Explorer 42 in Grand Canyon?

Hello All,

I’m new to the concept of packrafting and would like some advice:

My GF and I have done a few Grand Canyon backpacking trips in recent years and were considering adding a packraft into the mix for this year. We were awarded a permit (use of packraft included) for the middle of April '16. Our itinerary is the following (for those who are familiar): Head down Tanner Trail to Colorado River, hike up-river on the Beamer Trail to the confluence of the Little Colorado River, return to the Tanner Trail, and hike out the way we came. Since this is an out and back itinerary, we’d like to hike up-river to the confluence, put in at the LCR, and exit 5 miles down river (maximum allowed by backcountry permit) which ends up being about 2 miles up-river from Tanner Rapid. We’d be concerned primarily with 65-mile rapid and Lava Canyon rapid (https://www.riverbrain.com/river_rapid/show/236). Since this appears to be a relatively calm section of the river, we were looking at purchasing an Explorer 42 outfitted with a cargo fly, and using the shred-apart paddle option since this appears to be the lightest weight option -adding about 10lbs to our pack(s). I have the following concerns, however:

Alpacka says that the Explorer 42 is capable of Class III whitewater; it’s also an open boat…How wet should we plan on getting in this stretch? Would it be possible to wear regular backpacking attire with PFD’s and not have the added weight of wet/dry suits in mid-April? Figuring an average speed of 4mph (average CO river speed) we’d be at our take-out point in a little over an hour (where we’re planning on staying the night anyhow) and could change into dry clothing and warm up if need be. Are there any other concerns/considerations that any of you might have? Have any of you done the CO river through the Grand Canyon and remember this stretch? I don’t want to be doing anything too foolish, and this itinerary can be hiked the whole way through as well if weather/water conditions appear like they won’t cooperate before we set out. Overall we’re looking to try something new without having to push the ‘SOS’ button on our SPOT. Thanks in advance. -Bob

Hello Bob:

I’m not nearly as experienced as others here, so you will probavly get more knowledgeable thoughts from them. I did a short solo packraft / backpacking trip in December from Lee’s Ferry to Soap Creek Canyon. I walked both Badger & Soap Creek Rapids - primarily because I was alone & worried that I could get separated from my boat & gear in the even of a swim. I was in a Denali Llama with cargo fly, cruiser spray deck & thermarest pad inside bottom of boat, wearing and Alpacka Stowaway Drysuit with Immersion Research Union Suit fleece as insulation. Water was around 48 - 52 d F. I was very comfortable & most dampness was perspiration inside the suit. However, without the dysuit I think I would have been pretty wet from water coming off my paddle & the occasional splash. I found the river and packraft combination to be beautiful and worry-free in the smooth sections. Paria riffle and Cathedral Wash weren’t issues, but I got splashed a bit on each - not an issue with the dry suit, but I would have been wet without it.

For your proposed trip, I’d say the main consideration is your experience with rivers & white water in kayaks, rafts, or packrafts. If you’re experienced with kayaks & whitewater or packrafts & whitewater then you’d be able to evaulate Lava Canyon & decide whether or not to walk or run it. If you’re experienced you’ll know the techniques and concerns of a swim in pushy water. With two people in an open Explorer 42, I personally would not “read & run” any of the rapids, I’d scout them all. Especially if your party only includes one boat. I’m a pretty conservative guy (in terms of backcountry strategies - politics are another matter), I was pretty new to packrafting, and I feel like I underestimated the combined effects of a single boat, pushy water, potential cold, etc. If this will be your first packraft trip, your first trip in pushy water, and maybe your first experience in whitewater then I’d recommend walking Lava Canyon Rapid. I would also recommend that you try some comparable water before your trip in the boat you’ll use, with the gear you’ll have, at comparable temperatures and purposefully flip, swim and self rescue in a controlled setting. That way you wouldn’t be surprised in the canyon.

Packrafts are incredibly easy to walk around rapids and Lava Canyon would be an easy one to skirt. If there was a rafting party there when you were there and they were willing to spot you from below, that could change the equation and lessen the potential negatives of a flip & swim.

Howard Snell


Thank you for your reply. I honestly didn’t know that there were ultralight dry suits available. That makes me much more comfortable with possibly doing this trip. Ultimately the added weight may be too much since the packraft, paddle, and drysuit would put my pack over 50lbs for the ascent back up the canyon (carrying enough water to dry-camp half way) We’ll have to get everything out and re-assess our packing anyhow. We do have whitewater experience but since we’re in Georgia, it’s been limited to guided trips in the Ocoee river in Tennesee, and 2-person sit-atop kayaking in Nantahala river in North Carolina. These trips are always in Summer, and the water temps are well above the 40’s that the CO River sees. We’ve flipped the kayaks plenty of times with no issues, but I imagine that it would be much harder to right a packraft with gear packed inside the tubes. I like your idea of possibly walking around Lava Canyon; looking at the satellite view, it certainly appears easy enough. -Bob

Hello Bob:

Just a thought - have you considered monitoring the “Follow Up Lotteries” for non-commercial river trips with dates around your backcountry permits? With some flexibility it is possible to get a non commercial river permit that would allow more than 5 miles on the river and combine that with your backcountry permit. I mention that option in case you question the expense and effort of getting the Explorer 42 to the river for an hour or two of actual river time. A non commercial river permit could provide enough time on the river to effective make your proposed trip a loop - hike first to your NE extent, then packraft back to where you can access the Tanner Trail for your exit.

You’ll want to check with the River Office folks (same office that provided your backcountry permit but a different phone number) to confirm, but I think it is possible to start your river trip “down river” from Lee’s Ferry when travelling via packraft. The timing gets complex because river trips are defined by their start date at Lee’s Ferry. So if you wanted you actually launch via packraft at river mile 61 on 1 April, then your river permit might have a start date of 25 March. Thus your start date at Lee’s Ferry has to be before your actual launch date at river mile 61 and the difference should represent a reasonable progression along the river as though your whole trip was on the water. An added complexity is that the Trip Leader has to physically check in at Lee’s Ferry on the launch date of the permit.