What I’ve learned about packrafting over the past few years is that people have a romanticism about packrafting that seems to forget the packing part of packrafting, especially for more backcountry-oriented trips.
Meaning the hauling of weight over rough terrain, placing the raft into a place that does not include a boat launch and often includes much mud and tamarisk, getting wet, bashing through tamarisk before the sun sets, and then hiking out with wet and muddy gear stashed into a pack to make your way over the terrain.
It does not sound particularly alluring when put into this context.
But it’s beautiful. And rewarding. And expands the outdoor horizons.
What I enjoy about packrafting is how it connects the landscape. While “just” paddling or “just” hiking, you often miss how the canyons, rivers, and people intertwine.
The structures and images make even more sense, and you feel how the travel paths formed and set the cultural landscape for this land. The various BLM, NPS, and other land agencies feel less like separate parcels but rather part of a greater whole. It’s a way of holistically experiencing the landscape we often lose sight of when traveling to and from places by road and even strictly getting on foot or biking once there. Or traveling to a boat launch, paddling, and then driving back along the road to return to town.
Packfrafting connects the Colorado Plateau landscape in a way that, at least for me, makes me feel more immersion into the wild places.
Joan joined me for this trip, and it is one we’ve planned for a while.
The trip would start as all good journeys do for us – Up a rough jeep track, at a “trailhead” by an old corral, and shouldering our packs to make our way down to the river.
We followed a scenic canyon, possibly closed to vehicle traffic in the near future, that led directly to the river.
The bluffs overlooked the river with evidence of old mining operations nearby.
We found evidence on the nearby cliff wall that this area long led itself to travel near the river.
The panel featured atlatl scenes and indicated images several hundred years old.
After lunch, we found a place that worked OK for putting into the river. With the recent rains and floods, the river banks did not lend themselves to easy put-in and take-outs for more obscure places.
But once on the river itself, the scenery did not disappoint.
Soon after the initial put-in, we floated  to the mouth of a canyon popular with river travelers.
Besides being a beautiful canyon, the canyon features a fresh-water spring that, no doubt, benefitted many different generations of river travelers. The images not far from the spring and the river seem to indicate these thoughts as well.
We saw a group of about twelve rafters who seemed confused over just Joan and me. They wanted to know the location of the rest of “our” group, if we had support rafts, etc. The concept of taking what we needed in a small raft and comparatively small packs seemed odd indeed! It’s the only group of people we’d see for another day, whether on the river or in a canyon.
We paddled on and continued to enjoy the tranquil water, the scenery, and the solitude.
The late afternoon autumn light made us thoroughly enjoy our river journey.
We reached the mouth of the exit canyon. We hiked part of this canyon two+ years ago and even had dinner on a beach.
The said beach disappeared in the flooding, with lots of mud and tamarisk we had to thrash through to get there.
Our clothes and gear ended up wet and caked with mud. And we or may not have had more than a few moments of “spirited discussions.”
But once settled into our warm and dry gear, and perhaps a splash or two of rum with hot cider made the day seem more of the rewarding and invigorating experience we found throughout (most of) the day.
The following morning we hiked up a canyon that nature claimed back. No ATV tracks or even human footprints.
I found the canyon stunning, showing how quickly places revert to a wild character.
You could easily see the cuts that the streams carved and the roots of trees newly exposed.
The canyon widened, and we started seeing some intermittetent ATV tracks, but very few in the quiet canyon.
We saw signs of many generations of people traveling and living in the canyon.
And we continued to enjoy the fall colors of the Colorado Plateau.
We soon bumped into a group of ATVers not long before our canyon exit point. Our mud-caked gear, clothing, and general description of the area ahead convinced them to turn around.
Our exit point briefly saw us go up a break in the wall to hook onto a lightly used dirtbike track.
We soon reached our truck. The old corral had an even older cairn on the top of a small butte that gave a vast overlook of the surrounding area. Our lonely “trailhead” seemed even lonelier, taking in the open space.
We could see the cliffs that bordered the river. And beyond.
A challenging trip in some ways. But a memorable one.
I think Joan described the weekend best:
This packrafting trip was 90% fun and 10% exhausting/ muddy/ bushwacking/ quicksand/ slogging through sand/ sinking up to your knees, and flailing in the mud. And 100% beautiful scenery.
 EDIT – Joan also added after I wrote this article –
“I know you are the writer, and “floating” sounds so poetic… but in my memory, there was no relaxing “floating” down the river. It was more like “keep paddling” until my arms felt like they were going to fall off … because we had to make it to camp before dark. Ah, the realities of packrafting!”