Enjoying packrafting while paying attention to safety

  1. Prepare for the worst.
    Many packrafting rivers in Denali are extremely remote, and may require days of arduous cross country travel to reach the put-in. In these circumstances, even a minor injury or punctured boat can have serious consequences. Simple mistakes, such as failing to properly secure a backpack to a packraft, can lead to lost gear and wet, miserable nights in the backcountry. Prepare for the worst case scenario and have a plan on how to deal with it. We recommend carrying the following items in a small dry bag on your person in case you become separated from you boat: firestarter, compass, mirror, water purification, emergency blanket and some form of communications device such as a satellite phone.

  2. Expect the unexpected.
    Compared to commercially run rivers, packrafters can expect to deal with more unforeseen hazards such as fallen trees and hidden rocks. Fallen trees are particularly dangerous because they form strainers, where water passes through the branches of the tree but solid objects, like people and packrafts, do not. Strainers can trap a packrafter underwater, even with a PFD. Knowing how to recognize strainers or other hazards in the water and avoid them are some of the essential skills that should be learned by every packrafter before they hit the water.

  3. Rain or shine, rivers can rise.
    Rivers in Denali can rise rapidly depending on rainfall and meltwater from upstream glaciers. A calm Class I stream may quickly turn into raging Class III whitewater at higher water levels. There are few gauges on rivers in Alaska to accurately determine current water levels and predict when high water events will occur. You can contact local guides or the Backcountry Information Center to inquire about current river conditions throughout the area, but be aware that information received from second-hand sources should not be considered definitive. There is no substitute for assessing the river in person and practicing safe boating techniques. At a minimum, try and anticipate river conditions based on weather and seasonal flows, and be prepared to change your itinerary if the water levels are unsafe.

  4. Dress for the swim.
    The water in Denali is almost always exceptionally cold (usually around 38 degreees Fahrenheit). As a result, even relatively calm water poses significant risks. An unexpected plunge in icy water limits your ability to swim away from hazards such as strainers, or can lead to hypothermia if you are submerged for a prolonged period of time. The shock of hitting cold water also causes involuntary inhalation, which can result in drowning if you are underwater. Because of these risks, drysuits are highly recommended on all of Denali’s rivers.

  5. Always wear a PFD and a helmet.
    The shallow nature of Denali’s rivers means that there is always the threat of foot entrapment and colliding with rocks. Wearing a personal floatation device (PFD) and helmet are highly recommended in order to prevent drowning and potential head and spine injuries.

  6. Water attracts wildlife.
    Rivers and creeks are often the easiest paths of travel for animals in Denali. Because of this, wildlife activity is generally more concentrated around these corridors than other areas in the park. However, thick brush along stream banks and tight bends on narrow creeks may make it difficult to spot animals from a safe distance while on the river. Rapids or constricted sections of water may even make some wildlife encounters on the river unavoidable. Packrafters should anticipate sudden, close encounters with large animals such as Moose or Grizzly Bears and be prepared to quickly eddy out or ferry across the river to avoid these animals. As a precaution, carry bear spray within reach while on the water and know how to use it.

 

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Post time: Jun-27-2019

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