Packrafting the Alatna

Lessons Learned

Over the course of the trip, John and I figured out a lot of small things that worked really well for us that we didn’t know at the beginning of the trip. This is stuff that I wish someone had told us before we left, and so I’ve listed these below so that they might benefit your trip as well.

  • This first one is more of a fun fact than a lesson learned: Northern Alaska is 24/7 daytime through the middle of Summer. We didn’t see the sun go down at all for over two weeks! It was really cool but by the end of it, I was ready to see the stars again. Bring an eye mask for sleeping!
  • Dehydrated meals are a huge win. They taste fantastic and are super easy to prepare.
  • Neoprene socks with old sneakers work perfectly for footwear on the river. Your feet will get wet no matter what so your best bet is just to try to keep them warm.
  • From all of the conversations we had and the research we did, packrafts are the best option for this particular trip. They’re durable, light, and versatile.
  • Don’t keep loose rope hanging around in your raft. If you flip, it’s easy to get tangled in it. Tie it all up.
  • On the subject of rope, know how to tie a couple of good knots.
  • Make sure that your packraft seat doesn’t leak. Beyond the ergonomics of how you’re positioned when you’re paddling, an inflated seat keeps your body out of the water. The river is freezing cold and you’ll have a hard time keeping yourself warm if you’re sitting in ice-cold water for hours at a time.
  • We didn’t see any bears on our trip. Whether that was due to what we did or the late summer we’re not sure, but we kept our bear spray on hand at all times and yelled “hey bear!” at regular intervals as we hiked along – more so when we were in thick brush or thought we were likely to see one. This was a tip from Nick at Northern Alaska Packrafts.
  • Camp up high and tie your raft down. The weather and the water level change rapidly in the mountains so it’s best to be prepared and camp away from the river. We were caught out when we camped only a couple of feet above the water level by Ram Creek and it nearly turned into a disaster.
  • The social trail that heads up to the Arrigetch Peaks can be found on the South side of the creek. If you try to hike up the North side, you’re probably going to have a rough time.
  • We had a couple of difficult creek crossings on the way up, but we could have made this easier on ourselves had we taken the time to look for easier crossings. If the social trail doesn’t take you to a good point to cross, look up and down the creek. There will be an easy crossing somewhere. We had a much better time on the way down once we figured this out.
  • Don’t expect to cover big distances every day that you go hiking. The environment out there is harsh, the ground is sitting in inches of water, the brush is thick and there really aren’t any proper walking paths (remember that the social trail is just a game trail). We thought we would run laps around the mountains, crest a couple of peaks and still have the energy to jump over the moon, but that wasn’t the case. So give yourself plenty of time to do everything, and pack light.

Final tip, and probably the most important one:

  • Do not underestimate the power of nature. Whilst out in the Brooks we encountered many difficult situations. We performed at our peak during this trip and honestly were pushed to the limit. I easily lost 10 pounds in the 11 days we were out there. Therefore, one should be fit and healthy to embark on a trip like this. You need to be mentally strong as well, as many situations will require 100% concentration and persistence for long periods of time.

Packrafting the Alatna

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