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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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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.