Smells like North Sea

After some sea packrafting in Norway and France years ago, a friend and I met at the Belgian coast yesterday for some sea packrafting on the North Sea. It was the first time ever that I took my packraft to the Belgian coast. The weather forecast predicted a weak wind (3 Beaufort is definitely weak on the sea) slowly veering from west to north and only 30cm high waves, ideal circumstances to prevent any danger to be blown away from the shore or to be swallowed by giant waves. We started east of the port channel of the port of Ostend, crossed the port channel just before a ship entered and had to fight the tidal current which was strengthened by the restriction of the port channel. Then we watched the city from the sea and after a while turned our packrafts 180°.

North Sea packrafting 201308

After we crossed the port channel again, we paddled further away from the shore to take a look at the Flansea wave pioneer about 1100m from the shore. The tidal current (about 5km/h yesterday) made us almost miss the large drifting obstacle. We played a bit in its wake and both tried to circumnavigate it, which was not without danger with the strong current. Then we let us drift eastward in the current and wind, passed small fisher boats. Slowly we came closer to the shore, the rescue teams on their red lifeboats each after one visiting us to check us out and to ask what kind of strange boat we were using. As long as we did not interfere with the bathers we were fine to do what we wanted.

North Sea packrafting 201308

After a rest stop on the beach, we tried to paddle back towards Ostend against the current and the wind. We succeeded but became nevertheless so tired that we decided to stop and play a bit in the breakers. After a few pints of beer at the beach house we walked the last two kilometers back to Ostend. Next time trying to paddle the whole 67km of the Belgian coast from De Panne to Knokke with a moderate and stable WSW wind? That would be a real challenge!

An introduction to packrafting in Sarek national park

What the Brooks Range in Alaska means for packrafters in America, does Sarek National Park in Swedish Lapland for packrafters in Europe. Although I immediately have to put this statement into perspective. First of all, Sarek is a very small mountain area only compared to the Brooks Range, so the possibilities are not infinite here to what it may seem in Alaska. The area is not big enough to contain a river that can be paddled for many days in a row. And secondly, Sarek national park has regulations for visitors that will become more strict in the near future and will affect packrafting in the park drastically.

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Rapaselet in the Rapadalen valley. Packraft porn, isn’t it? However, all you see in the photo is actually prohibited to float!

A few months ago someone pointed me to these new regulations that will be imposed by the park staff starting on January 1st 2015. These new regulations prohibit to bring any type of watercraft into the park (see paragraph 4§ point 8.) which in other words means that packrafting will be totally illegal in Sarek over two years. This year and next year packrafting is still allowed, except on the Rahpaädno river downstream of the confluence with the Sarvesjåhkå river as can be derived from the current regulations.

Over the last year I’ve quite often received questions about the packraft possibilities in the park. It seems there will be a lot of packrafters over there this summer and undoubtedly also the summer after. You still have two chances to inflate your packraft in Sarek and paddle on its rivers legally, so I would say take your chance before it is too late!

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Rapadalen forms the main valley in Sarek.

The best time for packrafting in Sarek is definitely the first half of the summer (end of June and July) when water levels are usually high from the snow melt, resulting in extensive packraft possibilities. As the summer progresses into August, most of the snow in the mountains disappears and water levels gradually drop significantly to lower levels, apart from a few short episodes after abundant rainfall which always remain possible. During the month of September the average river discharge then keeps decreasing.

Rapaädno discharge

In the above graph you can see daily mean, maximum and minimum discharges of the Rahpaädno river in Sarek national park at the Litnok cabin (that is just upstream of the mountain Námmasj) measured during the period 1916-1945. During the last century Swedish explorer Axel Hamberg mapped the region for the Swedish government and installed a device overthere in the river to daily measure the water level. This graph is a result of his spadework.

I’ve only visited the park with my packraft during late August and September and have always met low water levels except from one short episode of high water after two days of heavy rain. From my experience I can say that only the Ráhpajåhkå / Rahpaädno river remains enjoyable during lower water. I’ve also paddled other rivers but these were not as enjoyable due to many portages that were needed at these limited flows. Yet as I keep being asked about the rivers, I will give a description of the rivers in the two biggest watersheds in Sarek as I have experienced them in my packraft and will give an estimate of the whitewater rating at average water levels (let’s say for what is average in July).

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Ahkajåhkå river in the Alggavagge valley.

Please don’t interpret this post as an encouragement to continue with packrafting illegally in Sarek after 2014. That is not my intention here! Furthermore, please keep in mind that the character of all rivers can vary greatly depending on the flow rate. So keep the whitewater ratings here only as a guideline to begin with. Hence my description may differ greatly from what you can experience at a different river discharge. Therefore I am obviously not responsible for any errors nor any negative consequences that may result from paddling any river based on my descriptions.

That all being said, I hope this post may still be helpful for anyone who plans to take its packraft to Sarek during the next two summers. And it would off course be appreciated if you could give your feedback after paddling a river. Best is to have Google Earth on your computer screen zoomed in to the specific river and the BD10 hiking map in front of you when following my descriptions. Most rapids can be recognized in Google Earth.


1) Ráhpaädno watershed

  • Smájllájåhkå (13km): class II becoming class III ending in a canyon that needs a portage.

The Smájllájåhkå river is the queen of all braided rivers in Sarek. It drains the meltwater of the Ruohtesjiegna glaciers and then mainly runs southeast through the Ruohtesvagge valley to change its name into Ráhpajåhkå at the confluence with the Guohperjåhkå river in the head of the Rapadalen valley. Its water is very opaque which makes it impossible to spot the river bottom, even in shallow water.

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River Smájllájåhkå in the Ruohtesvagge valley seen from the ridge of Kantberget.

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The braided Smájllájåhkå during autumn, shallow and milky.

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Many silt banks are encountered in the upper part of the river.

Under the face of the mountain Gavelberget, about 3 to 4km downstream from the glacial tongue of Oarjep Ruohtesjiegna, is usually a good spot to put in. You could probably start further upstream at high water levels, but the speed of the water flow in the braided channels is usually very high here. For the following 10km the river has a strong braided silt river bed with a relatively slow current and only contains a few easy class II rapids. Best time is to packraft at higher water levels since in case of low water you will get stuck on silt banks too often.

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Smajllajåhkå river seen from Jållok (1501m).

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Lower part of the river seen from the ridge of Gavabakte.

After about 10km, under the face of the mountain Jållok, the river suddenly becomes a fast and almost continuous class II-III single channel with moderate gradient and rock gardens. At the Mikkastugan cabin the river throws itself over several waterfalls into a dangerous canyon. Be aware to put out in time before the entrance of the canyon if you choose to run the whitewater till Mikkastugan. The canyon can be portaged along both sides. A permanent footbridge is constructed over the canyon at the Mikkastugan. From the end of the canyon the river slows down and starts to braid again (class I). A put in is possible just at the end of the canyon. Not much further the Guohperjåhkå river joins from the west and the name of the stream changes into Ráhpajåhkå.

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The whitewater just upstream from the canyon near Mikkastugan.

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The Smajllajåhkå throws itself into the canyon at Mikkastugan, Sarektjåhkkå (2089m) mountain in the background.

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The Skarja footbridge spans the canyon at the Mikkastugan.

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Put-in spot at the end of the canyon.

  • Guohperjåhkå (2km): class I

This tributary joins the Smájllájåhkå to form the Ráhpajåhkå south of Mikkastugan. The river shows a very varied character over its course, from waterfalls over swift braided parts and a narrow canyon to a slightly meandering section between swamps in the head of the Rapadalen valley. Only the last 2km of the river in Rapadalen is packraftable and worth a put in when coming from the west on foot. Afterwards you can continue over Ráhpajåhkå.

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The Guohperjåhkå river meanders between pools at the valley bottom of Rapadalen to join the braided Smájllájåhkå and give birth to the Ráhpajåhkå river. Mountain Bierikbakte (1789m) in the background.

  • Ráhpajåhkå (8.5km): Class I

Wide braided river bed with slow to swift current and few shallow channels. A few class II rapids may appear at higher water levels, otherwise there are no rapids worth mentioning. This part is in my opinion the most scenic packraft section in the entire park! This section ends under Spökstenen (indicated on the BD10 hiking map) where the braided channels suddenly join into a single channel and the river its name changes from Ráhpajåhkå to Ráhpaädno.

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Ráhpajåhkå river down Rapadalen valley seen from the Snavavagge.

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The river has a wide channel and many smaller braids.

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The braided work of mother nature.

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The mouth of Tjågnårisjågåsj creek into Rahpajåhkå river, Bierikbakte (1789m) in the background.

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End of the Rahpajåhkå section in the center left of the photo where the braids join again into a single channel. Sarvesvagge and Gådok mountains in the background.

  • Upper Ráhpaädno (6km): Class II with a short Class III rapid

The upper Ráhpaädno starts under Spökstenen where all channels join into a single channel and ends at the confluence with the Sarvesjåhkå river. The current suddenly increases at the start of the single channel. Rocks appear in the river bed resulting in frequent class II whitewater.

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First part of the Upper Rahpaädno river with some easy whitewater, the valley slope towards the Snavavagge in the background.

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Rocky river bed of the Rahpaädno under Låddebakte. At this spot I started my portage around the class III rapid.

A class III rapid is encountered after about 2km under a couloir in the face of the mountain Låddebákte, where several boulders have slid into the river bed. This rapid can be easily located from the river if you keep an eye on the couloir in the face of Låddebákte. Finding a place to put out before the rapid might be somewhat difficult at strong water flow, but you should manage to find a place to put out at either side otherwise. Make a short portage around the rapid and search for a place to put in behind it (you can try to run the rapid after scouting if you feel really confident).

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The short class III rapid of the upper Rahpaädno under Låddebakte at low water levels. The river is in reality bigger than it looks on the photo. Keep the birch trees in the background as reference.

Then a wide rock garden follows about 300m behind the rapid near the mouth of Jågåsjgaskajågåsj creek (now try to pronounce that correctly) which can be too shallow at lower water levels to pass through fluently. Afterwards the river splits up again in a few braids, the current gradually slows down and the difficulty level decreases gradually to class I near the confluence with the Sarvesjåhkå river.

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The river makes a few braids again while gradually slowing down towards the Sarvesjåhkå confluence.

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At the confluence with Sarvesjåhkå.

  • Rapaselet and lower Ráhpaädno: Class I becoming Class III

The entire river is forbidden to float downstream from the confluence with the Sarvesjåhkå regarding the actual park regulations. Hence I will not make any further detailed description here (I have only ferried the river here a few times and ran a short section), but if you still choose to float here be especially aware of the Class III canyon that follows after Rapaselet where a portage is necessary. Afterwards the river contains some more albeit short class III rapids.

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Rapaselet seen from Kanalberget (1937m).

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Rapaselet is what now remains from an ancient glacial lake in the Rapadalen valley. The river has filled the lake with sediments and now turquoise channels swing between shallow silt banks that come above water at low water levels.

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Start of the class III canyon downstream from Rapaselet.

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Rapadalen and lower Rahpaädno river with the isolated mountains Nammasj (823m) and Tjahkkelij (1214m).

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Fast current on the lower Rahpaädno after heavy rain.

  • Laitaure delta (7.6km): flat water

Below the isolated mountain Nammásj, the Ráhpaädno exits the park borders and is allowed to float again through its delta at the mouth into lake Laitaure. The river splits up into three main channels and several more smaller channels through the delta. Choose the middle channel when water levels are low as the right and left channel become too shallow. When there is a sufficient water flow through the delta, choose the right main channel if you want to join the Kungsleden trail to the south from the southern shore of Laitaure. Choose the left one if you aim for Aktse and the Kungsleden to the north. The left channel splits up into several smaller channels towards the end and so might make orientation difficult. Pay attention to the wind if you would take the middle channel as sudden strong winds can bring you into troubles more easily on the lake since you will have to paddle a longer distance to reach the shore of the lake from the mouth of the channel.

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The Laitaure delta filling up with new sediments at higher water and lake Laitaure in the background. You can clearly see the river split up into its three main channels.


2) Sijdoädno watershed

  • Guhkesvákkjåhkå (15km): class II with short class III rapid at the footbridge

The river becomes packraftable south of the Gássaláhko plateau where Várdasjåhkå river joins from the west. For the first 3.5km the river contains frequent dense rock gardens. At lower flows most of these rock gardens have to be portaged as there is no passage through them (they might be passable over the water at high water but I have no confirmation yet). If you prefer a fast progression through the valley you can better skip these rock gardens and put in behind the latest rock garden just upstream from the isolated hill Sarekvarasj.

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The point where Várdasjåhkå joins Guhkesvakkjåhkå.

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Shallow flat water connected by short rock gardens that you might need to portage.

After the latest rock garden near Sarekvarasj the river remains flat with a slow current and absence of obstacles for about 5km until the next rock garden (at the mouth of the creek Lulep Sarekjågåsj). After this class II rock garden a flat braided section follows. Almost 2km further downstream, rock gardens are interspersed with short sections of flat water. I was able to find a passage through all the rock gardens till the footbridge at low water levels, except from one where a portage was necessary. At the footbridge the river shows a short rocky class III rapid and splits up in several smaller rocky channels afterwards which only seem possible to run at higher water. I think it is a good decision to start a portage to lake Liehtjitjávrre from just before the bridge if you would like to continue on the Sijddoädno river.

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The river contains more rock gardens closer to the bridge.

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The class II rocky river bed of Guhkesvakkjåhkå just before the footbridge.

Sarek 2008
The footbridge with the class III rapid.

  • Sijddoädno (17km): class III with a class IV canyon

The outflow of lake Liehtjitjávrre at its northeast side forms the Sijddoädno river. This river is the second largest in Sarek after Ráhpaädno and is a mixed mess. It contains many rock gardens and best packraft possibilities are hence at high water levels. You should avoid the river in case of low water, even though I have paddled a large part of it at low water, I can not say it was quite enjoyable. Over the first 3km the river actually consists of a wide rocky channel connecting small lakes with each other. Three dense rock gardens are encountered which all need a portage at low water. The first rock garden after one kilometer has a height drop of several meters with whitewater pressed through sieves and pillows in a narrow channel between the rocks. This rock garden is best portaged along the left side. I think the other two rock gardens should not pose a major thread at higher water.

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The Sijddoädno river between the second and third rock garden.

900m behind the third rock garden (and after almost 3km from the lake), the river increases speed, rapids appear and a bit further the river then throws itself into a shallow canyon with a class IV rapid to flow into the lake Guordesluoppal afterwards. A long portage is necessary here to the lake to avoid the canyon.

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Start of the shallow class IV canyon.

From the outflow of this lake the river bed remains very rocky with several class II-III rapids of which the latest ones (you can easily recognize them in GE) towards lake Sitojaure should be portaged or at least scouted from the shore. The river finally flows into the lake Sitojaure through a small delta. The continuation of the river after Sitojaure lies outside the park.

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The rocky Sijddoädno above lake Sitojaure.

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Lake Sitojaure (630m) and the delta of Sijddoädno river.


3) Other watersheds

All other rivers I’ve already tried in Sarek did not have enough water flow to continue over a long section. Still I think the following rivers might provide opportunities when water levels are higher:
Suottasjjåhkå, Sjnjuvtjudisjåhkå, Sierggajåhkå , Sjpietjavjåhkå, Guohperjåhkå, Låvdakjåhkå, Låddejåhkå, Alggajåhkå, Alep Sarvesjåhkå, Miellädno, Njoatsosjåhkå, Sarvesjåhkå and Bierikjåhkå. So that is still a lot! If you ran any of these rivers, I would love to hear your experiences.

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Sjnjuvtjudisjåhkå river at very low autumn discharge. Mountain Nijak (1922m) in the background.

Sarek 2008
The Njoatsosjåhkå river with the Bårdde mountains in the background. This river is the third biggest in Sarek.

And now not all at once to Sarek! :-)

The Hochschwab Salza loop – tramping through snow thunder and rain

Where did the crystal clear water go? Opaque grey silty water flowed past by through the Salza river when I inflated my packraft. Warm temperatures, high amounts of snow melt and the rainshowers of the days before had caused rather high water levels.

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Ready to hit the Salza just downstream from Gusswerk village.

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Flowers abound around the snow line.

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The Ennstaler Alps as seen from the Goss mountain pass above Hinterwildalpen.

The desolate Klausgraben canyon presented itself as a delight to the eye. Passed through the canyon several heavy rainshowers teased me on my float, but I paddled on till the evening when a layer of fog formed and draped the river bed. Now I could only hear the next white water coming and throw myself into it blindly. That wouldn’t be so clever, so I put out and hiked the remaining distance till close to the village of Wildalpen where I tarp camped in the forest. Distant lightning strikes lit the sky at dusk, soon it started to rain, often it rained heavy and it didn’t stop till late forenoon.

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The snow covered plateau under the scraping clouds.

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Wagnergraben from the Römerweg trail.

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Fobisbach down Hinterseeaugraben.

With the last rain droplets that fell in the morning, I made a cache in the forest to leave my packrafting gear behind for the remainder of the trip. The Salza river had swollen too much overnight so that any packrafting was irresponsible now. I climbed out of the Salza valley and wandered through vast mountain forest and some more heavy rainshowers that got my legs soaking wet until I reached the west part of the Hochschwab plateau in the evening. The sun broke through and I enjoyed watching the towering clouds over the mountains in the distance building the next thunderstorms.

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Looking down Hinterseeaugraben with Pfaffenstein (1871m) in the background.

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The bridge over Fobisbach appears from under the snow.

The plateau still had an almost 100% snow cover once above 1200m, but the snow had hardened enough during the last days thanks to all the rain that my snow shoes where now useless weight in my pack. Except from a few frightened chamois I seemed to be all alone on the deserted plateau. The weather improved on day four so that I chose to climb to the summit of Brandstein. A glider suddenly scared me while standing near the summit cross. Even though you can have the feeling to be all alone up in the mountains in the early season, suddenly there might always appear some company from an unexpected side in the Alps. It’s so typical.

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The plateau seen from Brandstein summit (2003m).

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Looking back onto the south face of Brandstein (2003m) from the plateau.

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Entering the flowery Trawiestal valley.

The nice weather window only lasted one day as the next day I had to race against an advancing coldfront. I was now under Hochschwab’s summit but the mountain remained in the clouds all the time so that I had to leave the plan to climb any higher. The marmots were deserted looking around while keeping close to their den. With still so much snow cover everywhere around their den, there was not yet much delicious to find to satisfy one’s hunger.

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I just woke up after my half year sleep.

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And I stretch my legs for every photographer.

While I crossed the mountain pass on its south side it started to rain, cloud base lowered sustainingly and soon the first lightning strikes were flashing. I reached the valley bottom of Dullwitz valley just in time. The roaring thunder behind my back became loader and loader. Not much later I smiled and enjoyed the hailstorm that bombarded me. Lighting strikes hit the valley ridge above with for several times only two seconds that I could count between flash and the bang. It had been a long time since I got to experience a decent thunderstorm in the mountains.

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Descending deeper into the Dullwitz valley whith the thunder approaching behind my back.

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Rainy forest bivuoac.

I pitched the tarp in the forest while it kept raining in the evening and so it did during the night… and the next day… and the next night… Well, I just hiked through rain and fog the entire day after. Fortunately it became dry the last day after about 42 hours of continuous rain. I hiked upstream through the attractive Klausgraben canyon and soon finished the loop. Late spring is a beautiful time in the mountains as proved this trip again.

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Hiking through the Klausgraben canyon…

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… with the Salza river now showing its green waters.

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Timid forest dweller.

This trip took place May 06-12 2013.
Watch the gear list for this trip.

Pinhole repair

Recently on a trip on the Ourthe Orientale river, I got a small hole, about 15mm wide, ripped in the floor of my packraft. The damage already occurred about 200m on the river after the put-in. I’m quite sure I didn’t hit a rock but that it was a metal rod or something instead. I had my camera tripod stashed on the floor of my raft between my legs and this sure was the cause for the occurrence of the leak in the collision as the rod bumped against the tripod and pinned the hole in the floor. Besides the leak, there are also long scratches carved in the floor around the leak. If I didn’t kept my tripod on the floor inside the raft, chances were high I only had some scratches and not an additional leak. Again a lesson learned. Upon closer inspection I even noticed I had two leaks, the second one being very small.

Untitled

I’ve repaired the leaks and the scratches with Aquaseal by the method described by Alpacka Raft. The pinholes got a thicker layer of Aquaseal on top. This movie also shows the rejuvenation method by Alpacka Raft. An almost pinhole on the tube now also received a thin layer of Aquaseal.

A small additional note: Mcnett’s Aquaseal is sold in Europe under the name Aquasure. You can easily find it at scuba diving shops like this one for example or you can try the alternative Stormsure glue from Packrafting store. When the repair is done, store the tube in the freezer or use it further to reinforce the seams on your new trailrunners. ;-)

My Llama is ready again to re-enter the water and that should happen already next week in the Austrian Alps!

The Magic Packraft Circle

Last weekend 19 outdoor enthusiasts gathered along the Semois river in the south of Belgium to take part in the first packrafting weekend organized by Hiking Advisor, a Flemish online social hiking medium. Willem and I were the guides on the water while Debbie was involved in all the camping related affairs. A few of us had our own packraft, while the rest of us had never touched a packraft before and now borrowed one from the European packrafting store or from Off-Trail.

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The Semois river near Lacuisine, our put in.

We had a lot of fun and the group learned what packrafting is like. For many it became clear that blowing up the raft for the first time is not so easy if you don’t know the proper technique, that putting in on a steep bank or with a fast current can use some help from another person, that it is possible to accidentally have your paddle blades reversed and that the river always asks for attention or the sooner or later you will hit a rock. The swans were also present and were not always happy with our presence now the breeding season had started. Kevin almost got a kamikaze attack on him.

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Paddling break at noon.

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Lunch.

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The Semois river from the vantage point near Roche Brulée.

At noon we put out in the forest to take a lunch break in the sun. Afterwards we hiked onto the ridge and visited a vantage point overlooking a meander of the river. Then we put in again and paddled passed the picturesque village of Chassepierre to Camping de la Semois, our stay for the night. After dinner we parroted with some strong Belgian beers at the local pub and when the pub closed its doors some of us could not get enough from the Jägermeister after party in the tipi tent.

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Let’s stick close together.

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In the pub.

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Debbie has some work to do tomorrow.

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Belgian beers for you to cheer.

Not surprisingly a few of us awoke with a heavy head the next morning, though that changed rapidly when we started paddling again in the fresh air. We amused ourselves with sticking close together and creating a long multi packraft raft. Then the idea arose to form a circle on the river with our packrafts. This didn’t look so easy to accomplish at first until Debbie found the key. Keep the butt of your neighbor further away from you! And so suddenly the magic packraft circle appeared!

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Putting in again after portage of the weir of Bois de Ste-Cécile.

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Again lunch break.

In the last kilometers on the river we had a small accident as someone accidentally ripped a long tear in the tail of its raft when hitting something sharp while coming down a weir. Everybody got worried when we saw the person fighting against getting trapped in the raft as it lost all its air. Fortunately everything went off well and the group learned to better never trust all human made obstacles in the river when packrafting.

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The magic packraft circle!

We put out eventually, folded and packed our rafts and then hiked out towards the nearest train station. The end of an enjoyable and successful packrafting weekend!