a mini-hole, fell out and almost got pulled into a sieve there until I pushed my boat into a channel and held-on head first down a narrow slot to keep from touring Elvis' Graceland North.

Elsewhere and in other news, I feel like I learned to boof-lite (not full on, but getting there).

In 2009 Thai Verzone said of Montana Creek, "Last year, we'd never have dreamed of doing this." This year I never dreamed that I'd finish the legendary Upper Willow two weeks after Magic Mile and grinning ear to ear with Luc, who said, "I didn't think it could get better than Magic Mile -- I can't wait until next week to do this again."

Luc, Tony, and I bought Tim dinner and a tank of gas in thanks for taking us down -- we ran everything but Aqualung and Triple Drop and landed it all with big fat smiles on our faces.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Some links worth checking

Feathercraft's packraft looks like the old Sherpa Packraft on steroids (to be fair the Alpacka raft is an old Curtis Designs boat on juice, too).

Heading out shortly to paddle a BayLee 1 -- report to come.

Meanwhile there's been a bunch of packrafting going on with people all over the place:

Packrafters checking out a landslide on Caribou Creek, a landslide that dammed up the creek and shortened 30 foot "Skyscraper Falls" to Townhouse size. We didn't run the falls -- this time:

Next there's the Red Boat Brigade on Six Mile's three canyons, a personal favorite video of mine:

The East Fork of Chulitna from the fun-loving Fairbanks tribe of packrafters:

And finally, Forrest McCarthy posted his greatest hits vid for 2010 about the time we were just getting started up here in AK:

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