Taking a swiftwater rescue class..

Years ago I took white water class from Jim Gonski of the Alaska Kayak Academy. It was a mixed success – the time spent in the water outside of the boats was really valuable. I didn’t get much out of the paddling part though. I think that was a mix of me being a bad student and Jim’s limited time in packrafts at that point.

When I learned Luc Mehl was going to be teaching some packraft specific swift-water rescue classes this summer I jumped at the opportunity, and signed up.

The class was taught under the umbrella of the Swiftwater Safety Institute, and we were supposed to take a bunch of online training provided by this before the class started. The training had me pretty worried – there was extensive discussion of rigging, gear, and other stuff that didn’t seem very practical for packrafting. I can’t see a situation besides a day trip where I would be taking a pulley and all that rope needed to setup a z-drag for example. At one point the instructor in the training videos talks about how he always carries three knifes in his pfd – two river knifes and a knife to use for normal use like cutting things. I couldn’t help but wonder how useful this class was going to be for me..

I shouldn’t have been worried – Luc spent almost no time talking about rigging, but instead spent the time on a pretty good mix of time spent in the water swimming, re-entry, rescue techniques (foot entrapment was discussed at length), and paddling skills. He also had the best description of how to exit eddies I had ever heard – I had been doing it completely wrong, and had missed some pretty basic stuff like how to hold/orientate the paddle. When Luc was discussing “risks”, he was careful to relate them to how they match up to whitewater accident statistics which was super useful. As an example, according to the stats presented by Luc, entrapment in the rigging of packrafts and stuff attached to them is a leading cause of accidents. I knew that that was an issue, I just hadn’t thought that though how this would rate risk wise. I am never really at good of a student for this in person classes, as I am a pretty shy introvert, but I think I got a lot out of it.

As an extra bonus we floated the section of the Nenana just above McKinley Village. It is a completely new to me section of river, with lots of interesting river features – Yay!

The class is well worth taking – anyone doing pack-rafting would benefit. I think Luc is going to run more classes this summer – if you have the opportunity take one of them! The SSI schedule is here.

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