I’m back, and things went well, in that there were no major mishaps, immemorable numbers of minor ones, I was pushed to stay on schedule, but ended up finishing an hour early. The following are raw, primarily logistical and equipment thoughts while my focus returns.
This was my first multiday trip with the current generation Yukon Yak, and the hull design which has become the industry standard certainly justifies its seed. Stability in whitewater is excellent. Acceleration is markedly improved. Flatwater speed, especially into a headwind, is a fair bit better than the old boat I know so well. Overall it is a very comfortable, confidence-inspiring boat. While I was paddling familiar waters at low flows, I also charged everything right down the fastest line with never a thought that I might flip or even come close. Full marks.
The whitewater deck was also quite impressive. An almost totally dry boat is a big deal for moderate wilderness swiftwater, as it allows one to both leave the drysuit at home and not be wet and cold after an extended paddling stretch. The whitewater deck makes this happen. Stronger waves can still squeak a few leaks in, but in combination with proper paddling pants (read: high waist and creep-free waistband) I was able to stay totally dry below the waist. This is a big deal, which adds hugely to comfort and safety. I’d prefer to not feel like a wilderness plumber, but until an alternative exists I’ll tote the pipe pieces around and not whinge too much.
The cargo fly was the third new tool getting its first real test, and my thoughts are mixed. First, the zip makes the boat quite a bit bulkier to roll, and thus pack. Second, it is very nice to have a dry pack, and to move your gear off the deck. This helps with the logistics of tying down skis, and will I imagine be great with a bike. No pack on the bow is also good for headwinds. I’ll reserve judging the purported stability benefits for bigger water, what I paddled simply didn’t tax that dimension enough to say anything of use.
What having most of my gear in the boat, fairly evenly distributed in weight between sleep gear and clothing in the Alpacka zip bag on one side and camp gear in my pack on the other, was make the boat draft significantly more water, right under the butt where it was most problematic. I was continually shocked at how deep the boat rode, and the rocks I got hung up on. With pack weight on the bow the two main sources are leveled, to a certain extent. The cargo fly does not do this, and I really cannot emphasize strongly enough how irritating this was, especially on the low water first day. The low point of my boat was riding close to twice as low as my old 2010 boat would have (loaded conventionally with pack on bow). For some this may not be a consequential complaint, but for me packrafting and low water go hand in hand almost more often than not, and I’ll remember to avoid the cargo fly when flows are low. For me the fly is handy and clever, but had I been buying this boat I’m not yet sure I’d count those dollars well spent.
Adding ski tiedowns with two loops versus one (compare here) was a great move. The old system had a little bit of wobble, which is totally eliminated in the rig shown above. As for the ski system itself, it was perfect, save for the lack of a waxless base (conditions were too warm and variable for waxing to be worth the time) and the extent to which my AT boots chewed up my feet, then chewed some more. The biggest surprise of the whole trip was how little my very trashed feet slowed me down, on the last day especially. The photo below was taken on the night of day three, when I had 15 miles to go, and already more blisters between both feet than in all of the past four years added up.
There would have been almost equal shortcomings with my three pin and fabric/leather boot system, chiefly when on the first day of floating I had to get out in foot plus deep running water half a dozen times to drag the boat. My feet were never even close to cold, and while the daytime temps were nice that day, the water temps were not. The wetsuit effect of the foam liners far exceeded expectations, and were easy to dry out with the wood stove that night. There were also several brief, but significant, sections when being able to lock my heel was very welcome and expedient. Plus, the ascending efficiency of tech bindings is hard to give up. So for now I’ll be hunting for a similarly dimensioned waxless ski, and figuring out how to address the many, many boot-fit issues. After at least several weeks break from them. With the current swelling I can’t even fit in normal work shoes.
Everything else equipment-wise was quite dialed, save for a coming up a little short in the sleeping bag department. A short-running metabolism made the last night particularly shivery, or maybe having an infant has made me temporarily incapable of sleeping through the night. Having the Big Sibling was great, even though night two was the only occasion I could use it to its considerable potential. Night three was on snow and thus stove use was entirely out, and on night one I was only able to dig down to a layer of ice, which melted out to reveal uneven ground. The draft of the Big Sib lives and dies via a good fit where the pipe goes into the damper, and the uneven ground prevented that, which in turn kept the thing from running as hot as it ought to have. For those of you pestering Seek Outside to start making them again, know that one of lighter fully contained stoves, which can be used on snow and uneven surfaces, is much more versatile and user friendly (and needs to be added to our arsenal). Then again, such a critter would have been too heavy to make the cut for this trip, on this schedule. As was my pack was pretty darn heavy. It was a testament to my training and to Seek Outside packs that I could crank turns (conservatively, very conservatively) though 35 degree trees on the last day, with massive fatigue and a 35+ pound pack, and do just fine.
Yes, it was an awesome trip. Deeply tiring, and not necessarily one I’ll do again, but one I am glad I did.