The following is a (not so) brief trip-report of a recent 28 hour shake-down packraft/bikepacking adventure on the San Juan River in southern Utah. I’ll try to highlight some of the decisions and gear choices I made that were guided by the BPL ethos.
Through the BLM’s lottery system I drew a permit to float the 26 miles of the upper canyon section from Bluff to Mexican Hat on April 27-28. I had planned on paddling my newish Yukon Yak all along, but random conflicts with friends’ schedules meant that at the last minute I was leading a solo trip, and that gave me the opportunity to try running the river and shuttle in a totally self-supported manner. Bike, camping, and river gear would all go on the raft, and at the take-out in Mexican Hat I would load everything on the bike to ride the 25 or so miles of pavement back to my car at the put-in.
Running a BLM permitted river requires carrying some extra river-specific gear that I wouldn’t normally carry in my normal backpacking or packrafting kit. This included: a 12” diameter fire pan (I bought the lightest aluminum sauce pan I could find at Walmart: $9) even if you don’t plan to build a fire; a hard-sided, screw-top groover (plastic peanut jar) with WAG-type bags on the inside, Type III PFD, and most bulky of all, an extra paddle (I stowed my break-down Sawyer paddle and used a heavy 1-piece Warner as my primary paddle). Permit doesn’t require it, but you can’t run the river without a 12 pack (no everclear cocktails on this trip).
Raft Close-up Picture
Unsure of the stability of having a bike on the bow through Class II-III rapids, I opted to leave the fully-geared 29er (32 lbs) at home and take the old-trusty 26er single-speed (21 lbs). All the gear would fit in a set of Revelate bike bags on the handlebar, frame, and seatpost. I also carried a very small day-pack. The seat-post bag carried 90 oz of water and all the beer. I lashed it to the floor of the raft between my legs. The seam-sealed Sweet Roll (compactor bag liner) carried soft-goods and food. It fit perfectly on the stern with its existing straps. The Tangle frame bag remained on the bike and had gear that could handle being wet. The remainder including the groover went in the little day-pack strapped to the Sweet Roll.
The simplicity of arriving at the put-in and not having to shuttle cars was great! I packed and launched within a half-hour and was floating by 2 pm. After getting distracted by countless petroglyphs and Anasazi ruins in the flat-water before the canyon, I made camp only 6 miles downriver. No shelter, just a Neo Air and 45-degree top-bag (9 year old Sierra Des.) on a polycro ground sheet. I used David Gardner’s Beer Can kit with a modified Starlyte for dinner and morning coffee.
River House Camp
Sunday started with 20 miles of river and the 3 named rapids. The weather was hot (85 F) so the dry-suit stayed home but I did bring the full whitewater deck which proved to be the right –choice as waves at low-water levels (700 cfs) repeatedly surged over the bike through much of the canyon. The home-added thigh straps were also used a fair bit. At the take-out I packed within an hour, and found a way for the single-piece kayak paddle to strap against the frame and still allow me to pedal, though it did still stick off the back like a 4’ long spoiler. Gorilla tape stopped the rattling noise.
Bike with the Mexican Hat
It took an hour to climb the Comb Ridge Monocline, though the 32x18 gearing was just about perfect. At the top I laid down on a cattle-guard (surprisingly comfortable) in the only bit of shade around and marveled at Monument Valley sprawled out below me while I drank the final Tecate. 45 minutes later and a mean climb up Comb Ridge proper I was back at the car by 6.