Sunday, February 27, 2011

Recent Packrafting Links

Alastair Humphreys has a neat, short introductory piece on packrafts at a blog called Rohantime. It's probably the best brief introduction to what a packraft is and how to get into it that I have seen.

Meanwhile, there's Andy Skurka's big Alaska Trip in all its Ted Koeppel and Michael Brown glory in the March Issue of National Geographic Magazine and on-line here and a bit more here at NG Adventure on-line where Andy has a brief but interesting interview.

It's still winter here in AK, the time of map dreaming and scheming for the coming season of joy. So I'll leave you with these 1:200,000 Russian maps (free source) of an amazing corner of Tibet west of China, north of India and slightly NW of Myanmar, where I'd like to do a packraft loop and name it "Dharma Cycle".

This is not the Tibet of high, wind-blown plateaus and grasslands, but rather rivers and maritime glaciers with forests of spruce, pine, and what looks like cottonwood. It's a green and forested place, east of Namcha Barwa and the Tsangpo Gorge (headwaters of the Brahmaputra). It seems to be the most lush place in the Himalaya, perhaps because this elbow in the headwaters of the Brahmaputra are the nearest high peaks to the Indian Ocean and its summertime wet monsoon.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Skurka Grizzly Bear Encounter in Brooks Range

While crossing Gates of the Arctic National Park w/Andy Skurka on his big Alaskan adventure this past summer, we ran into a curious bear on the upper Nahtuk drainage. This was the same general area where Peggy and I had another bear encounter over 20 years ago.

At first the bear looked more predatory than curious. Andy was startled that it didn't just run away immediately, like all his other bear encounters over the last 4000 miles had ended. This bear really evaluated us.

As Skurka's usual method was to stand his ground and yell, "Go Away Bear", Andy did that, but the bear just reluctantly moved off the gravel bar and into the bushes. The wind was weak and blowing upstream, if I recall. And the bear was walking upstream toward us.

We sort of walked in a small radius half circle, Andy with his bear spray pulled to the ready, me with camera shooting over his shoulder to try and capture the tension of the moment -- and the bear walking in a larger radius half circle.

The bear just took its time, far more interested in our possibility as prey than as threat, it seemed to me. It felt much closer than the wide angle shot suggests.

The bear felt far closer than the telephoto shot shows, too!

One long, last look before slowly, almost disappointedly, the bear continued ambling upstream.

Andy Skurka with a good post-bear encounter adrenaline buzz going.
He's an adrenaline junky, too, I guess, just more of the low-dose, slow drip kind.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Spring Break?

Wish I could justify this trip over the coming Spring Break (instead of the 2012 one):

It's Ganey's Part I Instant Grand Canyon Classic. The Canyoneering start, the big inner gorge rapids, and the meal at Phantom Ranch just sort of high-grades the place.

That's enough for me. Wonder if it could be done on a Backcountry Permit?

And this by Tyler Johnson. He went down on a full raft trip and used packrafts as sattelite boats which is pretty common nowadays, I guess.

And our "old" one, which was also self supported. I think a week in the GC with a packraft is satisfying the way a Wilderness Classic in 4 days is. It's a satiating, full-body adventure:

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Packraft Portaging

One of the great matches between the Franklin River and packrafting are the portages.

The Franklin is Class III, maybe Class III+ (which can be, yes, portaged easily), except for a handful of Class V to Class V+/VI drops.

Some of these un-runnable drops are a bit involved in their portages, with ropes, ledges, cliffs and scrambling through brush. These are the infamous Churn, Thunderush, Cauldron, and Pig's Trough. Even the less involved portages like Log Jam, Nasty Notch, upper Coruscades, Ole' Three Tiers, and Big Falls look like a pain for anybody with Class III skills and a hard-shell kayak or big, 12 foot+ raft.

Anyway there's really very little Class IV (and what there is seems highly dependent on water level), the kind of stuff that makes you feel like a wussy for not running it, but when you do, you swim and lose a paddle, or a boa,t or skin off your knuckles. I don't like to run Class IV with a week's worth of camping gear and food, so I'd portage that, too, if there was a bunch on the Franklin, but there isn't. Just miles and miles of great Class II and III and moving water though pretty gorges.

What tickles you, the packrafter, there on the Franklin -- the way walking miles on sore feet and then getting into your boat to paddle tickles you, like you're getting away with something in a clever way -- is that the terrifying cascades and waterfalls of the Franklin can be portaged.

In a weird way -- like the way it's summer down there when it's winter up here, and their swans are black and ours are white, and the sun goes across the sky from right to left there instead of left to right here -- on this river, what tickles you, the packrafter, is not getting in your boat, but getting out of it.

Here's how we rig for that:

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