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European Packrafting Meet-up, Soca 2018

Wow, what a weekend! We kept repeating this phrase again and again while reluctantly driving away from Camp Liza which was our base for the 4 day meet-up. It seemed weeks ago that we had arrived along the same road, full of excitement about the upcoming event. We were expecting 47 paddlers from 13 countries and the weather forecast was fantastic. The Soca was mid to high flow at 50cumecs.

About half the people were expected to arrive on Friday afternoon and it was a real pleasure to start to get to know each other around the first evening campfire, many more were to follow.

Meet-up participants standing around the fire pit

The official program only started at Saturday noon, leaving more time for people to arrive. In the late morning paddlers with white water rescue training or significant experience met for a skippers meeting to discuss group safety strategy for paddling the river. Afterwards we all came together for a group introduction and safety talk were local knowledge about the Soca river, sections to paddle and hazards was shared.

Packrafting Meet-up participants grouped around red Alpacka packraft

 

We then headed to a section of the Soca that Seon had scouted early morning that had all the features for some safety training sessions: an easy class 1/2 section of river with a large deep eddy and an easy access large gravel bank just down river. Gabriel from Outventurous ran practice flip and re entry drills in the still water of the eddy, while Annika from Packraft-Touren provided some excellent coaching on techniques for eddying in and out, and Seon from Packraft Europe  gave some coaching on ferry gliding.

Safety training by Seon from Packraft Europe Alpacka dealer

Luis in his Alpacka packraft during a radical turn

Once everybody had gone through the 3 stations (Flip, Eddy, Ferry) we moved downstream to the large gravel bank and practiced whitewater swimming techniques. After which everybody got back into their packrafts and paddled a short way downstream to the next take out and headed back to camp.

Safety training on the Soca during the packrafting meet-up

 

The day was rounded up with a group dinner at Camp Liza’s restaurant, after such a full day it was great not to worry about food and just sit down and relax!

Sunday morning we woke up to another day of blue skies, sunshine and warm temperatures, we couldn’t believe how lucky we were with the weather. Time for breakfast, coffee (thanks to LA MATTINA) and gear talk. Annika went over a few paddling tips and the finer details of eddy techniques, and shortly after Seon gave an in depth presentation about “Developing a culture of safety”, and demonstrated proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Personal Rescue Equipment (PRE) and explained the need for  Whitewater Rescue Training within the packrafting community.

Safety packrafting briefing about rescue gear with people listening and a red Alpacka packraft

Seon doing a packrafting safety briefing

After soaking up all the knowledge, everybody was itching to get into the water again and go paddling. Some people jumped straight into the river at the Koritnica / Soca confluence right next to our campground, others walked downstream and skipped the first bit in order to start paddling on the easier lower section.

Alpacka Packrafts on the Soca

We all joined together at the Cezsoca (Prijon) put in, and did a mass packrafting run with 38 paddlers down to the large gravel bank where we had practiced whitewater swimming techniques the day before. We enjoyed a riverside lunch and went straight into a throw bagging workshop.

Throwbag training, an important skill for packrafters

Afterwards it was time to continue on and it was amazing to watch as people practiced and refined their skills, everyone was catching eddies and ferry gliding as we all made our way down river enjoying each others company and the beautiful surrounds. Everyone was smiling from ear to ear 🙂 It is not often we get to so see so many packrafts together and we certainly got some attention from kayakers and rafters on the river!

Packrafting on the Soca river on a beautiful day with lots of Alpacka rafts

Sunday evening the focus was on the third pillar of the event. Besides sharing an awesome time with other packrafters on and off the river and learning about safety, river protection  and conservation was a big part of the event. Included in the registration fee was a 5€ per person donation to “Save the Blue Heart of Europe”, which fights for protecting the last wild rivers of Europe from being dammed. Patagonia has recently released a documentary film to help spread the news about what is taking place in the Balkans. The movie was only just released and we were able to screen the film “Blue Heart” on Sunday evening at the campground! Check out the Blue Heart trailer.

By Monday, the third day of the meet-up, everybody knew each other, had paddled together, had practiced basic river safety and knew how to look out for each other on the river. So we formed small groups and went off to paddle different sections of the Soca and Koritnica depending on ability.

Packrafting down the Soca river with multicolour Alpacka boats

Some also decided to take a day off and go for a hike to the massive Boka waterfall just West of Bovec. In the evening, we did a raffle of all the great gear and give-aways provided by Anfibio Packrafting Store , Packraft-Touren and PacKraft after which our thirst for adventure was fueled by a presentation from Gabriel where he shared his experience and knowledge of remote wilderness expeditions, some of the close calls he has had and the valuable lessons learnt. It was an awesome presentation and really helped to round out the whole event.

Packrafts on the Soca river with sunlight through the trees

Finally Tuesday came around with some people going for a last paddle, others starting to pack up their gear for the trip home. It was 4 fun packed days on and off the water coming to an end. Everybody was stoked, had learned and practiced important safety and paddling techniques and we have raised 463€ for the “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” campaign!

Packrafting action

This was the first European Packrafting Meetup and it will be hard to beat, but we will try! This is going to be an annual event, every year, beginning of May at the Soca, so if you couldn’t make it this time, make sure to save the date for next year!

Furthermore we are looking into a second meetup later this year, in September. The format will be an expedition style meet up. We will put in, paddle and camp at a different section of the river every night. Dates and location to be decided.

Join the facebook group Packrafting Meet-ups, Safety Info and River Conservation to be the first to know about the exact dates for both meet ups, and all other packrafting events!

Thanks to everybody for coming, and special thanks to Max and Seon for all their efforts in preparing and organizing the meet-up!!!

Seon in his Alpacka gnarwhal packraft watching the other packrafts float by

 

A huge thanks to all the supporters of this event:

Anfibio Packrafting Store for MRS demo rafts and loads of cool prizes.

Packraft-Touren for loads of cool prizes and Annika’s help with safety on the river and her excellent coaching.

PacKraft for Kokopelli demo rafts, loads of cool prizes and Geoff’s safety support on the river.

Camp Liza for a great campsite and all their help in making this event flow smoothly.

LA MATTINA for the fresh roasted coffee 😉

Packraft Europe for Alpacka demo rafts and the “Blue Heart” Movie screening.

 

 

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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