By: Joe Walko
Venture Outdoors has always been an organization dedicated to connecting everyone to the benefits of outdoor recreation in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Nobody is better at providing unique ways to enjoy the outdoors. We provide a variety of activities that inspire an active lifestyle, promote the region’s unique amenities, highlight its excellent quality of life, and foster a greater appreciation for the environment. We pride ourselves on coming up with unique outdoor experiences in unique locations with unique people.
So here’s an activity you may not have heard of – pack rafting. Yep, it combines the fun of backpacking and the thrill of rafting.
How? Well, a packraft is an inflatable, lightweight watercraft made of a super high tech material that is light enough (about 5 pounds) and packable enough that it can be carried with your backpacking gear. And believe it or not, you don’t need a pump to inflate the packraft in the backcountry – just use a heavy-duty garbage bag with a valve. Yes, it blows up with a garbage bag, see the video here.
The packraft takes a bit of practice to get used to, it handles much differently than a kayak or canoe, but it smooths out ripples and handles whitewater well, too, once you are comfortable. It sits high in the water, its draft is almost non-existent so it’s great to use to explore tributaries and some of the larger creeks in the area, especially during or after a heavy rain when many normally too low creeks become runnable for a brief time. I think I am the only one ever to run the upper portions of Turtle Creek!
So what are the biggest benefits of a packable raft? It means you can hike into a remote location and then float out! Or float into the wilderness and then hike out. Or any combination of the two. Wow, now you can combine two of your favorite activities on one trip!
Some of my favorite packrafting places in western PA include backpacking up the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail at Ohiopyle, staying the night, and then leisurely floating back down the Yough the next day. The Clarion River is another great location to hike and float, too. There are lots of possibilities along the Conemaugh/Loyalhanna/Kiski River areas, too, especially with all the bike trails in this area.
Or, if you want make it a wilderness triathlon, throw in biking too. I put all of these together in 2011 embarking on a fantastic 130-mile, solo, self-supported bike-hike-packraft through the remote Escalante desert (see the full blog for this adventure here https://adventurejmw.wordpress.com/ ). The Escalante is only runnable for a few weeks a year during the spring snow melt or after heavy rains, but I lucked out and timed it just right. And what a trip it was, the solitude uninterrupted, the scenery unparalleled, and the adventure amazing!
So if you are looking for something new, consider packrafting. Check out the Alpacka site for all the details on pack rafts (http://www.alpackaraft.com/ )
See you out on the trails and waterways and bike paths!
Joe Walko has been a Volunteer Trip Leader for Venture Outdoors since back when it was the Western PA Field Institute, and is currently a member of the Venture Outdoors Trip Leader Council.