Rants and Raves
The best of our latest Letters to the Editor
What did you think of our latest March 2014 issue on newsstands now?
(Click HERE to order if you haven’t read it).
We featured a 600-mile, 65-day crossing of Baffin Island with traditional skin-on-frame kayaks, as well as four women’s 70-day paddling expedition on Mongolia’s Amur River. Other highlights included new retro boat designs reviewed, tips for extended canoe-tripping with kids, and a Siberian-style self-support full plenty of rugged whitewater, and canned horse meat.
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The current issue’s Letter of the Month award went to reader James R., offering an interesting reply to Rocky Contos’s letter in our August issue (“Amazon Perspective”), on the value of exploring our planet’s wildest reaches, especially the upper ends of the “true Amazon.”
HERE’S THE FULL LETTER OF THE MONTH PLUS OUR PICKS OF THE BEST RESPONSES TO RECENT WINTER STORIES IN THE MAGAZINE AND ONLINE.
As a young kid, I lived with my parents in Belem do Para when I was only 1 years old, Dad was an engineer building airstrips for the US Army Corps in that region. Although we only spent 6 months there and went back to Cochabamba where I was born 18 months previous, I, now cannot shake off that earthy feeling of having lived and breathed the humid tropical and dense air of the Amazon basin. I was fortunate in my later years, to have worked as a tour guide in Bolivia, and later was the captain of an Amazonic “flotel” and river cruiser, La “Reina de Enin”, in the Trinidad – Beni region. (c. 2006-2008).
When I came across the letter “Amazon Perspective,” (Aug. 2013 Letters) I just stashed it and intended to answer on my thoughts of your epic journeys paddling through the upper reaches of the true Amazon.
Now, going to the main issue: The relentless advance of humanity will surely reach even the remotest parts of our planet, and “develop” it for further human benefit. But is it really benefit, when we see dams in the future covering vast expanses of beautiful and important geographical regions, not to mention culturally rich human settlements that make up riverine communities. As a captain of La Reina, on the magnificent Mamore River in Beni, I appreciated the closeness and warmth of indigenous inhabitants when we visited their communities to learn of customs, traditions, and, unfortunately the ailments that these people now have.
Furthermore, the damming issue is worrisome, and will definitely accelerate climate change and will be a huge factor intensifying the extinction (read: wiping out the existence on this planet forever) of floral and faunal species, throughout the unique biomes and ecosystems that make this habitat what it is.
We cannot but congratulate you on your endeavors, and that your continued striving for the protection of beautiful and epic regions of the world, have all the success, especially the great Amazon basin region of South America.
Ornery landowners? Perhaps you have no problem with uninvited “guests” coming on to your property, taking a dump and leaving trash behind, all because they have an ill-conceived notion that the property that *you* pay tax on really should belong to “the people”. Uh-huh. I suspect it wouldn’t take you long to develop a little attitude about trespassers either. Not to mention that the “ornery landowners” in this case are better stewards of the resource than the “journalists” who lost a tripod and camera to the river on their first day out. — Lee H.
Great article and photos, Eric! I agree with almost all of your points. As a wilderness guide for 25 years, your judgment/experience quote has always been a favorite. I have been doing Alaskan river trips for a long time, but haven’t run stuff quite as stout as the crux rapids on your trip (my son certainly has).
One point I would take issue with is rating a wilderness float an extra grade or half-grade higher. It’s true that one should have Class V skills to run wilderness Class IV. The consequences of a lost or broken boat or injury are much higher when you are days or weeks from a road. That doesn’t make the water any harder. I know difficulty ratings vary regionally, and locals may downgrade runs the same way that commercial raft companies exaggerate ratings. I still think that the difficulty rapids should be the basis for the rating. A Class IV rapid can have Class III consequences or class V consequences for screwing up. Those consequences are part of the judgment and experience equation. The consequences don’t change the difficulty of the drop like water level does. Portaging a heavily loaded boat, or risking losing it with food, camping, and safety gear also plays into the judgment and experience required, but doesn’t make the river difficulty itself harder. You can legitimately argue whether a drop should be rated IV, IV+, V-, or V in difficulty, but boater experience, choice of craft, or wilderness nature shouldn’t be the determining factor for the rating.
I have seen swift flatwater, road accessible rivers in Alaska rated Class II by agencies because of log jams and sweepers. People who are comfortable paddling these rivers in canoes and rec kayaks may get a big dose of experience from bad judgment if they attempt a big water wilderness run with actual Class II whitewater difficulties.
I’ve also been one to take a bit of extra gear for safety and comfort on trips, but I’m learning a lot from my son and from the community of Alaskan adventurers pushing limits of ultra-light wilderness travel with minimalist gear. They are acutely aware of safety and consequences, while making the most of each carefully chosen piece of gear. The packrafters are taking this to an amazing level, running challenging IV-IV+ wilderness runs in 7-lb boats. Kayakers boats are 20-30 pounds lighter for trips the length of yours. I’m trying to absorb and embrace their wisdom in my geezer years.
I do agree with dividing up essential group gear. Don’t put all safety gear in one boat, but still try not to carry lots of redundant stuff. Have a plan if the one stove/pot or group shelter is lost. Does someone else have a pot to cook over a stick fire? If one person has a sat phone in a boat, does someone else have a Spot on their person? What emergency gear is on you if you lose your boat?
Thanks for sharing your thoughtful reflections. I wholeheartedly agree with your conclusions! These experiences truly enrich your life! — John S.
“If Verlen Kruger and Steve Landick can paddle UP that same section of the Colorado in 18 days, you should be able to go down it in THREE! Hell, racers do the Yukon River Quest—440 miles—in 38 hours!!” — Norm M.
RE: “Into the Great Unknown” (Dec. ’12 Put In)
With the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act you might want to avoid calling areas in the Tongass National Forest the “largest wilderness.” Though it IS the largest national forest, the largest federally designated Wilderness is Wrangell-St. Elias. There is no central Tongass Wilderness, it’s comprised of 19 smaller Wilderness areas. The specific Wilderness Areas we visited are probably not even in the top 200-300. Even speaking generally about wilderness, without implying designated Wilderness areas, the Russian taiga/arctic, Alaska/Canada arctic, or Antarctic would probably take the prize for largest wilderness long before the Tongass. — Adam A.
Thank you for this thorough and thoughtful coverage. The American Packrafting Association (APA) believes there is conservation benefit to allowing paddling in Yellowstone. River users, including the board and members of APA, are among the most dedicated conservationists in the nation. Our time on the water drives our passion to protect wild places. The list of conservation luminaries inspired by running wild rivers includes David Brower, Dave Foreman, Rod Nash, Olaus and Mardy Murie, Mo Udall and Jimmy Carter.
Paddling one of Yellowstone’s rivers could transform a child into a conservation hero. — Brad M.
Another case of never letting the facts get in the way of a good, rousing, social-emotional media story! NOAA is no longer printing standard maps that soon become outdated. They are continuing to offer Print On Demand (POD) charts that will be updated weekly and able to be purchased. Granted, that could be a hassle, but planning means you will still be able to utilize a printed NOAA chart as part of your navigational arsenal. Currently paper charts are based on older, static data. The new ones will feature updated changes. While I very much believe that dependency upon battery-powered technology is very unwise, I think the more timely charts are an improvement and still available for printed info. — Tom
Here is Canada, National Resources Canada got out of printing topographic maps several years ago and it hasn’t been the end of the Earth as all the editorials seemed to think it would be. The key advantage is that printers will have access to the latest updates when you request the map to be printed rather than the current system of waiting for the warehouse stock to sell through before it’s reprinted and shipped to shops. — David Johnston