Maiden Voyage(s) of the Packraft

A few weeks ago (coincidentally just before breaking my ankle) I finally bit the bullet and bought an Alpacka packraft. I guess I should back up.  The first thing I did was borrow a Klymit LiteWater Dinghy (LWD) from a friend earlier in the summer. The LWD seemed like a great option – inexpensive, lightweight, and relatively durable. Unfortunately the LWD wasn’t quite substantial enough for some of the trips I’m considering. Based on my limited experience, it seems great if you want to take a boat to alpine lakes and float around in the summer, but I can’t imagine using it for much more than that.

Klymit Litewater Dinghy

After realizing that the LWD wasn’t gonna cut it, I accepted the fact that I was going to have to invest in an Alpacka. I spent about a month looking for a used one, but no luck – I think this is partly because I’m under 5’8 and need a size small. Most of the used boats out there are size medium or large.

In mid-September, I finally put in an order for a new Alpacka, bright and shiny blue, with a whitewater deck and cargo fly. I got an Astral V-8 women’s PFD, and an Aqua Bound 4-piece posi-lock Manta Ray carbon paddle (I would’ve bought a Werner because I like to support local businesses, but I was able to get a significantly better deal on the Aqua Bound).

New whip
The Alpacka arrived literally two days after breaking my ankle – the timing couldn’t have been better. At that point my ankle was as swollen and painful as it was going to get, and my morale was at an all-time low. The boat gave me a much-needed boost, with the promise of adventuring despite being unable to bike or run.

As soon as the swelling went down I took the boat out for its maiden voyage, which really just means I took it down to Lake Washington, figured out how to inflate it (youtube videos are my friend), and then took it out for a quick paddle. You inflate it using a stuff sack, which sounds tedious but is a surprisingly efficient means of inflation, and only takes about 10-15 minutes once you know what you’re doing. (Don’t ask me how long it took me the first time.) I definitely geeked out a bit on how it basically goes from a compact roll of plastic to a fully functioning watercraft in less than 15 minutes.

The raft in its stuff sack. Boot for scale.
Most of the inflating is done with the bright orange bag
You finish inflating by mouth. Typically only takes a few quick breaths. And then: Tada!

Paddling around Lake WA was fun, but I was craving more trees and mountains, so I decided to head out to Cooper Lake. I knew Cooper was accessible by car, and I’d witnessed a gorgeous sunrise the last time I was there.

Cooper Lake, Nov 2016
The lighting at Cooper Lake wasn’t as spectacular as it was last November, but it was still a beautiful calm morning on the lake. I put in at the boat launch, navigating the uneven terrain down to the water very carefully and slowly, plopping myself in my raft, and then scootching into water. I paddled the length of the lake, taking my time and pics as I went. It wasn’t quite as good as a long day spent moving through the wilderness, but it should get me through the next couple weeks of boot purgatory.

Just me and the fish
The sun made a brief appearance
Boot in a bag in a boat. It was cramped with the boot inside the boat, so I took it out occasionally for a stretch.
Exploring the north end of Cooper Lake (inaccessible by trail)
Forest above, forest below

Lemah Peaks and Chimney Rocks
Vine maple
Cle Elum river on my way out
Jolly Mountain fire still burning

As for the Alpacka, so far so good! With the whitewater deck and spray skirt I stayed warm and dry even with temps in the mid-30s at Cooper Lake, and I’ve taken it for a couple other flatwater paddles and continue to have fun. Next up: get on some moving water and see how it handles in a current.


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