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Interesting Trips With Our Inflatable Products

Bob Langsenkamp runs the Middle Fork of the Salmon In Idaho in Pack Cats.

Jack, Here, as promised, is an account of my 8 day Pack Cat trip down the MiddleFork of the Salmon River, from Sept. 19 through Sept. 26, 1996.

It was my first time on the river. My intent was to follow my usual strategy of going at low water to have the river basically to myself and avoid the hassle of competition for permits and campsites etc.. It was not to be this year. This was one of the biggest runoff years in the Northern Rockies in recent times. So, when we launched at Boundary Creek on the 19, the gauge at Indian Creek (about 30 miles downstream) read 2 feet. This correlates to about 700 cfs. Toward the last couple of days of the 90 + mile run, it felt as though the volume had at least doubled from all the side streams entering. Would you say that was reasonable from your knowledge of the river?

The water conditions were good enough that even the snow flurries at the 5,600' elevation put-in didn't deter any of the 7 parties permitted to launch. While those of us in the 6 parties already at the launch were glumly rigging in the spitting snow, #7, composed of 4 twentysomething's (young enough to be my kids) pulled up in a sport utility vehicle with four hard shells on top. As they animatedly jumped out and enthusiastically threw stuff out of their wagon, I greeted them with "Allright, more fools!". One callow youth looked me over and said "Yeah, but you are old enough to know better." Kinda set the tenor for the trip. On the way up from NM the radio said that the snow level was going to be down to 6,000 ft. in the Mountains of UT on the 17th. My partners got a late start and encountered snow in Moab that night! A new ice age seemed a hell of a lot more probable than global warming and not nearly as welcome.

So, there we were...my two partners, a couple in their 60's with extensive river running experience all over the West and in Asia in an old 12 foot conventional raft and I in my Pack Cat. We would have all been in IKs if the water had been much below 1.7 feet. We were still packed almost as light as we would have been in IKs to keep the raft from getting hung up on the bony upper reaches. I carried all my gear and about 1/2 of my food. I estimated I had about 80 pounds on board. I could have been self-sufficient with about another 20-25 pounds. I weighed about 200 lb.. with all my paddling gear on. It consisted of a Farmer John wetsuit, a heavyweight polypro top, a Polartec paddling sweater, paddling pants with gusseted neopreme cuffs, a paddlingjacket w/ neoprene all around, neoprene socks under heavy wet suit booties, neoprene gloves and a Sou'wester for that Darth Vader look, when it was raining. I was constantly buffeted by cold water hitting my legs, crotchand thorax, but stayed dry from mid-calf on up, if not warm the whole time. After about the first hour every morning, comfort was irrelevant because everything from the knees down was numb. If it wasn't for the hot springs on the first 5 days and prophylactic doses of Ibuprofen, I might have succumbed to terminal stiffness. Incidentally, your claims for the back comfort of the Pack Cat are understated, if anything. If my old, arthritic back was going to seize up, it would have been on this trip; but, thanks to the Pack Cat's air pillow arrangement, it was fine.

After it cleared up, it really got cold. I made the mistake of not putting my wetsuit booties and socks and lower extremities of my Farmer Johns in a plastic bag under my sleeping bag at night and they froze as stiff as a chunk of Ponderosa Pine pitch. Our launch was a little delayed the next morning. The weather got better, 50s and 60s during the day and 30s at night as we descended and the slow moving front passed. Also, the gradient moderated from 40' per mile to about 27' so we had a little more time and inclination for observing wildlife and the country. For the first couple of days about all the wildlife we saw were ouzels, and lots of them, plus a few kingfishers. After Indian Creek we started seeing more critters: a baldeagle, lots of ospreys, Canada geese and appropriately enough, near Otter Bar, a pair of otters swam within ten feet of our boats. Big Horn were in evidence in the lower reaches. I heard some elk bugles the first night above the roar of the river, and elk might have been more in evidence had it not been elk season. Hunters were flying in an out with some regularity. The fire ecology of the area seemed to be functioning well. Below the spruce/fir zone, the big trees were wellspaced, with sparse underbrush and/or grass all around. The most amazing thing about the river was the absolute clarity of the water. You could seeto the bottom of 20' pools!

Anyway, to the point of all this rambling. On the lower reaches, in biggerwater around Webber and Rubber Rapids, I experienced a strange sensation.When I was in the froth of some of the bigger holes, I seemed to float upoff the seat sideways and the Pack Cat kinda slowly drifted in the opposite direction. Once there was a slight angle to this. I was going to the outside of the left tube and down and the boat was angling up to the right. Another time I started to float horizontally to the right and the Cathorizontally left. I dealt with this by momentarily stopping paddling and slapping the tube with my freehand so the seat was centered back underneath me. Amazingly enough, I didn't swim. It probably would have warmed me up if I had!

I think this separation of boat and body, might have been caused by a couple of things. One was my weight may have been too far back. On the front I had 3 dry bags and a mesh bag strapped to a collapsed lawn chair which was strapped to the tubes. On the back, I had your large outfitter bag strappedto a pack frame/luggage rack. Behind the Outfitter Bag I strapped a 5 gal.,waterproof trash/ash bucket. This presented a large surface area in the rear to catch side currents when I was deep in a hole and/or froth. I did move my seat and foot brace forward the evening after this happened the first time.The same thing happened again the next day. It seemed a little less pronounced though. It didn't happen enough to really experiment to determine if trim was the causal factor. Strangely enough, it didn't happen in some of the big named rapids. At that level, some of the unnamed ones were gnarlier.

It felt as though having thigh/knee straps would have helped the situation alot. Even though I was pushing hard against the back pillow, I still kinda floated out, especially when the back end was down at an angel. I think that straps would have enabled me to keep paddling. It can get pretty dicey when the old momentum slows. It seems that the Pack Cat design is particularly safe for thigh straps; because, at least in theory, you can free yourself from the straps by just dropping your feet. What do you think? Anyway it was a great trip in superb county, on a classic river.

Bob

Jack's Note
Jack's comments about the Thigh straps: I agree that the use of thigh straps on the Pack Cat is fairly safe. I also want to note that we have not offered them as a standard item because of the liability issue associated with their use. We wanted individuals like Bob to discover for themselves if thigh straps would be usefull. We feel that using thigh straps puts the paddler at a higher level of sophistication that should come through experience. Be aware of the dangers associated with their use. Always think about how to exit before making a difficult run.

Bobs boat may have been loaded back heavy and that could have contributed to the backward lean in the foamy water. We recommend that the majority of gear load be in the front of the boat so that the paddler can follow his load down the river. We believe that it is easier to maneuver a pack cat this way, especially in low stream flows.

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