Posts Tagged ‘training’

Taking a swiftwater rescue class..

Thursday, June 3rd, 2021

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.

Moose Creek, from town

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

I have been (attempting to anyway) training for the Iditarod Trail Invitational, and had been feeling very under trained. This is sort of a long standing joke in my house hold – when ever I bring it up my daughters mock me unmercifully.

In an attempt to get a ride in with a fully loaded bike, I booked Moose Creek cabin in the White Mountains NRA for a friday night, and headed out mid morning from my house. The cabin is about 35 ish miles from my house via trails.

Tom joined me for the first bit, eventually peeling off to head back for other obligations.



The ride in was a bit of a slog, and I had issues keeping my legs and feet warm in the lower areas, where the temps were around –20f. Eventually I gave up, put the overboots on, and my feet were fine. I tried to manage my sweating like all the cool kids are doing, and it was mostly successful, tough it is hard for a big person like me not to overheat on the hills.


Last year I purchased some Wolfgars boots from 45n. They are a bit of a mixed bag – I like them while riding, but I have just about given up on them for the ITI, as they are pretty stiff in the upper, and walk not so well. After my 2012 scratch from the ITI, I have promised myself that I must always have footwear that I can push my bike in for long distances. As a replacement I used 2 sizes too large Keen winter boots, which seem to be a good compromise. At around -10f they get too cold to wear without overboots, but with overboots they appear to be fine. They walk much, much better than the Wolfgars.

About 10 miles from the cabin a musher passed me going up a big hill. Parts of my route are on regular training routes for some of the local mushers, and they generally keep the trails in great shape. On the way back down he stopped to chat a bit, and he told me the trail wasn’t in all the way. Oh, well, some pushing was going to be required. I hoped he just didn’t know the trails all that well, but alas, it turned out the musher was right.


I had two to three miles of pushing before reaching the cabin. I was a bit worked when I arrived, and was very happy to start a fire, have dinner, and hit the sack. In the morning I headed out, and back home.






The ride back was almost entirely in the daylight, which was fantastic.


I even stopped to get a few photos of the notes written on the pipeline..



The ride out was a bit faster, though it snowed a bit overnight, but this was made up much less climbing. It was around -20f for most of the ride out, and I dressed better, and had no issues.

Dumping is fun, and other lessons learned in a pack rafting safety class

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

A bunch of us from Fairbanks headed down to the Willow area last weekend to take a pack rafting safety class from Jim Gonski of the Alaska Kayak Academy. The class is highly recommended – I learned a lot.

Some of the things that I learned, in no particular order:

  • Flipping is no big deal – we spent quite a bit of time in the water, which made me quite a bit more comfortable in moving water out of the boat. I also had the experience of being the only student who flipped accidentally – hurrah for me! Amazingly it was while everyone was watching too – success! The end result was that I learned that flipping was not a big deal.
  • Getting back in after flipping is also not a  big deal – we spent a bit of time on getting back into the packrafts after flipping – it was a lot easier than I expected.
  • Throwbags and helmets are a good idea in any sort of harder water. After watching another student having a bit of trouble getting out of a flipped packraft it was pretty clear that head protection of some sort is a really good idea. On the second day as we got ready to float we had to toss a throw bag some random packrafter who had dumped just upstream of our put in. Alas, my throwbag is about 1lb dry, and lots more wet – I think a future sewing project will be to sew a slightly lighter throw bag made of less absorbent material that still allows the rope to dry. More to come on this subject..
  • Eddies are fun – I knew intellectually how eddies can be used to slow down and reposition, but this class really brought out their usefulness. I need to find a section of river with some good eddies to practice with (or perhaps play?)  the greater Fairbanks area!
  • Those extra strokes – I had learned the sculling and draw strokes, and to some extent learned when to use them. They appear to be quite a bit more useful than I initially expected..
  • Even day one should pack the minimum set of backup gear – in the class one of the students lost her valve cap, leading to sudden deflation excitement. One one had a backup cap, a inflation cap, or even a patch kit.. This drove home the point that even on short day pack raft trips I should carry the minimum set of emergency gear.
  • River ratings are very subjective – the hardest section of Willow Creek we did was according to the instructor, rated class III. It felt much more like class II stuff though, so I guess ratings must vary a lot and are perhaps subjective.
  • Rigging – I have a line all the way around my boat – a “fun-rail” as Roman Dial calls it. My boat was used for the classe’s test flips, and no one got tangled up in them or lost hold of the boat, so I guess this was a success.

    The instructor’s boat was rigged like this:

    • View of the “fun-rail”
    • The grab line on the bow

    Some of the interesting thing to note – he had the full around rail, a daisy chained line on the bow, and a “flip line” made of webbing which is supposed to help you flip the boat over after an upset. He also had a whiffle ball attached to the spray skirt’s release tab – alas I have no pictures of that.

Alas, I am afraid I was not the best student – I had a hard time paying attention with all the river noise, my packraft ADD, and the hockey helmets we had on. I also regret not taking some extra runs Saturday evening, as we had dry suits and Willow Creek was very, very fun.

I think I will take it again next year – especially if Jim G. offers a class that is the “next step” up in difficulty.  I might also take the full on swift water rescue class, though all the rigging drills sound less than useful.

In any case, this class is highly recommended – everyone who packrafts and has the free time should take it.

A visit to Caribou Bluff, but alas no Caribou

Monday, March 15th, 2010

My plans for this weekend included a solo trip to Caribou Bluff cabin the White Mountains NRA as a final shakedown trip before the race. Tom decided to join me at the very last minute as the warm spring conditions were too much to resist. We left town late morning and where on the the trail at around 11am. The “warm spring conditions” included a fair bit of wind, so it was not as warm as I would have liked, but still quite pleasant. I spent a bit of time chatting with a biker in the parking lot who was heading out to meet up with some skiers returning from a trip. We left a bit before the biker but he caught up with us and zoomed by as if we where standing still.

I expect in the actual race this will be the only view we will get of the bikers as they leave us in the dust.

After a couple of miles of skiing we ran into some folks we knew returning from a 5 day trip and after a bit of chit-chat, headed back on the trail. The next 17 or so miles went by quickly and as the day warmed it up it got amazingly warm and sunny. I did have a nasty spill on some overflow and wrenched my shoulder – but I survived and was soon skiing down the trail again. The overflow was quite manageable for this late in the season and was dry and fast – perhaps too fast, leading to my spill.

The trail was in great shape and the skiing was fairly fast. There was a small amount of fresh snow, but not enough to slow things down.

After four hours or so of travel we reached Beaver Creek and staring climbing up Fossil Creek Trail. This climb always seems to go on forever – its a bit of a slog but has pretty nice views.
I noticed a neat looking arch for the first time – I have travelled this trail about a dozen times and had never noticed it before. I would really like to get a chance to hike in some of this area in the summer, as the ridges look like they would be pretty good walking.

After a hour and a half or so we finally reached neared the high point for this section of trail and were treated to some wonderful views of the the White Mountains.

We then enjoyed a fun downhill to Fossil Gap Trail and a fast ski to the cabin. The days are nice and long now so even with our late start we still made it to the cabin with lots of day light. Caribou Bluff cabin is in a very beautiful spot – its up on a ridge with wonderful views.

The cabin is small but quite comfortable with a window that looks out toward the Limestone Jags – its very rewarding to sit in the warmth of the cabin and scan the nearby ridges for wildlife.

Remus enjoyed the trip in but apparently all those super long days have spoiled him – he still had an amazing amount of energy at the end of the day and spent quite a bit of time running around and exploring.

Alas, Tom’s feet had a battle with his boots – and apparently lost. Tom had replaced his ski boots due to a cracked upper and this was his first ski in the new boots – hopefully the ski was long enough to break them in for the race.
After enjoying a fine repast we turned in and hit the sack – only to spend the next couple of hours roasting due to a over stoked stove. In the morning we left early so we could get back to town with enough time to finish up the various chores that awaited our return.

The ski out was fun and fairly fast and even warmer than the ski in. We had a brief encounter with a moose who was enjoying the browse of the edge of the trail, but it quickly moved on and let us continue down the trail.

I was able to make in out though the overflow without any spills – which was quite nice.

Just past the trail shelter a super friendly snow machiner offered me a 7-up – which I gladly accepted! It was super refreshing and was much more drinkable than the near boiling water in my pack.

On the final hill into the parking lot I took Remus’s pack so we could go down the hills at a bit faster pace – Remus was a very happy dog!

Soon we were back at the trail head and driving back to town. Only 6 more days to the race!

A 50 mile day

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Since the White Mountains 100 is rapidly approaching, Tom and I decided it would be a good idea to get a longer day ski in to get a feel for what it would be like. I had pitched the idea of a out and back to Caribou Bluff cabin, which would be around 60 miles total, but Tom convinced me that an out-and-back to Crowberry Cabin would be a better idea. This was a good call, as the ski was pretty fantastic – the trail was in great shape and super fast.

We made pretty good time, making it to Moose Creek cabin in under 3 hours. The weather was mostly quite nice, though pretty cold and windy in the valleys. The total time was under 11 hours, with a pretty long stop at Crowberry for snacks and to melt water.
Near Crowberry we saw some very interesting weather related mirages.

By midday the sun was out and it was wonderfully sunny and hot. Perhaps too hot.. The last couple of hills before reaching Crowberry seemed to go on forever.

Eventually we reached Crowberry and crashed on the deck, melting snow and snacking while enjoying the sun reflecting off the cabin. After relaxing for a hour or so we packed up and headed back down the trail. It was a super pleasant (though long) ski out, with a number of long pleasant downhills runs.

We almost made it back before dark, though not quite – in the last four miles or so I had to get out the headlamp. The last three miles of the trail always seems to take forever, especially in the dark. There are not a lot of identifying features, except for the signage for the ski loop junction. I am always happy to see this sign, as it means its only a quarter of a mile until the start of the final decent into the parking lot.

One short and delightful downhill later we arrived at the parking lot and were soon munching chips. My legs were not as wipped as I expected, which was good news for the 100. Dropping the 60 miler down to a 50 miler was probably a good call though – I was pretty tired when I reached the car. I also appeared to have grown several extra chins too…

I am still refining my kickwax for these long day skis – I used green powergrip (applied with a heatgun then ironed on) topped off with 4 layers of Swix VR 40 blue on one ski and Toko binder with 8 layers of Start white and 4 layers of Swix VR 40 blue on the other. Both setups seemed to work equally well, and lasted for a very long time – I had to re-top off with Swix VR 40 blue twice but otherwise had excellent kick and fantastic glide though out the day.

More photos, for the picture inclined..

The 50 mile day

The White Mountains Loop

Friday, February 19th, 2010

On a sunny and warm Sunday morning, Ms Marsh, Tom, and I set off to do a leisurely ski of the White Mountains 100 course. Our plan was to ski the first day to Crowberry Cabin, then on to Windy Gap cabin, then out. This would make for two fairly mellow days and one longish day, approximately 26 miles, 34 miles, then a 40 mile day – all very doable. I was really looking forward to the section from Cache Mountain Cabin to Windy Gap Cabin, as I have never traveled this area before and was told it was quite beautiful. The other factor is that I would probably end up doing this section in the dark and would like to have some idea about the trail before attempting to blast though it at high speed by headlamp.

The first day started quite pleasantly, with a fast trail and wonderfully sunny and warm weather.

It was a bit too hot for Remus, alas. He is really only happy in sub 0f weather.

We zoomed down the trail and eventually stopped for a bite to eat at Moose Creek cabin. We passed two snowmachiners on the trail and a solo skier, but other wise we had the trail to our selves. The trail was super smooth and fast and made for fantastic skiing.

Once past Moose Creek cabin the trail climbs up a ridge and winds though a several year old burn and offered us fantastic views.

We reached Crowberry after a little under 7 hours of skiing which included a fair bit of stopping and goofing off. This was my first trip to the new Crowberry cabin. Its a new design without a loft, but it is quite spacious and has tons of room. We had a fantasic evening reading varous magizines including a road bike racing magazine that seemed quite out of place. Tom amused us by reading excerpts from a snow machining pamphlet, which espoused the many virtues of snowmaching (creating world peace and curing cancer, for example).

After a huge dinner we hustled off to bed, eagerly awaiting the alarm summing us to a early start the next morning (some of us anyway).
The next day turned out to be equally warm and sunny, and after a breakfast of pancakes and bacon we where off. The trail out of the cabin was a continuous drop all the way to Beaver Creek. Tom added a bit more “drop” and had a tremendous crash on one of the downhills that did in one of this bindings. Tom then had the distinct pleasure of skiing the rest of the trip with one floppy loose binding.
The trail got progressively rougher as we headed to Cache Mt Cabin, with lots of exposed tussocks. These sections where fairly short though and most of the skiing was quite good.

We encountered our first bit of overflow shortly after crossing Beaver Creek. It was short and dry though, and was quite fast and fun to ski though. I was using my skinny racing style skis, and don’t get too much edging power on overflow, and so have to be careful. If only someone made stiff, narrow, metal edged (or partial metal edged) skis..

We reached Cache Mt Cabin and stopped in to read the log book and have bite to eat. Several years ago I left a book here as a joke, ‘Develop Your Psychic Abilities‘ and it was still here. Strangely, a another book I had left in the cabin as a joke, “The Instant Divorce”, was gone – go figure.
Past Cache Mt Cabin the overflow got a bit more intense, but was still quite passable.

We were now on a section of the trail that I had never skiied, and I was enjoying exploring the area. This section of trail climbs for 12 miles or so, then comes over Cache Mt Divide, and drops down to Windy Gap. The trail up into the divide offered great views and was not particularly steep until the final sections.

The divide was quite scenic and had wonderful views of the surrounding ridges.

I could have spent days exploring this area, but alas we had still had 14 miles or so to go before we reached the cabin, so we didn’t stop very long.

The trail away from the divide was fast and fun – just steep enough for some high speed skiing but not so steep as to be uncontrollable. We reached soon reached the section of trail called the “ice lakes”, where the trail disappears in small valley with wall to wall ice.

A warning to racers in the upcoming White Mountains 100 race – this section was the only section of the trail that was a bit scary for me. I skied most of it, and was out of control for a good portion of the time. The ice has a slight slant to it, and where it is slushy it is very easy to ski under control. Where the ice is hard though, it is very difficult to slow down. Twice I ended up plowing into alders at high speed when I could not slow down. I would treat this section with caution and ovoid the temptation to bomb it, unless you have skis with metal edges.

Tom and Ms Marsh put on stylish bags and yak-traks on their feet and walked this section.

After leaving the ice lakes, the most fun of trail begin (at least for me) – the trail gradually drops down to Windy Gap, winding though big trees and going over a endless series of woop-a-doos. This made for a very fun 9 miles or so of double poling. Eventually we reached Windy Gap Cabin and crashed for the night. The next morning we headed out, and started out with a long section of ice. I skied this section while Tom and Marsh walked it. The skiing was fun and super fast.

The next 10 miles of trail winded though large trees and crosses Fossil Creek numerous times. The first 5 miles or so was a fun roller coaster with lots of small rolling ups and downs which made for fun and fast skiing.

There were a couple of sections of brief overflow. These were pretty hard frozen and dry making for fun skiing. These sections could be a bit tricky during the race when I am sleep deprived.

The ridges in this area are fantastically beautiful.

This section included one of the more interesting trail finds I have encountered – there was a partially eaten wolf or long legged dog carcass on the side of the trail.

Sections of this trail had a huge number of wolf prints – it appeared a small pack of wolves had followed a creek down to the trail then followed the trail up to the windy gap area. There was a couple of bird kills marked by a large cloud of feather so it looked like the wolves were having fairly good hunting.
Eventually we broke out of the thick forest and into a old burn and soon we were past Caraboo Bluff cabin and on the hilly descent to Borealis Cabin.

Shortly after Borealis-LeFevre Cabin we ran into the BLM trail groomers on their way out to Wolf Run cabin, then to Windy Gap Cabin and out. They left the trail wonderfully smooth and fast.

It was getting a bit late, so we pushed on to the trail shelter, had dinner, and then headed out to the parking lot.

When I reached the parking lot I was greeted by a bunch of Japanese visitors waiting in the parking lot for aurora to photograph. Tom and I made it to the truck first, and waited a while for Ms Marsh to arrive. We had a number of false alarms when we thought we had seen Marsh’s head lamp, only to find it was the aurora watchers taking pictures of things with super bright flashes. Things like the trail signs, trees, the ground, and a pile of straw… there was no aurora to be seen, so perhaps they were making the best of things.

All in all it was a quite fun three days and we got to ski the entire course. Skiing the course is highly recommended for racers – there is no place where anyone with any direction sense could get lost, but there are a few sections were you have to be careful due to ice lakes, overflow, steep descents, and other tricky bits, and its good to get a feel for it before attempting it in a sleep deprived hase.