A couple weeks ago we started experimenting with packrafting with our 4 month old baby, Katmai. We did a 3 day packrafting trip near Cape Yakataga on the Lost Coast in Alaska that included 3 packraft crossings of fast flowing braided rivers, and a 6ish mile run down an easy but high braided river (the Duktoth). Where we are now:
We think the most critical thing is to stick with packrafting where we think the chances of getting flipped out of the raft are very low. We’re making a decision for Katmai to enter a situation where there is risk (just as we do if we take Katmai for a drive) so we want to minimize that risk.
We also want to be able to do the packrafting needed for interesting trips. This will naturally lead to the sort of weighing of risk that can put us and Katmai in an unexpectedly dangerous situation. So we want to think through scenarios where things don’t work out as planned.
After trying several arrangements, we settled on strapping Katmai to our chest, planning to swim on our back. Though there are some advantages to leaving Katmai separate wearing his own life vest, it’s just too hard to keep track of the baby, raft, and paddle during launch and land with that setup. The awkwardness of dealing with this added a risk of letting the boat float off down the river… So we used a simple nylon wrap to put him on Erin’s chest, and worked Katmai’s life vest into the strapping system. I think it might work better and easier to just use an adult life-vest. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll be able to try this out in the pool, and try swimming with this setup.
I’m nervous about practicing falling out of the raft with the baby. Katmai has been in the pool regularly and is pretty familiar with water, and seems to get that he should hold his breath under water. But we haven’t really dunked him to test that, and the surprise of rolling out of the raft seems like it might mess up that reflex for him. If anyone has detailed knowledge about development of reflexes to avoid inhaling water, I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’m guessing Katmai is much better off facing toward the adult’s chest than facing out… if the water hits his back first he’s more likely to react in time to avoid inhaling water than if it hits his face first. Also, in my experience I often don’t get my head wet when I’m rolled in a river. Maybe this means we could keep Katmai’s head out of the water even if we did end up out of the raft.
Once in the water, swimming on our back seems pretty practical. But I haven’t swum on my back in a cold river with 15 lbs strapped to my chest before, so maybe it’d be really tough. Thoughts?
Has anyone else explored these issues? Roman, how old was Cody when he first went packrafting?
There’s a blog post up about our trip here:
And some more detail on Katmai’s end on his blog: