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".

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