Packrafting is a fairly new paddle sport, designed to allow you to carry your inflatable kayak into remote areas in a rucksack, so that you can then inflate it and float onwards on your journey. That could be crossing a loch, a sea channel, or paddling on down a river.
We had a fab time on a day trip to the Tummel with EKC over the summer, but this weekend, was the first chance we had had to get out for a full trip with the club.
We arrived early, on the Friday and went for a look at the upper Feshie. However, it was still cold and icy, the river was low and scrapy. So, we had a good walk with our dog instead of getting on the river.
Arriving at Glen Feshie Hostel in the early evening, we met David, and got ourselves sorted out. Then Christina, Chris and Paul arrived after their trip on the Tay at Grandtully on the way up. After a brief hiccup with our water supply, and working out how to fix it (make sure the pump in the upstairs bedroom on the left is never turned off, if you are staying there!), the hostel then gradually filled up and we had a very pleasant evening meeting everyone.
Saturday dawned with the expected slow thaw, meaning that the Findhorn levels were rising, and were good for us to head out and try the upper / middle sections. We left a car at Dulsie Bridge, then drove upstream, got all the kit off the cars and then the remaining cars were distributed further downstream at Logie Church (?).
We did a bit of throw rope practice to warm up and went over signals once everyone was ready to get on the river. We discussed how best to rescue us in our packrafts and where in the group we should sit as we travelled downstream (in the middle, with Derek).
Once on the river, we were treated to a wonderfully pretty paddle from section to section of grade 2-3 rapids. It makes such a difference paddling in a group, from our normal situation of paddling together on our trips. Straight away I felt supported by the team leading and guiding us (Alec, Christina, David, Derek, Graham and Paul). The leaders scouted out the river in front, stopping us where necessary and giving us the chance to run each rapid in a controlled and supported manner. We found, with the combined knowledge of those guiding and the conditions, that amount of individual scouting that Mike and I needed of the rapid sections was minimal, and we were all able to make quick progress.
We were very excited to try paddling some of the Findhorn, before we went and I have to say that it did not disappoint. The river had a great pace, with sections of calm reflection in between the rapids, allowing you to take in the scenery and wildlife.
Having had a late-ish start to getting on the river, we made Dulsie Bridge rapid (which was beyond our capabilities!) for a late lunch. Mike and I decided to get out at this point as we were portaging anyway, and let the rest of the group move on down for the second section of paddling below the bridge.
After some warm soup, heated on our wood burning stove by the river, we headed back to Aviemore’s Mountain Cafe (well worth checking out if you are there) for hot mulled juice and cake!
By Sunday, the thaw was well and truly underway, making the plan to try and paddle the lower section of the Findhorn a little dangerous, due to the high water level.
So, those of us paddling decided to start the drive home and paddle on the way at the River Ericht at Blairgowrie. We tackled a short section, which was great fun, and with solid grade three rapids, it allowed us to push our grade with the support of the team around us.
After dragging the boats down the hill (not our packrafts, I hasten to add, which are very light in comparison to a kayak!), we put in just off the A93 north of Blairgowrie and were quickly into juicy bouncy wave trains and technical pieces of water. The narrow chute at the mill building above the bridge was great fun in particular, thankfully we all hit a good line, and flew on through!
We were trying new foot bags in our packrafts, and they made such a difference to our performance. We were much more able to see further in front, spot obstacles before hitting them and maneuver more swiftly.
We both left the weekend, feeling that we had benefited so much from the support and experience of the paddlers with us in the group. Derek and Christina in particular, were both so helpful in pointing out where we could improve or reminding us to think about taking our time to ensure we felt comfortable with the river ahead and the actions we needed to be thinking about.
We had a great, fun time and will definitely get back for more soon.