Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Raftpacking Evolution?

As I was researching various ways to engage in ultralight carry modes for packrafting (perusing one of Roman's musings on the matter), I read a seemingly unrelated passage further down about using a dry suit as a dry bag in the context of keeping certain gear items inside the suit as you're wearing it, as opposed to carrying a separate dry bag along strapped to the raft.

Then it dawned on me....

What if you were to use your dry suit as an actual dry bag to carry all of your gear as a method of raftpacking for serious whitewater and steep creek day boating, and forego any pack being tied down so as to improve your paddling response?

I can't be the first person to have thought of this, but since I haven't heard it suggested elsewhere, or seen video footage of fellow packrafters utilizing what I've conceptualized, I guess I'll assume I am for the time being.

Anyhow...with a couple hours of gear arrangements, thinking, then more gear arrangements, here's what I came up with.

As you can see, the concept centers on the same ideas Roman had by using the PFD as a carrying system, but expands on it to provide more capabilities.  With this system, everything you will need for steep creek or big whitewater day trips is inside the dry suit, in the pockets of the PFD, or strapped to the outside.

Collapsing your dry suit & compressing it to an appropriate carrying dimension is easily accomplished by first inverting the arms and legs to create a rectangular shape.  If your suit has a relief zipper, that's about how far inward the legs should go.  One of the arms will be tricky, since the entry zipper is involved, but the other can be completely taken inside the suit.  The newly-converted dry suit is now filled with the following:

- Packraft (rolled up the smallest way possible)
- Extra clothing (fleece jacket, wind shirt, neoprene gloves, socks, etc.)
- First Aid kit
- Helmet
- Throw rope
- Thigh Straps (don't have 'em yet, but they'd be in there if I did)
- Inflation bag
- Floor pad (optional)
- CamelBak (the neck gasket provides a very convenient hydration port)

Outside the dry suit, you can strap the paddle, or simply carry it all in one piece.  I would not recommend trying to cram a broken-down 4-piece paddle into the dry suit, as this can cause abrasions on the inside.  Inside/on your PFD, keep your knife, repair kit, whistle, sunscreen, and food.

This area may need further tinkering, but as of now the suit is compressed horizontally by two short nylon compression straps, then compressed vertically with one longer strap which holds the PFD in place.  The key design goal is to keep the weight of the suit-bag forward on the shoulders as opposed to falling back.  The current weight of the whole system as pictured (~15 lbs. without food & water) is right at the cusp, in my opinion, of needing an additional straps to keep the PFD in the right place to properly distribute the load.  With just one vertical strap, there will be a tendency to sag one way or another.

Since we are obviously frozen up, and I have no outside travel plans for the winter, this system won't get a serious test until after breakup.  That should be plenty of time to get the right sized straps and figure out the best load arrangement.  As of now, this is designed purely with serious day boating in mind, which means Class III or higher and a dry suit, helmet and other safety gear are necessary.  If successful, this set-up can deploy a paddler downstream without need for any load tied to the bow, which can improve boat response in fast, technical whitewater.  

Then there's the obvious advantage of traveling fast & light, a consistent goal of most packrafters out there.  While this system may work and prove comfortable for a 3-5 mile approach with a float all the way back to the start, I can't see it being relied upon for any further distance or time frame.  

That being said...I have another idea rolling through the cranial dome in regards to this compressed dry suit.  We shall see if anything manifests.

Backside view of the PFD-suit-bag carry system, showing desired dimensions for the partially inverted/compressed dry suit.  A much shorter strap will be needed.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Keeping your tools sharp

It was opening day for me today.  After contemplating and checking out various climbs, and ceasing all the dilly-dallying that is always the final step for embarking on all ascent-oriented goals...yes, I finally got onto the ice for first time this winter season.

The destination?  Beer climbs, and it apparently took a big hit from this past weekend's Pineapple Express that lambasted southcentral Alaska, but one narrow vein of waterfall ice to the far left was in decent shape, and offered good fun for the four of us.

I had met the other three in our party just this morning, which is indicative of how few people actually ice climb in the Anchorage area...well, at least out of those who are unemployed and have nothing better to do on a Wednesday.  Even so, I think most ice climbers talk about climbing ice more so than actually doing it....even when they surprise themselves through the realization that they are actually doing what it is they say they do.  By that, I mean most of the time is spent slogging up to the climb, then shooting the shit at the belay station with the other person who's standing around looking bored, but just happens to be saddled with the somewhat important job of holding a life in their hands, with very little actual climbing going on, except for the poor chap clinging to the chandelier up above by only 4 points of contact on an always suspect medium.  As a climber, would you want your non-climbing belayer to be transfixed in paying attention to your every move as you place the screws, or have them gabbing on and on about this and that and who knows what else?  

The answer of course lies somewhere along the subjective WI grading scale.  The only reason a legitimately safe form of belayed soloing on ice has yet to be designed, is because too few climbers realize the incentive behind not wanting to rely on a fellow human to anticipate YOUR mistakes, while you wonder if your mistakes are any more plausible than THEIR mistakes.  It's best to limit the number of possible mistakes at any given point in time to one human mind, and otherwise trust in the greater laws of nature, especially physics.

A pair of Grivel ice tool picks, freshly sharpened after today's climbing.  You may notice the slightly downward angled edge along the tip of the bottom pick, as well as the shorter length resulting from another point-dulling event from last season.  If you've got the good sense to dull your pick points from actual climbing, make sure you alternate the mash-ups, at least for the style of it all.

The day ended well, aside from a smashed pick tip, which required a bit of sharpening after I returned home.  I was initially amused when I heard the dull clang that accompanies any precise moment when sharp metal meets hard rock at a substantial speed, and more so when I saw the point all curled up.  Another reason why ice climbers most of the time aren't what they say they are, is because they're afraid of breaking their embarrassingly expensive climbing tools.

It is important to keep all of your tools sharp as you go out to climb that crazy ice....especially the most important tool of all: your mind.

More on this later, maybe.