This weekend I headed to the North Umpqua. In tow was the newest edition in my life: my alpaca 1-person pack-raft. For those unfamiliar, a pack-raft is designed to be exactly what the name suggests: a packable raft. There are only a few companies out there constructing such crafts, and there’s only one such company making it truly ultralight and durable so as not to compromise its ability to run class III/IV whitewater AND walk across mountains with it. After drooling over the rafts that my good friends Shera and Kirk have had for the last year, standing on the side-lines pondering over whether I wanted to dabble in such a lifestyle, I pondered and pondered and pondered until finally making the plunge, weary it might break the bank, but hopeful it would push the pursuit of walking long-distances into a new chapter.
You may still be wondering, what is a pack-raft? Your best chance in understanding will be to head over to Alpacka Raft. I chose to go with their Alpacka model for the very description “Our smallest all-purpose boat, the Alpaca is perfect for small whitewater paddlers, adventure racers, and long-distance trekkers.” At 5’5″, this is the perfect size for me. And in addition to acquiring the raft, I had the folks at Alpacka install a Cargo Fly and a Cruiser Spray Skirt. That way, I can load up my backpacking gear inside the raft’s tubes, where it can stay dry and out of the way until it’s time to call it quits and camp for the night. And although I wasn’t sure about the Cruiser Skirt, as compared to having them install the Whitewater Skirt, after a few trials, I was able to keep the skirt in proper position and effectively keep the water out. Plus, it’s several ounces lighter than the Whitewater Deck, and this girl’s gonna go a-thru-hiking with it someday, that’s for sure. Where? Well, that’s a topic for another day.
As for the boating, and from the perspective of someone who paddled a hardshell for several years, as well as an inflatable kayak, the pack-raft is the ideal craft. Well-suited to hit the white-tipped waves of class-III water, it maneuvers incredibly well on river. It’s fast, quick to change direction and can punch holes. Being ultralight, it also has the ability to get sucked into a hole, at which point a slightly worrisome, but oh so fun moment can occur as your boat goes from pleasantly skirting the North Umpqua’s notoriously nick-named rapid, The Alligator, and sends you right into it’s lateral jaws. I gave a good chuckle while in such predicament, and with a brace and the aid of the buoyant raft, I made it out unscathed.
The weekend was a merry one, with my roommate and I joining the laughter and smiles from some longtime Shasta friends. It’s an absolutely gorgeous river, with turquoise eddies, deep blue pools and champagne bubbles rising from the cool, pristine hydraulics. I’m hopefully anticipating returning there soon, maybe in September. Until then, some things I took from this trip are a) ideas for rigging my boat with webbing so as to better attach a day bag, water bottle and lunch/beverage tote, b) I’m getting a waterproof camera. That or a Pelican case, c) I plan to bring a mask and snorkel to explore the depths of this gorgeous river, d) I won’t leave behind my chacos and/or another water shoe. Flip-flops are a flopping waste of time. And e) the Bota box is really NOT a girl’s best friend, no matter how much she—er, I—likes to convince themselves.