Hike and paddle: Packrafting gaining popularity with Yukon adventurers

They're colourful, inflatable, and only weigh about three kilograms. Packrafters are invading Yukon's waterways.

'With a boat you can throw on your back and carry over a pass, it gives you tons of opportunity'

Packrafters prepare to paddle the lower section of the Blanchard River in Yukon. (Karen McColl/CBC)

They're colourful, inflatable, and weigh about three kilograms.

Packrafts are starting to show up on Yukon waterways, alongside canoes and kayaks. 

The inflatable boats can be carried in a backpack, allowing keen adventurers to hike and paddle in places without road access.

Kevin Daffe, owner of Tatshenshini Expediting, says interest in the sport has increased since his company offered its first packrafting course last fall, by demand. 

Travis Bernard watches as Isabelle Gagnon paddles a section of the Blanchard River in Yukon. (Karen McColl/CBC)

"We had people in a river rescue class that had gone out with their packrafts, gotten themselves in trouble and said 'Hey, can you teach us how to use these?'"

Daffe says packrafts have evolved since they first came out several years ago. He says they used to be more like inner tubes intended for short river crossings.

Now they can be used for whitewater.

Jasmin Dobson, who took a packrafting course last weekend, is excited by the possibilities opened up by packrafts. 

Jasmin Dobson took a packrafting course with Tatshenshini Expediting. She says she feels safe while on the water. (Karen McColl/CBC)
"It's a really amazing way to see different parts of the Yukon," she said. 

She didn't have a lot of recent whitewater experience before the course, but she quickly gained comfort on the water. 

"The packrafts are actually quite forgiving," Dobson said, adding "I feel very safe in the water with them."

But paddlers should be aware of the added risks of paddling in remote areas. Daffe said things could get challenging quickly, especially in remote areas. 

"It's easy to access more challenging whitewater without actually understanding water, being able to read water and know the hazards that come with it," he explained. 

"I think before going out it's important that people work their way up, maybe take some courses, do some river rescue, and just be aware of the group dynamics." 

Packrafters taking part in a whitewater course prepare to paddle a section of the Tatshenshini River. (Karen McColl/CBC)


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