Solo packrafting?

What are people’s thoughts on this? I know safety is a pretty personal thing, some people think even just hiking alone is dangerous (whereas I’d say it’s a lot safer than driving on a road, or riding a bike in a city), others are willing to tackle mountaineering solo.

As they say, you make your own luck. Well I don’t know who says that, but I tend to agree. The main thing that worries me in a solo situation is runaway gear. Obviously anything that’s pool-drop mitigates this to some extent, but it would suck to watch the better part of your livelihood get flushed if you were alone in BFE. I suppose then it really depends on the situation; using good judgment and knowing your limits is key.

I think risk assessment and pre-testing your own abilities becomes even more important for solo boating. Although I do solo boat from time to time, I will “boat under my ability” when I do so.

  • Floats Alone: I have little reservation about doing river floats alone. In fact, I used to sometimes float into work, on a class I river, at dawn, and would drift up on deer fording the river. Great times.

Solo whitewater: Usually if I do this, it’s because I have something I need to test. I plan for the worst and always boat “under my ability.” I stay out of committed canyons, etc., and know the run. I’ll boat dressed to swim: wetsuit, helmet, survival kit, etc. t becomes more, for me, about how I can make my runs clockwork and be completely comfortable with the situation, and with the reasonable worst-case scenarios.

My approach to it is heavily influenced by a past career in wildland fire, and before that backcountry rangering: when I boat alone, I don’t like to roll the dice at all. I I’ll freely admit that I’ve done a couple stupid things solo, too, which have shaped my approach to it. (Lanyard in whitewater = NEVER AGAIN. Hangover in a cold creek = NEVER AGAIN).

I think one of the central aspects of solo boating is to be actively aware of the potential consequences. Another aspect - for me - is being willing to get over myself, and say “sure, I could probably do that… but really, it’s not worth it. I’ll portage.” It’s easy to say “never boat alone,” but there are a lot of situations where I think a given boater can boat alone comfortably and safely. However, the margin of error & safety is obviously more narrow, so awareness becomes considerably more important.

While being in a group has a huge advantage for rescue/first aid/bears/etc, I think in some regards, boating alone can be safer. You go at a pace that is comfortable to you, scout what you want to scout, and portage what you think should be portaged. Your concentration might be a bit more focused without distractions from others, you probably will be better dressed for the conditions, and you learn quickly to pack your good gear tight!

I believe solo boating creates a deep intimacy with the river and takes ALL distractions (other boaters) away from the reason you are there, to go boating. There have been solo taboos for whitewater kayaking (and looks like now pack rafting) for decades, but in the end, taboos are just arbitrary social rules. I’ve heard many friends critisize and tell me “that’s not safe!”
BUT if you are so concerned about safety, then why paddle whitewater in the first place, you might as well just stay home.

  1. Safety does not increase in numbers… it depends entirely on the individual and what they are paying attention to. I believe that the more people there are in a group, the more disconnected they are from the river.
  2. Many people are lead to believe they are safe because they are paddling in a group, and I’ve had MUCH more trouble in groups with other boaters than by myself (and I can also verify that for several other paddlers)
  3. I find a deep sense of self comes from being responsible for everything, and soloing brings that out more than any other form of boating.
  4. In very difficult whitewater (most of the time) it is standard for paddlers to accept that no one can help in the first place but themselves.

I’m not saying soloing is safer than going in groups, but what I am saying is that it not necessarily more dangerous as many paddlers assume. Soloing for me is an act of humility, because I don’t go out thinking I’m going to be so good I can handle anything… instead I go out quitely to seek a place where I blend into a huge and powerful world with no one but myself to answer to the river.