Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Packrafting in Scotland

 
Although I only have a week to devote to my spring packrafting trip this year, I'm still really looking forward to the break. April is a great time to be among the Scottish mountains; the midges aren't yet fully established and the hills generally aren't too busy. For a packrafter, the added benefit of snow-melt off the hills, swelling water levels in less-than-reliable rivers, seals the seasonal deal.
 
Taking a break beside the River Ba (Rannoch Moor, Central Highlands), May 2011
 
 
It's a little over three years since I received my packraft direct from Alpacka in the US (and, of course, paid the parcel-force ransom note to release it from captivity). The overall cost seemed like a lot of money then, and it still seems like a lot of money now. But I've got a lot of great use out it and, although it shows scratches and scrapes, it still does what it's intended to do and it still does it well.
 

My first year with the boat saw a packrafting expedition through the Southern Highlands of Scotland, a trip to the arctic region of Northern Norway, and my first flip (in anger) on the cold River Spey (it was December). There was also lots of practicing the basic stuff, both on still water and on various Scottish rivers (most frequently the river Tweed). Basic stuff like manoeuvring the boat, like ferrying across a current, and like trying to understand the deep water channels and eddies. Subsequent years have seen more trips and more progress against the learning-curve. I've become a comfortably amphibious backpacker. But a backpacker I've remained.
 
I've tried again and again to sum up what is I think is so great about packrafting, and it always comes back to the backpack. But there's a world of potential in these little boats, far beyond the simple backpacking aspirations I've had these past few years. The dark arts of bike-rafting and white water spring to mind. And while I'm not a biker, I confess I've been feeling more drawn to the splashier stuff over the past 18 months.
 
So messing about on the river, and just teaching myself, has enabled me to get what I wanted out of my packraft up to a point. But my paddling stroke has remained technically lacking and I haven't taught myself the real white water skills to get the most out of my boat in more significant rapids. I wanted to learn from people who are more than backpackers-in-boats, and luckily I had the chance to get out and do that.
 
Meall Bhuide ridge, Knoydart,  April 2012

In February I was pleased to finally meet Andy Toop who, along with his business partner Rob, is the man behind Backcountry Biking & Backcountry Boating (Scotland's only packrafting instruction and adventure guiding outfit). Andy and Rob have succeeded in making a business out of a passion, in getting packrafts on the telly (BBC no-less), and also in becoming the official UK distributor of Apacka Raft packrafts .
 
My friend David and I spent a very snowy night out on the Cairngorm plateau before meeting up with Andy to get acquainted with the River Feshie.  The day out with Andy was a whole-lot of fun and skills I'd attempted to practice by myself were finally made clearer to me. My white water technique has a way to go yet, but I've definitely been bitten by the bug.

In retrospect, the wiser route for learning about packrafting probably would have been to seek out guys like Andy & Rob. Although having said that, I've had a great time and personally have no regrets about going it my own way. It's been an adventure!
 
River Feshie, Cairngorms, February 2014 (Photo by Andy Toop)
Scotland is a good place for packrafting. And it seems to me it's getting more popular both here and across Europe. If you're on Facebook, you might find the Packrafters Liberation Front and Packrafting in Europe  Groups of interest. Or if you engage via google or Twitter it isn't hard to find people who are getting out there. Quite clearly, the air-pressure is building and Our numbers are growing.  Maybe one day this fetish for extremely high-quality urethane-coated nylon won't seem as weird as this sentence makes it sound...

...Maybe.

Loch Morlich, Cairngorms May 2013 (Photo, Sarena Hackenmiller)
 
 
 

Monday, 20 January 2014

Gleann Comhann







"... Glen Coe and Lochaber ...They had everything: peak, plateau, precipice, the thinnest of ridges, and green valley, all set between the widest of wild moors and a narrow sea loch - they were Baghdad and Samarkand, at once the home and the goal of the pilgrim. " - WH Murray Undiscovered Scotland

I'd not been here in Winter before. And even in other months I've just barely scratched the surface of Glen Coe. None of the four of us were very optimistic about the conditions on the drive North (too much a damp, green landscape around us), but on the higher ground we did find Winter still in charge. This trip was great from my point of view, although it was not altogether successful. We camped at the Red Squirrel. We plotted, drank and steam dried at the Clachaig Inn.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Uisge Dhè



Cold River from david hine on Vimeo.


It was dark as we drove north on Friday night. It's fair to say I was was in high spirits, wriggling around in the passenger seat and drinking fermented apple juice. David was concerned his aged car might not make it over the high and snowy pass of the Spittal of Glenshee. A car had spun out of control, left the road and teetered precariously at the edge of a high embankment. We stopped to offer assistance, but help was already on its way so we continued on ours.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Wild Land Matters


Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) have issued a consultation paper to invite comment on the Core Areas of Wild Land map (April 2013). SNH will be considering all responses they receive by 5pm on December 20th, and will ultimately be advising the Scottish Government on the potential use of this map in relation to planning policy.

If you recognise the value of wild land (intrinsic or economic) I would encourage you to add your own voice. Even if it is just a few lines in support of the protection of wild land, don't under-estimate the value of your opinion. And be aware that it's likely there are people being paid to respond, and that the views they are selling may vary wildly from your own.

My response is below.

This hill track is still too young to feature on OS maps. I came across this being pushed up into the heart of one of the 'Core Areas of Wild Land' (above Loch Dionard), while backpacking through in Spring 2012. It's a reminder that these places are constantly under threat.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Cold Snaps. Heat Waves...

It hasn't started snowing in Edinburgh yet. But it has started to get cold. Winter is in the air.

It was hot in July, though. Remember? Even in Scotland there was a heatwave. I took a week off and went to the Cairngorms. I started at Braemar with the intention of looping over some hills and then paddling out to the East Coast by way of the River Dee. As it happened the spell of great weather meant the Dee, which is generally regarded as good-to-go all year round, was reduced to a non-doable trickle.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

North West Roaring


Torridon & Fisherfield - October 2013 from david hine on Vimeo.


David drove us up north on a Friday after work. The forecast was gale force and I had a cold. Not a promising start. The worst of the weather didn't arrive until our second day out. The first day was wet, but not too windy. But we were shown the full force of the wind soon enough. Our plans changed and we headed for a bothy (Shenavall, one of Scotland's finest). This involved a breach of the trip's continuity, as we made for the car and transferred to the North side of the Fisherfield mountains. 

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Spring Raftpacking - April '13



Spring Raftpacking - Scottish Highlands from david hine on Vimeo.


In April I went packrafting in the North of Scotland. I headed up north first by train, to Lairg, and then by bus to Durness. The little Durness minibus is the same vehicle that started my journey south from Durness after I had finished my west coast stravaig in 2012. So it seemed like a good way to start, and this year I wanted to cross some of the northern peninsulas and sea lochs that I had skipped last year in favour of an inland route through the mountains. I'd then head inland, hopefully taking in some summits, before paddling out towards the east coast via a confluence of rivers. Plans had been bubbling away for some time, but the best laid plans are nothing before the fickle Scottish weather. I sometimes feel that for every gram of planning that goes into a trip, two grams of pot luck go towards the final outcome.

Creative Commons License
Grid North by David Hine is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.