Thursday, January 30, 2014

Hiking in sucks! How to build a kayak backpack system and a couple of fun New Zealand rivers.

stunning Westport beach sunset, NZ, chris baer, whereisbaer.com
stunning Westport beach sunset

Paddling in remote locations is immensely rewarding. But, to do so without paying for a helicopter usually means super long shuttle drives or… hiking. The physical act of hiking with a boat sucks. Shoulders go numb, sides chafe, and its just plain awkward.

Chris Tulley's van making the first pitch of the journey into the crooked

There are a few things to think about before the hike: How much does your boat weigh? Are there any optional items that you can remove from your craft? Can you spread out the essentials: breakdown paddle, med kit, pin kit. What about interference; is your hike in snow, mud, on a steep side hill or does it have overhanging vegetation? The simplest option is the classic shoulder carry, but sometimes you can benefit from a quick and easy backpack system.


New Zealand beaches drift wood and a staggering forest , whereisbaer.com chris baer
New Zealand beaches drift wood and a staggering forest

The few backpack systems on the market that I've tried (NRS Sherpa and Salamander Bak Yak) have all failed. The production packs all score high on initial comfort but fail in longevity, hefty weight, and dizzying complexity.

 

How to build your own kayak backpack

Ingredients:

10ft cam strap
pool noodle
sharp knife
duct tape
carabiner

the basics, pretty light and as simple as it gets, Chris Baer, kayak back pack
the basics, pretty light and as simple as it gets

 

Recipe:

Putting the backpack together is rather simple, but there are a few tricks to making the system fit well and hold up for the long hikes.


1. There is enough foam in one pool noodle to make two systems, so cut the original pool noodle into four equal parts.

2. Wrap the ends of the pool noodle in duct tape loosely. You don't need a ton of tape, just a wrap or two, as this helps keep the pool noodle from being pinched and cut by the cam strap.

notice the duct tape is tight making the hole compress and actually forcing the strap to start cutting the noodle
 notice the duct tape is tight making the hole compress and actually forcing the strap to start cutting the noodle

looser duct tape and a better finish
looser duct tape and a better finish

3. Slide one of the pool noodle sections onto the cam strap and lace the other end under the rear of the seat.

this takes a bit of wiggling, make sure it is supported by the plastic not the rear foam pillar
this takes a bit of wiggling, make sure it is supported by the plastic of the seat not the rear foam pillar

4. Slip the other section of pool noodle on the cam strap and weave the remaining cam strap through the two stern handles directly behind the seat.


laced up and looking for a walk
laced up and looking for a walk

the carabiner in the middle is essential for a comfortable pack, chris baer, kayak back pack home made how to
the carabiner in the middle is essential for a comfortable pack

5. To get into and adjust the system, stand the kayak up vertically against something stable and take a knee. Before cranking down on the cam strap use a carabiner to attach the two shoulder straps in front of you (this really eases the stress on the shoulders).

No, this system is not perfect, and having a waist belt would seriously help to disperse the load and alleviate some shifting. But, I find the simplicity, lightness, and ease of use literally outweigh any of the other systems on the market.

tight landing zones on the Kakapotahi, NZ, new zealand, Chris Baer
tight landing zones on the Kakapotahi

this is the first slot, of the Upper Kakapotahi and there is a six foot ledge to get you here

The Upper Kakapotahi,

has turned into my staple after-work run. It only takes a little rain for the water levels to come up into run-ability and the shuttle is only about a mile, making the backpack system not necessary, but a great place to test it.

clench those cheeks the landing zone is narrow, upper kakopatahi river NZ, new zealand, chris baer
clench those cheeks the landing zone is narrow
Kerry Hoglund enjoying the upper Kakers, Chris Baer, NZ,
Kerry Hoglund enjoying the upper Kakers

The run consists of seven fun rapids and after some probing they all are acceptable at most flows. The rapids have one consistent attribute, the lines are TIGHT! Whether it's boofing into a narrow landing zone, or unique laterals that flow directly into a confined triangular rock cave, all the lines are more than snug.

Kerry Hoglund zipping out of the triangular sieve, cave, fun line, upper kakapotahi Nz, Chris Baer kayak
Kerry Hoglund zipping out of the triangular sieve, cave, fun line
be patient on the hike in you never know what you might spot, I wonder what this one does, Chris Baer, kayak NZ, blue mushroom
be patient on the hike in you never know what you might spot, I wonder what this one does

 

 Crooked River,

The long muddy hike into the Crooked was what I originally built the backpack for and it turns out the hike in is far from backpack friendly. There is a ton of overhanging vegetation and the steep terrain covered in mud means having a 50 pound oblong backpack on is sketchy at best. The trusty shoulder was more well suited for the almost two hour hike in.

starting into the Crooked River, NZ west coast, hike in, Chris Baer
starting into the Crooked River

Once on water the action starts quickly and after a couple of fun ledges the crux of the run is reached. Bent and Twisted is a fun two-piece rapid that starts with a Raven Fork-esque twisty lead in where all the water smashes into an overhanging left wall. Thankfully a small, but well placed, eddy splits the rapid up and allows a quick breath and reset before paddling into the stacked second pitch. From there down, the rapids ease in difficulty and risk, and allow paddlers to boat scout well.

a couple seals near Westport, NZ, west coast, chris baer
a couple of seals near Westport

Upon reaching the take out I had a solid reflection, no I didn't like the two hour hike and yes the river and location was worth the sore shoulder!

adventure brought to you by Chris Baer

Monday, January 6, 2014

Helicopter shuttles are complicated, Upper Perth, New Zealand

Thump thump thump

the approaching helicopter made its notable entrance, arcing through the amazing New Zealand backdrop of dense jungle and snow-caped peaks.

Sophia Mulder, with a solid boof to finish a rather sieve infested rapid, chris Baer, whereisbaer.com, NZ, New Zealand, Upper Perth
Sophia Mulder, with a solid boof to finish a rather sieve infested rapid

Helicopter shuttles are way more challenging than I would have imagined. Each helicopter has its own load capacity, think about it like running shuttle with either a Geo Metro, a single cab pickup, or a minivan; all of the vehicles can make the shuttle happen but they all have wildly different limitations. The helicopter we had at our disposal was a McDonnell Douglas 500 D, it seats 5 including the pilot, and has a payload of roughly 1,500 pounds. To get boats and other necessary gear to the top, a sling (glorified cargo net) is used. Packing the gear into the sling is a bit of an art form. The theory is to load the gear in a tight aerodynamic shape and weave the net snugly to minimize wind drag and the chance of the entire payload spinning below the helicopter.

wrangling the massive sling load, notice the snow caped peaks, and the jet fuel tanker in the back ground, NZ, new zealand, chris baer, whereisbaer.com
wrangling the massive sling load, notice the snow capped peaks, and the jet fuel tanker in the back ground
the gorgeous, glacial, Perth valley, new zealand, NZ, chris baer, whereisbaer.com
the gorgeous, glacial, Perth valley
On our Perth shuttle Mark and I drew the short straws and rode up with the sling load. Checking the numbers a second time makes me a little nervous. We had ten kayaks 500+ pounds, Mark the pilot and I another 500+ pounds. Obviously helicopters run on fuel, hopefully the fuel gauge was no where near full as it can hold up to 400 pounds of jet fuel. We then added overnight gear, paddles, helmets, life jackets, cameras, and beer. Totaling up the gear, fuel and us the payload was quickly reaching our 1,500 pound weight limit. Looking out of the bubbled helicopter windows, towards the massive sling load, a red sign caught my eye. The sign stated something about being extremely flammable and was attached to a large shiny tanker truck that was containing jet fuel. This massive potential energy source was just underneath the circumference of the main rotor, and was easily within swinging distance of the overburdened sling. As the helicopter slowly gained elevation I released a clenched breath.

Phil Palzer, on day one, upper perth NZ, new zeland, chris baer, whereisbaer.com
Phil Palzer, on day one
The wind was gusting, the sling load was swaying, and we were undulating, bouncing, and oscillating our way up the Perth Valley. The helicopter pilot controls the rear rotor with two opposing foot pedals, his movements were almost mesmerizing as he tap danced the helicopter up the canyon. As we rose over a steep ridge, a blast of wind slammed the machine and it swung 50 feet off course and swayed 30° off vertical. The pilot looked over his shoulder towards me "IT'S PRETTY WINDY UP HERE!" I put on my helmet.

the crew prepping to put in, NZ, upper perth, new zeland, Chris Baer, WhereIsBaer.com
the crew prepping to put in
The Upper Perth is a true classic and has three distinctly different sections. The first pitch allows no warm up and the rapids are formidable with lots of missing water (siphons) and arduous scouting. Thankfully the crew was on point and were quick to be out of their boats, scouting, setting safety, and collecting media. The few truly ugly rapids offered relatively quick portages and allowed the group to make steady downstream progress.

Mark Basso, enjoying the emerald blue water, upper, perth, nz, new zeland, Chris Baer, Whereisbaer.com
Mark Basso, enjoying the emerald blue water
Of the eight paddlers (Jess Matheson, Rata Lovell-Smith, Phil Palzer, Sophia Mulder, Daan Jimmink, Dag Sandvik, Mark Basso, and myself) that flew to the upper put in, three were ladies, a relatively high percentage for class 5 creeking. Paddling with ladies always has a slightly different feel. The male machismo disappears and everyone seems to smile more. "It's simple, we're all here to share a beautiful experience." Paddle twirls, high fives, and giggles ensued.

Jess Matheson, leading a charge of ladies, Chris Baer, NZ, new Zealand, Perth river,
Jess Matheson, leading a charge of ladies
The first day of whitewater came to a quick culmination as we reached a large tributary and the Department of Conservation cabin that we would call home for the evening. New Zealand has numerous remote cabins strewn throughout the back-country that are maintained by the Department of Conservation. These cabins are set up with bunks and a wood burning stove. They allow long distance hikers, hunters, and kayakers to stay deep in the bush without the need of tents, sleeping pads, and most cooking equipment.

The evening allowed everyone time to share stories, jokes, and dinner.

breakfast time in the DOC hut, department of concervation, hut, perth, NZ, New Zealand,
breakfast time in the DOC hut
The morning sun reignited the crew's energy, and the cabin was quickly buzzing with kayakers gathering gear, drinking coffee and making breakfast.

another complicated, multiple route rapid on the Upper Perth, NZ, new zealand, Chris baer, perth
another complicated, multiple route rapid on the Upper Perth
The rapids on the second day started in the same style as the first. Hard lines and a multitude of options awaited at every horizon line. The difficulty continued through lunch time and then quickly the gradient dissipated and the rapids waned to big boulder class 3.

Daan Jimmink, putting together an acceptable line in the sieve laden Upper Perth, NZ, new Zeland, Chris Baer,
Daan Jimmink, putting together an acceptable line in the sieve laden Upper Perth
A few kilometers of cruising brought us to a distinctively different section. Tall striated granite walls splashed with vibrant green moss concealed the sun and revealed emerald blue water. The air temperature dropped and the horizon lines started to look imposing. Awkward scouting was possible at most of the rapids and our crew made quick work of the eerily beautiful canyon.

Dag Sandvik, checking out the peaks, or maybe getting some wheelie action? Upper Perth, NZ, new zeland, chris baer,
Dag Sandvik, checking out the peaks, or maybe getting some wheelie action?
The third different section of the trip is due to a massive convergence. The Perth and Whataroa combine and keep the Whataroa name; the run changes to big volume wave trains for an hour back to the helipad. This last pitch was enjoyed during a torrential downpour. Salutations at the take out were brisk due to the precipitation; but the entire crew knew that the driving rain meant our new-found friends would reunite soon to romp in our liquid playground.

adventure brought to you by Chris Baer