Category: Bikepacking + Packrafting + Multisport

For a rapidly increasing number of people, the ultimate adventure involves more than one means of human-powered transportation. Hiking, biking and paddling—all at once? How does that qualify as minimalist or ultralight?

Simple: without the lightest, high volume pack and the slimmest, sleekest shelter, bikepackers and packrafters won’t be able to bring everything they need for increasingly ambitious trips. Multi-sport means an almost never ending multiplication of possibilities. This catalog of ever-more epic outings includes trip reports, how-tos and gear guides for bikepacking, packrafting and creative combinations of the two.

LEARN MORE: SHOP PACKRAFTING AND MULTISPORT BACKPACKS

An Ultralight Approach to Surviving Hostile Work Environments

Our names are Matt Wordell (@mhwordell) and Zach Voss (@retroscope). We’re based in Boise, Idaho. We travel to remote areas around the world with leading Volcanologists to assist research projects, capture photos and video, and produce short films and other content for use by Universities, research groups, National Geographic Society, National Science Foundation, and other organizations.

We just completed an expedition in Guatemala and have another approaching in May that will take us to several remote volcanos in Papua New Guinea in support of a research team from the Deep Carbon Observatory. In addition, this work will be displayed during an international volcanological conference held at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington DC as part of a film showcase and photo exhibition.

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Still on the Loose

Words by Brad Meiklejohn

A recent news story described me as “an aging adventurer.” After my initial indignation, I checked the mirror, and seeing age 58 reflected, I had to agree.  Better distinguished than extinguished, I suppose. We are all getting older.

I never thought that I would live this long.  I’ve been a skier, climber, packrafter and explorer since I could walk.  I’ve lost 32 friends and family members to avalanches, rock falls, crevasse falls, just plain falls and drownings.  They say my friends died doing what they loved.  I doubt any of them loved having their necks and backs broken, having their lungs filled with snow and water or having their heads smashed in by rocks. No powder, peak or pour-over is ever worth dying for.

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You Don't Need an Ankle to Packraft

Photos by Jessica Kelley

One of three recipients of the Kyle Dempster Solo Adventure Award, Jessica Kelley followed a circuitous broken-ankle led journey through a variety of modes of wilderness travel to finally hatch her own 1,300-mile bike and packraft trip in Alaska.

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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.

 

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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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Exploring the Gates of the Arctic via Packraft

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 […]

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Monumental: A Journey Through Katahdin Woods & Waters

“WE FOUND ENDLESS POTENTIAL FOR WORLD CLASS OUTDOOR RECREATION, AND AFTER FIVE DAYS, WE WERE COMPLETELY IN TUNE WITH THE UNQUESTIONABLY WILD PLACE THAT SURROUNDED US.”  // CAIT BOURGAULT

 

Local and national controversy has surrounded Maine’s recently established Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument in recent months. There’s been plenty of noise generated by these debates, but none of it has touched on the reason the monument was created in the first place: to protect and encourage public access to Maine’s natural beauty and outdoor adventures. World-class camping, canoeing, kayaking, mountain biking, hiking, hunting, fishing, wildlife, and sightseeing are all at every visitor’s fingertips. In September of 2017, a team of four Maine-born photographers and filmmakers set off into Katahdin Woods & Waters to document the land in hopes of encouraging more public use. Their film, Monumental, documents a five day, 64-mile-long human powered circumnavigation of the park by canoe, bike, and foot. 

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Oh, Canada: Packrafting The Northwest Territories

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

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.

 

We had been following fresh wolf tracks up an unnamed drainage since leaving the main river canyon. We knew they must be close by, but hadn’t seen any yet. Greg was the first to spot it on the hillside above us. We watched as the gray and black wolf moved up the slope and then lay down. What followed was an intimate interaction with a family of wolves in a wild and remote landscape. Barks grew into howls and a series of calls and responses rang across the valley. Soon, young pups appeared on the other side of the canyon. We listened to a symphony of howls for over an hour and watched as the family regrouped and slowly made their way into another side drainage.

Hiking Towards the Leffigwell River
Hiking towards the Leffingwell River

Logistics can be challenging for an Arctic trip. To maximize our time in the Refuge, our group chose to fly in and out with Kirk from Yukon Air. This added some cost, but offered us the most time in the hills. We flew into the south side of the Brooks Range, hiked over the continental divide, navigated 3 rivers out of the mountains, crossed the coastal plain and ended at the Arctic Ocean. Traveling a total of 160 miles over 14 days.


Floating the upper Kongakut River

However, we were not going to the Arctic Refuge to travel 20 hours a day. We wanted time to take everything in- to savor morning coffee, fish, look for animals, and enjoy the magic of the Refuge. Thus, we travelled light, but we weren’t focused on a few extra ounces. We had plenty of food, including makings for pizza and pancakes, and even had whiskey left to toast the friends we’ve lost when we arrived at the Arctic Ocean.


The current slowed as we approached the Arctic Ocean

I had high expectations for the trip. And the Refuge exceeded them all, easily. Our pace allowed us to take in the wonder of the Arctic. We enjoyed surreal moments in camp basking in the midnight sun, watching birds, and glassing for animals. Our pace also lead to several wonderful animal interactions… watching and listening to the pack of wolves and observing a grizzly for over an hour from a hillside above camp.


Fresh wolverine tracks near camp.

Traveling by foot and packraft through the Brooks Range was stunning, but the coastal plain was truly unique. This plain can seem barren from afar, but I found it beautiful, diverse, and vast. We saw a large variety of birds and waterfowl— eagles, jaegers, harriers, harlequin and merganser ducks, tundra swans, geese, gulls, arctic terns, plovers, sandpipers, and many other songbirds. Many of these birds were nesting on the coastal plain.

The fragile tundra of the coastal plain was teeming with wildflowers and we saw signs of bear, wolverine, and wolf. We also experienced fata morgana— an Arctic phenomenon that produces mirages and made it appear that the pack ice on the Arctic Ocean was inland ice cliffs that could be impassable.


Gravel bar camping on the coastal plain

We knew there was a good chance of encountering large numbers of caribou on the coastal plain. The Porcupine herd, numbering approximately 180,000, gathers on the plain in June and July to calve and feed.

On our flight in, we learned from Kirk that the herd had amassed on the coastal plain, but about 30 miles west of our intended route. They might move east, directly into us, or head south into the mountains, and we would never see them. In the end, we saw very few caribou. Ironically, this lack of caribou sightings was perhaps the most incredible wildlife experience for me.

On our pick up, Kirk asked, “Have you seen any caribou, I’ve been flying, but seem to have lost them.” Last he had seen, the herd had split into two groups of 90,000, and then vanished. At 180,000 strong and with 720,000 legs, they could be anywhere. On our flight out, we finally spotted a few groups of 10,000 or so, up a small tributary of the Hula Hula. I am glad we still have country big, wild, and remote enough for 180,000 caribou to give us the slip!


Porcupine Caribou Herd in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (2008) // Source: United States Fish and Wildlife Services

A week before flying to the Sheenjek, on a trip to Colorado, my friend Dirk took me to meet Bob Krear. Bob is a 10th Mountain Division veteran, having fought in Italy during World War II. He was also a member of the 1956 Sheenjek expedition 1956 Sheenjek expedition, led by Olaus and Mardy Murie. The findings from that research expedition played a large part in the formation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

During our visit with Bob, we heard stories of fighting in the mountains of Italy during WWII, tales of the Sheenjek expedition, and from his work with the National Park Service. As we chatted on that Sunday afternoon, I flipped through a book Bob had written about his time in the 10th Mountain Division and what he had done since WWII. Bob had written that his role in the 1956 Sheenjek trip, and the part it played in the creation of the Refuge, was one of his proudest achievements. I thought of my visit with Bob often as I traveled through the vast Arctic landscape.

The work of Bob Krear, the Muries, and others from their generation, laid the foundation for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and a legacy of wilderness for future generations.   As I look forward, I think this quote from Mardy Murie is as powerful today as it was in 1977.

“BEAUTY IS A RESOURCE IN AND OF ITSELF.  ALASKA MUST BE ALLOWED TO BE ALASKA, THAT IS HER GREATEST ECONOMY.  I HOPE THAT THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA IS NOT SO RICH THAT SHE CAN AFFORD TO LET THESE WILDERNESSES PASS BY- OR SO POOR THAT SHE CANNOT AFFORD TO KEEP THEM.” – MARDY MURIE

Alaska Lands Bill testimony June 5, 1977 in Denver, Colorado.  

Don Carpenter is a guide, outdoor educator, and co-owner of the American Avalanche Institute.  He has been guiding and teaching in the mountains since 1998 and an owner and instructor at the AAI since 2009. His winters are busy with logistics and avalanche courses at AAI and ski guiding. Spring, summer, and fall find him guiding, running rivers, packrafting, and chasing elk.  Don, and his wife Sarah, live in a straw-bale home they built on the western slope of the Tetons.

Don has also shared his LNT principles in a previous post from his 2015 trip to the Refuge: Leave No Trace Principles in Alaska’s Arctic Wildlife Refuge

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