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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 🙂
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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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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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.