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Interesting Trips With Our Inflatable Products

Fat-Catting the Grand Canyon, and the Meaning of the Universe.

As a creek-monster, I've always been a bit nervous about Big Stuff. So when Jack and Lauri invited me on a Grand Canyon trip, I hesitated for about ten seconds. The adrenaline rush prompted me to say I'd run it in my old Pack Cat. Lucky for me, the merciful and compassionate Jack offered to bring a new Fat Cat along.

Being used to a Pack Cat, I thought the Fat Cat's 16" tubes might feel clunky, but I was wrong. The Fat Cat is easy to maneuver, plus the larger tubes give you the buoyancy to fly through lateral waves and small-to-medium size holes that would gobble a Pack Cat.

With any solo paddle cat the trade-off is that it has to be narrow enough to let you wield a kayak paddle, which makes it vulnerable to rolling. The tactical side of this is that you have to scout your line to avoid twisty hydraulics, and then hit waves, holes, etc. straight on. Unlike a kayaker, you can't roll and pop back up. (But unlike a kayaker, you can a haul a week's camping gear and still self-rescue in midstream.)

The second tactical key is that Jack's Pack Boats are light: you don't have the momentum that big boats do, to mush through waves and holes. So you have to paddle fearlessly into the jaws of the beast and break on through. Momentum is the key to getting through big lateral waves, like the arse-chompers in Specter in the Grand Canyon. (Jack was amazed that I made it. So was I. )

The great thing about Pack Boats is that you can confidently maneuver through tight slots and rock mazes that would be unthinkable in a big boat. You can even pick 'em up and carry 'em over the scrapers. On popular rivers with hard-to-draw permits, you can book low-water runs and have sweet, leisurely, uncrowded trips. And when you're exploring, they portage easily- just use a packframe to rig your gear (see the backpack pix elsewhere on Jack's site).

Back to the Grand Canyon. We deflated the small boats at Unkar Creek (mile 72.5), above Hance Rapid. From there, through the closely-spaced big rapids known as "Adrenaline Alley" we small boaters rode the big Jack's Cats down to the end of Serpentine (mile 106). While I don't mind swimming, I get tired of being fished out. But after being a mere passenger, I was happy to re-inflate the Fat Cat, grip my paddle, and crank up the thrill factor again.

What I love about Jack's Pack Boats is:
a) you're close to the water but light, like a flying fish;
b) you have a far greater choice of lines through a rapid than a big
boat;
c) when you hit a nice wave, you see sky between the tubes.

I nicknamed my Fat Cat "Airtime," because hitting big wavetrains feels like ten or twelve Olympic ski-jumps in a row. No other whitewater boat FLIES like that.

On our 18-day run, from Lee's Ferry to Diamond Creek, I spent 15 days in a solo boat, mostly the Fat Cat, with a day and a half in a Cutthroat. The Cutthroat's a beauty, too. Oars give you more power and control than a paddle, and it stacks a lot of gear. So if I was taking an expedition to a remote first descent , or choosing a rescue/support boat for high-stakes kayaking, I'd have a Cutthroat.

But for sheer thrills (and adaptability) it's hard to beat a Fat Cat or Pack Cat. You can take on any water from low and tight to smashingly big. Not far from my house is a spring run through two whitewater canyons with a stretch of pretty meandering cottonwood stream between. But the access, is, well, difficult. So are the bugs at the put-in: it's not a good spot to pump and rig. So I inflate my Pack Cat at the top, flip it up on one shoulder, and dash (insofar as one can on a hellishly steep ballbearing slope) down to the water.

I pop the Pack Cat into the river, jump on, and start paddling. Goodbye bugs! I bless the day this particular idea popped into Jack's spooky head.

Many rivers to run. So little time. (see P.S. below)

yrs, Chip

p.s. Never thought I'd give up my paddle for oars, but I just ordered a stretch Flyer Cat, 19" diameter, 15 feet long, with double bottoms. I'm building a breakdown frame that will rig from 66" to 72"wide. The fantasy is a big-water play cat, and/or a support boat for those gorgeous, narrow, rocky rivers like the Selway, Middle Fork Salmon, Bruneau, Owyhee, Gunnison, and North Platte. Given lightweight camping gear, one could easily support 4-6 kayak parasites. Or take Scarlett Johannson and luxury gear. It all depends.

Note from Jack:

Just in case you were wondering how the Fat cat did in Lava, I included a picture of the boat making a perfect run without a passenger. We let the culebra down the same way, and had the same result. I think they know where to go when they are not confused by the people riding them.

 

 

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