Intermediate Packrafting: What I learned
Photos, videos & story by Spencer Harding. Thanks to Spencer for reviewing the Four Corners Guides Intermediate Packrafting course he took July 2023 🙏🏼
For years I’ve stumbled my way through water trips. On my first trip packrafting I took a bad swim, with my camera in hand no less. There, I began to understand that I didn’t understand at all.
Continuing my education, I tagged along when my wife became a whitewater guide in Utah the past few summers. Poaching the daily run when it wasn’t full, I swam some more, floundering my way through the rapids. This past year I decided to get a proper whitewater boat. The second I got in, you guessed it, I flipped and swam. All this culminated in a Salt River Wilderness trip this past spring, which Steve Fassbinder (aka “Doom”) and his wife, Lizzy, joined. I felt as good as I ever had on a river. Though I still swam so damn much it brought my wife to tears. Yet, somehow I managed to make it through the class IV rapids right side up. But the river humbled me.
so what to do? take an intermediate course!
So at the end of the that trip, Lizzy enthusiastically recommended I come take an intermediate packrafting course through Four Corners Guides, their guide service. When a date popped up at the end of July and I was already out in Utah, I figured it was time to properly learn to paddle.
Having had no proper instruction at any point in my life before this summer, I decided to join my wife and training up as raft guide. We received guide training (oar and paddle rafts) and swift water rescue training together. With these under my belt I finally started to understand how to be safe on a river and how to safely navigate them. But I still didn’t have a foundation in small craft, other than my self-taught flounderings. So the time had come, and I went down to meetup with Doom for the intermediate packrafting course.
Paddling Lesson #1: Efficiency = Energy Conservation
The course focused on the multifaceted nature of running rivers including:
- how to scout a rapid
- how to identify when to scout
- repairing and maintaining your boat
- eddying out
- peeling out of eddies
- jet ferrying, and
Steve presented all of these skills as a means to be more efficient on rivers, whether identifying a scout that can be done from a boat instead of on foot to using the laterals of a rapid to your advantage. Everything pointed toward being more efficient to conserve energy. After one of the most tiring days I can remember on the Salt River this past spring I can attest to how important conserving energy can be.
Eddy catching practice humbled me thoroughly Though confident, I had many small issues with the foundations of my skills. I was approaching too low and stopped paddling before properly breaking the eddy fence. Likewise, I was not properly breaking through the eddy fence while peeling out. Doom stressed setting good habits now and rectifying existing bad habits.
We practiced over and over.
Through lots of demonstration and repetition in the Durango whitewater play park I started to make some progress. There’s only so much that can be done in two days. After many swims while attempting to surf, I and the other participant were quite tired. Nonetheless the lessons learned set a tone and expectation that I can carry forward. I know what I need to practice, mostly surfing. And I have the tools to be a better paddler.
I came into the course a bumbling ding dong who had made it quite far on luck and enthusiasm. And I left the course with skills and tools be a better, safer paddler in a multitude of situations.
I can’t wait for my next trip where I get to put all that I’ve learned together. Thanks so much to Doom and Lizzy for running a course that actually caters to packrafts. And thanks to Doom for bringing so much experience and skill to their teaching.