Paddle out.

So, I had this hare brained idea a few years ago that it would be fun to complete the Great glen canoe trail in a packraft. It was a ‘that would be a good adventure’ type idea, with no real further thought attached. Leap forward a few years and in April it might actually be happening!

Thanks to a small grant from The Next Challenge and a really good hire rate on a packraft from Backcountry biking it’s all coming together. I also somehow managed to convince Judith to come along with me so that it’s not a solo attempt/trip.

This weekend we embarked on a ‘practice’ in Poole Harbour to see what it was we were letting ourselves in for. The answer is hopefully a lot of fun but also a lot of hard work. Hurdle number one was passed in the back garden when we established that, yes, we would both (just) fit in an Explorer 42 boat. Gear packed we got the bus into Poole and walked to Hamworthy park to test how easy it was to walk/travel with all our gear and the raft/paddles/bouyancy aids. That test was also passed although I wouldn’t want to hike all day carrying that kit like Tom Allen and Leon Mccarron.
DSCF4454We set off from the park on Saturday afternoon to paddle across the harbour to where we intended to wildcamp. We completed the journey in a couple of hours with two stops to rejig what kit was attached where in the boat and also who sat where. Looking at the GPS track it’s a very wobbly line as we both essentially had to relearn kayaking skills we haven’t used for years. We also had to work out how we worked paddling as a team.

The weather was almost perfect for learning though as there was no wind and the sun was shining. So it was warm with the water like a mill pond across which we splashed. Our pace wasn’t fast but if we can transfer this to the Caldeonian canal it will make the trip achievable within our time window. However bad weather or wind from the wrong direction could really impact this so we are going to have to be flexible if things don’t go as planned. Paddling is hard work and I think we were both using muscles we didn’t often use for this type of repetitive motion. In addition it is fairly cramped with  both of us in the small Explorer 42 boat so you can’t stretch until you are back on dry land.

Setting up camp was pretty straightforward although my decision to only take one pair of shoes (now wet) was a bad one. My feet were freezing and I ended up having to walk around in a pair of hiking socks which also became wet quickly. We got the tarp up and then some dinner inside of us before turning in early. Super early, I think it wasn’t even properly dark. Naturally with the unfamiliar exercise to get here we both fell asleep without trouble.

It was normal ‘camping sleep’ and I woke up in the night. I realised that the temperature had plummeted after dark, my sleeping bag thankfully was doing it’s job admirably so I wasn’t cold. However the low temperature meant condensation was forming on the underside of the tarp. We had also pitched on a slight slope and were sliding down the tyvek groundsheet into the now damp fabric which was wetting our bivy bags and generally spreading the damp around. This wasn’t ideal and so we have decided to probably take a tent on the actual trip to provide more weather protection and hopefully comfort despite the increased weight and bulk.

Sunday morning brought fog and frost. It was still cold and extricating ourselves from where we had slid under the partially frozen, damp tarp wasn’t an easy task. Hot porridge was our reward for the effort though and the sun eventually started to show itself to warm us up and dry off everything that was damp. We took our time packing up as a quick look back to the beach revealed the tide was a long way out so we needed it to come in a fair bit to have an easier carry and launch of the boat. Carrying the boat across wet mud to reach the water did not appeal at that point.
DSCF4460 DSCF4461 DSCF4462Around 10am we finished packing up camp and headed off back across the harbour. Despite aching muscles it was clear we had started to gain some co-ordination in paddling together and even started to practice and refine our technique as we went. The GPS track for the return route is much straighter and more direct. However our speed wasn’t any faster as tempered by a slight breeze and the still incoming tide. After an hour we had a brief rest on a beach for a snack and to finish the little water we had left (mental note, take more). You get lots of attention in a packraft and we spoke to a few bemused dog walkers whilst other just stopped and stared at our loaded inflatable boat.

After another hour of paddling we complete the trip back to where we had started. This time we were met by my Dad who helped us pack up the boat and gave us a lift home. Practice complete and lessons learned. Can we do this for six days in a row and in weather that isn’t as nice as it’s been this weekend? I don’t actually know but we’re going to give it our best shot.

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