To embark on any extensive human powered journey in Alaska’s Arctic is always a mix of high adventure, survival, and a few tenuous moments. It just seems to shake out that way every time I do it. But every trip has been fantastic and my most recent journey was no different. For those who may want to do something similar, I don’t want to be a kill joy by sharing information you would like to discover on your own-like route finding and vistas, so read as far as you wish.
Hiking up the Ribdon River valley and Packrafting down the Ivishak River
There were a few constraints on my trip, mainly time, which resulted in a robust pace, and less photography as a result of that and some inclement weather. While I’ve spent many years trekking in Alaska, I consider myself a beginner in the category of long hike/packraft trips, and there are many out there who have perfected their system. I’m in the process of doing that. Over the next few days I’ll share some information and photos from the area and discuss some gear for such a trip. Here is a quick summary:
- Location: Hike up the Ribdon River, Pack Raft down the Ivishak River to the Sagavanirktok (Sag) River, Brooks Range, Alaska.
- Trip length: 7 Days
- June 14-20
- Backpacking: 57 Miles, 3.5 Days (Osprey 50 liter backpack)
- Pack Rafting: 110 Miles, 3.5 days (Alpaca packraft)
- Pack weight: 51 lbs at start
- Group: 2 people
One can’t begin a trip of this nature without the process of gear refinement. As the adage says: “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter”, it takes more time to take less stuff. And you don’t want anything excessive on your back for 60 miles! See my previous post for a near complete list of the gear I took along with weights.
Out of the box one has to address: footwear, tent, stove and fuel, pack, raft, drysuit and food.
Footwear: I deliberated over this considerably but ended up choosing the La Sportiva Wildcat trail running shoe, which is lightweight, sturdy, breathable and has a drainable mesh top. This is critical for walking through countless streams, river crossings, and wet tundra.
Backpack: I have three Osprey backpacks and I chose the Atmos 50 liter version because it has been field tested for a good fit, and was a little lighter than the 70 liter Aether version. I also like the pocket structure on this pack. It was a tight fit, but it all went in o.k.
Stove: MSR Reactor Stove with 8oz MSR Fuel canister, it has a built in wind screen and heats water very fast, although a little heavier than some super light models. I also took my SOTO micro regulator stove and a backup 4 oz. canister of fuel just in case. Since we used primarily Mountain House dehydrated food, making hot water was critical.
Tent: We used my friend Mark’s Tarptent Squall ultra light shelter, which proved sufficient, although the floor was super slippery. Instead of tent poles, you can use hiking poles to support the front relief. It comes in pretty light at 2.4 lbs.
Packrafts: We used the awesome little Packrafts from Alpackaraft. They are light, durable, and very responsive in the water. A paddle breaks down to four pieces and makes it easy to carry in a backpack.
Water Filter: the Sawyer mini filter proved a great little versatile and lightweight water filter. It fits in-line in the hydration pack for your backpack and then I pulled that out and used it directly in the river water whenever I needed a drink.
Drysuits: Staying dry in the Alaska Arctic is critical. The winds are often cold and strong, and a little wetness can make you very cold in such conditions. We had two days of rain while on the river, and the trip was reduced to staying warm, dry and well fed enough to fend off the cold. I used a dry top by NRS and dry bottoms by Kokotat. Mark used a stowaway tough dry suit from Alpackaraft. If I were to do this trip again, I would use the Trekker dry suit from Alpackaraft. It has a built in hood and the option to add dry booties. My weakness on the trip was cold feet and hands, although the feet were more difficult to keep warm, especially when needing to walk through the very cold water frequently.
I’ll get to the actual journey in the next few posts, so stay tuned.