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August 2022

Packrafting Officially Comes to Squamish

Guest Author: Karen from Packraft Canada

The sport of packrafting has been a fringe activity going back a few decades but the first commercially available packraft-specific boats were not available until 2002 when the company Alpacka Raft began designing and manufacturing these lightweight, portable inflatable boats. In the past decade, more companies have begun making packrafts including Kokopelli. The boats are far from being pool toys. Made of high-tech fabrics and accessories, packrafts have been successfully taken on Class IV and V rivers.

As a niche sport still in its infancy in many ways (yet growing exponentially), there may be few if any packrafters in a given town or community, so paddlers are always keen to find other paddlers. Social media has helped spread the sport and packrafting events have sprung up around the world to bring packrafters together. These meetups, roundups, or ‘show up and blow up’ events, are a chance to make new friends, to experience new rivers, to improve individual paddling skills and to see the latest in packrafting equipment.

Squamish, with its abundant rivers, has paddling opportunities for every skill level. And so it was on the weekend of 8-11 of July, Packraft Canada held its third-ever Packrafting Roundup, and its first event in the Sea to Sky’s Adventure Capital. Thirty-nine people signed up for the event, which began on Friday evening at the Mamquam River Campground. Friday night was a casual social night, as participants got acquainted and prepared for their group paddle on Saturday morning. Colourful tents dotted our group campsite, sheltered by massive cedar trees.

Participants came from around the region and further afield. Vancouver, Squamish, and the Fraser Valley were well represented. The furthest Canadian participants came from Jasper and Canmore, AB, and a couple American paddlers came all the way from Alaska! Several paddlers came from Bellingham and Seattle; we all agreed that in the future we need to have more trans-boundary Cascadia events!

On Saturday morning, people shared their ideas and expertise on how to outfit their packrafts properly. Our big paddle was down the Checkamus River from upper Paradise Valley. The shuttle was interesting with all the big rain-filled potholes on the narrow upper road. Paddlers in colourful drysuits and boats launched in the swift, high water and sped down the river, past sweepers and through the waves.

Some paddlers instead took a packrafting refresher course with Ascent FV on the Mamquam River. Later, everyone reconvened at the campground, where we had a scrumptious picnic spread, campfire and barbeque. Later we participated in a raffle of paddling gear donated by Valhalla Pure Outfitters, Kokopelli Packraft, Stikine Packrafts, Bikepackers Foundry, and The Packrafters Handbook author Luc Mehl. Tensions were high as people strategically purchased raffle tickets in the hope that they might win the big prize—a Kokopelli packraft! The winner of the Kokopelli Recon was Elenita Lareina a recent transplant to Squamish. Elaine, we hope to see you on Squamish waters in your Recon! Thanks to all who participated in the raffle— we raised several hundred dollars for charity!

Sunday’s paddle focused on skill-building and many paddlers did ‘laps’ on whitewater sections of the Mamquam River. Other paddlers practiced self-rescue and paddle technique with Ascent FV. Late in the afternoon, the Vancouver and Fraser Valley paddlers departed for home, some paddlers opted to rest in their tents, and a small contingent headed over to Valhalla Pure Outfitters for their generous special showing of the 17th Annual Paddling Film Festival selections focusing on packrafting.

We were honoured to meet the owner of the Squamish Valhalla Pure store, Murray Sovereign, and he and employee Maddi Sterne orchestrated the evening. The three films shown were: Fluid Trails, about bikerafting on the South Island of New Zealand, Aniakchak, about a couple’s hiking and packrafting honeymoon trip to the most remote national park in Alaska, and Sheri, about the founder and visionary of Alpacka Raft. We loved the films, and were surprised to find ourselves the beneficiaries of another gear raffle — generous donations from the store of NRS drybags, paddling gloves, etc.

We left the store smiling, happy, and full of gratitude. A hearty thanks to Valhalla Pure Outfitters for being our main sponsor of this year’s Canadian Packrafting Roundup. Local sponsorship means so much for the growing sport!

Participants have made new friends and are already making plans to get together again this summer to paddle!