Korpijaakko

– my personal views on all walks of outdoor life

Tag Archives: Alpackraft

Kebnekaise Traverse, Trying the Hard Way

In June me and N traversed Kebnekaise (2100m or so), the highest peak of Sweden. It’s a classic hike with parts following the wide path from Nikkaluokta to Kebnekaise Fjällstation and parts following the hugely popular Kungsleden trail. The marked trails and well equipped huts can make a nice hike in spectacular Alpine scenery. But I seem to be incapable of going “only” for a nice walk.

Instead I usually come up with a stupidly big unconventional plans. This time the plan was to start from Nikkaluokta, hike over the Kebnekaise (1700 vertical meters mostly with huge backpacks), then head further North to packraft river Aliseatnu (no idea if you can paddle it but looks reasonable on aerial photos) and then hike back Southward to float the Visttasjohka river back to the car. Pretty awesome plan, eh?

To enjoy good flows for packrafting going early in the season is good idea but this year summer was seriously late which meant plenty of snow on the trail (snowshoes needed), cold nights (a bit more insulation) and cold, fast and bloated rivers on the week after the summer solstice. Not far away people were still skiing and driving snow scooters… As you can guess, with these conditions it doesn’t always go as planned.

After a late camp, approach from Nikkaluokta and a great breakfast at the Fjällstation N was the sound of reason and said that hiking up the “Västra leden” (Western route to Kebnekaise) with 25kg backpacks was a stupid idea. Well, it probably was. So instead we traversed to the Eastern side of the mountain. Scratch the original plan, but there was a backup…

The highway on the approach from Nikkaluokta to the Fjällstation.

It would’ve been up that way and over the peak in the middle and then to the actual summit…

The next day we tried to approach the summit from East along “Durlins led” but we started too late and sinking into the wet snow with our snowshoes, watching the cornices rumble down from the cliffs on both sides N pulled the plug again and we returned to camp. No summit this time. Probably a good decision.

I’ve read that Singgivaggi has good campsites by the lakes… What lakes?

And judging from the still frozen lakes and stories told by other hikers we met on the trail, packrafting the Ailiseatnu river would probably not work either: the lakes would still be covered with ice and river probably too dangerous due ice and flooding. So scratch that too. Instead we hiked a short day to Sälkastugorna huts and solaced ourselves with some extra rations from the small shop, a sauna and soft beds. Not a bad way of spending a holiday either but why do the conventional option when you can try an unconventional one?

The next day we decided to take a shortcut to Visttasvaggi valley through Stuor Reiddavaggi valley and past the majestetic mountain Njallu. We ended up walking most of the way on snowshoes hauling packrafts as sleds but we didn’t mind as it worked really well. The rain and clouds hid some of the scenery a bit but it was still beautiful.

Proper winter in Stuor Reiddavaggi in late June.

The next day we started with a short day hike upstream from Visttasstuga hut to packraft the upper part of Visttasjohka river. The river was in full flood being faster and slightly more demanding than I had thought but not too difficult. With the silty water rock contacts were unavoidable but swift and harmful. At the hut we packed the rest of our kit on the rafts and headed downstream.

N floating on the upper parts of Visttasjohka.

I knew the river would be quite easy from Nikkaluokta up to Lisa’s stuga and from the aerial photos I had noticed only one serious section of white water on the way to Lisa’s stuga. (It’s where the trail from Kaskasvagge crosses the river. Serious stuff.) Well, with the flood there were more difficult spots and in the strong current without any eddies we ended up to a section of big waves in a rocky bend. I’d say it was class 3 or so, not extremely difficult but too difficult for N who capsized and while I was checking on her I flipped too. After some time with rocks hitting my legs I decided a wet re-entry wouldn’t be good idea and swam ashore with my kit. N had manged to get to the shore as well so I paddled down stream to catch her raft. A moment later we were together on the shore, little bruised and scared but in one piece and with all our kit. N wasn’t any more in the mood for packrafting so I continued alone down to the bridge and from there on we hiked down to Lisa’s cabin, passing what seemed like excellent packrafting.

Part of the serious stuff after the bridge.

The next day we paddled down from Lisa’s stuga to Nikkaluokta in great weather and with great speed: good flow and some back-wind plus a closing cafeteria helps a lot. In the end we did 9 kilometers (measured on map along the river) in 1 hour 25 minutes. That might be the fastest packrafting I’ve ever done if not counting short sections of rapids. With numb legs we stumbled towards the parking area and well deserved coffee and cake.

Lisa’s stuga: cozy open cabin with interesting history. Bring your own firewood.

You know it’s good when you have snowshoes and packraft.

For most of the week the weather was great and favourable but conditions were against us and maybe we just weren’t up to the task. I guess no one likes scratching but if you plan huge and fail, you can still deliver big. So it wasn’t a bad trip, and one day I might try it again with the “racing style” required to pull it through.

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As usual, more photos in my gallery!

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A footnote on packrafting the Visttasjohka:

If you are planning to packraft the Visttasjohka river, I’d recommend going with high water but after the floods of the spring this will vary between years. With the floods eddies are very few which makes either long scouting walks or committed paddling. If you start lower, you’ll need less water.

Study the aerial photos carefully and at minimum scout the section starting before the bridge mentioned above. And if you’re planning to paddle it, take proper white water kit. Also the bend about 2,4km upstream from the bridge (where we capsized) and the spot were Kaskasjohkka joins the Visttasjohkka are worth scouting, at least when water level is high.

The river drops 120 meters on 17,5 kilometers from the source to Lisa’s stuga and 40 meters on the 22,5km from Lisa’s to Nikkaluokta so speed is guaranteed if waterlevel is adequate. The river offers great packrafting but be carefull, we are not the only ones who have swum there.

New Packrafts on the Market!

Since writing the post about New packrafting toys  two years ago a lot has happened on the packrafting market. And on the other hand, not so much has happened: it’s still the same interesting growing niche sport.

But, there are new boats worth a mention!

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New packrafts

Alpackraft Gnu with Vectran fabric and sraydeck. Photo stolen from Packrafting-Store website.

Alpackraft Gnu with Vectran fabric and sraydeck. Photo stolen from Packrafting-Store website.

Two years ago I wrote about the Alpackraft Explorer 42. Since then Alpackraft released the Gnu: a two-person white water capable packraft with a spray deck and somewhat resembling a miniature two-person canoe.  Moro photos and detailed specs on the Packrafting-Store website. For the Europeans wanting to try the Gnu it’s again available for rent from Packrafting Store!

Now that I’ve tried the Explorer 42 I’m finding the Gnu to be very interesting option. Sharing a raft (with enough room for both to paddle…) is refreshing and great fun and feels especially well suited for lakes and easy rivers which are plentiful here in Southern Finland. The Gnu would offer more hull speed and more floatation than th EX42 which would be welcome. And of course there’s the option to use the spraydeck. Spraydeck might be very welcome in some situations even though I wouldn’t see myself using the Gnu for any serious white water (difficult class II or above).

Alpackaraft white water packraft. Photo stolen from the promotional website.

Alpackaraft white water packraft. Photo stolen from the promotional website.

Gnu is already old news for most but the latest thing from Alpackraft is pretty new: The yet-to-be-named Alpackaraft white water specific packraft. It’s a turn-key white water package with no need for glueing attachments for thigh straps or other DIY modifications.

It’s still clearly a packraft but quite a different boat: the hull is longer and narrower than the Denali Llama, the bow is more pointy and there’s more rocker. It comes with a refurnished cockpit, white water spraydeck, knee braces, Cargo Fly, etc. The price is that it’s pretty heavy at 4,5kg, nearly one kilo heavier than a Denali Llama with white water spray deck and Cargo Fly. And it also costs 1900 USD. But if you compare the weight and price to similarly equipped raft and take into account all the DIY work required and the added performance it’s not actually that bad.

The big questions is: do you need that extra performance? Personally I’d love to try the new raft but I don’t think I’ll need the added performance anytime soon so I’ll opt saving my money and carrying little less for now.

Typical for Alpacka Raft company, there’s not much information about the raft available yet but you can see prototypes in use for example on Mike C‘s video from Veracruz:

In addition to Alpackarafts (and the Feathercraft‘s offerings) there is an increasing amount of options for more serious packrafting:

Kokopelli Hornet. Photo stolen from Kokopelli website.

Kokopelli Hornet. Photo stolen from Kokopelli website.

The crowd-funded Kokopelli Raft company is now selling and shipping their packrafts. For me it seems that all the models are based on the same symmetrical hull design and the difference is whether it comes equipped with or without a spray deck and/or Cargo Fly type inner storage option. It seems the design and solutions are pretty similar to those of Alpackrafts but there are also some differences.

The rafts are heavier than Alpackarafts but also use burlier materials (floor: 840den vs 210den and tubes: 210den vs 75den, though the coating is the key here…) and are roughly the size of Alpackraft Explorer. The hull is made of two symmetrical sections with separate valves and eight attachment points. The Kokopellis don’t come with a seat or backrest but with a detachable inflatable floor (by NSR?). Some may appreciate the sturdier fabrics and most will probably welcome the cheaper prices: the basic Kokopelli Hornet sells for 599 USD (compared to 945 USD for the Alpackaraft Unrigged Explorer).

Again something I might like to try but probably not going to buy as I don’t see it offering any advantages over my current packraft. But a lower cost option is always welcome and will likely help making packrafting more popular. The Kokopellis also seem like a great option for bikerafting or for people sharing a raft on easy waters or rafting with a canine companion.

The Aire BAKraft. Photo stolen from Forrest McCarthy's blog.

The Aire BAKraft on a test run. Photo stolen from Forrest McCarthy’s blog.

The very latest boat on the waters is the BAKraft by Aire named Hybrid SBF. Forrest McCarthy blogged about this self-bailing vessel that seems like a hybrid between an inflatable kayak (Aire’s main business) and a classic packraft.

The outcome is very interesting and also different to the classic packraft designs: it looks like a short IK, comes with a self-bailing floor and Aire thigh straps and the hull is constructed of urethane bladder covered with separate layer of Dyneema for high-strength protection. Size-wise its shorter and wider than Alpackraft Alpacka but as the design is very different the comparison on this level doesn’t probably make much sense. It weights under 3 kg with the self-bailing floor and backrest so it’s actually quite light. The beefy Aire thigh straps (also widely used as a DIY modification in Alpackarafts) add about 0,5kg. There’s some room to stove gear in the stern but apparently Cargo FLy type solution for stowing gear inside the tubes is in the making. The Hybrid SBF will be available in 2015 for RRP of 1200 USD. In addition there is a cheaper (and likely lighter) non-selfbailing version, the Hybrid Lite, coming too.

In my opinion this is very interesting design as it actually offers something new. Again I’d love to test it but don’t know if I’d buy it due the lack of a spraydeck. For serious white water use the selfbailing floor is probably as good or even better option than spray deck. And if you’ll need to bring a drysuit anyway or paddle in warm waters is makes a lot of sense. But for easier floats in colder climates the spray deck offers extra warmth and protection… Though I think a MYOG spraydeck would be rather easy project here…

The little ultralight packrafts

Supai Flatwater Canyon II on the right, Anfibio Buoy Boy inflatable vest in the middle, simple foam PFD on the left and 1L Nalgene for scale.

From right: simple oam PFD, Anfibio Buoy Boy inflatable vest and Supai Flatwater Canyon II packraft . A Nalgene for scale.

In addition to the full-sized and super capable packrafts there’s the sub-segment of superlight one-person rafts suitable for crossing lakes and rivers on hiking oriented trips, fishing on remote lakes, etc.

– The traditional boat and sort of benchmark in this category is Alpackraft Scout (1660g) being the most robust boat in the group.
Supai Adventure Gear Flatwater Canyon II  is the lightest boat in the group at 680 g with good design but small size and light materials.
– Klymit has the LiteWater Dinghy (LWD). The weight is reasonable 990g as is the price but based on what I’ve seen I’m not convinced by the design.
– Ruta Locura sells an ultralight version of the LWD called LWD-UL made of thinner fabric and thus being lighter (790g).
– FlyweightDesigns has updated the Flytepacker and it’s now called CrossFlyte and has an inner part (740g) and detachable skin (850g) for added robustness (total 1590g).
Advances Elements Packlite Kayak is more like an ultralight “pool-toyed” IK but at 1800g and with reasonable price it fits the segment well.

Packsailing

A client packsailing upstream the Kymijoki on my packrafting course in August.

In addition to the new rafts there are also new accessories which open up new ways of using the pakcrafts with packraft sailing being the latest thing. Packrafting-Store sells a kayak sails sized for packrafts and Joni and Marko have been pioneering the packsailing in Finland and Joery is also pushing the limits of packsailing by sailing the Belgian coast line (67km) in one day!

Being able to cover over 60km of flat water in a packraft in one day is pretty impressive! Packsailing is of course highly weather dependant (as is packrafting on flat water in general) but with the sail weighting only around 400g it makes sense to carry one just in case if the route includes long sections of flat water.

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That’s it for now I think.

I wish I would next see a sub-2kg packraft capable of handling class III white water and preferably equipped with a spray deck. Something like a white water version of the Alpackaraft CuriYak. In the end that would be the ultimate boat for majority of packrafters and I could have done 95% of my packrafting with such a boat and it would’ve been a lot lighter in my pack than my current boat. So, if the great people at Alpacka Raft company are reading this, feel free to start working on the idea! 🙂

Edit: Post edited on 2.10. as I got new infromation: Alpackraft Gnu is again available for rentals from Packrafting-Store and the weight of the Aire Hybrid SBF BAKraft doesn’t include the thigh straps.