A Packraft Experience in Austria – Part I

Posted on 24 Juni 2011

My trip was slightly longer than I exspected. So here is the first part. The other part will follow next week. So take a coffee or a tea and some cakes an enjoy my packraft experience.

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Actually, I have planned a trip in the Pyrenees on the HRP, but my trip partner became ill and we canceled the trip because I did not want to go alone. Time was very short to find a new trip, but then I received a mail from Sven. He is a packraft hero in Germany. A kind like of German Roman Dial. Sven told me that he and some friends would meet at Pentecost at the Salza in Austria for packrafting and I could also come along. These were fantastic news for me because I got the chance to test my new Alpacka Yukon Yak in white water and not only on lakes near my home. A detailed report about the boat will follow.

After this good news I started to complete my paddle gear, because I needed a wetsuit for the cold water in the alpine rivers, a light all round helmet and a life jacket. The complete gear arrived just in time so I had no problems. Everything was packed in my car and I went on to Wildalpen in Austria. Planned was to go on a hiking trip in the first days before I meet Sven and the others. After a long journey with the car I arrived in Wildalpen late Sunday evening. The campsite was closed and I decided to spend the night in the woods near Wildalpen. It was very warm that night, but I slept very well. In the next morning I wanted to start my planned hiking trip when I received a mail from Sven. He told me that they will arrive on Thursday evening, because they still wanted to paddle on another a river that day. I was very interested to paddle on that river, but I had no experiences with white water at that point. So I decided to cancel my three days hiking trip to make myself familiar with the white water on the Salza. But I still wanted to use the complete Monday to explore the region around Wildalpen.

An inchworm near the trail.

Aquilegia alpina

After I had repacked my huckePÄCKchen I started to explore the region. I took a really long time to leave Wildalpen behind because lots of houses were widely distributed on a road. I followed a small trail after the road. This trail led me on the mountains. The mountains around Wildalpen are not very high, but the landscape is so beautiful.

One of these beautiful houses.

Everywhere were blooming meadows. The weather on that Monday was perfect. Sun was shining and we had round about 26°C. At lunchtime I made a short break near a stream. After refreshment with the cold water from the stream out of my Kupilka 21 and some cereal bars I followed the trail again. I passed some lonely cabins and cattle pastures. The further way led me to a small trail along the Salza. It was unbelievable. The water of that river is so clear and everything was filled with rare flowers. It is a splendid place on our earth.

Cold water out of my Kupilka 21

I followed this trail. Sometimes he fell so steeply that these passages were secured with ropes. The noise of the water was like music to the ears. After some kilometers I reached lovely place at the Salza where I decided to stop for another break and a sun bath. I had a perfect view on some rapids and could see how other passes them. Ok it was late in the afternoon and only four boats passed this section. Meanwhile it was time to continue to the trail. Lots of orchids adorned my way to the campsite. I started to collect some wood for a fire in the evening. The evening ended with a great meal, made with my Trail Designs Ti-Tri, cold beer and a campfire in front of my tent.

A view from the trail along the Salza

Aconitum lycoctonum & Dactylorhiza maculata

Class I white water

A perfect combination. LAUFBURSCHE huckePÄCKchen & Kupilka 21

On Tuesday I got my packraft into water. After a troubled night at the campsite I woke up very late in the morning. It was 10 o’clock when I opened the door of my tent. I had a fast breakfast with two cups of Starbucks Via coffee to get up very quick. Then I decided to pack everything for the first packraft trip. Packraft, paddle, life jacket, rain jacket, helmet and wetsuit fit perfect in my LAUFBURSCHE huckePACK. I took the wetsuit with me because I had no experience with capsizing in such cold water and on that day I was on my own. The water had a temperature of round about 10°C. My Vibram Five Fingers Bikila was the first choice footwear for paddling.

I followed the small trail along the Salza, which I had already gone yesterday. After 8 kilometers I found a good entry point. The packraft was quickly inflated with the help of the inflation bag. Then I put on my paddling and safety gear and stored all the rest in a drybag. It was time to start the adventure. I entered the boat and closed the spraydeck.

Starting my first white water experience

After some paddle strokes I reached the first rapids with some rock blocks. They were a little harder than it looked from the shore and I started to row. Maybe it was a Class II white water. I nearly capsized, but everything went well and I passed this section without further problems. It was a great feeling. First, the river became quieter. I drifted with the flow and enjoyed the splendid nature around. Some trout swam around me and a deer grazed on the shore. Everything was perfect. Passing the next rapids was very easy. It was some kind of Class I white water and I had a lot of fun in my boat when I passed this section. After a while I stopped for snack. Paddling makes you very hungry. The last kilometers were easy to paddle, but there was one barrier in front of the campsite, a roller. Afterwards this roller was not difficult as it looked.

Aqua Bound Manta Ray Carbon

I was really happy when I reached the campsite without any big problems on the water. I finished the day with a cold beer and a dinner at the river. Later I made a small campfire unitl I went into bed. After reading some articles from Michael Clellands new book “Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips” I slept deeply. The weather during the night was not good as on the nights before. We had a heavy storm and lots of rain, but my Golite Shangri La 2 performed very well. Some other tents at the campsite where blown down from the storm.

Getting up at the other morning was hard, because I had muscle strain from paddling the day before. But whining will not help. It was time to come into the boat. After a delicious breakfast I started packing. I walked along the same trail as on the day before only a few kilometers more. On that day it was a bit easier to handle the boat and everything went well. The rest of the day I have used to make some photos of the flora around me. In the evening I went very early to bed, because the next day should be exhausting.

On Thursday I woke up at 7 o’clock. It was cold and rainy and I did not want to get out of my sleeping bag, but it was time to start, because I had to travel 65 kilometers to the river where I wanted to meet Sven and the others. I arrived there at 9.30 o’clock and the others came some minutes later. After a brief welcome we started to repack the cars. We put the kayaks and the rafts in one car and left one car at the exit point. It took a really long time to travel to the entry point. It would have been no problem to walk there with our packrafts, but a big problem with the heavy kayaks.

Starting the trip on the Erlauf

After reaching the entry point we put on the paddle gear and started our journey on the Erlauf. On this trip, we were four. Martin and Willi, two local kayakers, and Sven and I in the packrafts. Martin and Willi knew the river very well and could give us good tips. First of all Sven showed me some skills in the packraft. He showed me how to paddle against the flow and how to use eddies. After this lesson we followed the river. The landscape was also perfect as on the Salza. Furthermore the rain stopped and the sun came out. After some kilometers of paddling we reached a slightly heavier section.

Photo by Sven’s gf

We stopped at the bank and had a look from a bridge to see what the best way to pass this section is. This section was a bit too difficult for me and I decided to convert my boat, because I did not to risk anything. The others passed the passage without any problems.

Photo by Sven’s gf

After that paddling was easy until we arrived the entrance to a gorge with bursting water. Martin and Willi had no problems. I tried this section, because I could not convert the boat.  And then it happened. I came into the bursting water. It pressed me with enormous force against the rocks. Sven gave me some instructions how to paddle, but it was not possible to get out of this predicament. After a time of struggle I capsized. I was pushed under water for a short time before I showed up again with the paddle in my hand. Sven stopped my boat. It was an unknown feeling and I was a bit confused, but after some minutes I climbed back into the boat and then I saw that my spraydeck was broken.

The water was very cloudy, because of the rain the night before.

A short break after some class II rapids

Shit happens I thought in that moment. Life goes on and it was important that I was ok. We continued our way through the gorge and I had to stop constantly because water came into the boat as a result of the broken spraydeck. After a while we reached a big tree that lay in the river. All others had no problem to pass the tree, but I came a bit slanted towards the tree and threatened to capsize. The pressure of the water was too large. Sven and Willi helped me to get out of the boat. Many thanks for that. Afterwards we paddled through some class I & II white water until we arrived at a canyon.

Sven passing the canyon with his Yukon Yak

Photo by Sven’s gf

This canyon was very difficult with class II-IV white water and I stopped my trip there. I took my boat out of the water and carried to the end of the canyon. They arrived after an hour and I was already cold. I climbed back into the boat to paddle the last kilometer to hour exit point. 200m before the exit point I saw that Willi and Martin stopped at the bank. Willi cried that I have to stop because it is another heavy rapid. I could not because I was too fast. I summoned up my courage and started to paddle. Surprisingly, I had no problems with this section and I was glad that I did not capsize again. After that we reached the exit point and put on our dry and warm clothing. We finished the day with a cold drink until we started our way back to the campsite. The evening ended in a get-together an we went early in our sleeping bags.

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To be continued


  • http://djm74.blogspot.com/ Darren

    Great pics and report!

  • http://www.backpackingnorth.com Mark Roberts

    Great report! I really got a sense of you picking up the skills from that. Your progression from the first river steps to some pretty serious looking whitewater is pretty impressive over a couple of days.

    Also impressive is that the huckePACKchen can fit a tent, a raft, paddles, helmet, drysuit, clothes and food and a PFD!

  • hrxxlight

    @Darren
    Thanks a lot

    @Mark Roberts
    I could not believe that it is going so well.
    Oh you misunderstood something. The huckePÄCKchen is too small for all the gear.I used it only for my day trip on the first day. For raft, helmet, wetsuit, clothes, food, paddle and PFD I used my huckePACK in DXG.

  • Fu

    Greetings,
    What camera were you using?
    Thanks!

  • hrxxlight

    @Fu

    I’ved used several camera :)
    On my hiking trip in the first day I have used my Panasonic GF1 with 20mm Pancake. On water I have used a cheap Pentax LS1100 and the photos from Sven were made with a Panasonic Lumix FZ38.

  • Antonio Piro
  • http://www.hikeventures.com/ HikeVentures

    Nice trip. We should organise a packrafting event in Austria…

  • http://hrxxlight.com Benjamin M.

    he sorry for ma late reply. The river is awesome and there are lots of campsites where you can stay. I hope to get back to the Salza in the next time.

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