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Packrafting : The Escalante River in Utah

The latest weapon in my adventure arsenal is the ‘packraft’ and I couldn’t be more excited. In May we took them out for a first expedition down the Escalante River in Utah.

These lightweight, durable, inflatable bpats are made by Alpacka. Weighing in at just 5lbs, these rubber dinghy’s for grown-ups open up a new form of travel. Now you can stuff a boat in your backpack; hike over a ridge or deep into the wilderness, and float out. If rivers are the roads of the wild, then the Alpacka Raft is the new car.

A packraft will set you back over $1000 with paddle. Other manufacturers such as Sevylor make much cheaper inflatable kayaks and rafts, but they’re not the same. Sevylor’s dinghy’s puncture easily, and durable inflatable kayaks often weigh in at over 30lbs.

One of the classic rivers for a packraft is the Escalante in southern Utah. It’s a small river that flows well for only a short part of the year cutting a beautiful meandering gorge through the ‘Grand Staircase’

Here’s a video of our trip. Fast forward to 2mins in to see the packrafting :

With a packraft we were able to bypass the first 25 miles of brush lined riverbank and hike right into the heart of it. Then followed a three day float down the river to a point where we could hike out of the canyon.

Here’s my notes :

1) Alpacka Rafts are impressive. I don’t know what they make them out of, but we bumped our way into snags, scraped and grinded our way over rocks, and dragged the boats up cliffs and nary a single puncture. Incredible.

2) The escalante is more than just a river. Most other people we met along the river were doing much longer expeditions and checking out the side canyons. Learn a little bit of ropework and canyoneering skills and join me when I head back.

3) Safety – There were actually several places where we could have really got into trouble. From running rapids without checking out the exit, to climbing cliffs that were a little too steep. This is not an expedition for those without a sense of respect for nature. We got lucky, and will be honing our skills before we return.

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