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Thread: Trip Planning-Safety

  1. #1
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    Thumbs up Trip Planning-Safety

    Trip planning and safety

    I have been getting a lot of calls/e-mails this week about the Gulkana and lots of “What do you think about” questions. No problem asking questions guys as there are many of us with lots of experiences in the country and on the rivers of Alaska. The more questions you ask the better prepared you will be when you take that next trip.

    Two of the calls this week included trigger words that set me back a bit and I think its worth sharing with you. The words “COLEMAN and SEVOR rhyme with backyard pool or pond and should never be seen on the wild rivers here in Alaska. The upper Gulkana is a wonderful river that all of us should experience sometime in our lives but we need to understand the limitations of the gear that we are going to use. Class II and III water will eat lesser equipment and there is evidence of this carnage every year on rivers like the Gulkana. 4-5 days in the wilds will test the best of equipment and destroy the rest and then you become a burden on the group that is lucky enough to come upon you I hope.

    As many of you know I operated out of Kotzebue for many years outfitting hunting, fishing and eco groups into unit 23. I had an experience with one group back in 2004 or so who arrived and rented a camp from me for a 5 day float trip on the Kelly River which is about 65 miles north of the Arctic Circle. As I dropped them off at their flight service I asked them about their raft which I did not see come off of Alaska Airlines. The group leader then pulled a box out of his back pack and handed me a PVC Sevor 6 man raft that was no bigger than a child’s sled. It took me an hour to convince that his life was at risk if he took that PVC toy into the wilds for NW Alaska. I ended up giving him one of my rafts at no charge for a week because I knew what was about to happen with this trip. They took my raft and the “Toy” and guess what happened to the toy?

    Clint Eastwood said one time “ A man’s has got to know his own limitations”

    Let’s look at a area of real concern to me especially as we near the 4th of July weekend.

    Safety:

    Do you have a float plan? A float plan should be a written document that is used to help you plan and to help others know where you are going to be so if you don’t show up on time some one can look for you. My float plans always include a list of needs and back up plans when things go bad and they will go bad sometime in your Alaskan outdoor life.

    *Do you have extra food, water, clothing and the ability to survive if all hell breaks loose?
    *Can you repair your raft, canoe or ATV ect when you are out there? Don’t count on others to fix your problem because there may not be any one to assist you so you are the MAN!
    *First-Aid kit, do you have one? If not why not?
    * What are you going to do if you dump your raft/canoe and things get wet?
    * Think about Bear protection, really think about it.

    This list can go on for a long time and I hope others put their 2 cents worth in because I am not the Guru of the River to say the least but please take time to consider what can and may go wrong in the country and that way you are prepared for the worst and will have a safer and more enjoyable trip into Alaska’s Wild Country.


    Walt

    Gulkana River Raft Rentals
    www.gulkanaraftrental.com
    907-822-4290
    Mile 127.5 of the Richardson
    Rafts, Canoes and Camps

  2. #2
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    Excellent thread and equally great advice Walt. Hopefully I can add a bit more later (just got home late last night from the Upper Kenai and am now packing for 8 days on the Alagnak) when time allows.

    I will briefly add however, that your pointers shouldn't just pertain to Backcountry Trips. I just returned from 3 days on the Upper Kenai and I can't count how many times I grimaced at what I observed.

    Your recommendations concerning quality gear is spot on. I would add to that just a small tweak. No amount of skookum gear will instantly grant the purchaser (or renter) of said gear instant prowess at the USE of said gear. While many of us consider the Upper a mellow, safe float, I saw 6 different rafts/catarafts Sun-Tue plow into sweepers, hit log jams, dump passengers, miss channel crossings that where/are vital to a safe haul-out, etc. As far as I could tell these folks all had one thing in common. They where all in Brand Spanking New, Top-O-Th'-Line, Gucci Watercraft, and all where being rowed by folks who had no concept of raft handling, water safety, river etiquette, or (and this may sound harsh) common sense.

    The gear one owns will never supplement woods and river savvy. People venturing out to play in Alaska, be it a remote float or a "quickie" on a well traveled river, should invest as much time in education and self awareness as they do in gear and gadgets.

    Again, Walt, thanks for getting this topic started. Rep sent.
    “Life has become immeasurably better since I have been forced to stop taking it seriously.” ― H.S.T.
    "Character is how you treat those who can do nothing for you."

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    Member BlueMoose's Avatar
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    Nice! Thanks guys wealth of information! Safe boating to all.

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    Timely thread,

    Thanks for the thoughts. What you you recommend for resources to ensure I am prepared (in my new raft so you don't start laughing uncontrollably when you see me on the river), and what would be a good first float?

    Thanks (and thanks for the previous posts)

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    Quote Originally Posted by stanbiker View Post
    Timely thread,

    Thanks for the thoughts. What you you recommend for resources to ensure I am prepared (in my new raft so you don't start laughing uncontrollably when you see me on the river), and what would be a good first float?

    Thanks (and thanks for the previous posts)
    I wouldn’t worry too much about people laughing at you. We were all bumbling down the river at one time or another. Get out on the water, be cool to other boaters, and have some fun.

    The Kenai is a great place to get started. It’s close to the road, has relatively easy water, and there is fishing to be had. One of the things that makes a lot of the Kenai Elitists upset is boat launch etiquette- have your boat rigged before putting on and be quick about taking out. Eagle River from N. Fork to the 1st bridge is an easy trip too if you don’t want to hassle with Kenai…just make sure you bring some muscle to help you take-out since you need to carry your boat a little ways.

    There has been a lot written on this forum already regarding getting started, so I will just reiterate a couple resources to help out with trip planning and safety:

    *Although no substitute for experience or training, reading a book gets you in the write mind-set. Start off by reading The Complete Whitewater Rafter by Jeff Bennett.
    *Karen Jetmar's book pretty much is tailor designed for mellow rivers and has some good safety advice too.
    *Knik Canoers and Kayakers has a good class for rafters every spring.
    *Since you probably missed the KCK class, I believe Brian Richardson with the Alaska Raft Connection does some individualized trainings.
    *I think one of the most important things is observe what others are doing on the water- both good and bad.

    See you on the water,
    Josh

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    Default Safety

    Great points by everyone, and I add my two cents.

    Experience is the most important attribute one can have for ensuring a safer trip in the wilderness.
    Practice on simple local trips first, then progress, in technical difficulty, to a full level above that which you wish to boat in the woods. A person who has only done a local class III stream, a few times, has no business doing remote class III. If you want to boat remote class III practice on local class IV streams, and use more than one stream.

    Here's why, rain, wood, rock-slides can effect the character, and difficulty of any river. A simple rapid can become much more serious with a few alterations, and your not walking home when in the woods. If your skill is above and beyond the classification attached to your remote stream, of choice, these variables will not be as dangerous for you to ensure your party a safe passage. In all honesty, I have found that understanding what I'm looking at makes all the difference.

    Second, practice with the people you plan on boating with. You should have more than one boat. Every passager should understand the simple river communication hand signals,and every boat should have proper safety and rescue equpment, on board, in a easy to access place. There will be times when boats will become more seperated than you wish, these rules will help in a situation.

    Third, remember different people have different learning curves, and breaking points when under pressure. Choose your party members wisely.
    Practice, practice, practice, like your life depends on it, and you should have much more fun than tragedy.

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    Josh,

    Thanks for the Eagle River suggestion. I did the section to the first bridge yesterday with my 2 sons. It went pretty well, just need to get the "automatic" reflex for which oar to move which way down. It was much better by the end of the float. It was actually nice to have the calm area on the north fork to practice and warm-up before entering the main river.

    Stan

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    Quote Originally Posted by stanbiker View Post
    Josh,

    Thanks for the Eagle River suggestion. I did the section to the first bridge yesterday with my 2 sons. It went pretty well, just need to get the "automatic" reflex for which oar to move which way down. It was much better by the end of the float. It was actually nice to have the calm area on the north fork to practice and warm-up before entering the main river.

    Stan
    Right on Stan! Eagle River is a great place to develop oar-automaticity needed to safely navigate rivers and a most excellent family tip.

    Keep getting out on the water as much as possible. Remember what Walt said about the float plan. I used to just scribble a note to my wife; now, with technology, I email or Facebook multiple friends and family members to ensure somebody receives it. Repeat the same rivers, but also sample other mellow rivers. The diversity of rivers will help with your skills and confidence. You still have three months in the season to get after it!

    Josh

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