Spencer and I had a fantastic run on the North Fork of the Blackfoot yesterday, one of the best whitewater runs in the Bob. So great was the fun, and so continuous and fast was the action, that this is the only photo I took all day.
I first ran this stretch a long time ago. I hadn’t had my raft for very long, and to convince myself I was ready to run the Selway with Forrest and Luc I wanted to find and run something hard. It felt pretty tough to me at the time, and provided the requisite boost in confidence.
It still felt hard yesterday, especially with 1/3 again the volume of my previous two runs. Whitewater is not really my thing, constitutionally, and throughout my packrafting I’ve sought out technical runs at the absolute basement-possible flow, the better to have control and not get pushed down and around.
While static sports like climbing were what I was raised on, more dynamic activities like (in order of fluidity) mountain biking, skiing, and boating have made their appeal known. Letting go in a planned fashion and having to respond to challenges in the moment, and not entirely on your own terms, is a good thrill and under the right circumstances, an even better teacher.
It’s something I still find intimidating, and those don’t seek out all that often. There were plenty of times yesterday when I was tempted to get out and scout, not out of necessity, but to contemplate and thus delay the inevitable. Mostly I resisted the temptation, and just boat scouted and ran it.
The North Fork at around 350 cfs has both a bit of backbone and lots of technical ledge drops and rock dodging. Neither of us swam yesterday, though we both got close on a number of occasions. Spencer took about 20 seconds I pry himself off one big mid-rapid rock (which I hadn’t entirely avoided either), and I got a little lazy at the last drop of one of the longer sequences and was a goat hair away from a classic packraft bandersnatch, only just getting in a brace. Moreso than usual, fun is not nearly nuanced enough to be an appropriate descriptor.
I’m still running my 2010 Yak with the then-standard cruiser deck. Spencer has a 2013 Llama with all the bells and whistles, including the forward seating position whitewater deck. Between me having to dump often and getting bucked around all the time, it’s easy to see that were whitewater more of a habit, I’d need a new boat. As is I appreciate the lighter weight, and smaller packed size; which are better for wilderness, and the reduced length and greater floatation (thanks to the bigger forward tubes), which are better for the micro-creeks which I still prefer most of the time.
Western Montana packrafters: the Blackfoot is at an ideal level. Get out there, and don’t forget your helmet.