My First Float

HI! I just moved to Fairbanks from Georgia in April. Never heard of packrafting until I got up here. One of my friends who has been up here for a few years introduced me to this wonderful invention. He was up at the Atigun River crossing a few years ago on the Dalton and ran into Roman floating down, of all people, he was amazed! He never ended up getting a packraft. I got a copy of Roman’s book and was sold. So I rented a packraft two weekends ago from Northern Alaska Packrafts and used it to fish for trout at Dune Lake. I practiced flipping it, getting in/out, and different paddling techniques. Technically that was my first packraft but I’ll tell you about my experience yesterday in Montana Creek.

So, I bought a new blue Yak from Northern Alaska Packrafts. I was planning on floating the Chena this weekend, take it easy, and ease into it. Well, my friends decided they wanted to head to Montana Creek near Talkeetna and I was down for the trip. We camped off Yoder by the bridge. Saturday morning we walked up the trail to the waterfall, which was so cool. I was thinking about putting in at the base of the waterfall but felt it was too much for me. I went down a little bit past the drops and put in. I was wearing breakup boots, a rain jacket, neoprene gloves, and a PFD. “No way I’m getting wet!” I set off into some minor rapids and turned the bend. Oh crap! Rapids and a sweeper half way across! It seemed overwhelming. I’m not sure what happened but I got bumped around a bit and then I was upside down underwater. I held onto my paddle and grabbed my raft as the river took me though the rest of the rapids. I washed up on shore and looked at the situation. I was packrafting for about 30 seconds and wad already soaked!

I saw another sweeper further down so I portaged around and set in again. I was going good for a few minutes, some rapids (class?), a bend, and then another sweeper. So I should have checked it out first before turning the bend but it was too late. I thought I would just push off it but it started to suck my raft under with me in it (I think I read about this)! I got out and managed to get my raft out. “Mental note, avoid those suckers.” The rest of the trip was great. From then on when I came across a bend I could not see around I got out and checked it out. This saved my butt a few times as there were quite a few sweepers around the bends. Lots of portaging.

It was a great trip and lots of fun! I made some dumb mistakes like not checking out the river beyond bends and hitting a sweeper, but I learned a great deal through the experience.

If anyone around Fairbanks wants to float let me know! It would be great to float with other people.


Welcome to the state and the sport. Man, you are lucky, and luck only goes so far in the wilderness. A couple of things that are considered essential parts of the sport in Alaska are 1. a drysuit. cold water can disable and kill you so fast you won’t even see it coming. 2. river running skills that include how to read moving water, how to self-self rescue, and how to honestly gauge your own abilities. Take a whitewater rescue course, get some firsthand practice swimming rapids, doing strainer drills. Your non-chalant summary of almost getting sucked into a strainer kinda relays that you don’t quite understand how lethal they can be. Be safe, be informed. Steve

Point taken. I did relay the story in a nonchalant manner. I like to look back on my mistakes and laugh at myself, but the seriousness of the situation and the luck involved has not escaped me. I made many blunders that ultimately could have been lethal, and I did not grasp the power of the river nor the dangers present. I appreciate your professional feedback and I will certainly heed your advice. Thank you,