More bikerafting

Rode north, found a fishing access on the Main Flathead, which is rockin’ along very clear, fed 80% by releases from Hungry Horse reservoir, anticipating the massive runoff that will occur once the mountain start to warm up

The Tubus Cargo gets the job done.

New rigging method. Needs to be a bit further forward, and is tall, but nicely balanced and fast to set up.

The water was lovely.

The Thaw

It’s happening. The Middle Fork of the Flathead is at 3000 cfs, compared to 850 last weekend. Compare the following to this photo. Snowpack decreasing = spring.

I woke up early this morning, out of hunger more than anything, but also to watch some cycling.  An inch of fresh snow sat in the yard, and the sun was coming out.  I did what I told others to not do, and went boating instead of skiing.  It was what I wanted.

I borrowed M’s MSR snowshoes rather than ski, which was a wise choice.  Though a lot of the snow was bound to be awful no matter what.

Numerous moments of crotch deep postholing, even with the ‘shoes on.

I believe this should be called underflow.  A good hip flexor and quad workout.

What was a skiable trail last weekend is a stream this weekend: remarkable.

The trail goes that way, though I bailed on my goal of going all the way to the lower Nyack camp and headed off to find the creek at this point.  A choice which led to even more “fun.”

This is not Nyack Creek.  I thought it might lead to it, but the steady current sieved-out into willow thickets and under snowbanks.  Snowshoes back on, boat back away, more postholing and occasional breaking into flowing water of unknown depth under 2-3′ of snow.  Conditions which, quite frankly, suck, but I had never experienced an only partly thawed seasonal swamp before, so the route redeemed itself with educational value.

I was excited to finally reach the real creek.

Lower Nyack is a classic packraft float.  Except for (because of?) some really, really big wood jams.  Downstream goes off to the right of the above photo.  I got some good practice in ferrying onto micro-beaches, pushing the raft ahead as I postholed along, and seal launching off snowbanks.  Other than that it was nice, fast class 1 with plenty of logs in, on and mostly underneath the water to keep me on my toes.  The wood relented (for the most part) before a series of twisting oxbows, and relented entirely not far above the old bridge site where I put in on the way out last weekend.

The blessing that made all this silliness enjoyable was the warm spring sun, which aside from a few snow squalls shown all day, and made the drysuit I brought unnecessary.  I’ve skied a few of the lines you can see above this winter, but until today had yet to see any of them, from a distance and top to bottom.  I’m not hanging up the skis just yet.

Whitefish P3athlon race report

(I’m inventing the above appellation because Pole-Pedal-Paddle Triathlon is both ungainly and in the wrong order for this event.)

The weather this morning and early afternoon was good for doing a race on a fairly innocuous course, which is to say it was 85% crap.  The other 15% were left out because it wasn’t raining especially hard, and it could have gotten a fair bit colder without crossing the line into snowing.  So, when I woke up in the dark this morning I wasn’t very excited about my plan of riding to the start.  But what else was I going to do?  The only other reasonable thing to do in such weather was stay home and drink coffee.  So I split the difference, and had two cups of coffee and rode the fastest way to the start, on the shoulder of the highway.  Which really wasn’t bad at all.  It was raining and I got wet, but looked all gnarly at sign-in with my face already covered in mud.

The gawking at my rolling circus setup started immediately, and I tried to share the gospel of packrafting as much as possible.  Watching the inflation process usually does that for people.  I placed my inflated boat in the line up of sea kayaks, racing kayaks, a hand made (and dead gorgeous) rowboat, and a solo outrigger racing canoe.  I went and got a coffee to stay warm and confirmed what I had previously suspected: I would be waay DFL right from the start.

There was one other guy in a creekboat who came off the paddle a few minutes ahead of me.  Everyone else was 20+ minutes in the lead.  It’s pretty pointless to try and make a packraft go fast.  They come up to 2.5ish mph pretty easy, can be pushed to 3, but much beyond requires a 50% increase in effort for a 5% increase in speed.  I thus saw no reason to hurry as I deflated and rolled up the boat, lashed my shit back together, and pedaled off as the start gate and props were packed away.  The guy in the creekboat, who had earlier announced his intention to complete with me for DFL, was I thought already up the road, but I didn’t pass anyone as I ground my way very slowly up to the ski hill.  Hauling 30 extra pounds of crap makes going up a lot slower, and I never found a rhythm of anything close to it and just suffered and fought up the whole fucking climb.  A good reminder: the reason we train is to not do that.

I once again confused the checkpoint staff by refusing the bike handoff and rolling over to the bike corral, yard saleing gear all over the place, and leisurely transitioning into the tele boots I pulled out of my pack.  I stuffed the boat and my soaked bike shoes, seal skinz, and shoe covers into the pack, and left my PFD with my bike as it wouldn’t easily fit.  Off I went.

There were quite a few really fast guys out today, all of whom had road bikes and orchestrated and supported transitions, and some of whom were done with the race before I started skinning up the mountain.  I’ve never been fast, it seems to be in neither my physical or psychological makeup, but I have had moments where I’ve been pretty damn strong.  This attribute displays itself best when a course is long and hard, and the P3athlon was neither.  Moreover, I was having a high-gravity day, and had nothing to do about it but stare at the snow and shuffle upwards, slow, steady, with lots of effort expended.

The snow was refreshingly soft, in spite of having climbed from rain into snow squalls on the bike.  I had my super light boots along because they skin well and take up less space in the pack, and was contemplating just how extensively my ass would be kicked if I had to ski ice and crappy snow on boots with almost no forward or rearward support.  As it turns out I, after another casual transition, had a few hundred feet of heavy cutup snow to flail through before the lower 3/4 of the course, which was uniformly and predictably soft and all-around a total blast to ski.  My legs got pretty shot doing it, but I rolled in next-to-last place.  Collected high-fives, and went inside to dry out.

Ben encouraged me to not ride home, as doing so seemed a good way to invite in a cold.  I had already made my mind 90% up on that question, and called in the M rescue force.  It wasn’t an inspiring day, nor was it a good day as far as my performance went.  (It was actually quite bad.)  But it was a good use of shitty weather, a fun challenge, and as excellent workout (legs hurt, lots).  I even collected a prize for my creativity/stubbornness, as winner/inventor/sole entrant in the self-contained category.  All in all, not a bad way to spend the day.

The Junk Show

Tomorrow is the Pole-Pedal-Paddle triathlon up in Whitefish, and I’ve resolved to get full value by riding there and back and hauling all my gear.  Speaking of full value, the forecast calls for 40s and 100% chance of precip.

It took some thinkering and futzing, but past experience hauling skis and fly rods in the masthead position and my new Tubus Cargo made it all possible.  If you look closely you can see the ski tails tucked into the rack, and the foam taped to either side of the headtube.  Once I cinch down the strap around the headtube there is just enough tension in the skis to keep them sturdy and rattle free.  My packraft, ski poles, and the middle sections of the paddle are strapped to the rear rack.  Boots, skins, PFD, and paddle blades are in the pack.

Curb testing seems to indicate that it will work no problem.  Will report back tomorrow.

Testing (testing)

My mission to ski the Nyack-Coal loop failed, but most everything else was a success.  In short, bad snow and improperly broken-in boot liners conspired to make for a slow pace and painful feet, so I turned around.  I still got to see Glacier, covered in snow but fast melting out, which can never been done often enough.

One commentator on a post of Jill’s the other week elicited this response from the author herself:  “Only difference between me and most people who everything always seems to go right for, is that I actually own up to my mistakes. And I really do make an effort not to make them again.”  And in that spirit I own mine: even well baked liners with toe caps need some shorter outing to settle in properly.

That said, the TLT 1000s did well at the job for which they were built.  The snow on Saturday was soft and punchy, and overnight it froze up, hard.  I crashed twice on the ice in the 100 yards going from my camp to where I hung my food today.  I needed every bit of the control plastic soled boots provide.  The intuitions liners rubbed my ankles badly on a test mission last Wednesday, so I substituted (and cut down) these Raleigh liners.  With a few tweaks and some breaking in these boots will be a winner.  That they’re waterproof to 6″ is a nice feature in spring.

I broke my poor, decade old BD trekking poles for the third time today.  I fell backwards and fully weighted a pole stuck 2 feet in the snow, it didn’t have a chance.  That is a lower of the two flicklocks on each pole.  Not sure any pole could’ve survived the fall, and at least I could pry the broken piece out and make the pole workable.

The bears are awake, and about.  During one fall today the bear spray, which I secure to the side of my pack with a bungee, fell off.  I didn’t notice for quite a while.  Lesson: secure your bear spray more effectively.

I’ve owned my Bushbuddy stove for almost two months, and hadn’t used it until yesterday.  I wanted it for exactly this situation, when 5 feet of snow on the ground make a proper fire impractical.  Bonus is how quickly and easily the bushie fires up with only modest attention paid to tindering, and how much juice you get from a very small amount of wood.  All that, and it is a work of spot welding art.  Very cool.

The MLD simple poncho-tarp in tarp mode.  Not much to say here, it works just fine, and I like the color.

A method for carrying skis on the raft: lash skis and poles to back of pack, then lash pack sideways on raft with skis forward.  Stable, weight balanced, not good for running tight gaps.  I was able to float the last 1/2 mile of Nyack on the way out, with plenty of water.  The 5 miles down from the lower camp will probably be in good boating shape very soon, and promise to make for a very good, mellow float.  The upper reaches look spicier.

Mount Stimpson in postcard mode.  There be dragons.

Gear combos not often seen.  Having the packraft to access across the Middle Fork open many options.  Oddly, I followed days-old ski tracks the whole way, someone had been out using a patrol cabin (for science, I assume?).  Even without those tracks following the trail was dead easy.  There are even some bare patches, and the recent sun made several partially-collapsed creek crossings rather interesting.

The North Fork pack did it’s job very well.  Great carrying pack for big loads.

Perhaps the highlight of the weekend was getting out (and being picked up by wonderful shuttle driver M) early enough to have brunch and beers at the Belton Chalet.  They do not fuck around with their corn beef and hash with poached eggs, toast and gravy.

I even got a good workout out of the trip.  Lunging to save when your fishscales cut loose on hidden ice is a burly core exercise.

Western Montana: A seasonal guide for outdoor recreation

The seasons dictate what we do outside and how we do it.  Outdoor recreation is at it’s best when the intersection of equipment, terrain and weather come together to provide an experience which is aesthetically interesting and spiritually satisfying.  Hauling a bike through unrideable powder or peanut butter mud does neither, nor does skiing micro-patches of summer snow or  your bases on rocks and stumps.  There are, in short, proper seasons for proper activities, and it’s a good idea to embrace them, rather than looking forward to the next, longer for thing that won’t actually come into shape for a month or more.  (Human though that urge is.)

On the other hand, there is a certain pleasure to be had in defying conventional wisdom, or at the very least in finding its ground truth for yourself.  All advice is after all a mere guide for being there yourself.  With that in mind, I present my own opinions and suggestions about what activities are best suited for the 12 months of the year, if you happen in be west of the Continental Divide in Montana.


Powder skiing.   Ski touring. 


Powder skiing.  Ski touring.  Low altitude skiing.


BC skiing (low altitude pack beginning to dissipate).   Bring out the bike, to ride the road.  Streams start to thaw and come up.


Skiing runs the gamut from corn to pow, stable to hazardous.  Good, cold boating and fishing.  First dry trails, but the biking won’t be good for a while yet.


Sleeper powder days, t-shirt skiing.  Dry trails below 5-k (maybe).  Rivers huge by months end.


Flowers, bugs, high altitude skiing.   Great boating, hiking, and biking.  Enjoy life without crowds if you’re willing to posthole.


Many more bugs and flowers, mountains officially “open.”  Tail end of runoff means small streams clear and floatable.  Big hikes and rides in the mountains.  Hand up the skis, the action is elsewhere.


High season.  Climb the mountains without snow.  Dodge crowds.  Fish high lakes, ride at altitude.


First snow up high, gorgeous weather at other times.  Crystalline hiking, cycling, and fishing.  Good, slow boating.


Winter comes to the mountains, with varied ferocity.  Bring the snowshoes and enjoy sans humans (except hunters).  The best low country mountain biking.  Fantastic fishing on warm afternoons.  Skiing will not be as good as you think, so don’t yet bother.


Sure to have more of all the other seasons than any single month.  In a good year the skiing will be great by months ends, in a bad year it will be -15 on Thanksgiving.  The country usually closes out, though that could be delayed until early December.


Cold, dark, winter.  Some of the best snow of the year, if/when it comes.

In short, Montana is coming up upon the season of all possibilities, and I am excited for it.

5 great packrafting videos

I’m getting psyched for boating, and right now, these are my favorites.  In no particular order.

I’m really looking forward to getting back into the South Fork valley. The wilderness scale and packraft-friendly terrain would seem to make it the float in the lower 48.

The long-form Chris and Al have been hiding. Awesome trip.

Still one of my favorites in the sport boating department. Great looking water and bon equipe.

The classic, and ahead of its time in several ways.

Another, newer, classic.

Lots to look forward to this year.

2011: Spring and Summer plans

Lac Superieur.

Now that a plane ticket has been purchased, I can present my racing/hard trips plan through the end of summer.

April 2: Whitefish Pole-Pedal-Paddle

-I plan to ride to the start with skis and packraft, be DFL at the end of the boating leg, ride up to Big Mountain with all my gear, lock to bike, skin the mountain with the boat, ski down, drink a beer, and ride home.

April 23: Grizzlyman Adventure race

-I’m hoping to not slow Bill down too much, and to try as hard as possible to win what is sure to be a competitive category.  Looking forward to another extremely well-run race, and to whatever Josh has up his sleeve to make it long and hard.

mid-May: Bob Marshall traverse

-I hope to do skiing, packrafting, and hiking on this trip, making the timing somewhat dependent on the weather.  Yet I need to get off the fence and arrange the time off work.  The linked-to route is my best present idea.  I’d be aiming for 4 days.

mid-June: The North Fork 100+

-I want to do a variation of the super-fun trip I did last July, but with the variation of going down the Kintla valley and traversing Mounts Cleveland and Kintla along the way.

June 25: Old Gabe 50k

-This race is supposed to be fun, Danni is doing it, and it is run by the same awesome folks that put on the Devils Backbone 50 miler.

July 17: Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic

-The year’s A race.  I plan to do the “normal” route shown in Roman’s video, and to do as much as I safely can to contend for the win.

late-August: Wonderland Trail circumnavigation

-In one push, or close to it.  I’ve wanted to do it for years, and this and the Classic should sort out my resume so I can enter the Hardrock lottery this winter.  Not to say I’m looking to beat it, but the unsupported record is soft.  Hopefully Danni will bail on Cascade Crest and do this with me instead.


Unfortunately, due to time off work and $$, southern Utah will be pushed til autumn.  There are numerous other goals (mostly skiing) that will get folded into all this.  Looking at it, I’ll need to take advantage of weekends while I can.

The trajectory of these goals is not an accident.  The next two months of shorter stuff is put in place to build speed (a relative concept here) before the next two months of building endurance at that speed.  Then I just have to go to Alaska and destroy myself.

I wanna ski like Luc

Luc Mehl, of the Selway packraft trip and awesome ski videos, has written an article for BPL disclosing many of the secrets of winning the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Ski Classic.  One of the better reasons to pay BPL money I’ve yet to come across.

Timely too, as the first thaw of the year has come to the Flathead Valley.  The best skiing of the year is almost certainly ahead of us, but many other and very different things are, as well.

Melted snow is pretty nice.  (Both photos from the S Fork Flathead, not far below it’s creation at the confluence of Danaher and Youngs Creeks: a place I must visit several times this year.)

I’ve had plenty of time to think about such things, as my ski accident the weekend before last has combined with colonoscopy prep today (read: no energy during the day and staying within 10 meters of the toilet all evening) to make the last two weeks a wash as far as training goes.

But psyche has been rapidly building, to be discharged once my leg is all the way back.

Luc’s article and my free time got me started on a new project last night: cold weather touring boots for mileage-oriented ski trips.  I took the old T2s, removed the tongue, ground down the back ridge to nothing (I cut the lean lock assemblage off last winter), cut the uppermost heel tab off the inside, and glued some sticky foam into the top of the heel pocket.  I also shoe gooed some waterproof fabric over the front opening, and replaced the lower strap/buckle (one was broken) with units from a pair of Supercomps (thanks again B).  These buckles tighten much more than the stock ones, vital given my skinny foot and the lack of bulk resulting from the lack of a tongue.

The liners are Intuition snowboard boot liners, remolded for these boots.

I’m not sure about the weight, our scale has gone missing since the move up here last fall. Most relevant is the massive degree of forward motion, pretty good rearward motion, warmth, and waterproofness.  They’re not meant to ski downhill well, with the total lack of forward support, though I imagine I’ll use them for that anyway.

Most exciting of all, a potentially very useful piece of gear sprung to life for zero dollars and a few hours of fiddling.  Very exciting.  Given that I plan to do the Ski Classic over a year from now, it is not too early to start getting things in order.

Backwards range of motion is key for an efficient stride.

You can see the cuts made to take off the tab at the top of the heel pocket.  This restricted range of motion quite a bit.  The tacky foam is to ensure maximum heel retention, and thus fight blisters.

Putting the bike in bikerafting

The bicycle and the packraft: both marvelous human-powered vehicles that allow unique explorations of the extraordinary hidden in backyards near you.  Example above, the lovely miles of braids of islands downstream from the Old Steel Bridge over the Flathead (before it sloughs out and losses all current).  Exploring it any other way would require contrivance (car shuttles, etc) that would dwarf the subtle wonder.  Instead, I rode to the fishing access, put in, paddled until I was sick of flat, still water, paddled some more until I found a good exit, and rode home.  Once I was 100 meters from the fishing access I saw two other people (fishing from a powerboat), and while I saw evidence of people aplenty, nonetheless felt impressively far removed from normal society.

Carrying packrafting gear on a bike is not hard, provided that you have a fat backpack that rides a bit low.  It’s more than most like to have on their back while riding, but that can be trained.  Attaching the bike to the raft is a bit more complex.

You need a reasonably compact load that doesn’t drag in the water, doesn’t constrict your paddle stroke, and is reasonably balanced side to side.  Taking both wheels off seems to be a necessity.  That done, I’ve used both bottom bracket towards paddler and bb away rigs.  Both are ok, though both constricted by stroke a little bit, and I’ve never gotten things perfectly balanced.  Next time I’ll try a bb sideways rig and see how that goes.

I’d add that had Llama rather than a Yak I’d have a few more inches of room to play with, at the expense of not fitting quite as tightly and thus having less precision when maneuvering in whitewater.  I should also add that I’ve yet to trial flip a raft with a bike strapped on.  Given the weight imbalance, I’m not even sure how possible it would be to right in deep water, but I have to find out.

Most bikerafting trips involve mellow water for exactly that reason, the weight and size on your bow impede speed and (perhaps) safety.  A bike on the bow has to make a flip more likely.  But limiting the terrain limits your routes and speed on them.  A case in point would be what I still consider as the obvious winning route for Le Parcour de Wild through the Bob: ride the highway, ride up Monture Creek, carry the bike down to Youngs, and float Youngs and the South Fork down to the road, then pedal and hike and pedal to Marias.  A few of the larger riffles around Black Bear are very much like rapids, even at low flows, and Youngs would push maneuvering under load even more.  All of which begs the question: what is the ideal bike for bikerafting?

As little bike as you can get away with, to a large extent.  Light, obviously, and as compact as possible.  I’m not sure that the breakdown frame of the Ibis Tranny would be all that much of an advantage, but a sick-light 26″ rigid bike is probably ideal.  Packing wheels with disks is tough, so maybe rim brakes are worth the performance compromise.  For the route enumerated above a cross bike would probably get the job done.  Not that I’m about to get a bike specifically for bikerafting, but it does get one thinking.

Your perfect bikerafting bike?