There and Packraft Again: A Hiker's Tail
I’m afraid of water. I don’t know where it comes from or how it happened. I wasn’t involved in a traumatic accident, nor has anything happened to a family or friends. Something about feeling so small in such a large body of water just scares me. I’m afraid the water will be too cold, too deep, too...much of anything. So when my partner said he’d bought an Alpacka Raft I thought, “have fun with that!” I figured it would be his new outdoor activity. That was in 2017, only a year ago. Flash forward to summer 2018, and I’ve gotten more in the water in the last three months than most of my life. Especially in a raft. Don’t get me wrong, I like swimming in pools or a water park. But I’ve never had much experience in a boat, let alone a pack raft. “Wait, what’s a pack raft?” I asked. He said it was just a really light boat that we could take backpacking with us. Ok, that could be fun. “Well, what about our dog, Charlie?” He could come too, but we’d have to be really careful with his paws and nails in it. I was sold. If my dog could come along, I knew I would enjoy it that much more.
My first time getting in I was so nervous! My usual weekend getaway is the High Uintas Wilderness, and the first lake I set out on was Kermsuh Lake. The sun was bright and warm, the water cold, and the quietness of the forest was calming. At first I kept thinking about how to paddle, where I wanted to explore in the lake, making sure Charlie was sitting down, etc. There was so much to think about! Yet, when I started to paddle I really didn’t think about those things. I thought to myself, “Ooh, let’s check out this area of the lake!” and “Wow, I can actually see fish from here!”. I found myself learning to explore and be curious about things I never had before while backpacking. This took things to a whole new level. Let me say, I’m still not super comfortable with water. It’s only been my first season out, but I’m getting there. As a total newbie to pack rafting, I have been enjoying how easy everything is so far. The easy set up, the fast access to lakes and streams, the way it handles weight, the lightness of it all – plus, the views you get from the lakes’ point of view is amazing. My favorite pack raft trip so far has been in Baptiste Lake the Wind River Range in Wyoming. The vastness of the lake combined with the views of Mt. Hooker and Musembeah Peak were jaw-dropping. Sometimes my mind would think about how deep the lake was, but Charlie would sit comfortably in my lap, we stared at our views, and the pack raft would make me feel safe again.
The pack raft is my safety net right now, but it’s a step towards bigger adventures. So far, my partner and I have only paddled in lakes. Next summer, the plan is to get a second pack raft so that we can start doing multi-day adventures along rivers. We really want to take a few water safety courses before a big trip – I think that would make me feel even more comfortable with being on the water and I would feel more prepared in different scenarios. One of the reasons we’ve decided on this is because we want to see miles and miles of river before they are gone. There are approximately 3.6 million miles of stream in the United States alone, yet only 0.35% of those miles are protected (1) under the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System. We’ve realized that the days of pristine waters and trash-free zones are only becoming more and more limited. Traveling by pack raft has been a new way for us to travel this year and we want to expand our options. I’m learning that water shouldn’t be a barrier to arrive at a destination. By informing outdoor enthusiast of our endangered river systems and spreading the word about how many more miles of rivers need protection, I’m hoping that this year’s 50th Anniversary of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act will be a united effort to continue the goal of protecting and enhancing the land they run through.
Listen, you don’t have to be a pro to pack raft. I’m certainly not, and it doesn’t matter what level of skill you currently have. It’s getting out there, exploring, being curious, trying new things. By joining the pack raft movement, you’re bound to test the waters, and go where you’ve never been able to before. Rivers and trails are the routes that connect us to public land and waters. Now when my partner suggests taking a pack raft along I say, “Let’s do it!”.