Having decided to take-up packrafting to cross water when needed and for river / lake exploration I ordered my first packraft. With some specific treks in mind, where the trekking side will take some days and the river side will be largely flattish river, minimum weight was the priority and so I went for the Supai Canyon Flatwater Boat along with accompanying 5 piece paddle (which were dispatched / arrived with great speed and efficiency to my address in Australia). My intention is to order a second packraft where I will sacrifice weight / size gains for a still portable but sturdier raft better able to handle whitewater for use when such performance is necessary, for fun or when weight is not such a limiting factor.
Of course once the raft was in my possession the need to try it out took control and so after a few experiments on adding a mat as a floor and grab lines I decided on a first trip out. Choosing a stretch of river that I am reasonably knowledgeable of, having travelled down it by inner tube quite a few times, I prepared my kit for the big day.
For this trip I didn’t bring either helmet or lifejacket, which reflected both my knowledge of the river conditions as well as the conflict or choice about what to bring due to weight and limited carrying capacity. This is not to ignore the potential dangers of a fast flowing river but aside from one section with a large boulder pretty much where you pass the river is along alluvial plains with just sand/mud and small round stones. Yes there are some currents and waves but as long as you don’t panic but concentrate on floating you will get to the shore in the end. The biggest potential danger are the trees washed into the river. I did pack a pair of hand paddles for emergency use if I lost the paddle – the benefit of numerous locals along the riverbank would mean it would only take a few minutes to get someone to cut a new shaft - and GPS so I could at least appear to know where I was walking if I lost the raft as well.
So on the Saturday morning, after a slightly late start in order to allow any roadside drunks to disappear, I started my trek to the river. Out of respect to the packraft this was to involve walking both to and from the river. It also involved sneaking out past my colleagues who, as locals and Papua New Guineans, would not have allowed me to go on my own and would have insisted on walking there with me and then floating alongside on inner tubes out of concern for my welfare. But somehow the thought of phrases such as ‘look at that whiteman its like he is a king’ made me dodge this potential flotilla of tube riders with myself in the center sitting regally paddle in hand on my raft.
What did I discover ? Well at least when you go with the current paddling in a straight line is quite easy; you definitely need a spraydeck; that with warm water not having a spraydeck is OK and the water filled boat still seems to handle OK; bring a cut of plastic bottle to bail out the water in the flat parts; when going through the waves just treat the raft like its an inner tube and its all good; and, no one is impressed with how raft and paddle can fit in such a small bag.
I also learnt that with a fast current pulling into the side was hard and took some distance which is a good warning prior to other stretches of the river with sections that I might need to walk around (if I can stop in time). For those other stretches I will be using helmet and lifejacket.
Below are a few pics –it hadn’t dawned on me before but of course using a camera when you have a paddle in your hand is quite hard. The river was pretty muddy reflecting some heavy rain upriver and the water level was a bit higher than ‘normal’ but nowhere near flood levels. My launch committee were far more interested than it appears, why they even took a break from carrying large bundles of firewood on their heads to stop and watch my getting the raft ready so they must have been interested.
Sorry can’t get the image tab to work so here is the link to the album which seems to work: