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Packraft Adventure Challenge, Salza, 2018

Packrafting down the Salza river

When we were talking at the Soca packrafting meet-up in May, we loved the idea of having a second meet-up this year, and doing it journey style, making our way down a river, staying at different campgrounds and carrying our gear with us.

Back then, we weren’t really sure if it could be done logistically and if there was time to prepare it, but it just happened and worked out great!

European Packrafting Meet-up at the Salza
Green waters and blue skies accompanied our way down the Salza river.

We started on the Salza river at the Wildalpen campground, right in front of the slalom course and the wave (notorious for holding packrafts). On Friday, those who were interested, participated in the first ever 1 day Rescue 3 Europe WRTF course (Whitewater Rescue Technician Foundation). We had pushed hard for the creation of this course and Rescue 3 Europe agreed. It was created to give those new to whitewater, especially packrafters and SUPers, a foundation in whitewater knowledge and basic rescue skills.

Late afternoon and evening everybody else arrived and after some meet & greet we gathered around the fire and enjoyed some beers and packrafting talk. The group was smaller than at the Soca event, but still very international, with participants from 7 countries! For 3 paddlers, it would be the first time on whitewater, and what better way to get started than surrounded by other packrafters and after gaining confidence, swimming through a rapid during the rescue course on Friday!

Packrafting Safety course certified by Rescue3
Swimming through a rapid during the Rescue3 Whitewater Rescue course
Eric in the Alpacka Caribou packrafting down Salza river
First time packrafting, not a bad start!

Saturday started early, tents needed to be packed up and a long distance on the river awaited us. Mark Hirst, one of the most experienced Rescue 3 Europe instructors, and owner of Lapin Koskikoulu (Rescue 3 Europe training provider in Finland) joined us for the Rescue courses and gave a short presentation on river assessment skills.

At about 10am with the weather still overcast, we left camp and started making our way downstream. Some decided to run the big rapid to start with, but miraculously no raft got stuck although there were some close calls 😉

15km of pristine river, surrounded by nature and packrafting friends awaited us! By noon, the skies started clearing up and it turned into a picture perfect Indian summer day. The Salza offered a few rapids and plenty of eddies to play around. Flows had improved significantly with lots of rain the week before.

At around 4, we arrived at the Erzgraben take out and went to an idyllic Campground  nearby. Dinner was organised at the restaurant next to the campground with typical Austrian Schnitzel on the menu!

Sunday morning we woke up to fog, camp breakfast and a presentation of Mark about expedition preparation and destination highlights for each month of the year. Certainly fuelled my thirst for adventure and packrafting travels!

Soon the sun broke through the autumn fog and with clear blue skies we made our way back on the river to tackle the canyon section of the Salza. Seon and Mark ran safety for the canyon section and everybody made it through in one piece!

We took out at Saggraben and enjoyed a well deserved lunch together. Afterwards a shuttle brought us all the way back to Wildalpen where we had left our cars. Time seemed to have flown past and a weekend packed with action had come to an end.

 

Looking forward to seeing new and old friends again at the Soca Meet-up next year in May!

A HUGE thanks to everyone who attended, together we managed to raise and donate 180€ to the “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” campaign, for more info about how you can help save Europes last wild rivers click here: https://balkanrivers.net/en

 

During the European Packrafting Meet-up Packraft Adventure Challenge

Pre-register for the 2019 European Packrafting Meet-up at the Soca here:  www.packraftingmeetupeurope.com

More information on Rescue 3 Europe certified Whitewater Rescue Training courses for packrafters here: www.packrafteurope.com/rescue-3/

 

More pics of the Rescue courses that took place before and after the Meet-up:

Rescue3 WRTA Whitewater Rescue Technician Advanced
Vertical Rescue training during the Rescue3 WRTA Whitewater Rescue Technician Advanced course.
Rescue3 WRT-PRO Whitewater Rescue Technician Pro
Practicing how to cross shallow waters during the Rescue3 WRT-PRO Whitewater Rescue Technician Pro course.
Rescue3 WRTA Whitewater Rescue Technician Advanced
Getting your knots right during the Rescue3 WRTA Whitewater Rescue Technician Advanced
Rescue3 WRTA Whitewater Rescue Technician Advanced
Boat on a highline during the Rescue3 WRTA Whitewater Rescue Technician Advanced
Rescue3 WRTA Whitewater Rescue Technician Advanced
Boat on a highline during the Rescue3 WRTA Whitewater Rescue Technician Advanced course.
Night training during the Rescue3 WRT-PRO Whitewater Rescue Technician Pro
Night training during the Rescue3 WRT-PRO Whitewater Rescue Technician Pro
Night search & rescue scenario during the Rescue3 WRT-PRO Whitewater Rescue Technician Pro
Night search & rescue scenario during the Rescue3 WRT-PRO Whitewater Rescue Technician Pro course.
Night search & rescue scenario during the Rescue3 WRT-PRO Whitewater Rescue Technician Pro
Night search & rescue scenario during the Rescue3 WRT-PRO Whitewater Rescue Technician Pro course.
Rescue3 WRT-PRO Whitewater Rescue Technician Pro
Great weather for swimming training during the Rescue3 WRT-PRO Whitewater Rescue Technician Pro course.
Rescue3 WRT-PRO Whitewater Rescue Technician Pro
Rescue3 WRT-PRO Whitewater Rescue Technician Pro
Rescue3 WRT-PRO Whitewater Rescue Technician Pro
Rescue scenario of an injured paddler during Rescue3 WRT-PRO Whitewater Rescue Technician Pro course.
Rescue3 WRT-PRO Whitewater Rescue Technician Pro
Rescue3 WRT-PRO Whitewater Rescue Technician Pro

 

More photos of the Packraft Adventure Challenge Meet-up:

During the Packraft Adventure Challenge European Packrafring Meet-up
Happy first time packrafter!
During the Packraft Adventure Challenge European Packrafring Meet-up
Lunch break on the river bank
During the Packraft Adventure Challenge European Packrafring Meet-up
Packing, ready, go!

During the European Packrafting Meet-up Packraft Adventure Challenge at the SalzaAlpacka Caribou During the Packraft Adventure Challenge European Packrafring Meet-upAlpacka Gnu During the Packraft Adventure Challenge European Packrafring MeetupDuring the European Packrafting Meetup Packraft Adventure ChallengeDuring the European Packrafting Meetup Packraft Adventure ChallengeDuring the European Packrafting Meetup Packraft Adventure ChallengeDuring the European Packrafting Meetup Packraft Adventure Challenge

During the European Packrafting Meetup Packraft Adventure Challenge
Crystal clear Salza water

During the European Packrafting Meetup Packraft Adventure ChallengeDuring the European Packrafting Meet-up Packraft Adventure ChallengeDuring the European Packrafting Meet-up Packraft Adventure ChallengeDuring the European Packrafting Meet-up Packraft Adventure ChallengeDuring the European Packrafting Meet-up Packraft Adventure Challenge at the SalzaDuring the European Packrafting Meet-up Packraft Adventure Challenge at the Salza

During the European Packrafting Meet-up Packraft Adventure Challenge

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Packrafting Oulanka National Park, Finland

Alpacka Forager packraft testing

I had long been curious about Finnish culture with its rich outdoor history.

I had heard rumors of a beautiful country with some amazing and very large wilderness areas to explore. Finland is one of the largest countries in Europe and also the most sparsely populated. Living in Austria I was starting to miss the backcountry that I loved so much when we were in New Zealand and was looking forward to getting back to some wild places and exploring more remote rivers again.

Backcountry packrafting river
There is something special, almost intangible about being in a remote and wild location.

I was lucky enough to have some dates coincide and was able to spend two weeks paddling in Finland.

The first week was with good friend Mark Hirst of Lapin Koskikoulu.

Mark has decades of experience as an expedition kayaker and raft guide, he is also an IRF instructor and is the Rescue 3 instructor and the Rescue 3 training provider for Finland. He runs some of the best WRT (Whitewater Rescue Technician) courses available so it was a pleasure to be able to work with him again, no matter how many WRT courses I do, I always learn more.

Mark was running his courses out of Base Camp Oulanka, and he had told me the place was pretty awesome, wild and remote, and that we would be paddling some class 2/3 rivers so I was eager to check the place out.

Basecamp Oulanka National Park
Basecamp Oulanka

In short I was blown away by how awesome Base Camp Oulanka and the Oulanka national park is for packrafting.

It is literally packrafting paradise.

Packrafting Finland several Alpacka packrafts on the river

Situated just below the Arctic circle, and sharing a border with Russia the national park covers some 270km2 of wilderness area. It is composed of birch and pine forests with many lakes and rivers and varying whitewater sections.

Sunset at shore after packrafting adventures

The trail network and system of free Lavvus (bivy huts) and fireplaces make it easy to access the more remote parts of the park by foot or packraft. Base Camp provides the ideal starting point or base for packrafting missions.

Next up was the Finnish Packrafting Meetup.

This was organized by Caj and Jari and was set up in two parts. The first part was two days of whitewater safety training run by Jari. It is really good to see the emphasis on river safety that Packrafting Meet Ups are providing and the awareness of the need for whitewater rescue training they are promoting. Also the format safety training first and then paddling together works really well.

Paddling Finlands river in the Alpacka Forager

The second part of the meet up brought us back to Oulanka National Park, and another visit to Base Camp. Every now and then in our journey through life we stumble upon truly special places, Base Camp is one of those places. All in all it was a great trip, and I am really looking forward to to the next trip.

Alpacka Gnarwhal packraft in action
Gnarwhal in action

Finland, and the Oulanka National Park provide an awesome opportunity for wilderness packrafting trips within Europe.

Base Camp Oulanka has Alpacka packrafts available for demo and rental and they have a team of experienced and professional guides who are currently exploring the potential of the area and designing some packraft courses and expeditions for 2019. This will make is is even easier for people to be able to explore this truly unique and beautiful wilderness area.

Feel free to get in touch with them for local knowledge or guided trips!

Happy grin after paddling the Alpacka Forager
Happy grin after paddling the Forager

Some more impressions from the trip below:

Packrafting FinlandCaj paddling the Alpacka Forager raftAlpacka Gnarwhal packraft in river rapidFinnish packrafting meet-upWilderness gourmet cuisinePackrafting Meetup FinlandPackrafting Meetup FinlandPackrafting Meetup FinlandPackrafting Meetup FinlandFinnish packrafting roundupAlpacka Forager packraft

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Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for Packrafting in whitewater.

Seon with his Alpacka packraft and full protective gear ready to go packrafting

Are you properly prepared for packrafting in whitewater?

This is the first part of our packrafting safety series.

This is article aimed at paddling whitewater class II and above. However the gear presented below will be of benefit in any whitewater or paddling environment.

Gear is not a substitute for Training, Practice, Experience and Judgement.

The entire series will cover:

  • Why safety is important.
  • What is means to be a safe packrafter:
    – Gear
    – Knowledge
    – Training & Experience
  • Why it is every packrafters responsibility to promote safe practices.

In this first part we will cover, why safety is important and delve into gear with an overview of proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for packrafting in whitewater.

You’ve heard it before, but it is worth mentioning again and again and again.

Packrafting is not backpacking on water!

It is a paddle sport and needs to be treated as such.

Over the last 30 years and especially during the earlier days as whitewater kayaking and rafting was developing a lot of people died or got seriously injured. Paddling any whitewater is an extreme sport and it needs to be treated as such.

Packrafting is EASY… TOO EASY.

Packrafts are easy to use and give you a false sense of security!

People new to packrafting often overestimate the capabilities of their raft and themselves. They lack the basic awareness of the risks involved with moving water. You simply do not know what you do not know.

People have died and more people are going to die packrafting, unfortunately this is a certainty. However do we need to repeat the same mistakes that were made in the early days of kayaking and rafting?

There is absolutely ZERO need for packrafters to reinvent the wheel. We can copy paste almost everything from the whitewater kayaking and rafting community.

Gear is great
Knowledge is better
Training and experience is best

PPE (Personal Protection Equipment)

Lets start with the fundamentals. You don’t go skiing in board shorts and flip flops, you dress appropriately, why should packrafting be any different.

DRESS TO SWIM!

Seon in his Alpacka packraft next to another Alpacka packraft with a packrafter who has fallen into the river
It is not IF, it is when. Swimming is a part of packrafting so best to be prepared for it.

Face it, it is not IF you will swim, it is when.

So best to be prepared. How cold is the river? It might be a warm day with the sun shining but is the river fed by a glacier or snow melt? What if the weather changes?

Proper PPE starts with your clothing choices and moves on to cover everything you carry on your person while on the river. Test all of your gear in a controlled environment first!

Seon fully dressed in the best packrafting gear
Dressed to swim. Proper Personal Protective Equipment from head to toe.

Shoes – Do they provide sufficient grip on wet rocks? Some hiking shoes are great until they get wet, then they turn into ice skates.

Astral packrafting shoes
Astral Brewer, low profile to reduce risk of entrapment, lightweight, fast draining/ drying and most importantly super grippy on wet rock. With good shoes you can move with confidence in and around the river.

Clothing choice – NO COTTON!!! includes underwear and bras. There are numerous saying’s within the outdoor community about cotton. “Cotton is rotton”, “Cotton kill’s” etc. The reason being is that once cotton is wet it provides less than zero insulation, it actually cools you down and can quickly put you at risk of hypothermia.

Clothes that every packrafter should buy and wear
No cotton ! Thick wool socks, Thermal polypro long johns and woven merino thermal top to add warmth when wearing a drysuit.

Socks – Thick Wool is best.

Thermal Underwear – Merino, Capilene or Polypro.

Insulation layers – Fleece pants, tops, and insulation to keep you warm.

Wetsuit – Pros = Added buoyancy, some impact protection, more comfortable in warmer environments, inexpensive.
– Cons = Heavy & wet.

Drysuit – Pros = Dry, more comfort, warmer in cold environments if paired with appropriate clothing underneath.
– Cons = Expensive, less durable than wetsuits (if you put a hole in it or break the neck or wrist gaskets it becomes ineffective).

Packraft Europe Drysuit soon for sale in our packrafting store
Quality dry suit, Reinforced in the right places, waterproof breathable fabric, sewn water proof socks, latex wrist and neck seals, waterproof zippers.

PFD (Personal Flotation Device) vs Lifejacket. A life jacket is designed to keep you on your back and your head above water if you are unconscious and should be used by someone who can NOT swim. A PFD is a flotation device that provides buoyancy and allows you to have a full range of movement ie. swim & paddle and should only be used by people who can swim. A PFD will not float you on your back or keep your head above water if you are unconscious. 50N (Newtons) is the certified minimum buoyancy for whitewater PFDs in Europe. However is 50N enough for packrafting in a whitewater environment? We have had a look at what is used in the whitewater kayaking and rafting world and recommend the following as a guide when choosing a whitewater PFD for packrafting. 60N is ok for low flow rivers up to class 2+. 70N or more is recommended for high flow rivers or whitewater class 3 and above. A rescue PFD with a releasable chest harness is recommended for anyone who plans to paddle class 2 and above, and who has taken or plans to take a whitewater rescue course (highly recommended) or anyone who guides or leads groups. An inflatable PFD has NO place in a whitewater environment.

Astral PFD a great option for packrafting and available in our shop
Whitewater PFD = 70N minimum, good fit. Optional: quick release chest harness (rescue PFD) and visible color. Whistle and Knife both quick and easy to access with one hand.

Helmet – Whitewater Specific for use on Whitewater (CE EN1385).

Orange packrafting helmet
CE approved helmet for use on whitewater.

Whistle – Pea less so it works when wet, should be easily accessible while paddling with one hand.

Rescue knife – To quickly cut rope, should be easily accessible while paddling with one hand.

What to carry on your person at all times (The 10 Essentials)

  1. Warm clothes. (Point #1 one of PPE)
  2. Food & water (extra calories / hydration)
  3. Knife & Whistle (River Knife verse bushcraft knife / Know how to use it)
  4. Emergency blanket (Know how to use it)
  5. Fire starting kit (Know how to use it)
  6. Maps / Knowledge (Covering the river and emergency access & and exit points)
  7. Compass with signal mirror (Know how to use it)
  8. Headlamp (+spare batteries)
  9. First aid kit (Know how to use it)
  10. Communications (Cell phone / PLB / Inreach / Spot (Know how to use it)

This is our sport, and it is growing fast! It is up to every single one of us to be leaders within the sport and help it grow in a safe way. We do not need to repeat the mistakes that were made in the early days of whitewater kayaking and rafting. Let’s work together to keep every paddler safe. Take a whitewater rescue course, practice your skills, paddle with better paddlers, use common sense, and share what you know.

Stay tuned in the next part we will cover how to Rig to Flip and Personal Rescue Equipment (PRE).

Safe paddling,

Seon

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Soca adventures

We are packing for the upcoming European Packrafting Meetup at the Soca and memories from our first Soca trip come to mind. Back then, we had just become parents to our little daughter Maya and were looking for a family friendly road trip with good packrafting opportunities. Living in Austria, the Soca is only a stones throw away, so it was an easy choice.

We decided to arrive via the scenic high mountain road over the Vršič pass, a route that is worth taking (once) if you have time and don’t get carsick (there are 50 hairpin bends!). The views driving down are breathtaking and you drive right past the source of the Soca.

Packrafting adventure to Soca across Vrsic pass
View from the pass

We parked our van at the super friendly and beautiful Klin Lepena campground, which is conveniently located next to the upper most put in of the Soca. Further up stream the Soca runs within the National Park and kayaking and rafting is not allowed.

With little Maya only being 5 months old, Michaela planned to walk along the river, while I packed most of our gear in the packraft. We have since found that this is a great way to travel and works well also for extended expeditions.

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As usual, the packing took most of the morning, making sure we had river gear, safety gear, camping gear, food, first aid kit, nappies etc for 4-5 days of hiking and packrafting.

Little Maya playing with all the packrafting gear in our Alpacka Gnu packraft
Little helper

Weather was stunning and both the river and the trail were fantastic, so each of us had a blast while making our way downriver. Every now and then, we would meet up for little picnics and a dip, and to give Maya some playtime.

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Exploring rocks and moss

Our initial (and very ambitious) plan was to see if we could possibly packraft to Kobarid or Tolmin and then make it back hiking over Mount Krn. But after a few days of hiking and packrafting, we got to Kobarid where the river started to get a bit less pristine, the surroundings more urbanised, and also some weather with heavy rains came in. So we decided to change plans, relax for a day and then go for a 2 day hike to the 7 lakes high up in the Triglav National Park.

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Talking with local friends, we got recommended to stay at Kamp Korita (a super friendly and authentic campground, right next to one section of gorges along the Soca) and take the trail up from there. It was spectacular, and we didn’t meet a single person. Slovenians are very keen hikers, so this is quite rare! When getting to the first lakes we made camp for the night (at 1800m!).

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Happy little camper

Hiked past more lakes on the next day, with some snow still lingering and great views.

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Our loop took us down to Trento and from there we hiked back along the river to our starting point, which gave us a chance to also appreciate the section of the Soča that runs through the national park and can’t be rafted.

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On the upper part of the Soca

 

If you like high mountains, this is an awesome side trip and made us realize how much Slovenia has to offer. Such a great little country, we can’t wait for the Packrafting Meetup this weekend and meeting you there!

Seon on a last paddle on the Soca in his Alpacka Gnu Raft on the last day of our packrafting adventure
Soca with Triglav mountains in background