The threesome, well noted for their previous pack raft exploits, began their adventure by paddling and sailing their packrafts across Lake Kontrashibuna. From there, the going got rough, with “miles and miles of gnarly bushwhacking—really gnarly bushwhacking” in order to make it to the headwaters to run a first descent of the Pile River.
“We had to wrestle with and wiggle through brush at the pathetic rate of four hours to the mile,” Dial says. “That’s serious Class IV brush, requiring full body weight to fight through and threatening to break an arm or a leg should you topple. In ten hours we made 5.5 miles.”
Lake Clark National Park, an hour’s flight west of Anchorage, is four million acres of mountains, glaciers, lakes, forests, brush, tundra and coastline—an area the size of four Yellowstone National Parks that lies at the junction of the Alaska and Aleutian Ranges.
Meiklejohn, president of the American Packrafting Association, had picked the 70-mile route the three adventurers would embark on. “It looked to be an instant classic—at least on the map,” says Dial.
The route, he adds, followed the only maintained trail in the park for a few miles to a long, skinny lake reaching deep into the mountains. From there it proceeded along “BMW” trails (trails made and maintained by bear, moose and wolf) for 12 miles to a slot between alpine glaciers.
From there, the threesome descended to the Pile River, a 30-mile river that would take them to Alaska’s biggest body of water, Lake Iliamna (one of only two lakes with freshwater seals).