An ode to packrafting and a quest to find rural rivers

Bear Creek Packrafting - (6)

90s rock and 80s pop blared over a static hum. It was punctuated by country blues and Christian gospel. Random and decidedly rural, the scan button on my car radio summed up everything I love about dusty out-of-the-way places.

On this particular Sunday morning we – Abby, Jason and myself – skirted through Idaho at 60 mph on a stretch of empty pavement, hitting the brakes as we rolled into a desolate town.

A semi-truck roared in front of a convenience store clearly labeled “The Dam Store,” ostensibly named after the nearby water dam. A cowboy and his three horses dove for the road’s shoulder as the semi-truck passed.

Bear Creek Packrafting - Jackson Hole Packraft Rentals - 02_web

Pavement eventually gave way to dirt, narrowing with each passing mile. Soon, our car clung to a small ribbon that wound around mountain sides … and cliffs.

At 8:13 a.m. we parked at a vacant trailhead and began to jog.

We carried the usual items in our backpacks – water, food and a rain layer – and a couple of unusual items as well.

The scent of budding willows made the air smell sweet. The rising sun warmed our shoulders, despite a thick canvass of clouds. Cares faded with the cacophony of radio songs left behind.

Bear Creek Packrafting - (4)Creeks pooled deep from the spring run-off. One creek crossing required wading through icy water up to our thighs.

We periodically stopped to gaze upon the swift-moving river that paralleled the trail we followed. We looked carefully for river-wide logs and we studied the river’s steep drops.

After several miles, the trail elbowed down to the water’s edge. Giddy excitement splashed over us as we pulled packrafts, paddles and PFDs out of our backpacks.

Packrafts are lightweight inflatable boats that roll up to about the size of a sleeping bag. The ones we had stowed in our backpacks weighed a mere 5 pounds each.

We inflated our packrafts using nylon bags, and launched into Bear Creek.

The current yanked at the edges of our packrafts, and we found ourselves in the flow – literally and figuratively. We grinned like children, smitten with ourselves for pulling off this adventure.

Bear Creek Packrafting - (2)Bear Creek spills over a series of beaver dams, creating drops that made us consider portaging; but instead, enticed us to paddle them.

Before the first big drop, I took a deep breath and got my packraft into position. I shot off the ledge. My paddles blades cut through the air. I landed, upright. And let out a squeal of joy.

Three words: packrafting is fun. Or maybe four: packrafting is really fun.

This short stretch of water left me possessed. All I wanted to do in the following week was breathe packrafting, think packrafting and above all go packrafting. Hallelujah summer!

(I’d like to give a shout out to Jackson Hole Packraft, a company that rents Alpacka packrafts both locally in Jackson Hole as well as throughout the Lower 48 via Fed Ex shipping, for setting us up with boats for this trip).

Bear Creek Packrafting - (1)

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