Sunday, November 21, 2010

Kimberly Australia: King Edward River, Bungle Bungles

This is a bit of a tease:

It's a fellow named Kevin Casey, a world-traveling, self-described "remote riverman" who recently replaced his inflatable kayak with a an Alpacka Raft. His first packraft trip was to Australia's far NW Kimberly for a solo jaunt that made my own solo trip look a tad tame. He recently posted on the Alpacka Rafters site that Gabon would make a good packrafting destination for the savvy wilderness traveller.

His Kimberly journey was in May, the early, cool start to the dry season, which contrasts mightily to March when Peggy and I were there and it was deadly humid and hot. Think East Coast August humidity and Phoenix, AZ August temperatures. By May, it's dry and cool, and super nice. Main problem is getting back to civilization once you reach the mangrove and crock-infested coastline. NOLS runs canoe trips down the Drysdale River in the Wet, but I think when I go back, I'm going in May. March almost killed me.

Peggy and I drove out from Darwin (3+ days drive) to see the Bungle Bungles but the park was closed so she camped at the road while I rafted down the Ord River to walk into the park. It was a strange and wonderful experience. The water was as warm as a hot springs and the air like an oven. I paddled past a pack of wild dingos resting on the bank then splashing off through the shallows; flocks of a thousand gallahs, pink colored cockatoos sqawking; and what looked like ten thousand fruit bats fussing and fighting in the tea trees with a dozen freshwater crocodiles waiting below to feed on the hapless weak ones that fell into the water. I paddled though this melee of bats and crocs then camped downstream, spooked.

As night fell, a half hour of bats (see the video below) passed overhead in the beautiful sunset. I slept restlessly for fear of crocks climbing up on the bank to get me, bivied on an air mattress under a cotton sheet. Alive in the morning, I watched the thousands of bats return.

Downstream I paddled through some fun class II rapids with crocs waiting in the pools below. Then I rolled up the boat and headed for the Bungle Bungles, an incredible landscape of domes and canyons.

On my hike there I walked on a jeep road, rutted and eroded, when I came to a nine foot snake, clearly an elapid, and judging by its size and aggression, a king brown snake. I stopped and it headed toward me. I threw a rock at it to get it to retreat but instead it checked out the rock then headed for me more directly, more quickly. This alarmed me so I retreated up the road and watched as it disappeared down a gully.

The next day I hiked into the Bungles, walking up the Piccaninny Gorge. It was hot, oh so hot, and I found another snake, and water monitor lizards, and a few birds and fish. I was all alone here as the park was closed for the wet season.

It was just too hot. The balls of my feet feet on the hard surfaces in the heat in La Sportiva Fireblades were blistering so I decided to walk at night in my crocks which, were really functioning as camp shoes.

To save batteries I walked in the dark, fearful of snakes. To save fluids I rigged my sheet for shade during the day and tried to sleep. It took two pushes to walk the 30 miles out in my crocks. The second night was trippy, as in a bad psychedelic experience. First there was the late afternoon heat. My watch thermometer read 113 degrees under the umbrella carried as a parasol. Then there were the bush fires burning, burned out, or smoldering everywhere as I entered the wooded hills.

I crossed a creek and heard two feral bulls, the ones that are wild and never get rounded up, bellowing -- no roaring at each other, just as the tropical sun dropped, and one bull came toward me and I hurried off into the scrub to get trees between me and the beast, like you would with a pushy moose. That freaked me out, with all the poky bushes and grasses and the snakes lurking, I knew, and me barefoot in my crocks, 'cause the bulls came for me as I was trying to put my socks but no time, had to run. And that was just the beginning.

Then it got black and the hills were burning in bush fires, creepy, and silent and no wind, no night sounds, under a billion stars, all weird, except Orion in a funny place and that weird Southern Cross. Later the sideways moon rose and I could hear digeridoo music: Honest! Way out, like 20 miles from the nearest road and that road an empty thing in the Aussie Outback. I couldn't make it out to Peggy in the dark that night and I was tired from no sleep (too hot in the day fro walking or sleeping for that matter), so I camped in the dirt and woke in the morning with a centipede and a scorpion under my sheet with me.

And the next morning I walked out to the road, happy to be alive.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Another Great Modern Packrafting Adventure

Alastair Humphreys' video's professional production puts my silly little vids to shame:

An Expedition Across Iceland from Alastair Humphreys on Vimeo.

Thanks for making me look bad Alastair!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Modern Packrafting Adventures

This trip shows Tazzie as a packrafting destination. More of a classic, Alaska-style landscape adventure than a New Zealand trail hike and sport boat trip spot.

And this is more modern still: "Urbaneering" in Baltimore

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How to impress kayakers:

Luc Mehl's latest creation:

"We've heard a lot of kayakers describe the differences of being in packraft for the first time, but never get the opposite perspective.

"I took a Jackson Villain creekboat down Sixmile II and III (8.8 ft) with Matt and Toby Sunday (followed by a ski run in Turnagain, which was sweet!). My first time in a 'real' boat. It was a lot of fun, fun to be going through the rapids and nervous as hell.

"The take home message is that the little crap that we worry about in packrafts was not a concern, while some of the more subtle features, like eddy lines, require way more technique. I never had very good control of my line, but the boat pushed through everything (except staircase!). I expected everything to be harder in the kayak, but it really wasn't.

"Once I learn how to deal with eddy lines I think I'd be comfortable kayaking the same low-water runs that we packraft now.

"I loved not having to deal with inflating the boat and my 5 seat/back-rests.

"We put in at Boston Bar, so there wasn't much time to get used to the boat, I felt really unstable and kept getting turned backwards. Everyone complains about how poorly the Alpacka's track, but this boat didn't really feel any different in that regard. It is just much more of a two-dimensional problem.

"In the packraft I go in straight line segments and just turn the entire boat to change direction. The kayak carried speed with each stroke, so I had trouble timing my direction changes- travelling in curves rather than straight lines. This likely has a lot to do with my lack of technique.

"Pearly gates was no problem, but when I entered the eddy left, I flipped instantly on some eddy line I didn't even see. The roll was easy and gratifying. The rest of 2nd canyon was spent learning that I didn't need to worry about choppy waves or lateral features, etc., the kayak just punched through everything.

"I was pretty nervous entering 3rd, but I had the sense that if I could just get the boat where I wanted it, I'd get pushed through all the rapids. The problem was getting to where I wanted to be! The boat was so much more responsive to paddle strokes that I kept finding myself facing ~45 degrees off of where I was paddling toward. This put me directly over the staircase rock that Roman hit his head on, which was of course not a good place to be. I flipped, tried to roll three times but was getting pushed up against the right wall so I pulled the skirt.

"It was no problem to hold on the boat, but it was so heavy that even after I got it to shore a few times I couldn't get it out of the water. Matt and Toby were not too helpful because they swam there, too. Classic. The snow and ice on the banks didn't help.

"I had no problem with the rest of 3rd. It was a real treat to keep some of my warmth. I really liked being able to slide over rocks too. The braces put my right leg to sleep instantly, I don't know if that means the boat was too small or if I just need to adjust padding. But it made me appreciate the comfort of our inflatables.

-Luc 'Join the Darkside'"
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