An Alaskan Odyssey by Wheel and Water

Words by Bjorn Olson

Howdy Hyperlite Mountain Gear Blog Readers!

I wanted to introduce myself along with the rest of the small team that will be joining me this fall on a previously un-attempted fat bike and packraft trip through an intriguing and rarely visited corner of Alaska. Our little cadre of three will be made up my girlfriend who is, amongst other winning traits, my principal trip-partner, best friend, a naturalist/artist and well-versed wilderness adventure bum, Kim McNett.

Daniel Countiss, a veteran to rowdy and remote fat bike expeditions, a former Georgian and now fellow Homer, Alaska resident, will also be joining us. Daniel is a professional welder and is owner/operator of the custom bicycle company Defiance Frameworks. His personal bike is a customized reflection of the terrain we regularly find ourselves traversing – light but strong, simple, big tired, and capable.

Kim stokes a fire on the shore of the Seward peninsula. The Arctic and Sub-Arctic is almost entirely devoid of trees. Driftwood and dry willow branches are the best option for fires.

For my own part, I am a born and raised Alaskan with a life-long passion for exploring the Great Land by human-power. My original appetites were for mountaineering, climbing, and expedition kayaking, but over the past dozen years I have been consumed with the bottomless joy of finding my limits on a fat bike, often with the aid of a packraft, in the backcountry. Photography, filmmaking, and writing are the secondary excuses I proffer to justify time spent in the hinterlands.

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The Alsek River: Time Travel through the Vanishing Ice Age

Words by Brad Meiklejohn // Photos by Tim Kelley

In June 2018, Tim Kelley, Gunnar Cantwell, Tom Diegel, and Hyperlite Mountain Gear ambassador Brad Meiklejohn paddled and walked from Haines Junction in the Yukon, Canada to Yakutat, Alaska, completing the first packraft descent of the Alsek River. The Alsek is one of the legendary rivers of North America, in a league that includes the Stikine, Colorado, Columbia, and Susitna, and was the last major river in North America to be navigated.

Much of the Alsek remained terra incognita until 1971 when Walt Blackadar completed the first full descent, including a solo run through Turnback Canyon. Blackadar, the boldest kayaker of his generation, wrote: “I want every other kayaker to read my words well. The Alsek is unpaddleable! I’m not coming back. Not for $50,000, not for all the tea in China.”

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Q&A: Two friends packrafting thru Kamchatka, Russia

Words & Photos by Nathan Shoutis and Thomas Kinsley

Thomas and I started packrafting in the early days of Alpacka Rafts – around 2005- when it was still a one-woman operation working out of a garage in Eagle River, Alaska. We first met on the south end of Kodiak Island, Alaska, working at a remote field camp for Fish and Game. From there we embarked on a two-week gentlemen’s stroll across the length of the island’s glacially carved mountainous spine from our camp back to the town of Kodiak. That was our first joint expedition, and this 2017 packrafting trip to Kamchatka was the 10-year anniversary mission, which made it even more special.

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Exploring the Gates of the Arctic via Packraft

Gates of the Arctic

Words by Dulkara Martig // Photos by Ben Weigl & Dulkara Martig

It was mid-August, and fall was fast approaching in Alaska. Locals were squeezing in their last summer trips before the winter set in. Bears were munching on the last of the berries. Bursts of orange, yellow, and red danced across the tundra, and fresh snow blanketed the mountain tops most mornings. Along with two good friends from Australia – Ben, and John – I set off into the Brooks Range in Arctic Alaska where we found spectacular granite spires, endless seas of boulders, and a surprisingly strong connection to that wild expanse.

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No Quarter: Unridden Lines Crossing The Purcells

UltaMid Insert Bikepacking Camp

What was meant to be an exploratory mission bikepacking in British Columbia with a seasoned crew of altitude-hungry mountain bikers could easily have doubled as the ultimate ‘Google Earth Sandbag.’

The plan was to travel by bike along the northeastern border of Canada’s Glacier National Park, venturing through a maze of tectonic uplift in search of steep, scree-filled chutes that had never before been ridden. The total distance would be about 200 kilometers, and the team reckoned it could be completed in six to eight days. This was easier said than done. These mountains boasted some of the most technical terrain any of them had ever seen. Every morsel of purchase was parceled with sweat equity. It was do or die. The mountains would take no prisoners. They would offer no quarter.

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Oh, Canada: Packrafting The Northwest Territories

Packrafting Canada

Words & Photos by Paul Burbidge // Videos by Dylan Stewart

We’d made the Mackenzie River and the trip was over. We still had 100 kilometers of river to paddle but the unknowns were behind us and we started paddling by ourselves, in our own heads. We were already partly home and tied up with future activities, work, spouses etc. Or maybe this was just me. I struggle with being able to see my future. The Mackenzie River is wide, slow and straight. Wide means two kilometers wide and straight means sections long enough that the river has a horizon line- like the ocean. There is no unknown. Our next few hours were laid out in front of us. They would be long and hot and we’d have to paddle to make up for the lack of current. Our paddling didn’t seem to have any effect but we moved along.

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Bikepacking Alaska’s Nulato Hills

Video by Luc Mehl // Photos by Luc Mehl + Eric Parsons

The Nulato Hills are a relatively unknown area of Western Alaska, even to experienced ambassador Luc Mehl, who has grown up in the state and is well versed on what it has to offer. But, after researching any satellite imagery he could find, he decided that the region looked ripe for a bikepacking route. So, Luc teamed up with Revelate Designs founder/owner Eric Parsons to come up with a ~100-mile route along Muskox trails from the village of Nulato. We recently caught up with him for a quick chat about the trip and some insight into exploring such an untravelled wilderness.

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Packrafting Alaska’s Arctic Wildlife Refuge

Alaska: Arctic Wildlife Refuge

Words & Photos by Don Carpenter

Alaska’s Arctic Wildlife Refuge is awe inspiring- it is big, wild, remote country. Mountains are stacked upon mountains, interspersed with free flowing rivers. The Refuge stretches from the south side of the Brooks Range, over the glaciated high peaks of the range, and across the coastal plain to the Arctic Ocean. I often marveled at the remoteness, as I realized how far we were from the nearest village or road.

[Note from Don] When I wrote this story, I had no idea that the debate over drilling within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would surface again so soon. This debate has gone on for decades, and drilling is again on the table. The US Senate has just passed a tax bill that includes an amendment that would allow drilling on the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge.  The House of Representatives and the Senate need to reconcile their bills and then it will go to the President. If you are opposed to oil development in this place, now is the time to speak up.  If you are so inclined, please let your representatives know you are against drilling in this incredible place.

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Whitewater Packrafting 101: 10 Things You Need to Know to Paddle Safe + Strong

To celebrate the launch of our newest product, the River Rescue Throw Bag, we asked Hyperlite Mountain Gear ambassador Mark Oates to put together a comprehensive guide to technical paddling—call it packrafting 101. A certified whitewater instructor and outdoor educator, Mark regularly leads trips through the remote Tasmanian wilderness near his home zone. Ever detail-oriented and meticulous, Mark produced a thorough treatise on how to get the most out of any day on any creek in your boat, and get home in one piece. Huge thanks to Mark for sharing vital expertise that is sure to make us all smarter and safer as packrafting continues to blow up. 

Words by Mark Oates // Photos by Dan Ransom + Mark Oates

You’ve got the latest and greatest packraft, you’ve got the cool hardcore creeking helmet—call it a complete kit—and you even have some decent river miles under your belt. So, now you want to take it to the next level. But wait…

Is there something else that you still need? Why do others make paddling hard rapids look effortless, while you come close to swimming? Why can some packrafters hit that particular eddy every time but you consistently struggle to catch it? How come your friends can easily surf waves for ages, yet you find it challenging to simply paddle across strong currents?

Is it the boat? Is it the river? Is it you? Do you simply need more time on the water?

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Foolz Tour IV aka Desert Therapy in South Central Utah

Southern Utah Packrafting / Bikepacking

Words & Photos by Steve “Doom” Fassbinder // @republicofdoom

Say you were given the unfortunate choice of having only one place in the world to explore in your life; what would it be? Not a scenario that I would ever want to settle for, but if forced my answer would come without hesitation. Southern Utah.

After nearly 20 years of living in the desert Southwest, I am continually awed by the intricacies of its impossibly complicated landscape. This place can cradle you like a baby or torture you relentlessly.

On any given trip you may find yourself in calm serene pools of crystal clear water surrounded by budding cottonwood trees or, around the next bend, the wind might unleash a mental and physical beating of unbelievable force.

You can look out from a high point and find your destination seemingly only a few miles away, yet it may take hours or even days to navigate the maze of canyons hiding below the rim. It’s a mysterious place full of forgotten corners, lost arrowheads, baffling rock art, and it pulls at my soul in ways I can’t describe.

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River of Dreams: Packrafting Oregon’s Kalmiopsis Wilderness

Packrafting

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Mike Curiak’s adoption of ultralight techniques and philosophies evolved slowly, he says, as garage gear and his own DIY stuff became increasingly available. But now, Curiak, who owns and operates LaceMine29, a company that builds high-end, hand-built wheels for 29-inch bikes, fat bikes and 650b bikes, simply lives light.

Mike’s also no slouch behind a camera. Case in point: this astoundingly gorgeous account of his recent trip to Southwestern Oregon’s Siskiyou National Forest, an ambitious itinerary that included running some pretty serious water in an inflatable packraft.

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Bikepacking & Packrafting the Lost Coast of Alaska: Part 2

An Alaskan coastal traverse between Cordova and Icy Bay, Alaska using fatbikes, packrafts, and inspiration from those whom came before.

Words & Photos by Mike Curiak

Day Four:

(Continued from Part 1)

Waking to the sound of rain wasn’t what I’d dreamed about.  Although honestly, at first, I wasn’t sure that was even what it was.  The optimist in my drybag hoped that it was Doom, just outside, slinging handfuls of sand at our tent while taking a selfie and mouthing ‘perf!’ at the camera.  Once I scraped the crusted sand from my eyes and focused, I could see a million+ droplets beaded up on the outer skin of our ‘mid, a few hundred of them sliding earthward.  Going to be a wet one.

The Lost Coast: Day 4

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Packrafts: 3 Reasons To Use Them in Zion’s Narrows

Light, Flexible, Easy to Fix Packrafts: The Perfect Vehicle to Navigate the Narrows

Text & photos by Dan Ransom

This Trailhead is a Total Yard Sale: Packrafts, Paddles and Drysuits Hanging Out to Dry. A couple tents looked haphazardly pitched, and the trucks are caked in thick mud. Our arrival is probably not a very welcome alarm clock.

Kind of an odd scene I thought, when a voice calls out from one of the tents: “You guys running the narrows?”

This is the start of Utah’s Zion Narrows, one of the most beautiful canyons on the entire Colorado Plateau. It’s an incredibly popular destination, one I’ve descended all or in-part nearly a dozen times either as a backpacking trip or an exit to a nearby technical descent. But today we aren’t here to hike it, we’re here to float. And I’m using a packraft.

The guys we are waking up–they paddled this stretch yesterday. It’s an incredible trip they say, one of the best ever. But the approach. It’s miserable. There isn’t enough water. Takes way longer than anticipated. Beats the hell out of the boat. And by the time they got off the river and rallied back up the hill to snag their shuttle vehicle a quick moving thunderstorm blasted through the area and turned the road to complete shit. Hence, this morning’s yard sale.

And now, a little bleary-eyed and sleep deprived, they are looking curiously at our small packs, and wondering if we aren’t about to make some poor decisions ourselves.

“Those packrafts aren’t durable enough…. Right?”
Read the rest of the article & see the awesome photos here.

2016 Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic

Hyperlite Mountain Gear is proud to be an unofficial sponsor of the unofficial Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic.

Words by Luc Mehl
22 competitors | 115 miles of Alaskan Wilderness | Photo: Luc Mehl

The Mountain Wilderness Classic is Alaska’s premier wilderness challenge, a grassroots event where participants push to their exertion and exhaustion limits. Ultralight is the name of the game, so it is no surprise that the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter is the pack of choice.

The 2016 course started at Galbraith Lake and ended in Wiseman, completing a north-south traverse of the Brooks Range, Alaska’s northernmost mountain range. The course was short by Classic standards, a minimum of 110 miles, half of which was floatable. This was a welcome change from the 2015 300-mile route in the Alaska Range, which was only finished by four of the thirty participants.

The short Brooks Range course and 24-hour daylight allowed participants to cut even more gear from their packs, with many participants expecting to go without sleep. Sleeping bags, shelter systems, and extra clothing were all left behind. One participant even opted to leave his packraft behind, starting with a 13 pound pack (this ended up being a bad decision).
Read more about the Classic, and check out a sweet video.

Packraft Attire: 10 Things To Help You Stay Safe & Dry

Gear & Clothes That Can Make the Difference For Your Wilderness Packraft Adventure

Moe Witschard

Text by Moe Witschard // Photos by Moe Witschard & Mike St. Pierre

Maurice “Moe” Witschard is an experienced explorer, photographer and a filmmaker who loves packrafting and adventuring. Like all adventurers and packrafters he knows that it is key to stay safe and dry. In this blog post he shares 10 tips for your packrafing attire that will make your packraft adventure as safe and fun as possible.

Making smart choices as to what to wear often means the difference between joy and misery on a packraft trip. After packrafting extensively over the past 10 years, I have tried many different clothing systems. My present strategies are based on principles that I have taken from years of whitewater kayaking and backpacking. I apply them to my trips in what I believe is the most elegant of wilderness watercraft: the packraft. Here, I share my tips.

Read on for the 10 Tips.

Multi-Sport Adventure: 8 Tips for Beginners

Bike/Pack/Raft/Climb: Steve “Doom” Fassbinder’s Recommendations for Aspiring Multi-Sport Adventurers

Typical multi-discipline trip with Fassbinder.
Typical multi-sport trip with Fassbinder.

“You’re almost always making it up as you go”, says Steve Fassbinder of his multi-sport exploits. “Doom” embarks on long-distance, backcountry adventures that typically include two to four of the following sports: packrafting, thru hiking, rock climbing and mountain biking.

“I’m figuring it out as I go,” he says. Fassbinder started racing mountain bikes, but eventually, the constant riding took a toll on his knees. When he discovered packrafting he realized he could take his bike and do these routes that were never possible before.
Learn more about multi-sport adventure.

Paddlequest 1500: John Connelly’s 75-Day Canoe & Kayak Epic Adventure

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Partners With Maine-Based Whitewater Athlete 

John Connelly's 75-day trip will take him through two countries and four states and over 22 streams and 58 lakes.

The Allagash Wilderness Waterway. It’s remote, but also well managed with established sites that make camping very comfortable. My favorite spot is just on the river, where the water pools up above some rapids. I paddle in, accompanied only by the white noise of the river and of the bird songs. Temps are warm, even as evening approaches, and only the slightest breeze rustles the white pines. I pull my canoe on the shoreline, unload my gear and settle in where I can watch the water. I’m tired after a long, hard day of paddling, but I feel invigorated. I watch the brook trout sip mayflies from the surface of the river, and out of nowhere comes an Osprey. Taking a trout totally unawares, she makes a splash in the river and flies off just as quickly as she arrived. The sun sets, the colors of the rainbow playing over the surface of the Allagash. A rare and precious moment, I feel fully connected to nature. –John Connelly

Hyperlite Mountain Gear recently partnered with former US Canoe & Kayak team member and Maine resident John Connelly to support his 1500-mile solo river/sea odyssey. Connelly has numerous first descents under his belt, along with decades of experience on whitewater. His 75-day trip will take him through two countries and four states and over 22 streams and 58 lakes. The journey will be the first to link four major waterways: The Northern Forest Canoe Trail, Saint John River, Bay of Fundy and Maine Island Trail. We are providing Connelly with a 5400 Porter Pack from our soon-to-be-released Expedition Series, along with an Echo II Shelter System and Stuff Sacks.

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Bikepackrafting Cataract Canyon with Mike Curiak

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador, biking enthusiast and founder of Lace Mine 29, a custom bike wheel company, Mike Curiak has pushed the sport of extreme cycling to new heights, and was nominated for a spot in the Mountain Biking Hall of Fame.  He, Jesse Selwyn and Travis Anderson recently used packrafts, bikes and their legs to explore Cataract Canyon. This is a repost from Curiak’s blog

A few years back I had the opportunity to complete a unique trip in Canyonlands National Park. Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassadors Doom, Moe and I rode, walked, and floated for three days and roughly 75 miles through Beef Basin, the Needles, Cross Canyon, Cataract Canyon and Imperial Canyon, as well as the northern edge of the Abajos in completing our loop. A few months ago Jesse and I got to talking about that trip, and it wasn’t something that he could let go of once the seed had been planted.

Check out the rest of the photos and article here.

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