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Visiting Alpacka Raft and packrafting Colorado

Packrafting with Alpacka Raft packrafts

The idea of visiting Alpacka Raft in Mancos, Colorado which is where all Alpacka packrafts are hand crafted, has been on our mind for a long time.

Pretty much ever since we started packrafting and read about how Sheri and Thor Tingey started Alpacka Raft back in 2000, we wanted to meet them in person. Their story has always inspired us and after using Alpacka packrafts for years on our personal missions, and now partnering with them for our family business, our passion for the design and quality of Alpacka Raft has been growing steadily.

In the Alpacka Raft factory with the new 2019 models
In the Alpacka factory, thinking of our next packrafting trip

We have seen photos, read about it, have spent countless hours on Skype with Thor and Sarah Tingey, and were super excited to meet everybody in person and see where Alpacka packrafts are hand made!

We knew that Seon was due to renew his NOLS Wilderness First Responder First Aid Certificate for our Packrafting Rescue Courses. So when we saw a course near Mancos at end of October, the decision to fly to Colorado was made in a heartbeat!

Flights were booked, bags were packed and the kids were told that another exciting adventure trip was awaiting us.

After surviving a long trip and 9 hours of time difference, we stood in front of the Alpacka workshop and were greeted by Sarah, Thor, Sheri and a bunch of dogs that are a part of the family.

Packraft Europe family meets the Alpacka family
Packraft Europe family meets the Alpacka family

First thing on the agenda was of course a tour through the factory.

We saw every step of the production process of an Alpacka packraft. Cutting, sewing, gluing, welding, all the local employees were focused on doing a great job and their commitment to quality is clearly evident. Another thing that surprised us is that nearly all of the staff at Alpacka paddle themselves. Think about that for a moment, the people that are hand crafting your packraft for you actually packraft, and share your love for the sport.

Alpacka quality packrafts
Alpacka packrafts hand crafted

We also spent some time with the repair and retrofit department.

Starting in January 2019 we will begin offering a limited selection of repair and retrofit services for Alpacka packrafts in Europe. Seon spent most of his days training in the repair and retrofit centre to learn how to do repairs and retrofits to the high quality that Alpacka stands for and we are excited to begin testing his skills!

Last but not least there are two more sheds that are specifically dedicated to R&D!

To improve existing designs, find and test better ones, work on the material, the components, the production techniques etc. It blew our mind how every little detail was so well thought of and how Alpacka puts a focus on doing the right thing rather than going for the cheapest option, even with decisions that most customers will never be aware of.

Alpackas bottom line is driven by passion, dedication to design, innovation, and creating the best packrafts available. Period.

Alpacka packrafts high quality material
Not just any packraft fabric. Alpacka packrafts are made using a specific fabric that is manufactured to Alpackas exact quality standards.

All Alpacka packrafts are crafted by hand in the USA, and every step in production is a testament to the values that guides Alpacka and their family of skilled craft men and woman.

It starts with their boat fabric (which is unique to Alpacka and made in the USA to their exacting specifications) and continues through every step of production and beyond. This dedication continues on for the lifetime of their Packrafts and is also evident in the repair and retro fit center where it is not uncommon to have rafts come in for upgrades that are over 10 or 15 years old and still going strong.

Another example is the glue that is used.

We could actually walk into the gluing room with our little kids and could hardly smell anything. When we asked Thor about it, he explained that Alpacka is using a glue that is free from VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) and is much less toxic and harmful than most glues. This is something we had already noticed at packrafting meet-ups. Other brands of rafts can be identified by their smell even after weeks and months of use.

This is just one example of many that shows the dedication Alpacka has not only to design and innovation but also the health of the environment, their employees and their loyal customers.

In Alpacka's non smelly glueing room
Breathing freely in Alpacka’s gluing room

Of course we also met Sheri, who started it all and still has a sparkle in her eyes when we talk packrafting with her.

Although most of the day to day business is led by Thor and Sarah, Sheri is still very much involved in innovation, new designs and patterns and we saw her more than once on the sewing machine herself. Now in her 70s it is clear she is as passionate as ever about packrafts.

Sheri Tingey, inventor of the modern packraft and founder of Alpacka Rafts
Sheri Tingey, inventor of the modern packraft and founder of Alpacka Rafts

The days flew by and we got to know the people behind Alpacka a bit better and learned more about their ideas, passions and values – so much in line with ours!

When Seon was working in the repair center, I grabbed the kids and explored the surroundings of Mancos! Between snow capped mountains and desert canyons, it is an area of contrasts. It is a small town where Cowboys are still part of the normal scenery, one day even a full herd of cattle was herded straight through town.

On the weekend we drove to Utah to paddle Colorado river.

First a gentle stretch with the kids and to try out the new 2019 models (more about that soon :-)))

Family packrafting with Alpacka packrafts
First packrafting trip for our younger one – less than a year old and loving it!

On the next day, Molly (Alpacka customer service) had organized permits to paddle the Westwater Canyon and Seon went paddling with the Alpacka crew.

It was a full day on the river with deep blue skies, stunning scenery, good whitewater, laughter and great packrafting. I think Seon has a new favorite whitewater packraft…

Packrafting Westwater canyon with the new Alpacka 2019 models
Packrafting Westwater canyon with the Alpacka crew
Alpacka packraft in whitewater
Dustin (design engineer) testing new features
Alpacka 2019 models new packrafts
Lunch break on the river – spot some of the new 2019 models!

Packrafting Colorado river with the Alpacka Gnarwhal

Packrafting Westwater canyon with Alpacka Raft
Sarah and Molly taking the right line.
Packrafting Westwater canyon with the Alpacka Wolferine
Sarah and Thor leading the way.

After a few more days in the factory, our visit came to an end – such a great trip!

Michaela & Seon

 

Some more pics from the trip:

Alpacka Wolferine packraft
Seon very happy in his new favourite Alpacka, which he built mostly himself! More about this story soon ­čÖé
Packraft Europe family on tour
Family hiking in the desert
HMG Hyperlite Mountaingear UltaMid 4 shelter
Pitching the Hyperlite Mountaingear UltaMid 4 shelter for family desert camping
Canyon hiking
Canyon hiking – you can do it!
In the Alpacka Scout packraft
Think that’s about the right size for me – Maya in a Scout.

 

 

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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