The Packraft Roundup: finding my tribe on Montana's rivers

Amy Hatch

Packraft Roundup Middle Fork of the Flathead

Riding a small ripple, I looked down past the hull of my packraft, and past my extended paddle, into the shimmering pebble strewn river bottom. The water on this Montana river was so clear it seemed to have been recently polished with Windex. I felt a sudden urge to drop my hand and let my fingertips slice through the water, just to be certain it was actually there.

That ripple, and others like it, funneled into deep aqua green pools reminiscent of a tropical lagoon. Uplifted rock layers protruded sideways out of these pools. Above, old growth trees towered, spreading away into endless forest.

My soul wanted nothing more than to linger here. Fears that just last week seemed so real became inconsequential. The feeling that life will work out – even if not the way I expect – became less of a hope and more of a certainty.

Packraft Roundup Middle Fork of the Flathead

There were eight of us on that particular outing. We came from all corners of the continent and shared in common a love for packrafting. We were part of a larger gathering called the Packraft Roundup – an informal three-day event that drew together people who want to paddle wild places.

I made the 10-hour drive to the Roundup by myself, leaving my daughter and husband behind. As I hit the rolling, open road, I felt like I had returned to a different era of my life. The era when I backpacked by myself for months on end through Central and South America. The era when I lived alone in a small cabin at the end of a glacier-carved valley in Alaska. The era when I spent every moment I could find running long distances through mountains. This feeling was made all the more so when I bumped into a long-lost college acquaintance at the Roundup.

Packraft Roundup Garage Grown Gear

An amazing thing happens when you’re with a group of kindred spirits; you become a tribe, bound together for a fleeting moment. The world beyond those few dozen people falls sharply away. And it’s just you, them, the rivers and mountains. It’s simple and sensible, and a hell of a good time.

Eventually, the river rounded the last bend on the last day of the Roundup. I looked back up river, longing to make the moment last. As if in answer, a bald eagle swooped across the sky. We fumbled our way out of our packrafts and onto shore.

Packraft Roundup Garage Grown Gear

Packraft Roundup Middle Fork of the Flathead

There, a deeply curious family – a mom, dad, grandma and two young girls – peppered us with questions about packrafting. The two young girls eyes lit up, eager to try the sport themselves. The grandma looked them squarely in the eyes, and with a wisdom born of experience, she said frankly, “You can do anything you want to do in life.”

It was a sweet and powerful moment that reminded me of one of my favorite lines in the Avett Brothers song Head Full of Doubt/ Road Full of Promise ...

“Decide what to be and go be it.”

Packraft Roundup Middle Fork of the Flathead

If you're interested in giving packrafting a try, check out our sister company, Jackson Hole Packraft & Packraft Rentals Anywhere. Just as the name implies, we FedEx packraft rentals to anywhere in the Lower 48.

Also, take a few moments to give packrafting a voice by becoming a member of the American Packrafting Association. It's free and only takes a few minutes to sign up. 

Grit (amy's blog)

Leave a comment