Me and a buddy of mine bought Alpacka Rafts this fall and were able to take them out a couple of times. The second trip had to have been the weekend before the Chena completely froze over in late October. Since we had just bought the rafts and were still excited over the prospect of trying them out, we decided what the hell. I knew that the middle and lower river is relatively gentle and, with freeze up happening, thought that the waters would be even more calm. I was right and wrong.
We decided to float from the 2nd bridge (mile 38 I think) down to the Rose Hip Campground on Chena Hot Springs Road. The map and river guide said that the float would take 6-7 hours. (Not true in late October) It was really a great float, beautiful and unlike anything that I have ever seen. The water was really calm in all parts of the river with the exception of the ice bottle necks that occasionally came along. It was neat to be in the midst of all the ice floating in the river and the views were outstanding. We really didn't account for the bottle necks beforehand. There were several places that we had to take out and portage around. I didn't really mind as it was a good chance to stretch after having sat in the boat for a couple of hours.
Anyway, at one point the ice was really thick on the right hand bank and a tree had fallen protruding about a quarter of the way into the river on the left. This left about a 4 foot gap in which all of the force of the river was bearing down to navigate through. I couldn't get out of my boat on either side of the river! By the time I realized that I could be in trouble, I ran into the fallen tree, the water flipped my 4 pound packraft in the blink of an eye, and I was in the water with no PFD. After swimming to the bank in the 0 degree weather, I realized that I had about an hour and a half of daylight, in which to find our take out point and get to my truck. This would have been impossible in the dark, so if I were to have built a fire, it would have meant staying there all night without the necessary gear.
I should have had enough time to float before dark, and worn a PFD. I didn't do either and it made the experience extremely difficult. I always heard these tales of caution, but didn't pay attention. The facts are that One: If I had been alone, I probably would have died, Two: if we had had enough time, I could have built a fire and thawed out before pressing on, and Three: probably shouldn't have been out there in the first place. The river was extremely slow that time year. With the portages and ice maneuvering, we were a good 3 hours behind schedule in the supposed 6-7 hour float time.
So next time my dumb ass will be more careful!!
Be careful and happy rafting!