July 15-20, 2019
Author: Tiffany Lin | Photographer: Mina Lee + Tiffany’s iPhone
Location: Lake Tahoe
Boat Model: Rogue Lite
If you know me, you’ll know I’m not much of a water person. I’m actually scared of the big, open water and can’t tolerate being in cold water very well. Two years ago, I went to a beginner’s backpacking course and the presenter had introduced the Kokopelli packraft to me for the very first time. I had no idea what a packraft was and despite my discomfort with water… I knew it would enhance my experiences outdoors and I needed one.
- Why I Want to Packraft
- First time – Paddling in South Lake Tahoe (Bonsai Rock/ Sand Harbor)
- Second time – Ultralight Backpacking with a Packraft in Desolation Wilderness
- Third time – Lake Sabrina, Bishop
Why packrafting: It’s simple – I felt it would open up the world of opportunities to explore the outdoors in ways I can never experience by foot alone. I’m always looking for new ways to explore the outdoors and this was a way for me to see the outdoors in ways I would never be able to before.
Model: I chose the Kokopelli Rogue Lite from the Adventure series as it fits well with my current minimalist/ ultralight hiking lifestyle. This raft is perfect for backpacking as it is their second lightest packraft and capable for lakes and moving water, and I want to work my way into traveling down streams.
[Tues, July 16, 2019] I drove up to South Lake Tahoe on Monday 7/15 for my first time, camped at the City of Lake Tahoe Campground right on the edge of Lake Tahoe, and headed towards Sand Harbor the next morning. The parking lot was full and didn’t plan to reopen until later that evening, so we drove up and down Tahoe Blvd and got lucky to find street parking right next to Bonsai Rock.
We hiked down to the water to set up our packrafts and it took me 20 minutes to blow up my packraft for the first time. It comes with an inflation bag which you catch air in to fill up the raft. This part took me a while to get the hang of but once I got it, it’s about 10-15 bags of air (for me). After it is filled almost to the max, there’s an inflation tube that you can use to top off the air but I preferred to just blow directly into the raft which took about 20 breaths.
Time for lift-off! We launched around Bonsai Rock – the water was calm here and the wind was light, but even the lightest winds when you’re in the water can blow you in all directions. Mina taught Suwipin and I how to land the boat (you paddle fast towards the shore with your body leaned back, then thrust your body to lean forward, shifting your weight when the raft touches down to anchor yourself from floating off) and after enjoying the beautiful turquoise clear water, we set out towards Sand Harbor which is about 1 mile away by land… not sure about water.
Since we paddled along the shore, the constant current and waves from the boats that rolled through made paddling a struggle for me as I lack upper body strength to start with. To top it off, I had a difficult time steering my packraft straight and kept going side to side with every push in the water. Mina and Suwipin (his first time too) made it look easy and I constantly struggled to keep up… but before I knew it (half an hour later), I reached the beautiful clear blue water of Sand Harbor!
We floated and relaxed along the shore for some time before making our way back towards Bonsai Rock. It was 4:15pm by now and the waves MUCH stronger this time… it felt like I was in the ocean (but prettier)! It took me closer to an hour to make it back this time since I got tossed around by the little waves and my packraft was full of unwanted water. I just kept paddling and paddling and paddling. Not going to front… I was nervous the entire way going back, always behind, and was reminded of how much I’m scared of the ocean and waves. I felt like I was paddling for my life. A few times, I even cried to Mina that I wanted to get out and walk the raft back to the car, but I’m so proud I kept going and finished.
HIKE TO: Lake Aloha
TRAIL: Tahoe Rim Trail / PCT
MILES: 7 miles RT by foot (doesn't include water taxi & packraft)
TIME: 2 days/ 1 night
DATE I WENT: 7/17 – 7/18, 2019
DIFFICULTY: Easy backpacking trip
HIKE PERMIT: Yes
LOCATION: Desolation Wilderness
[Wed – Thurs, July 17-18, 2019] Getting my packraft, paddles, and lifejacket to fit into my ultralight backpack was a struggle and I’m honestly shocked I got it together. Since we had a late start to our morning at 10 am, we opt to take a water taxi from the trailhead through Lower and Upper Echo Lakes so we can enjoy our time at Lake Aloha more. It cost $15 one way and the ride is about 17 minutes. If you hike the entire trail, it is about 6.2 miles one way and taking the water taxi saves you 2.7 miles.
We started from the north end of Upper Echo Lake at 10:25 am and the trail quickly climbs with no mercy. Within 20-30 minutes, you’ll find yourself up above the lakes as the trail opens up and then you enter Desolation Wilderness where permits are required for overnight camping. There are a couple of trails off to the side that passes Tamarack Lake, Lake Lucille, Lake Margery and Lake of the Woods on the way to Lake Aloha.
The snow made certain parts of the trail a little harder to navigate but once we arrived at Lake Aloha at 12:40 pm, we enjoyed lunch by the south tip of the lake before blowing up the packraft to set sail in search of a camping spot for the night.
I felt more comfortable inflating my packraft since this was my second time doing it and it only took me about 10 minutes to get it all together this time!
Since I’m still new at this, struggle paddling clean and gracefully, and don’t like getting wet… I prefer to wear swim bottoms because I somehow always get water in my raft.
By 2 pm, we took off in the water and this time was SO much more pleasant than the previous day. THIS is how I imagined packrafting to be like. Without the wind and waves, packrafting was easier, less struggle on my arms, less stressful mentally, and overall more enjoyable. We explored Lake Aloha for 1:20 hr before finding a spot to land on the west side of the lake. There was still a lot of snow in the area, especially on this side which is why we chose it. With all the mosquitos out, we wanted to find a camp spot away from the water and higher up in elevation near the snow in hopes that the mosquitos would stay away from the cold… which they did.
Finding a flat spot to pitch our tent wasn’t easy with all the snow and boulders in the area, but we found home literally between a rock and a hard place.
1:20 hour later at 4:40 pm, we were back on the rafts to explore more of Lake Aloha. It got a little windier so I didn’t want to go too far because I knew I’d be battling the winds on the way back (& I was also really looking forward to dinner by this point because I always want to eat), but we explored the lake for another hour and came across some “icebergs” along the side of the lake next to the snowy mountain! The snow has melted through most of the lake but there were still a couple of pieces left in the lake – We even saw a new large chunk of snow fall into the water right behind us!
I’m actually really glad we chose a lake that still had snow because having the packraft along for the journey allowed me to explore the area in a different way than if I came during the normal season by foot – I was definitely able to see something I wouldn’t have otherwise.
We got back to camp just before 6 pm and left our boats at our landing point with a rock on top for the night. We made dinner and watched the colors light up in the sky – one of the prettiest backcountry sunsets I’ve seen in a long time.
The next morning, we woke up at 7 am, enjoyed the peaceful morning in the mountains with no other soul in sight, floated around the lakes and explored the islands before heading out.
[Sat, July 20, 2020] This was my third experience with packrafting, all in one week, and you know what they say – third time’s the charm. I had the routine down of blowing up my pack, felt very comfortable in the water, and didn’t feel scared to be further behind Mina. It helps that the winds were low, so the water was more still overall, but I finally felt like I reached a point of comfort, relaxation & full enjoyment.
We paddled around Sabrina Lake in Bishop from the boat launch area and hung out on the island in the middle of the lake. This is one thing I love about the packraft – it allows you to access “remote” places you can’t reach by foot, opening up your door of opportunities to explore.
I also reached a personal proud moment on this island. I’m a very nervous person around water and it takes a lot for me to get into any cold body of water. I’ve made it a point to dip into more alpine lakes since last year, but usually with a floatie or just up to my bottom half. At Sabrina Lake, Mina taught me a breathing exercise she learned from Wim Hof and I *almost* fully submerged into the water up to the tip of my shoulders for at least 2 minutes! It was cold, but bearable as long as I didn’t move. & when I stepped out, I wasn’t freezing like I was scared to be.
Have questions about packrafting? Let me know in the comments below!
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