Friday, December 30, 2011

Ten Pound Packraft

That's been the limit some of us set as a max weight on a packraft. And now I am there.

My 2011 Llama came heavy, with its extra heavy duty spray deck, made from fabric nearly as beefy as the tubes, plus a fat four inches of velcro down its tall waist-wrap. It arrived weighing around 7 pounds.

Then I added a thick poly-pro line to the bow and stern so I don't get separated from my boat like this guy does. In the past, the "chicken line" went right round, but for creeking, just fixing the four front together with poly-pro and the back two seems both necessary and sufficient.

All last season it had beefy metal D-rings for thigh straps fore and aft, anchoring thick, padded Aire Deluxe Thigh Straps. I added sticky-back velcro stabond-glued on the inside tubes to hold an early 2000's style seat as a beefy backrest. This brought it up to over eight pounds

And most recently, in anticipation of creeking on long slides and big drops back East, I added a cut-to fit 1/2 inch closed cell foam lining, a 12" x 12" minicell pad under the stock seat and an 8"x8" foot pad.

The next mod may well be replacing the thigh straps with knee cups, which may take it back down again.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Europe Dreaming

Silly Season Dreaming like Mountain Biking in Slovenia:

This slow motion techie downhill riding looks appealing to me:

That would be wonderful.

Peggy wants to go to Italy and Greece to trail walk, eat, drink and soak up the sun. And Scandinavia would be great for packrafting. All those train+packrafting trips, too. But my summer is filling up fast, and will try to get to Tibet's SE corner for ice worming in August.

Then there's the Wilderness Classic in July, and while Timmy J. is considering teaming with me and Luc admitting it'd be fun to join the two of us to paddle the Class III and IV for maybe half the route from "Valdez to McCarthy" (not literally, but figuratively -- the most innovative course in a decade), I fear (1) that I'll burn Tim out on "training runs" beforehand and (2) Luc will realize that the paddling route, while adventuresome, may not be winning.

So then there's June, Peggy's birthday month and the best month for wilderness travel in Alaska (did I say that?). And she's got a beautiful new aluminum Fatback (makes my 907 look ugly), so we have some beach ride in mind. Not sure where, but it will likely include beach combing, maybe even a Bob to cart all the treasures.

Brings us to May, a good time for creeking in AK and maybe hiking in the Chugach and Kenai and putting the two together for a season of first descents. It's time. Enough running the same old stuff, trying to prove packrafts are for real boaters. It's time to find and link some wilderness FD's, no planes, no helicopters, but Class IV-V wilderness runs with 10-15 mile walk-ins. Maybe the new Witchcrafts, which Alpacka is sending Timmy for trial and error, will make that happen.

I'm not getting any younger: just slower, weaker, blinder, dumber, more achy and in further awe of Dick Griffith. He was 55 when I met him thirty years ago and in that thirty years since he's done as much as most of us old enough to be his children or grandchildren. By the time I am 55 I will likely be done with this stuff. Instead, I'll be planting bonsai, coding R, and maybe, painting watercolors.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Silly Season's Greetings

Silly in so many ways.

Running around in fresh snow over black ice.

Spending money on the wrong things for the right people.

Looking back. Feeling guilty, sometimes regretful, mostly thankful.

Looking ahead, excited, maybe. Older. Achier. More forgetful.

Sleepy, here in the darkness north of 61 degrees.

And overfed, maybe over-medicated, if you know what I mean.

My semester kicked me to the curb and then spit on me.

But. It's over, I'm alive. And addicted to "R", for the small handful of you who may know what that is and read posts here.

I have a lot of things to say but no time to say them, maybe no readers to hear them.

Not only have I been unable to blog, or meta-blog, but I have not been able to read anybody else's blogs really.

OK so I look at MC's photos now and then (how is he so good?), maybe peruse B&P's latest musings (liked that Dave C thought our bikenraft was the best trip of the year), see what my old Sherpa packraft is up to at Dirt and Dogs, check out blogpacking in Finland, of course, occasionally (which some how may have led to seeing a lone, crazy, Italian bikenrafted the Parsons/Kentch route making it a bit more of a trade route these days).

Hig sent me a link to his Malaspina pics. Awesome. While luc Mehl got the "Golden Paddle" award this year for documenting the most significant uses of a packraft in 2011, I must say that Hig continues to dream up trips I want to do even after he does them.

He wrote me about Malaspina,
"The route, with some minor refinement, should become a classic AK trek like Aniakchak. It's totally awesome to cross the ice to the ocean, and both the Samovar Hills and the coast end are incredible. And there's a lot to be missed if you stick to the beach. And the geo-geek stuff is intense. We're ruminating on designing a "how-to" kind of thing that includes info on the route, and also includes a series of photo-reoccupation points and other re-occupiable activities (e.g. plumping depth of growing glacial lakes) that would help illustrate the incredible change going on there. Would love to chat with you about this idea."
Hig and Erin's Wild Coast movie, "Journey on the Wild Coast", edited by Greg Chaney, won an award at Banff, which is cool and appropriate. The 30 min Banff version is good, particularly all the couple's talk. It's short on interactions with other people, people who must have been interesting, but it was their trip and the movie is a good complement to the book, as it was edited by Greg and his take on the trip is good. There is an Epic Eric cameo on their so-called "victory lap" around Unimak (maybe it was a hubris-hating bear that bit them in the boat, there, at the end), which adds a lot as well.

Apacka sent Tim Johnson and Luc some hyper-cool new Llamas. Cool in looks and function. They each have spray deck cowlings that function like a hardshell cockpit -- i.e. the spraydeck stays on your waist and comes off of your boat. Luc's is particularly colorful, apparently inspired color-wise by his wonderful Bird-Spelled-Backward video. We three are going to the steep creeks of NC in early January to test them out.

Yes, that silly season. Silly thinking of next year and all the wonderful possibilities.

Life is short and always getting shorter -- gotta try and live it well, which starts by dreaming.

What are you dreaming up?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Best Packrafting Video of the Year: Luc's edit of Paul on Bird

Luc Mehl's latest and best creation highlights his skills as cameraman/editor, Paul Schauer's as superb boatman, and the Alpacka packraft as a forgiving, fun craft:

Paul's season highlights is also so well crafted that I'd like to take up hardshelling, too:

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Packrafting: The last four seasons

The biggest-hit packrafting video of all time is the "Alpacka Creek Descent" (above) by mediafeliz. The mediafeliz videos show young indestructible kids in indestructible boats (actually they popped seats and blew out spray decks). Artistic, playful, and inspiring, those videos likely encouraged Eric Parsons to make a handful of vids that included local Anchorage whitewater in packrafts. This was before Eric quit his engineering job to become Revelate Designs (a transition good for bike gear).

His videos showed what was to come: whitewater in decked boats.

Jeff Conaway was in many of those early Epic Eric videos and he was the one to show me how to switch modes on my first Pentax Optio camera and shoot video while we were on Ingram Creek with Paul Schauer in 2008. Soon after, Nathan Shoutis of mediafeliz used a mouth cam and together we shot much of "packrafts are real boats" on Ship Creek. Later I picked up more video of Brad Meiklejohn on Little Su and Thai Verzone, one of Alaska's first Class V boaters to embrace the packraft, on Bird and Canyon Creek.

Some claim that "packrafts are real boats" marked a turning point for the packraft image:

While the whitewater cadre swelled, packrafts retained their original implementation as a brush for making bold strokes in landscape performance art. Employing this classic application, Peggy and I went around the world with a packraft, spending some time with Forrest McCarthy and Amy in Wyoming and Utah, and using one packraft for two-person wilderness travel from the arctic, to the deserts, across the equator, to the other side of the world in Patagonia and Down Under, in NZ mountains and Aussie Outback.

Once home in Alaska, I enjoyed the explosion of classic Alaskan whitewater packrafting in 2009, spearheaded by Brad Meiklejohn. Thanks mostly to Brad, "Revolution 09" captured the highlights of that year when JT Lindholm, Luc Mehl, Tony Perelli, Becky King (all of Team Talkeetna), Thai Verzone and Gordy Vernon and others started running Class IV on a regular basis.

During the Fall of 2009 two more Class V hardshell boaters climbed into packrafts: Paul Schauer and Tim Johnson.

At the end of 2009, Cody Roman, who had been running Ship Creek and other Alaskan waters since 2003, but crippled up with a back injury from the Grand Canyon, looked to be out of boating. So I sold Tim Johnson the boat my son used to use, a blue Yak.

Within a week of owning it, Tim had installed thigh straps and Eskimo rolled it on an icy Bird Creek. Soon, all of Team Talkeetna and others like Toby Shwoerer and Matt Johnson had glued in thigh straps and learned to roll their boats in the pool.

In January 2010 I headed to New Zealand to meet with Timmy J for some West Coast whitewater. 2010 marked the real revolution as we all now felt more solidly connected to our boats. With Paul Schauer in a loaner Yak, we ran Disappointment and with Timmy J we ran the local stouts in low water conditions: Magic Mile, Upper Willow, and Upper Upper Bird. We felt like we were becoming real boaters.

Like Alpackas in early-2000s, spray decks in the mid-2000s, thigh straps in 2010 led to a quantum leap in packrafting. The disagreements we had with Alpacka over thigh straps suggested the theme for the best of 2010, "Sympathy for the Devil", but people were routinely Eskimo rolling now, and in combat situations. So while straps may have been a devil, we nearly all had them.

This year, packrafting has been far less intense for me.

Last year I put in like 60 days and made 35 videos, mostly all about whitewater, but some classic packrafting with Andrew Skurka, too. This year has been more cosmopolitan.

Cody Roman's back's been feeling better, and ever since we went hunting in the Brooks Range, he feels that it actually loosens it up (maybe it's just the adrenaline killing the pain), but we spent a few weeks in Tasmania and ran the Anne and Franklin Rivers with my old friend Bill Hatcher. Then I did a neat Lost Coast bike rafting adventure with Eric Parsons, Mike Curiak, Steve Fassbinder and Dylan Kentch in late June and in late July traverse of the Alaska Peninsula over Aniakchak with a cast of 15 (well documented at Luc's website). There was a smatter of creeking, but not much new (except E Fork of Iron Creek), and I missed video documentation of the two Whitewater Festivals (but Paul shot and edited them: Willow and Six Mile), each well attended by packrafters. Paul also made a vid of the super social early run down Six Mile (his take).

2011 has been a great year to be part of a neat group of adventurers discovering the possibilities of packrafting all around the state and the world.

The 2011 boats are yet another quantum step forward and with Go Pros and digital SLRs the packrafting explosion is both inspirational and sharable.

Anyway, I feel extremely fortunate to be in this place at this time with these people and these tools, toys, and techniques.

What will next year be like? I am eager to find out.

One thing I'd really like to see is everyone fix their Word software to spell "packraft" like "sailboat", not "pack raft" like "sail boat".

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Upper Willow Video

Like a junky needing a fix and desperate for a source, I left a message on Timmy J's voicemail Friday afternoon:

"Timmy, do you know any kayakers who'd be up for Upper Willow tomorrow?"

Luc and Toby were interested if I could get more merriment in the form of more boaters. On the phone I told Thai that it was the best boating I'd done all summer, like the way Ship Creek used to feel back in the days before everyone knew that packrafts are real boats, and that he'd love the low flows and pool drops.

"OK, I'm in. Text me when and where."

Then I called Brad M, JT L and Joe McLaughlin, striking out with all three.

But Timmy came through, surprisingly passing up on the weekend's massive flows on Six Mile that the hard shell boaters were hitting again. Paul Schauer loaned him his 2011 red Llama.

So with Luc, Thai, and Timmy, two cameras, warm fall weather, around 225 cfs in Upper Willow and a little video from last Tuesday's romp on that creek with Tim, Trip, Johhny C, Matt P, and Bo I put this together -- it's worth watching twice to see Luc's combat roll and Thai's boof without thigh straps, as well as a real boater putting a red-colored, thigh-strapped 2011 Llama to the test.

After the run we did (only as far as just above Triple Drop), Timmy said, "You know, these new boats are awesome. So stable and fast. Harder to get airborne on a boof, but so nice on the landings. I'd leave my kayak behind and just take one of these to New Zealand. And putting a slab of minicell foam under the seat worked really well, you should try it."

So there you have it: packraft advice from a real boater.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"Bunny-hop, Boof, and Bushwhack"

If I were 25 -- instead of 50 -- and feeling the urge to start another blog, that's what I'd call it, "Bunny-hop, Boof, and Bushwhack"as I guess those three words represent three of my three favorite outdoor activities.

Jon Underwood took me out on his latest creations, the mtnbike trails at Kincaid and I had to tell him that those Hillside trails now get a B grade compared to the new Kincaid ones. They are sweetly banked and somehow seem longer and more varied as well as more technical. The fall colors spilling across the ground and the sweet smell of autumn in sun were great.

But an even better high than that was running Upper Willow with Tim Johnson, John Combs, and Matt Peters, three Alaskan kayakers who knew the worth of thigh-strapped packrafts and SE boaters Trip Kinney and Bo Wallace, who had yet to see first hand Timmy J boofing off the countless drops in there. All of these guys are super good/fun boaters and paddled with big smiles on their faces as they made their playful way down the boulder drops of Upper Willow.

Paddling with people who are having fun is contagious.

Tim, Luc, Tony and I had run Upper Willow last year, too, finishing super psyched. Last Fall was a real turning point in packrafting as a handful of us ended a full season of thigh straps with Upper Willow, Magic Mile, and Upper-Upper Bird. Hoping to get a repeat of that this year, too, but I'd be happy with two more runs down Willow, really. It's like the boof-master writes in "Alaska Whitewater" on page 198, "This is easily one of the best (and most serious) whitewater rivers in Alaska."

It's amazing to read what Embick wrote twenty years ago about Willow Creek's "Upper-Upper Canyon", giving it ZERO stars out of his five star rating (Happy River and Charley Rivers each get five -- so does Alsek and Kiagna). He wrote in his 1994 guidebook: "Class V+ or VI- with five portages; not really recommended except for kayakers of extreme skill, willing to accept a high degree of commitment and risk......Andrew Embick made a solo run on May 29, 1986, in a Dancer.....No one has been back since. There's a good chance no one will."

My how times -- and boats --have changed. Granted, we ran it at 250 cfs, but it gets run regularly by the boaters in ANC at 800+ cfs. And for a handful of packrafters, there are so far only two portages.

Anyway, it left me feeling so good with its deep canyon multiple drops and clean water that I couldn't sleep the night after and I can not wait to run it again.

"Hi there. My name is Roman and I have an addiction. And that addiction is low water creeking at 400 feet per mile!"

Hopefully this weekend.......A few pictures from Trip's SLR, above ("Pancake") and below ("Gazebo" look for Timmy buried in the second shot and boofing like a rock star in the last):

So far, all of the drops have been packrafted except "Triple Drop" and "Aqualung", and everything is good down to and including "Maxwell House."

I am hoping to learn to boof half as well as Timmy on this run before I am 55. Oh and the 2011 boat still shines on techie little creeks like this, too.

And thanks again to Trip for the photos and all that crew for the good times.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Great Videos in no particular order

This is my favorite -- Devin Littlefield, an Alaska Pacific University (APU) student made it about the APU class "Swiftwater boating" taught by Paul Twardock with help from Timmy J, Jason Geck and me one day on Granite Creek.

I love the music and the editing.

Next up is Paul Schauer's run down the Tsaina, near Valdez. Paul's been cranking out the videos, but this one's my favorite of the last few he's done. Plus, it features Matt Peters and Jeff Shelton (among others), two super Alaska homegrown boaters who are also super people.

And then there is Luc's latest, and it's so good I am going to have to work extra hard and steal some of his musical ideas for my next one. It's a great trip report that would have been a contender in Dave Chenault's contest over at Bedrock and Paradox.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Hiking and rafting between 6,700 & 15,500 feet in Meili Snow Mountain National Park, Yunnan, China

Dr. Yonde Cui of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and I picked Thai up at the airport in a 4x4 Mitsubishi with our Tibetan driver; climbed out of Shangri La over a pass; dropped down along the Yangzi and the Sichuan Border; then back up and over another pass (14,000 feet) to Deqen and Feilaisi, about a dozen miles as the raven flies from Tibet

The 200 km took six hours and we passed through country dry and scrubby, wet grasslands, oak, pine, larch, spruce, and fir forests, as well as yak grazed tundra.

About half the road was under construction and all of it was impressively perched along steep slopes.

The next day we drove down to around 6700 feet, crossing the Mekong River in its wildly steep Canyon (when do mountains become canyons and vice versa?), the color and volume of the Colorado at a good medium flow in the Grand Canyon, climbed up along a a desperately precarious one-lane road a thousand feet above, bumped along that to the driver's home town of Xidang, then hiked from 8,700 feet over a 12,000 foot pass into the Yubeng Village country where we started looking for ice worms above the yak meadows and talus slopes.

We looked hard, visiting a couple of Byron Glacier-style, but Himalayan-scale, avalanche cones by day (meltwater caves) and night (surface and crevasses), camping at 12,500 feet and climbing to a glacier at 15,000, nearly getting our heads blown off by a rock the size of a shipping box for the MacBook Pro 17 inch.

Back to Feilaisi and a happy hostel, we then drove north as close to the Tibetan Border as we could (20 km) without permits, then turned south again and scouted our most ambitious ice worm traverse -- up a side valley of the Mingyong Glacier to "Yak Herder" Glacier at about 15,500 feet, then over a col and across a second, dead glacier, and around on yak trails back to where we'd started.

On our last day we packrafted the Mekong River for a short bit -- very apprehensive as there are huge rapids and vertical walls in combination which we wished to -- and did -- avoid.

All of the peaks in the Meili Snow Mountain Range are unclimbed (with at least three over 6,000 meters) or at least they are unreported, as the range is sacred to Tibetan Buddhists. If we'd had time and permission we'd have made the 150 mile pilgrimage route (Kora) around the mountain range using packrafts for at least a section on the Salween.

This was my first time to Tibetan Buddhism country and I was taken by the people and their culture and how it's so interwoven with the landscape and nature in general. The culture was as delightful as the mountains were beautiful. I now know why so many westerners hang prayer flags at home and others become Buddhists.

We had 10 days of sunny weather and met only sunny people, including the possy who chased us down.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Rescue" from Minyong: One Trip Report from Yunnan, China

Trails without sign posts, the Red Bull Trail, the first 24 hours, not just interested in you but respecting and admiring you as you do them, the police kid, the wildly waving man, the guy with the scratch on his leg, the park ranger (or superintendent?), the Yak Herder, the tame yaks, the yak herder's hut, the sketchy climb past the lowest waterfall, the sketchy bushwhack past the upper waterfall, avalanche gullies scraped down to bedrock and slick alpine tundra, the spacey head above 14,000, the crushed rhododendron that stung my nose like a soup spice did my tongue, bushwhacking through rhododendron mixed with birch and bamboo, zig-zagging down-trails through meadows ringing in yak bells, the deep bark of a mastiff a thousand feet below, giant hemlock five feet across with bear claws and the police boy tumbling off, jumping a cascade with the steaming maw of an ice cave just below, wondering what was to come of us, the cell phone call in the rhododendron to a female voice on the other side speaking English, the Yak Herder who looked like my Uncle Zinn and scrambled up a leaning birch to get better cell reception, his pack full with a liter and a half bottle of home made liquor, fry bread, herbs and roots and orange phallic mushrooms, and the furry genitals of a black Asian bear, with great pantomime stories of the hunt and the function of its medicinal powers.

The moraine ridge leading to the moraine covered in heather and lichen and dwarf rhododendron, flowers and plants like those back home and those we didn't know. The good solid rock five four maybe leading to where we could step onto the glacier with a view 7000 feet down to the Mingyong Village below. The Ranger's and Yak Herder's route discussions. The Yak Herder's speed and agility in soft green shoes with no apparent tread, his glee in pointing out our up-tracks in the dust of thar and yak trails, his excited voice on the phone announcing us, his discovery. The mixed birch and hemlock forest with an understory of rhododendron. The texture of the glacier, its headwalls and layered rock, its cracks. And the smooth, thinning icefall now ice ramp that fed it, the firn with no ice worms at 15,500 feet. The pass and the pika and thar tracks to the next glacier, it dead, no cracks, just white and black, handsome long tailed pipits like snow buntings picking slow crawling midges off the surface, but no worms. Huge boulders precariously balanced, posed to pin a leg, if not an arm, the glee of stepping onto tundra and following trails past bivy caves, huts, flowers and views in the shade of morning cloud after a week of high altitude sunshine had toasted my lips, the runs at 15000. Sleeping on everything I had, waking at 2 am for a jet boil brew. Scouting the route on the tourist boardwalk and walking with David, a Chinese researcher studying Tibet architecture. 7 hours up from the hut, class V and VI bushwhacking and climbing with class II brush as desperate handholds, horses in town walking the streets, tucktucktuck of a tractor, and horses looking for goodies like a sweet plastic bag on the street, gentle people living with their animals horses pigs and yak-cattle all tame and pettable. Little orange cats and massive black dogs on chains. Fear of rain, crossing yawning meltwater gorge on avalanche debris of old snow, rocks and a forest peeled from the hillside. Boulders marked with the year the glacier had passed there -- a km in five years of retreat. Scouting through binoculars handing them back and forth seeing the same routes Thai describes, splitting up to take trails see where they go, reporting, then debriefing. Squeezing melted fun sized bars into our mouths eating slightly stale chips from split bags and unbroken fresh ones from bloated bags. Coffee and poptarts for breakfast, red rhododendron flowers, fir trees, spruce trees, pine trees two kinds of hemlock, larch trees, cottonwood and aspen, a tinge of yellow up high but summer down low, tashi delay to dark-skinned-almond-eyed people and nee how to white-colored ones on horseback, everyone skinny, everyone happy, the long looks from Han women as we walked past shirtless, pointing to leftovers on tables for dinner (no language other than survival sign), popsicles and Beer at trailhead when all five "rescuers" leave but Police-boy and we not yet congratulating ourselves, going to the police station and again the English speaking female voice on the cell saying that we will not be fined but to "leave town as soon as possible", this spoiling our plans to packraft through town on the Minyong Glacier's runoff stream. Police-boy and the border guard drunk and staggering down the street, terraces from above, yak foothills, river gorge gardens and fields, high mountains for worship and life giving waters from ice and snow above.

The Yak Herder mimes how rocks fall his arms waving akimbo head shaking tongue rolling out eyes closed hands ringing his own neck, the lands above yaks are dangerous. He stops in His downhill run to show poison plants and dig for herbal ones. He tells us with hands milking and holding fingers to head and then pumping an imaginary pole that he is a yak milker and butter maker happy and smiley and fast uphill and down and jumping his fifty year old body (he looks) across waterfalls and gorges, slipping effortlessly down slimy slides and tangled thickets. He makes me feel cautious and slow and THAI falls several times the only time I see THAT. Police-boy his slouching down the trail his hat sideways his jacket hanging loose off one shoulder. The border patrol guy waving furiously to go his way and yelling my way off. Cameras and cell phones in their hands in the bush in far SW China. Sharing cigarettes and chocolate, building a little hut to show that we need to get stuff at the hut where we'd left gear hidden and a small bag of food hanging like an offering that they had accepted, and lots of wood and a clean space, they'd seen our headlamp lights and five had come looking and found us.

We didn't really know where it was, nor how to get to it, but the Red Bull Trail was down there somewhere, and then we found it, soon after the Yak Herder found us, eating raspberry crumble from the bag and drinking water from the creek, in Yunnan China one mile maybe two from Tibet, on mountains, unclimbed and unclimbably sacred off-limits to us, with no worms on their glaciers, alas, we have to come back to the high wet mtns of China again and we will.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Honolulu Creek's "Beach Party"

Over at Toby's Blog is a bit about his and Brad's recent overnight trip to the whole of Honolulu.

The video is great and the run looks super:

If I wasn't headed to China's Yunnan Province near Kawagebo and the Yarlung Tsangpo region of SE Tibet next week for a month, that would be my next destination!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Two videos

Both of these are great Alaskan adventure videos and in some ways tell the same kind of story but in different ways.

Each highlights the wild adventures that Alaskans are doing, adventures that Alaska itself encourages: multisport, challenging, abstract, innovative, and as Peggy often notes, uncomfortable at times.

Josh Spice's advice:

And Luc Mehl's 2011 Wilderness Classic:

Oh and this needs some wider play too:

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Luc Mehl's Video of AK Pen trip

Too good not to post here, too:

Unfortunately Luc and I didn't travel much together. And from this it looks like he had a great time with the B Team.

His videos are soooo good. They keep me motivated to keep coming up with new tricks. I want his camera, but will have to wait a couple years before moving upward to Canon from Panasonic.

I wish I had the band width to listen to Pandora, too, and maybe get a jump on his cool music!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Aniakchak Caldera

Amazingly the 15 of us walked in over three different days and in all of kinds of weather.

Being of the magical belief -- or maybe a trans-rational one -- that the entire universe and we are one, which in practical terms means if your group gets along well then the weather is great -- we had Thai and Monty and Suzie and Joe and so our weather was fantastic on the walk in.

In fact the only time our weather was wet and nasty was the day we eight headed over a pass toward the coast away from the big party group and there were a bit of disjointed discussions about where we should go and about what pass is which and whether on the 1:250,000 scale quadrangle maps for Alaska whether the big squares are five miles or six across.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Aniakchak Party: Pt Heiden to Chignik Lagoon

Back in the 1980s Aniakchak National Monument was just too far away for my twenty-something dirtbag packrafter budget.

This was before Alaska Airlines offered Pen Air as a travel partner and before Thor Tingey showed that the Gates of Aniakchak's Class IV rating did not apply to packrafts (ah, another example of how packrafts deserve their own rating system! But I have given up on that battle to move onto other more important ones -- like universally dry spray decks).

Thor eventually took his Mom (Alpacka's Sheri Tingey) and Dad (former NPS superstar Ralph Tingey) from Pt Heiden to Aniakchak Lagoon, initiating a rush of early acceptors to follow suit. This wasn't quite a cheap, dirtbagger's trip, just yet, as it it required a $2000 charter flight out from the Lagoon.

I wanted to do a loop coming back on the Meshik and walking the Bering Sea coast back to Pt Heiden (like big rafters do, as the walking from Aniakchak to Meshik Lake area is awesome on crow berry flats of cinder ---- big boaters even bring wheeled carts for their portage!), but Brad Meiklejohn suggested walking to the Chigniks (Chignik Bay, Chignik Lagoon, Chignik Lake), another 65 miles on and flying out from there -- on Alaska miles.

Somehow the small initial group of JT and Brad plus Luc, Sarah, and Anthony swelled to Brad, JT, Luc, Sarah, Anthony, Este, Brooke, Toby, Ole, Joe, Gordy, Thai, Suzie, Monty, and me. Somehow all 15 of us managed to get flights into Pt Heiden and out of Chignik Lagoon within days of each other. And somehow we all managed to meet at Surprise Lake in the caldera for a party that lasted two nights, included day hikes all over the Caldera with several summits like Vent Mountain, plus a day of flipping the Gates Class III rock gardens, which failed to cut any boats, despite well over 20 descents with and without loads. And somehow we all managed to gather round one big bonfire after the 20 mile whitewater stretch and dry out and eat popcorn.

Luc has posted some pics and so has Toby. Others will soon, no doubt.

I was most impressed with the coastal walking and with traveling as a group of eight (Toby, Ole, Joe, Gordy, Thai, Suzie, Monty, and me) to Chignik Lagoon. It was refreshing to share food again after a string of trips with people who only feed themselves with their individual cook pots and food-in-a bag. We had 14 hour camps and lots of long breaks.

When we moved, we moved fast, often trying to keep up with the athletes of our group, Toby (who held the Crow Pass record for a while) and Suzie who seemed to be all leg.

When the tide was low we walked the beach and when it was high we walked world class bear trails. And I mean world class! I can now see why Hig has taken Erin down the Alaska Peninsula twice.

Willow fires in the rain were a real highlight of the rafting and driftwood fires on the beach for the walking. We only cooked breakfasts on stoves in the rain in the Caldera and eventually went to all campfire cookery -- a real packrafters' trip it was. We used the boats on each of the eight days except the first two leaving Pt Heiden and the first day of beach walking. One day we used them twice: first on Kujulik Bay and then on Dry Creek.

We had great weather, some rain, and friendly locals in Chignik who gave us dry wood, half a case of beer, and cooked us king salmon steaks smothered in cream cheese.

Overall the trip felt to many of us like a Wilderness Classic, minus the race part and with lots of sleep, rest, and fun -- very social yet wild. Many bears, most big, all shy, but occasionally scary as you'll see in the video.

Pt Heiden to Chignik Lagoon is now on my list as a fat bike ride, taking my 2011 Super Scout (extra six inches longer and with mylar/spectra spray deck) for crossings and brushy low land creek bottoms where the walking is bad and the creeks give beach access. I ran the Gates twice in my Super Scout wearing rain gear and all the rapids downstream too. It's an excellent wilderness travel boat, also very Retro with its 10 inch tubes, a foam pad for a seat (Z-Rest), and lots of bag paddling and ferying to take the driest line.

Here's a video of the beach trip. It's long and includes voice, sort of new territory for me. I hope it's enjoyable for those who didn't go -- I made it for those who did.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

East Fork of Iron Creek: 24 Hours to Talkeetna

The bike buzz didn't last as long as I'd hoped.

The siren call of whitewater quickly washed away the rubber residue and almost immediately after getting home, I was paddling that Super Scout (a 2011 Alpacka Scout w/six extra inches and a super cool, center opening, spectra-reinforced mylar spray deck) places it wasn't designed to go.

Doom wanted whitewater after the Magical Mystery Tour and our local goodness delivered. Then Ganey came to town and had to hit the highlights including a near 10 foot gage run on Six Mile's lower two canyons with Timmy J, Luc Mehl, Todd Tumalo.

Wow! What a wild ride Six Mile at 1400 cfs in a packraft is. But the 2011 Llama is almost like cheating. The stern is like a spring that propels you out of holes and the bow punches waves. The bottom is a new and lighter fabric so I have beefed it up with more fabric, especially in the foot and seat areas.

The deck on mine was a special order with a heavier fabric and a very short center opening and mondo velcro. It's not for everyone, and requires a bit of worming to get into and out of on shore/in eddies. When flipped and under water I sometimes use the rip cord to get out, since I am fairly securely installed in that boat.

But the new design, which took the best of the proto-type Wichcraft and incorporated those features (pointy bow, long stern) into the basic line-up, feels almost like cheating. Good bye to the "bandersnatch", hello to catching eddies easily and ferrying fast. Good bye to most side to side bow sway. Hello to straighter, cleaner lines. And boofing is a blast!

Because I am a Yak-sized guy paddling a Llama with seat forward, lots of air behind me, thigh straps, and a super deck, my boat stays dry and buoyant in bigger and squirrelier water. It's not a beginner's boat, especially with a load inside.

But when Joe McLaughlin called about the East Fork of Iron Creek in the Talkeetnas I jumped at the chance, especially with the all-star team of Joe, Thai Verzone, and Tim Johnson.

For video reasons I wanted Tim and Thai in packrafts, but Timmy came equipped with his hardshell, ostensibly fot the flat water paddle out the Talkeetna. Joe's a hardsheller, and so is Thai, but Thai and I have been making annual stabs at establishing the boundaries of packrafting since 2008 when we did Bird, then 2009 when we did Montana and the Happy with side trips.

Thai and I would find that the East Fork of Iron would again raise the bar.

As for mixing hardshells and packrafts I have followed Tim in his hardshell down New Zealand's Upper Hokitika and Six Mile when it's an iced-up, gnarly little creek. I'd welcome his skills, strength, safety, and good sense if he came along in nothing more than a dry suit and kick board.

Joe, too, is a solid boater, who took me down Six Mile many years ago in a mixed group of kayaks, both hardshell and inflatable, as well as canoes paddled by experts who could roll them, and me in my old red Yak.

Eyeing my long, svelte 2011 Llama, he said, "It looks like packrafts have evolved to the point where they don't need to be dumped every ten minutes and can run side by side with kayaks."

The steep Blueberry Canyon on Iron Creek's East Fork would prove that statement true.

Many apologies for the apparent narcissism of the video below. Because we boat scouted nearly everything and were racing darkness, there was no opportunity to use the "big camera". Moreover, the ole' dental cam was missing its face mask extension and I had to go with a bow mount for the Go-Pro. The bow mount doesn't work so well filming forward, but does work well facing back....hence the video.

Timmy J, Thai and I drove up to Talkeetna after feasting on Peggy's moose and razor clam tacos with another stop in Wasilla at Sr. Taco: the idea was to feast, fly, and paddle till midnight.

The flight in from Talkeetna to the miner's airstrip took 25 minutes and $600 for the four of us in Talkeetna Air Taxi's Beaver with two hardshells shoved in the tail.

At first the stream was so scrapy and braided I wondered whether there'd be enough water to cover the rocks we'd seen from the air in the crux Blueberry Canyon. When the creek entered a mini-canyon but felt pretty much just like the South Fork of Eagle River, I wondered why I had shelled out $150 for a fly-in version of Hiland valley.

Then, an hour and a half after putting in, the canyon deepened, the creek steepened and the wild ride began.

I'd been expecting a bedrock canyon, like Bird or lower Ship, but instead got an hour and 15 minutes of twisty turny boulder drops -- not smooth and rounded like Little Su or Magic Mile, but sharp-edged and sievy like the last three drops on Honolulu or Montana below the Big Sky drop.

Almost immediately into the main event of the run, Thai was wondering about the "spray deck leaking" on the stubby Llama I had loaned him.

In classic Thai style he was paddling this modern Alaskan steep creek in a dry suit loaned to him from someone in Gustavus (when he and Gordy had headed back over the Fairweather Range to Yakutat after walking and packrafting the beach to Gustavus), with a paddle loaned him by Tim, and in a loaner Llama of mine.

He had only had time to outfit the unfamiliar boat at the miners' airstrip using the camping gear he'd brought. We'd forgot to bring a backrest for a boat with the seat moved forward.

So when the water got stiff and steep and he found himself swamped, the creeking was not exactly enjoyable for him.

None of us could afford to tip over in the shallow, maybe 175 cfs flow.

I was glad for elbow pads, face mask, and a stable boat. And for Timmy's boat scouting skills. Several times he'd eddy hop right to the edge of a blind drop while we clung to the canyon walls waiting. He'd crane his neck, then pivot and drop in, with one hand over his head signaling us to follow.

At one point in the crux rapid slalom, among giant boulders that strain water and wood out of the flow, Joe got hung up in a corner.

Thai came by him from behind, saw the predicament then screamed and hooted like a banshee.

Downstream there was no mistaking that wild alarm sound as an exhilarating hoot and Tim was paddling hard upstream into an eddy with his spray deck pealed back, exiting the kayak in one smooth motion to pull Joe and his boat to better waters.

Another sieve drop from hell where a landslide filled the creek had one thin line that Joe made smooth and sweet to redeem himself but the rest of us walked.

Besides that and a log below the canyon and a couple fresh wood falls on the Main Fork of Iron Creek we ran everything.

Pulling into our confluence camp at midnight, we were giddy and glad, even after discovering that it wasn't the spray deck on Thai's boat that leaked, but rather a six-inch butt split. In fact whatever cut the boat had also sliced his dry bag inside the boat, too!

Despite the damage and the scare, the East Fork had delivered with a tight, technical, twisty-turny and very steep canyon that kept me right on the edge of my abilities, but never freaked me out, never had me feeling out of control.

"A little more water, like maybe another hundred cfs, would actually make it easier. Pad everything out and make the lines cleaner," Timmy said.

"Yea, I'd love to come back and run this again with more water," responded Joe.

As for me, the low water was perfect for a packraft. And I'd like to get back to Disappointment and drop a few ledges that we portaged last year, before I return to Iron Creek.

The two Talkeetna tribs are certainly related, like big brother and little sister.

Neither is granite: both are sharp. Neither is easy: both are modern, fly-in, AK creeking.

E Fork Iron is like a sassy, slappy little sister to Disappointment as big, brooding brother, mellow in the boogey water but bossy in the drops.

Disappointment is very committing, set deep in a steep-walled, alder-encrusted canyon. E Fork Iron is a shallow canyon with tundra and people at a cabin and airstrip above. Portaging and retreat seem an option.

Disappointment has a handfull of Class IV/IV+ punctuating hours of boogy water; E Fork Iron has an hour and a quarter of non-stop III+/IV/IV+ and a V- slalom sieve. The filler is almost all III+ in Blueberry Canyon.

The confluence camp is nice and the 14 mile 2.5 hour paddle to the Talkeetna's tan waters down the milky blue Iron Creek is quick, fun and smooth. Great wave trains in fast flow make for cushy paddling.

In Timmy J's guidebook he quotes those from the first descent as calling the run "an absolute classic".

If Embick had run it and put it in his book, Fast and Cold, he'd have to give it five stars.

E Fork/Iron/Takeetna has the wilderness qualities of the Happy and scenery as good as the Charley, with craggy granite upstream and forested valleys down.

Awesome whitewater.

And certainly at least three type of river in contrasting segments: the clear water unique steepness of E Fork; the milky blue wave trains of Iron Creek; and the tan big water of the Talkeetna.

Hopefully this video can tell some of our story.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Genesis of the Tour

For the record the Magical Mystery Tour began with an email and a link to Mike Curiak's blog back on May Day.

From: Mike Curiak
Subject: Psssst, hey buddy...
Date: May 1, 2011 12:27:09 PM AKDT
To: Roman Dial, Eric Parsons, Steve Fassbinder, Dylan Kentch

Apologies for the verbosity, but there is a point to it all:

See ya 'round. Hopefully real soon!

This looked like an opening to spring what I knew we'd all want to do, so I hit "reply all" almost instantly:

From: Roman Dial
Subject: Re: Psssst, hey buddy...
Date: May 1, 2011 1:00:38 PM AKDT
To: Mike Curiak , Roman Dial
Cc: Eric Parsons , Steve Fassbinder, Dylan Kentch

Mike et al.

This is timely indeed.

I finally bought a fat bike thanks to Mike's advice and Eric's inspirations. It's meant for a couple more rides before I can't do this stuff anymore.

While we did call it hellbiking (i.e. wilderness bike & boat mostly off-trail) and many derided us at the time as "hike-a-bikers" (back then it was hard to ride and shoot photos at the same time -- plus that wasn't as photogenic as crossing rivers and thrashing through bushes), there were good reasons we did hellbike trips year after year for a decade: 1988 (Wrangells), 89 (Eastern AK Range), 90 (Brooks Range), 91 (Canyonlands), 93 (Into the Wild Bus w/Krakauer), 94 (Western AK Range), 95 (Kenai Peninsula), 96 (NG trip), 97 (Talkeetna Mtns), and 05 (Talkeetna Mtns).

I am looking for the right (experienced but patient and w/a sense of humor) partners to help an old man (me) get from Yakutat to Glacier Bay on fat bikes (or other) and this is the key group, I believe. I think it's a ten day trip and we need packrafts and some, umm, balls, I guess, for dealing with glaciers, bears, and bays. Two weeks from where you live and back most likely.

This is the stretch of Lost Coast that would make a good video using a SLR HD camera and Go Pro as a sub-five minute submission to Banff Mtn Film Festival, for example.

A group of three is ideal for sharing gear, and maybe five is better than four, but four would work, too. Even two, but images and stories come more easily when more than two.

Any of you with the means ($ to get to Yakutat and out of Glacier Bay), time (June), and interest?

You all have what it takes otherwise: skill, boat, and imagination.


The responses trickled in, beginning with Doom, whom I knew only from the Blogosphere:

From: Steve Fassbinder
Subject: Re: Psssst, hey buddy...
Date: May 1, 2011 4:46:38 PM AKDT
To: Roman Dial

Is this really a trip I could possibly say no to? hmmmm
There is also the reality of taking another extended trip this summer( cost, time off work, ect).
I'm going to head into the garage and replace that 4 year old chain on my pugs and think about it.
Let's just say I'm very interested, but perhaps august would work better for me?
Damn....sounds amazing....

A day later Dylan's response arrived with the enthusiasm of youth:

From: Dylan Kentch
Subject: Re: Psssst, hey buddy...
Date: May 2, 2011 12:31:36 AM AKDT
To: Roman Dial


Game on. Any time after the first weekend in June should be good for
me. Let me talk to the bosses by the end of the week and get back to
you then. Flying into Yakutat is cheap, it's getting home from
Glacier Bay that should be more expensive (I think).


And then Mike was responding, somewhat lukewarmly for tossing out the ball in the first place it seemed to me:

From: Mike Curiak
Subject: RE: Psssst, hey buddy...
Date: May 2, 2011 9:41:40 AM AKDT
To: Roman Dial
Cc: Eric Parsons , Steve Fassbinder, Dylan Kentch


To say that I’m interested is a level of understatement that I’m ill equipped to explain. God yes I wanna.

I love that Roman has started this out by attempting to sandbag us. Old? It’s all relative. What was that quote by Dick Griffith about old age and treachery?!!!?

Roman, with your experience us ‘young’ns’ will still be struggling to keep up. As long as you, too, are bringing a sense of humor and some patience, we’ll probably do fine.

I’m pretty well set with gear (as far as I know) and certainly set with cameras. I’ve got two HD SLR’s (one zoom, one ultra wide) and I’ve already been scheming how to sew a dry bag to my spraydeck to keep them protected but easy access.

I’ve also got a HD camcorder that I’ll gladly loan to whomever else goes, and wants to be responsible for it.

Is June really the best time for this one? I ask because it’s a really, really hard time for me to get away. Not impossible though. I’m still reeling a bit from the financial wreckage of my Feb AK trip, and a bit more time to recover wouldn’t hurt. Early July?


It was looking like time to snag Eric, who has a dog, a woman, a baby, and a business. He seemed the hardest, but most important, to catch, as he is the coastal bike-rafting explorer. I tried to set the hook with logistics talk:

From: Roman Dial
Subject: Re: RE: Psssst, hey buddy...
Date: May 2, 2011 4:29:18 PM AKDT
To: Mike Curiak, Roman Dial
Cc: Eric Parsons, Steve Fassbinder, Dylan Kentch


Dylan says yes, game on. Mike says, yes

August I'm in Tibet and Mid July I have a week-long short job. Need to see my wife somewhere in there.

The last week June/First week of July window is doable for me with some play on either side of that. Maybe a hair bit rainier/stormier than June (, but early July still has long days, maybe fewer bugs, better fed bears.

This is a route I have not yet done, so yes, may be sandbagging y'all but should be interesting. I can get beta, if we want it (Giffith, Hig, Skurka and Dylan's good boss, Dirk know the coast).

Lituya Bay and La Perouse Gl seem like notable obstacles.

We can get out of Gustavus to Juneau on the twice weekly (M & W) ferry ( and

One thing you should know, in full disclosure, is that I had ankle surgery ("arthroscopic debridement of an impingement") about three weeks ago. Doesn't hurt any more than before the surgery and feels best when I am in a boat or on a bike.


Maybe it was my admission of weakness with recent ankle surgery, but eight minutes later came the Captain's commitment:

From: Eric Parsons
Subject: Re: Psssst, hey buddy...
Date: May 2, 2011 4:37:07 PM AKDT
To: Roman Dial, Mike Curiak
Cc: Steve Fassbinder, Dylan Kentch

"circular inspiration" is a good thing but I don't know Roman. Sounds scary, lots of bears, calving tidewater glaciers (I'm still traumatized mind you..) and big balls. shit. what did Skurka say? "engaging?" :)

screw that man, I'm going to stick to feeding Finn pureed sweet potatoes.

kidding of course, would be sweet to have done the whole coast and is a route I've pondered about a lot. Getting the time will be the hard part, that will take some work on my part.

But now that Eric was in, it pulled the rest of the crew more firmly into commitment. One hour later:

From: Steve Fassbinder
Subject: Re: Psssst, hey buddy...
Date: May 2, 2011 5:44:07 PM AKDT
To: Roman Dial
Cc: Mike Curiak, Roman Dial, Eric Parsons, Dylan Kentch

Ok this idea has my full attention.

In fact I'm thinking about selling my #25 Don Mclung bike to finance my way, shit i'd sell my left nut if it was worth anything!

Late June early July would work for me. I have a wedding that I must attend in SF on july15th. I guess the farther away from that date would be best, as to give me some time to work in-between.

Things that I could possibly help with are my unwavering good attitude, camera skills, and possible film ideas.

I'm very close friends with all the mountain film telluride people, in fact they are all starting to get fat bikes. If we made a film that we all felt good about putting our names on, it would be a shoe in at MF.

I also have a friend from telluride, that just took a summer bush pilot job, based out of homer.Not sure if he could help us? He flew his personal plane up to AK with the intention of exploring (flying) to some amazing places, and told me I should come up this summer and he'd fly me anywhere.

I would love to be a part of a tour like this, as much for the company, as for the experience of riding and boating in such an unknown( to me) place.

Let's keep the ball rolling with some ideas and dates.

I leave one week from tomorrow for a 13 day trek across Utah that will involve the usual bike boating bushwhacking, but this time there will be a legit climbing section, and bachelor party thrown in the mix.

Should I return from this mess with my sanity and liver still intact, you can count me in.

All the best


By 10 PM of May 2, less than a day and a half after Mike C's first email we were all in and planning:

From: Mike Curiak
Subject: RE: RE: Psssst, hey buddy...
Date: May 2, 2011 9:51:00 PM AKDT
To: Roman Dial
Cc: Eric Parsons, Steve Fassbinder, Dylan Kentch

Sorry about the email binge. I’m procrastinating real work, which is the only time I get emails answered…

Last of June/First of July is probably the best compromise for all, yeah? Eric? Dylan? I can agree to it.

I’m not worried about being sandbagged, Roman. You’ll be waiting on me plenty regardless of locomotion. If, somehow, I can keep up on the bike and in the boat, I still won’t because I’ll be fixated on filling as many memory cards as I can. I expect y’all knew that already.

Looking at the maps I see *lots* of notable obstacles. I’m so green to this that I should probably keep my mouth shut and just follow closely. I’m of the opinion that we’re gonna have our work cut out for us regardless, and more beta is mo betta.

But that’s just me. Happy to go in ~blind if that’s what the group decides. It always works itself out.

AK guys—any guesses at what we’ll be spending to get to Yakutat, and back from Gustavus/Juneau all-in? Just looking for a round number to budget.

Roman—after the debridement has the impingement lessened?

Sleeping fitfully already…


And the rest is video and blog entries....more of which I'll try and trickle in, too.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Magical Mystery Tour: Yakutat to Glacier Bay on fat bikes and packrafts

Over at the the captain's blog is a bit on a trip so rich and so good that I can not write adequately.

I shot essentially no photos, only these "accidents": Be sure to click on them and see them in their big glory. MC has posted some beauties.

But lots of video: 70 gigs of video -- and that's just mine. All with the new HD GH1 and Go-Pro.

I can offer up some stats:
  1. 225 miles total.
  2. 135 miles riding every sort of beach sediment you can imagine.
  3. 65 miles paddling lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, sloughs, oceans, bays, fiords -- we used our boats 25 times.
  4. and 25 miles of mostly stumblef*cking.

The powerhouse Lost Coast Pugsly team of Eric Parsons and Dylan Kentch, with Mike Curiak of fatbike Idita-routes and "Doom" Steve Fassbinder got me through with humor, at least two fires a day, and cowboy coffee every morning.

We saw more eagles than sea gulls. Enough bears to make it interesting, but not so many as to be stimulating. We saw sea lions and whales, suspensefully close.

We saw no one else for days, but got a note from Gordy and Thai deep in the wilderness. They walked the coast to Gustavus and then skied the Fairweather Range back, we heard. No word yet on their trip completion.

For me this was among the top ten trips, ever, and would make for a long challenging Wilderness Classic.

Our camps read like a geography of this wild coast: Situk River, Dry Bay, Grand Plateau Glacier, Cape Fairweather, Lituya Bay, La Perouse Glacier, Icy Point, Graves Harbor, Taylor Bay, Icy Straight.

The bike and boat combo was the only way for us to go. We looked forward to the miles and miles of sand and gravel, even cobble beaches, as they were all rideable. Only when the boulders got to be the size of American sports balls (hardballs, softballs, footballs, basketballs) and cliffs of ice or rock met the surf did we set on pushing and portaging our bikes or paddling our boats.

There are highlights:
  1. Watching Dylan eat his 3 lbs of cookie dough straight out of the gallon ziplock while bobbing in 4 foot swells in his packraft.
  2. Hearing Mike share stories about a mutual friend whose initials are RR and who lives a bit north of Anchorage.
  3. Following Eric's lead into the Pacific breakers off La Perouse Glacier, his Surly Pugsly bravely crashing surf on the bow of his old leaky Alpacka.
  4. Riding with Doom on bedrock and cobbles and sea grass bear trails as far as we could go without dabbing.

We were treated to wonderful weather, spectacular scenery, ever-changing terrain on what is quite likely the wildest coast in the USA.

The riding on either side of Icy Point was pretty much among the best wild riding I can recall, improbable and delightful with the aluminum 907 with its one brake and two gears, a rear rack and a backpack, ideal. Thankfully our food loads were light at that point.

Another watershed moment came with tidewater paddling. I now know how Hig and Erin stuck with it from Seattle north: it's so much better than the alternative. Heading into Glacier Bay we moved at 5 mph. Matching travel to tidal flows was super satisfying.

We averaged 3.3 mph on bike (including rest breaks), 0.6 mph stumblef*cking on the boulders or f*cksticked bear trails, and 2.3 mph on the paddling stretches. That's with the fat bikes on board.

Alpacka made a four pound "Super Scout", six inches longer than the normal Scout. It included a spray deck.

Such a great and perfect boat for me on this trip, although a bit spooky with the 60-70 pound load at the start.

Maybe I'll get some video together to give a taste.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Every Poet is a Thief

Yesterday was sweet.

I joined JT, Luc, Brad, and Ben on Little Susitna at about 450 cfs.

I had my new 2011 Alpacka Llama with custom skirt and thigh straps, a new Werner Powerhouse one-piece carbon paddle (197 cm -- a bit longer than my 194 and mo betta).

And my two new cameras.

One's a Go-Pro and after seeing a CarpeyBiggs and a Ben Brown kayak video, each with Go Pro on the bow, I had to try it.

Feels a bit narcissistic, but if I put it on Timmy J's or P. Schauer's boat it'lll look super cool.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Old School

A sure sign of age is when your favorite techniques are revealed to be "old school".

I have discovered that I am old school.

I like rain pants and hard shells, sharing a tent, meals, and a big cook pot with others.

I wear sleep clothes.

Call me old school, but when skiing on the Harding Icefield, it's hard for me to give up my sled for just a pack, and planning a "bikepacking" trip I find it hard to give up my rear rack.

As visible above my rear rack holds my Sawyer paddle shaft and inside that compression stuff sack (vintage 1996) is 10 days' dinner and breakfast and a gallon cook pot.

That little bit of blue foam will serve as insulation and a packraft seat when paddling. Right there it's keeping the rack from wearing a hole in the bags and makes it easier to get a good tight load, which I need for riding.

On top of the food bag is a Go lite shelter for three.

Notice all the straps. They'll be handy for getting the bike on the boat when bikerafting and for setting up tent (I carry no stakes).

While I may be an old dog, I am still learning some new tricks.

There's that Epic Designed Revelate thingy up front holding an 8 pound Alpacka 2011 model Llama with thigh straps.

I went and rode some bumpy local root wad trails with this and found that the packraft holder thingy bounces around a bit.

I must have put it on wrong, but with another single lash strap, I reefed on that bundle and tamed it so my handling was far more nimble than you'd think of fat ole me on my fat bike with a 30 pound load (that's for ten days) split between pack (10 pounds), rack (15 pounds), and bars (5 pounds -- this raft is not the one I'd use for bikerafting -- it's just a test load).

The pack is my last Cascade Designs Seal Pack (vintage 1997) with a 25 L P.O.E. dry bag holding a Go Lite Quilt, sleep clothes [Patagonia wool base top + bottom, socks], rain gear [pants + anorak], wound kit, lunches, Skurka cat food can, and other stuff I'd need a spread sheet to post properly, I guess.

I like to portage with my head through the main triangle and the rear rack resting on my pack, so I haven't gone to a frame bag just yet. And I do like my rack cause it holds twice the volume of a seat bag.

Not sure I can put 15 pounds in a seat bag, can I?

Anyway, here's an old story I wrote and maybe had published in the UK back in the mid 90s. It's pretty obvious who our sponsors were and it does seem pretty dated.

But with the new stoke on about bikerafting and "bikepacking", some readers might find it pertinent today.

Plus it's a good review for an upcoming bike trip!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Lea River in Tas

This link shows that someone's paddling good stuff in Tassie:

Friday, May 27, 2011

Ice-worms, Boofs and Bunny-hops: The Beauty of May in AK

A handfull of us glued in thigh straps last week, huffing glue and MEK while drinking Moose Drool, I think it was, and eating Great Harvest peanut butter chocolate chip mega-cookies at Alaska Raft and Kayak.

Yes, quite a party with Jeff C., Toby S., and Tony P. We had to wait for the glue to dry and so didn't consummate the party the way we should have: with a run down Six Mile's Third Canyon boofing everything in sight with those new, cone-headed, long-tailed, 2011 Alpacka Rafts.

By the time the glue was dry I headed for the Harding Icefield with Amy (my snow algae grad student) and Melissa (my ice-worm student) and Tyler (undergrad assistant). It was an Alaska Pacific University research trip investigating glacier ecology.

The weather was sunny and interesting with some low blowing snow one morning and cooking sun the other. Our main objectives were to drill holes through the snow and into the underlying ice to anchor "ablation cables" for measuring snow melt over the summer using the steam drill:

We had the guys' and gals' tents. The gals' tent looked far more spacious than the guys', and the gals even managed to build a multi-walled wind block from the snow.

Another objective was to install a worm cam to shoot the emergence of ice worms as the season progresses and measure the light and temperatures simultaneously.

Basically we got up at 7 AM, melted snow, ate breakfast and headed out for our drilling project with the steam drill, a pressure cooker-like contraption that forces steam down a hose and so melts a hole in the ice and snow.

The skiing was great.

And the work crew stellar. They called the steam drill, "Hookie".

Tyler Katzmar, Hookie-meister.

We drilled about three dozen holes -- actually they drilled. I was just the supervisor/surveyer.

After we put in the holes, Amy fertilized her experimental plots to see if she can get more snow algae growth by adding nutrients to the snow.

We just worked on a small corner of the enormous icefield. Look closely in lower left to see the skiers.

After two nights on the Icefield we headed out, the gals a few hours ahead of the guys. The icefield was great traveling.

The gals had passed the Harding Icefield emergency shelter a couple hours ahead and would get down so far ahead of the guys that they went into town and got pizza and beer.

Spring had sprung and, boy, was the snow rotten on the trail.

And the bridge slick.

In the three nights we were away, spring had come.

I've written here about the Harding before and even after like my dozenth trip up there I am reminded of how much I like its Pleistocene austerity.

Skiing across its flats lets my mind wander through hypotheses big and small about why and where things live and grow up there, and this was one of the more productive 96 hours I've had there.

It's just that hike up and down with big loads that keeps me from returning every year instead of every other!

But the real reason for this post is to provoke readers with my fatbike's gearing arangement: a trials size dingle:

Look at the drive train! 16 T chainring and 16/18 T freewheel.

These are my two most-often used gears (1:1 and about 0.8:1) when riding wild. Since I only needed to shift two gears (and would need a chain tensioner anyway) I decided to do rear dingle rather than front dingle.

The derailleur is from my old teen-age Campy bike -- very retro.

I tested it today by riding the Brown Bear Trail on Hillside coming and going with ease.

Is it slow? You bet!

If I want fast I'll take my Pivot 429 out and rip, snort and roll. But for stability and crank and slo-mo fun this low geared dingle and 7 psi is just my ticket to ride.
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