The other day while leaning over aboard a salmon pen platform, my cherished six-year-old Benchmade Griptilian slipped out of the pfd and into the briny depths. We ummed and ahhed about diving down to retrieve it, but I’m told these pens are 20-metres deep and can hold no less than 80,000 fish. It was a bitter loss, all the worse when I saw what a replacement cost new. Long story short, I replaced it with a similarly anti-stealth orange PBK EMT Rescue Knife for a few quid. Like they said “you won’t worry too much if you drop it off your lifeboat and [it] sinks into the depths.” No I won’t.
At 150g it’s heavy but locks out with one of those cheap ‘liner’ locks and has a window smashing stud, should I ever find myself in the nightmarish scenario of being trapped in a sealed aquarium. You also get a pocket clip, plus a handy line cutter – a good idea when your packboat begins to acquire yards of lines and straps all adding up to an entrapment risk when expelled from the boat in moving water. As it is, I’ve long had a quick-grab Benchmade #8 Rescue Hook permanently attached to my main pfd (see below and right). With no knife-like sharp point, it’s a good thing on an inflatable and rusts quietly away.
Once you’ve cut yourself free from your boat, the next thing is to alert others of your distress. Gael had a nifty ‘survival’ whistle on our recent Mull trip. This isn’t just any whistle, this is a bonafide survival aid. You also get a thermometer to check on the hypothermia index, a mini magnifying glass for roasting ants, and a compass to help evaluate your drift. All that for just 99p from China, or under four quid in orange from the UK. The only thing that’s missing is some sort of pea in the whistle body to give it a more punchy warble. I tried shoving a lentil in there, but first go it blew out and temporarily blinded me – which was when the magnifying glass came in handy. Search eBay for “4 in 1 Thermometer Whistle Compass Magnifier Survival” and feel safer out there.
Seriously: the best way to avoid dangerous situations is to avoid them in the first place. That’s not as glib as it sounds. For me, who’s written and talked (and even won awards) about adventure travel for over four decades, paddling is one of the more potentially risky things I do these days. Or one where I’m very aware of my limitations in paddling mostly alone. I got the white-water thing out of my system some time ago and have settled on no more than Grade 2, or portaging. At sea, I mostly do day trips in fine weather, which in the UK can mean days or weeks doing other stuff. But I’ve yet to have a ‘moment’ nor come close to falling out of my sea kayak. On river’s I’ve not been tipped out of an IK since my Sunny days and never in a packraft. That’s how boring my boating is! I’ve managed that by avoiding the high-adrenaline side of things: technical white-water, pounding surf, gale-force winds, as well as changing plans on a trip. I’ve had my share of dramas. For me the adventure with paddling is quietly exploring wild places with packboats. I leave the appalling fascination of this sort of thing to others ;-)
The range of packrafts has slowly expanded since I bought my first Alpacka Llama in 2010 and Alpacka rafts themselves have changed a lot in that time. But here in the UK people are still slow to see the benefits of these lightweight portable boats. Much of this reticence must be due to the price of these niche-interest boats which, at a glance look not much different from what I call Slackrafts: disposably cheap vinyl beach toys. Another reason might be that packrafts appeal more to outdoorsy types looking for a new way to enjoy the wilderness or countryside, but with no interest in acquiring the technical skills far less the storage and transport issues of hardshells. They won’t come across these boats very often but as this test clearly proved, anyone can hop into a packraft, set off down river in a straight line and tackle an Environmental Agency Grade III canoe chute. The testers all ‘got it’ and by the end some were already cooking up packrafting adventures.
We’re comparing a prototype Aire BAKraft as well as the new Supai Matkat, bothfrom the US; the Russian-made, German-branded Nortik Trekraft, and the Micro Rafting System (MRS) Microraft from China. The unusual Aire calls itself a hybrid IK-packraft, the Supai is an ultralight ‘crossraft’ intended for flatwater use. The other two more closely resemble Alpackas in current or former iterations. My current 2014 Yak made a fifth boat on our test, one which I at least could compare against the others.
These four boats were lent to us by what is now called the Anfibio Packrafting Store in Germany which sells, rents and now makes under its own Anfibio brand, the biggest range of packrafts and packrafting gear in Europe. Sven at the Packrafting Store helped clarify or correct technical aspects in this review but the opinions, observations and most measurements are our own. Some of the more exciting photos are also from the Packrafting Store. We asked NRS to participate: they didn’t answer. At the time Feathercraft’s packrafts were another option but Feathercraft is no more.
For this group test it would have been great to set off across the hills of Wales or Scotland, deploy the boats and then follow a river, hop out, walk some more, set up camp and swap notes. The reality of combining good weather and four other people with the free time to help do all this was slim. So we settled on an eight-mile day trip down the Medway River in Kent (above): me and four testers who’d all paddled (some with trousers rolled up) but had never packrafted. At each lock and chute we swapped boats, so everyone tried each raft at least once.
Me – Height 1.83m; weight 93kg Experience: Into IKs and packrafts for day trips and touring. On my third Alpacka.
Bob – 1.78m; 85kg Lilo incident, Margate 1965. Lea River canoe lessons, Harlow 1980.
Hannah – 1.75m; 75kg Much canoeing, some kayaking, love touring. Don’t understand eddies, yet.
Lois – 1.62; 63kg Dicking about on the Thames in Gumotex IKs and a Dagger. Rely on enthusiasm rather than skill.
Robin – 1.78m; 85kg Scouts canoeing, NZ white water, Colorado kayaking, various inflatable trips, usually with tides.
How the packrafts were weighed and measured Weighing was done using the classic Salter 1004 SSDR digital kitchen scales. They come with a classy brushed steel finish and still rate at 4 stars on amazon. They were checked and registered 500ml of water as weighing 500g.
Each boat was weighed exactly as it came out of the box, and then weighed again as it was actually paddled, without air bags, repair kits or straps (where included). It was then weighed again before going back in the box. All dimensions were also taken twice, the second time using stakes to get the external measurements at the widest points (above). Internal dimensions were taken at the shortest point, usually halfway up the curved tube side. Measurements from other sources may vary; there’s a table at the bottom of each review’s page and the summary for quick comparison. * Our exterior measurements for the Matkat were 3- to 5cm less than the Store, but 4cm longer and 1.6cm slimmer than Supai states. Unnoticed leaks during the measuring stage may have stopped us pumping the boat up to actual size.
Construction All these packrafts are made from pliable fabrics which form airtight vessels when inflated by human power alone. That’s about 0.03 bar or 0.4psi according to the Packrafting Store’s tests and probably too low for a regular manometer to measure accurately. The BAKraft uses an in-line ‘squeeze pump’ to potentially attain 0.17bar or 2.5psi – firmer than most vinyl IKs. All the models used here except the Supai were pressure tested to an impressive 0.5 bar (7.25psi) by the Store without exploding into a blaze of TPU. As a comparison, my old Grabner ran 0.3.bar as was as stiff as a gangplank. Hardshell-like rigidity is an inflatable boat’s goal, and while design and shape might come into it, some rafts become more rigid than others and so perform better. The best rafts use a fabric (or construction design) which becomes stiff when inflated but is pliable when folded (especially at low temperatures) as well as being durable against sharp impacts and abrasion. Among other things you could add resistance to UV rays, ready supply and ease of assembly in the factory, repairability on the trail, and a range of fabulous customer-friendly colours.
Broadly speaking the hulls of the Alpacka and MRS use ten panels of urethane (TPU) coated nylon fabric which are sewn together. Tape is then heat welded over the seams. The Alpacka fabric is only coated on the outside; the Nortik uses a similar double-coated fabric to the MRS (above; green, but not our Trekraft), but the Nortik’s seams are heat-welded with thicker tape (no sewing).
Double-coating adds weight and other technical aspects of proprietary coated fabrics vary greatly; they’re often specifically formulated for a raft manufacturer. The benefits of an inside coating are a second barrier to punctures when a light scratch to the exterior reaches down to the fabric core but doesn’t actually cut through it.
The floors on the Yak, Nortik and MRS are glued on then taped over (Nortik on the inside, the other two outside). They’re typically two or three times the denier rating (thread weight) of the hull fabric. The Alpacka uses something called ballistic nylon which sounds cool but I’ve found is far from bulletproof. No part of an inflatable raft weighing just three kilos can be expected to be. Occasional repairs are all part of ownership, like a bicycle’s tyres. So is rinsing any grit out the boat before it works its way into the nooks and crannies. On the right click the extra large picture to have a close look under the boats and compare workmanship.
The superlight Matkat is in a class all of its own, entirely made from 75-denier ripstop polyester with a single urethane coating on the inside, the same weight (and sealing method) as an MSR water bag. The red picture below right is of another Supai we tried which you’ll see had a diamond pattern on the surface. The black Matkat we used here had a plain surface like an MSR bag. On both boats the four panels (floor, inside, top and bottom hull) are heat-welded together. It’s possible to repair these seams with a hot iron (or glue).
The AireBAKraftprototype we tested used a thin and slightly stretchy urethane film ‘inner tube’ or collar supporting the hull, and a much thicker and stretch-free urethane-coated yellow nylon fabric for the I-beam floor (left). These bladders or ‘AIREcells’ as Aire calls them, are contained inside a sewn-up shell of fabric which need not be air- or watertight. If I interpreted the owner’s manual correctly then the BAKraft’s green exterior shell is made of Spectra and the grey interior of lighter-weight Dyneema fabric. You may know stretch-free Dyneema guy lines found on better tents.
The urethane bladder can be accessed for repair via long zips (left); the nylon floor can be pulled out for repair from each end. On packing or refitting care must be taken not to twist the bladders. I’ve never been a fan of it (for reasons explained later) but this AIRECell system has been used by Aire on their PVC whitewater rafts and IKs for many, many years. With minimal seams compared to a traditional packraft hull, air retention is excellent. On all the boats seats, backrests and decks (where present) are typically made from urethane-coated nylon with seams or joins heat-welded and maybe taped.
Inflation/deflation If you’re combining walking with navigating bodies of water – packing + rafting – you want a boat which inflates and deploys without any faffing about. In this respect the Microraft was the best of the bunch. It used the proven screw-in inflation bag (see video below) and, being a small volume boat, took about ten ‘scoops’ to fill up. The main valve cap is attached with a short plastic ring tab – no fiddly bits of string. Top off the air pressure by blowing all you got into the twist-lock valve and with practice you’re good to go in three minutes.
In the video below, from arriving at the beach to paddling away takes about 8 minutes. Speeded up 15x. A jet passes overhead.
My Yak followed exactly the same inflation procedure, but being a higher volume boat (a little bigger than the one in the video above) took twice as many ‘air-grabs’ to fill up before topping off with lung power. Every time I do this I wonder whether my super-thin airbag will split or unravel at the seams if I scrunch too hard. I can feel the air leaking through the sides.
Like the MRS, the Trekraft’s airbag is also made from a reassuringly thick fabric, but is spoiled by a push-in plug, even though there’s obviously a thread in the boat’s port. Compress too hard or if it’s wet and the bag plug might pop out, so inflate gently. Instead of using the old twist-lock to top-off, the Trekraft has a one-way spring valve stem with a cap (which came adrift and eventually got lost). This valve (above left) is dead easy to use and avoids the risk of over-tightening a cheap plastic twist-lock valve (as on older Alpackas). But when airing down, with the spring valve you can’t suck and seal the remaining air out unless you jam something in the valve as you suck. Packraft or IK, this ability to suck your boat down is handy for compact packing.
Next comes the Matkat. No airbag supplied even though the Supai website states: ‘We are working on developing an inflation sack to work with our valves hopefully we will have it released in mid-2014.’ When we tried the smaller red Supai Canyon Flatwater II in late 2013 we found it took about fifty breaths to fill, plus topping off. The higher volume Matkat takes about eighty breaths. I like breathing but that’s not something I’d want to do more than a couple of times day to save the 100 grams of an airbag.
Unlike the Alpacka, Nortik or MRS, the Supais use a male threaded dump valve which protrudes from the boat and onto which screws a cap with a thin tube and the twist lock valve on the end (right, red boat) – a neat and simple system that’s just about accessible for on-board top-ups. Alpacka use an identical threaded valve port but on their air bags; it’s a regular American plumbing ¾-inch size. If I had a Supai packraft I’d get an Alpacka airbag for $20 and then either find a female-to-female plastic connection, or jam on a short section of clear plastic tube to join them together. That way I can save the hyperventilating for Glastonbury.
That leaves the BAKraft. Even before I received the boat I had my doubts after seeing pictures of the convoluted inflation system which Aire suggest.
The BAKraft uses Halkey Roberts (or very similar) valves, as found on proper IKs and whitewater rafts: one in the floor and one for the urethane bladder that fills both sides of the hull, or what what they call the ‘collar’. These valves work like car tyre valves (or the Nortik top-up) – a spurt of high pressure opens the seal and a spring seals it shut – except that you can lock them open by pushing and twisting the valve stem. This is necessary to deflate a boat easily, or to loosely pre-inflate it without having to push against the valve spring. These valves are really designed to be used with pumps not flimsy air-catching inflation bags, far less lung power. A simple and compact push-fit pump like a K-Pump will work. A high-pressure stirrup pump with a ‘Summit’ bayonet connector on the end will be even quicker, but is way too bulky to travel with.
With the BAKraft you’re supposed to use the backrest/cargo bag as an inflation bag and scrunch air into the boat via a tube fitted with a bayonet connector (left). But the backrest bag’s weight, odd shape and relatively small volume makes this task awkward, even past an opened intake valve which is still a restricted airway. I gave it a go but soon saw that, while I’d get there in the end, it was going to take ages.
Once the boat has ‘shape’ you’re then supposed to quickly close the boat valve then splice in a low-volume/high-pressure hand-squeeze pump into the ISC bag. The squeeze pump has another one-way spring valve in it: charge it with air from the backrest then squirt air by hand past the closed valve until the boat is firm. This squeeze pump is quite a clever idea but at about 150cc a go will take a while to do the job. Sorry to say I wasn’t even curious to find out how long – I’d guess at least 15-minutes for the whole inflation, same as it took to pump up my 4.5-metre kayak the other day with the one-litre K-Pump Mini. So instead I reached for my Bravo stirrup pump – it took two minutes – and on test day I brought my compact K-Pump which took about twice as long.
I see now that I’ve actually RTFM I used an alternative method. The image above right suggests you don’t use the backrest bag to charge the squeeze pump, but just blow then squeeze the hand pump directly using an oral tube, like a silent bag pipe. If I’d thought of that I might have tried it as it’s a much less clumsy way of topping off the BAKraft.
All the other packrafts here run at an air pressure that’s governed by the lung power you can exert through the top-off twist valve (left). But with a one-way valve you can pump more air into a raft (that goes for the Trekraft’s top-off valve too, now I think of it). The BAKraft is made to run an IK-like 2.5psi although you’re warned not to over-pressurise or allow it to happen. That can be easily done of you get carried away with a stirrup pump or leave the raft out in the hot sun. It may have seemed clever to give the necessary backrest multiple uses, but it works only a little better for filling the boat with air than it does as a backrest (see review). I’d recommend getting a $20 Feathercraft inflation bag which comes with the ‘Summit’ bayonet fitting from their BayLee packrafts (they also use Halkey-like valves). And if you don’t get on with the oral/hand pump system, then get a 600-g K-Pump Mini too. I’d guess using both these devices will more than halve the inflation time.
From the four corners of southern England the throng gathered at Tonbridge Town Lock, the boats got pumped up, cooled off in the water then topped up some more. Then, after a quick groupie, we set off down the easy first chute. I took it upon myself to get in the Matkat while I was still feeling fresh.
It was time to hop into my boat – a 2014 model Yak. You can read more about it here. There’s no real need to go on about it too much as it’s a well proven product. It’s use here was more to aid real time comparisons with the other four boats on test. I did this Medway run in it last year at an average of 3.4mph which for a packraft is pretty good going. Today with all the yaking and picture taking it was more like 1.1mph.
I knew the Yak was a tad short when I chose it and I see now that the tapered bow exacerbates that slimness at the feet. For me it’s fine bare foot, not so comfy in footwear. Because of this I rarely use the inflatable backpad to fill out the space.
It’s great to see how Alpacka have evolved since my first Alpacka, an old-shaped decked Denali Llama back in 2010. The ‘fastback’ stern introduced a year later was a convincing reason to sell the Llama and get a Yak. The stern prong acts both like a skeg, reducing the yawing motion at the bow – and adds buoyancy at the back of an inevitably back-heavy design, so improving the trim. It’s no surpeise to see the MRS and Nortik adopting similar designs. The old-style deck on my 2011 Yak was no better than before, better than nothing but feeling fragile and not that effective. Now Alpacka seem to have sorted that with a permanent, more kayak-like design also found on the Trekraft, and while I’m not convinced myself, the Cargo Fly is another ingenious innovation.
A question you might ask is having tried the competition, would I buy another Alpacka? as with all of them I bought it direct from the factory during a sale and either picked them up over there or got it brought over. I liked the fact that I could order a boat to my specifications (lighter floor, custom colours), even if that process took a long time and was incorrectly delivered. But I like to try new stuff so should my Yak be attacked and shredded by a pack of rabid Tibetan mastiffs, it’s good to have new stuff to choose from.
One tends to compare new boats against Alpacka because they were the innovators who took the whole packrafting game forward. Now that I’ve tried the competition I can see the gap between the Colorado-made boats and the two similar packrafts from China and Russia is much smaller than most would imagine.
But between them these five boats occupy three different categories, with some overlap. The MRS, Nortik and Alpacka all make great do-it-all boats, especially as the later two have spray skirt options. The Supai and the Aire (in prototype form) are more single-minded and uncompromising: extreme lightness or kayak-like hair-boating agility.
Back in the day the question was ‘which Alpacka should I buy and what specification can I afford?’ Now it’s great to have the choice that’ll no doubt see the new contenders evolve and others emerge.
Other vendors do exist but you can see the full range of the Packrafting Store’s 14-odd packrafts here. And don’t forget, you can rent before you buy to save you making an expensive mistake. Thanks to the floating foursome: Bob, Hannah, Lois and Robin, for giving up a day to help out with this group packrafting test.
I gave myself about two weeks to get as far as I got along the Lycian Way (above; ~500km), with plans to paddle here and take days off there.
The walk starts just south of the village of Ovaçik, a 20-minute bus ride out of Fethiye, and soon gets stuck into a long, rubble-path climb up and around the 700-m headland below Baba Dag mountain – a pattern which turned out to be a typical day on the walk. Up here above the pines tandem tourist paragliders dangled just overhead on their descent to the much-photographed beach at Oludenizlagoon (left).
I filled up from one of the many springs and had a relaxed soup lunch, trying out my new stove on a grassy bank. But by the time I reached Faralya village 12km in, I was in need of a quadruple pancake and a fresh OJ. There were lodgings here but despite a late start it was only 4pm so I carried on to Kabak village and, having covered 20km, camped just beyond on an old olive terrace. A few others were doing the same as it became clear this walk was more popular than I’d expected.
The great thing with camping is you’re on the road at 8am – the best way to get the miles in and a cool time of day. The trail’s shady inland option (left) climbed and contoured round a steep valley strewn with small landslides and popped out into the sunshine at Alinca village overlooking the sea from nearly 800m. Though I was searching for it, I missed the waymark near here for the coastal route to Bel so ended up taking the inland option via Bogaziçi village (shop) and the deserted ruins of Sidyma. I’d not bothered referring the guidebook once I realised how poor the map was and how plentiful the red-and-white waymarks were most of the time. It was actually a very agreeable stroll along empty roads past wildflower meadows, vine-drapped farmhouses and gushing springs.
Sidyma was my first sighting of the distinctive, free-standing Lycian tombs carved from solid limestone (left). With all the spring-fresh verdure and distant snow-capped mountains it added up to a classic Lycian vista. And this was only day two. In the adjacent village ancient inscribed blocks were embedded in the mosque wall. I stopped for a double chai in the pension then tackled an annoying section up an unmarked streambed but just a short distance from a parallel road. The trees and gorge nixed the GPS for a waypoint so I hacked out through the undergrowth onto the road. From here it was a tiring haul up to a pass where a bucket and cistern were just what I needed. I was carrying just 500ml of water and I wasn’t snacking or resting unless knackered – more or less the opposite of what I do at home and what you should do on the trail. But I had some excess winter fat to shed and tend to press on when alone. Refreshed and on the way again, not every LW deviation is futile: an enjoyable path dodged the road down to Bel village (left) where a boy led me to Fatma’s great pension: a warm welcome and the works for just 50TL. It had been a 22km day.
I teamed up with Christine and Fred who’d also stayed at Fatma’s and recommended the vertiginous southern route via Gey. I admired their professionally produced and pocket-sized German LW guidebook. That plus six eyes being better than two, we untangled the morning’s route anomalies until we reached the long, steep, loose descent back to sea level (left). Fred was zipping along with his twin poles but I wasn’t on form today, slithering and tripping on the rocks and vegetation until I finally fell onto a knee. Was it my clumpy, stiff-soled boots, the 17-kg pack or cumulative dehydration? Probably a bit of all that and more but to the very last day I never shook off this unbalanced and unusually fatigued state on the LW.
At one point we stepped over a chain of nose-to-tail caterpillars on the march. I’d never seen anything like this but it brought to mind the challengingly scatological film, TheHuman Caterpillar. Trust me, do not Google it. As we lost height I caught sight of the deserted expanse of Patara Beach (left) which I hoped to paddle in a day or two. At the bottom I was talked into a breather under the shade of some olive trees (below left). These levelled terraces make some of the best camping or lunch spots on the walk, especially if there’s a water source nearby. We blundered through the few houses that make up Gavuragili and then – as you do when chatting in a group – failed to note our books’ instructions to walk back along a newly sealed road on joining it, rather than onward as we did. RTFM, MF. At the next waymark a couple of clicks later the LW was returning to the road but we thought the opposite and followed it into the hills in the wrong direction for half a sweaty hour. There were other occasions when I got into a muddle and temporarily lost track of whether I was going in the right direction, especially away from the generally eastbound orientation. The answer of course is an iPhone and app with tracklog, but I’m still too old school for that. In the meantime, I could sense I’d become badly dehydrated and reaching boiling point. Breaking the pace, I took time out and knocked back a Rehydrat with my last 200ml of water. When you’re that far gone it’s amazing the difference this stuff makes – it’s like having an injection. Within a minute I knew I had another hour in me before I’d start staggering again.
We retraced our route down to the road and a short while later were sipping fresh orange juices at the riverside Ozlek Pension near Pydnai fortifications (left), a castle wall but with nothing inside the battlements, like a film set. We’d done only 15km but by now it was too late to try to reach Kinik/Xanthos as planned, so we lodged here for the night. The 45TL B&B raised my suspicions. Why not half-pension as there’s no resto for miles? Sure enough the genial owner finds a way to charge as much again for an evening meal, despite proffering gifts of fruit and other promises. Paying 45TL for B&B is OK, but be warned if you eat more here. I guess business is business – that’s how empires grow.
We’d reached a broad flood plain where the Xanthos or Esen river meanders to the sea. To either side the marshes have been reclaimed and crammed with a dense canopy of tomato greenhouses (left), the biggest in the land they say. It’s not a picturesque sight – a vegetarian abattoir or factory farm – but that’s where food comes from these days and I love tomatoes.
This contemporary monoculture quite literally pressed right up against the remnants of the Lycian state. My plan had been to continue to Kinik town to inspect the former Lycian capital of Xanthos (left), then leave the LW and ride the winding river 15 km back to the sea and paddle the shore 6km southeast to Patara where I’d re-join the LW. This idea worked all the better as hereabouts the LW takes what’s said to be a dull inland excursion around the intensive cultivation before dropping back down to Patara (see map, right). Many walkers choose to bus it.
Still with me? Well now I was at Ozlek alongside a smaller stream and just a kilometre from the sea. So next day I checked out amazing Xanthos by dolmus with the Germans, said goodbye then walked 8km back to Ozlek via Letoon ruins and instead prepared to paddle the full 12km of beach to Patara next day (I told you to click that map, above right). We’d walked over to the seashore one evening (left) for me to get a measure of the beach and confirm a sea paddle was doable.
Things had looked nice and calm that evening but came the day, as I inflated the boat I could hear the sea a kilometre away – not a good sign. I put in and set off anyway down the Ozlem stream towards Pydnai and the sea as I could always just walk along the beach if the sea was too rough. And sure enough at the estuary, a southeast headwind was kicking up a chop better suited to surfing than solo packrafting (right). I tried surf-hauling for a bit (left) but that didn’t work so I yanked the Alpacka’s cork and set off for the walk to the Xanthos river estuary which would have to be paddled, no matter what.
Despite apprehensions about whirlpools thrown up by the tide meeting the river current, that crossing was completed in about 55 seconds. As I’d anticipated, the masses of greenhousing to either side had sucked the power out of the turbid current I’d seen under Kinik bridge yesterday. I could probably have swum the river using my UDB as a buoyancy aid. One little bridge or hand ferry and this would make a fun detour for boatless walkers on the LW. As I neared Patara a mini convoy of Turkish women in full burkas passed by on quads.
I rocked up at the Patara beach shack where no one was swimming. I scoffed a couple of Magnums, pleased to have actually achieved something that needed the boat, even if it wasn’t the full day’s inshore paddle I’d planned. There might be another chance for a longer beach paddle at Finike in a few days. I walked into Gelemiş village, slipping past the Patara entry station from the ‘inside’ and checked into a cushy pension out of the LP guide. Then that evening went back to check out the extensive ruins of ancient Patara, Lycia’s former seaport, still dodging the now unattended entry station. All up that added up to 18km + 1 in the boat.
After a great meal at the Carpe Diem resto in Gelemiş, next day I tried to follow the southern coastal route via Yeliburun to Kalkan, but this time couldn’t dodge the entry fee at the booth.
‘But Sir’ I mewled. ‘I’m not going to Patara ruins. I am a poor wayfaring stranger on the Likia Yolu bound for Yeliburun.’
‘No matter my friend, it is all Turkish heritage‘ he said with a grin, having clearly dealt with hoards of penny-pinching backpacking scum over the years. So I coughed up my 5L and told him about my beach walk and epic estuarine traverse.
‘So you are like bear grease?’ Bear grease? Some local anti-mosquito remedy?
‘Oh Bear Grylls!’ He was taking the piss out of me. Touché amigo, that was well worth the £1.32p. Seeing as I’d been hammered with the fee, I figured I may as well return to Patara and inspect the now-open grand Assembly Hall of the Lycian League in full daylight.
With that done, the karmic currents were still against me. Though I may have misread the book and map (making my surroundings fit the map – a common mistake with navigation) I was still following the odd red and white waymarks but which only led to a dead-end of dense scrub. Confused not for the first time, I reoriented myself with the GPS and an oblique interpretation of the map, then nailed it cross-country to a waypoint where the incoming and outgoing routes of the LW met (above left). These yellow signs, sponsored by a bank, are fairly infrequent by the way. They’re supposed to be set where the LW leaves a road but can appear anywhere. You might see a couple a day compared to a couple hundred red and white waymarks.
Finally back on track, I’d eaten into the day with my haggling and ruin-spotting so decided to take the shorter northern route towards the Delikkemer Roman aqueduct. The book describes the aqueduct as a ‘siphon’ which sounded intriguing if not a little far-fetched. In fact, it’s an ‘inverted siphon’ which is nothing more than a downhill hose with a bit a of slack in it (click image left for more info). The wall supporting the channel bows as it drops between two hills but all it did was save on the stonework or arches of a full-height aqueduct rather than bend the laws of nature like Uri Geller in the twilight zone. Clearly, by now I was becoming unfairly blasé about the monumental achievements of the ancients.
At this point the book had advised I send my pack onward by bus as the coast-hugging trail to Kalkan entailed some exposed scrambling. How and where I organised this portage was not explained but by now I was becoming accustomed to the book’s tendency to underplay the practicalities and difficulties while rabbit on lucidly about the Way’s historical marvels and the genus of the fauna underfoot. In my experience, it’s rare that a guidebook author can master both the practical/logical and literary/historical elements of a guidebook like this. It’s either left brain or right brain. So I set off overloaded but forewarned and took my time inching my way at 1kph to the outskirts of Kalamar, a villa-packed outlier of Kalkan. The waymarking was good bar one unnerving occasion – and it needed to be. I wouldn’t have wanted to be some casual day hiker tackling this in their cotton deck shoes and slacks. As with many coastal stages on this walk, one inopportune tumble ending with a cracked skull and you could not be found until it’s way too late.
It was a humid, overcast afternoon and as usual my perspiration index or ‘PI’ was off the scale. In retrospect I’d have been much better off scrambling down to the cove where a pair of yachts were moored, but wasn’t sure about tackling the steep clamber only to find a 1-in-1 rock slope dropping into the water, making deploying the packraft awkward. In fact I see now in the photo left and on Google Earth that there’s a small beach about 700m directly south of Delikkemer. that was a missed packrafting opportunity.
I arrived in Kalamar as a few spits of rain rinsed my salt-encrusted face, feeling really quite pooped from the effort. I took a selfie and seeing it later didn’t recognise myself. The last time I looked like that, red-eyed and hollow-cheeked, was towards the end of a 29-miler on the Pennine Way.
With waymarks now absent or not worth following, I ricocheted east towards Kalkan centre, passing sun-dried ex-pats living the Mediterranean Dream while I tucked into a tub of Håagen Dazs with my knife. I really was a sweaty, grubby mess. With the help of the map in the LP I located Gul Pension run by a cool guy who didn’t lay on any fake ‘hey traveller, howya doin’?’ charm like the place in Gelemiş. A bit like dune driving in the Sahara, on the Lycian Way you become protective of your hard-won elevation and Gul was way up at the top of town, close to the bypass. Just over the road was a Carrefour supermarket and here my strict dietary vows collapsed as I drooled dizzily among the dazzling aisles like an Aborigine plucked from the bush. Gul man recommended a local cafe a few doors up and like most nights, after only 13km I was out by 9pm.
It was a much colder next morning in Kalkan. Up at over 3400-feet it would be downright chilly and probably raining. Long-trouser weather. After breakie on Gul’s panoramic terrace, I set off for the short walk along the bypass to the point where the path headed up to an 840-metre pass for Bezirgan village, a world away from Kalkan’s chic eateries and estate agents on every corner.
Later I met others who’d also got lost leaving the road after which the track ended with no waymarks. My solution was to simply set off directly uphill towards pylons probably from a small village where a domed cistern marked the way to the next stage of the climb. But by chance, I stumbled across the red and whites, followed them for a bit, lost them again and arrived at the cistern where a long mule path led up to the pass. A week in, my legs were now hitting form and I crunched up the zig-zags like a WWI landship, passing a party of urbane Turks clamped to their huge backpacks (above).
Cresting the pass where sheep mulled around a well, on this day the grassy basin across which Bezirgan village (left) spread wasn’t quite the rural idyll painted by the guidebooks. A freezing wind was blowing off the mountains, walnut-face grannies scuttled between houses like cockroaches and the village shop sold nothing with a sell-by date less than 90 days.
‘Got bread?’ I asked. ‘Eat cake’ he said.
I filled up off a tap and with a long afternoon’s walk ahead, dicked about for ages with the recalcitrant woodgas stove (left) until I extracted my pint of warm soup. I was getting the measure of the author’s route choices now and atop another 850-metre pass on a road, I could see how the route dropped steeply into a valley only to climb back up again, while the road contoured to the same spot. Had there been some glittering Lycian Atlantis down there I’d have made the hike; as it was it was just a recipe for more staggering about on loose rock followed by a sweaty climb.
An hour on at Sidek village the LW split off the broad track leading east to Gokçeoren (left) to meander round the seaward side of a weathered ridge. But it was 13 clicks and now gone 3.30pm. I knew it would take four hours to cover that distance while any route-finding issues I’d get for free. When pressed for time I couldn’t fully trust the book, its map or the inconsistent waymarking. So I tramlined the 8km to Gok’ village, rising to over 1000 metres and facing down more aggressive dogs. As I marched the wily pension host from Gok’ drove up to remind me of his lodgings, in case I’d not clocked his many advertising boards earlier on. He was heading back towards Sidek to collect the packs of those Turks as well as one of their weary party. It looks like they did stick to the 13-km LW stage because they didn’t get to the pension until 10pm that night.
That was a 22-km day and at 75TL the rudimentary Gok pension was rather pricey, even if I got my money’s worth in food. The dishes kept coming that evening and next morning at breakfast too. But I was beginning to wonder if these Turkish brekkies (left): an egg, cucumber, tomato, bread and cheese – had enough calories for a day’s Lycian tramping with just soup and bread for lunch. A lot of the time I was worn out, though that could have been down to the terrain and not enough drinking too.
The sun had put its hat on next day. The route followed a trickling stream into a cool pine forest before rounding the north side of a mountain and turning back for the coast, with no villages on the way. The road became a jeep track blocked by landslides and ended in a clearing. According to a yellow signboard, I was 8 clicks from Gok with 16 to Çukurbag, but those signs were always overestimated. The book reckoned a total of 18, though it never spelt out distance clearly, preferring to give bafflingly overlong durations instead. Tip: on a walk distance is fixed, time is not. Anyway, however far it was, it was back onto rubble paths, winding uphill through shin-scratching scrub while leaning on the trusty packstaff. A couple of times the waymarks gave out and I staggered about to the four points of the compass trying to relocate the trail. The second time I got so fed up I dumped the pack and stomped back to check there was indeed a gap in the continuity, then bridged it with a bombproof line of cairns.
Lunchtime brought me out to a clearing at the broad pass. It was a relief to get away from the thorny scrub and rubble to which I was becoming a little phobic. My shins were scratched to buggery and over three weeks later the scabs are still healing. Cotton gaiters with shorts might not have been a bad combo for coolness and protection plus knee-drag-free agility.
Down in the valley the wind carried the shepherds’ cries across the hills. I was low on water as usual but near some sodden earth stopped and listened for the drip-drip of a nearby spring. I was becoming a regular Bear Grease. I tracked it down under a rock and pushed my cup through to enable a good feed with a hunk of bread I’d pinched from Gok’ pension.
That should have set me up for the afternoon, but as I’ve learned in the desert, it’s never over till it over. The day continued with another trawl between scant waymarks, logging operations obliterating the path and missing an important but discreet turn-off. Here I built another more conspicuous cairn chain and thought ‘That will do it!’ but on my way a few steps later saw someone had already done something near-identical. Problem is, looking for a pile of chalky white rocks perched on chalky white rubble requires x-ray specs. Next time I’ll come with a red spray can, as others have clearly done.
Compared to the early days, springs and cisterns were getting scant now and after the long trudge up to Phellos ridge I was hoping for a coffee break. But the only water here was a festering algeanous broth stewing inside the upturned lid or a tomb carved 2222 years ago (left).
Even then, deserted Phellos was a magical place, dramatically perched atop an 800-metre ridge looking north to the snowy Taurus mountains and south to the island-specked deniz, or sea. It seemed an unlikely place to build a settlement and as the guidebook suggested, was probably a lookout post or a religious site. That explained the many tombs.
I know limestone is relatively soft and all, but you do wonder how many weeks or months it took to quarry, carve, engrave and then position a free-standing Lycian tomb. A cubic metre of the rock weighs over two tons so you can work out what the tomb on the left would have weighed. Even if by the Lycian era stone carving was an established craft, it’s still quite staggering.
I was also staggering but in a wobbly legged kind of way. With a steep descent down to the village, I picked my way carefully, eventually passing the incongruous tip of Çukurbag mosque’s minaret (left), poking up like Thunderbird 5 ready for lift off. Once I reached it and with 18km under my hipbelt, I filled up my tank at the village spring then walked straight into the nearby Dere pension that looked like something out of a fairy tale. Sixty lira half-board and no questions asked; it was one of my favourites on the Way.
Today was a short walk – only 8 clicks down to Kaş resort where I planned a day off for maybe a bit of boating along the inviting shoreline. As a path neared the cliff a waypoint put me back on track until I reached an improbable 1000-foot drop which tumbled away towards Kaş’ terracotta roofs. It was another descent I really didn’t want to slip on but that actually turned out fine. After all, this has been a trade route for over two millennia, though I wouldn’t have wanted to be the postman taking the run from Antiphellos (modern-day Kaş) up to Phellos around Christmas time. Kaş felt a bit quainter to what little I saw of Kalkan – a tourist town rather than a colony of ex-pat villas. As the LP advised, Kaş is pronounced ‘cash’ so spend wisely: the same items in the Carrefour near the pension cost double in the cute café lined town square by the harbour.
Wandering around down here I picked up the 2014 edition of the Lycian Way and set about a forensic comparison with my 2009. My conclusion: while the design was a little less awful, I’d not be much better off with the text, while the redrawn map had thrown a few babies out with the bathwater. Seventy lira down and more weight to carry; I didn’t bother referring to it again. Kaş shore seemed a little exposed to the westerlies so instead of going on a rather pointless there-and-back paddle I got stuck into my holiday read, some interneting and gorging.
Next day I should have aired up and paddled the three kilometres from the harbour over to Limazi but I was feeling paradoxically lethargic, as you can do after a day spent eating but not moving. Plus the day was getting on and was set to be a warm one – up to 24°C. So when no one was looking I impulsively blew 50 lira on a solo boat ride to Limazi (left, normally 10L). It certainly was agreeable to glide across the bay at four knots with the thud of a marine diesel at my back and the slap of the swell against the bow.
Later on I was glad I’d done this as the walk to Bogaçik turned into a tough old day, much of it on gnarly sloping rubble, rock and scrub and, as the book warned, with meagre water resources. The coastal route was listed as ‘16km’ in the old edition but less than 10k in the current one – another typo I assumed. One panel on the newer map even has north pointing the wrong way! As someone on a forum observed, what this book needs is the attention of a proper guidebook publisher, but if that hasn’t happened yet it’s not likely to as in the face of apps and GPS, the era of paper guidebooks is in decline.
A full day of this walking can take it out of you and even with now doubled water reserves, a cistern out of Limazi and extra water at Fakdere Mevki Bay over lunch, 4 or 5km on at the bay opposite Kormen island (car accessible but a great camp spot) I was all out. I calculated my chances of doing the last two hours on spit, but decided that was a bad idea so set of to walk up the track to a house until I spotted a couple of taps by some newly built toilets. That will do nicely. I knocked back a pint, filled up two more with Zero tabs – my lifeline – and set off for what looked like two kms to a GPS waypoint where the track turned inland and uphill for Bogaçik.
Halfway up that hill a shepherds’ camp blocked the path – or should I say a shepherd’s snarling guard dog forced me to make a wide detour back into the shrubbery. I learned later that these kangal dogs (left) are amongst the most powerful in the world, bred up in Roman times from something called a ‘molussus’ to guard against wolves and bears. I really didn’t want to take a chance provoking these black-mouthed monsters; they’d have made short work of my packstaff and probably spat any hurled rocks right back in my face. Stick ‘kangal’ into youtube and you can enjoy a variety of forthright viewers’ commentary along the lines of ‘my kangal would fuck your pitbull up the ass’.
With help from the GPS I re-found the track further up, just as it left a perfectly negotiable jeep track to stumble through an ill-marked, ankle-twisting rock garden to eventually rejoin the track and the road to the Bogaçik pension by the mosque (left). It could have been me but there was a bit of an odd vibe here. No chai was offered – instead I was led into a spare room, told to close the curtains and take a shower then summoned upstairs for dinner. Today was 16km plus 3 on the boat.
It was warm again next day but my overnight laundry was drenched with dew. Still, I wasn’t too bothered as this day would surely end with a long-for paddle! I set off with Tyrone, a Canadian guy who’d run out of daylight trying to get to the pension last night so camped among the kangals and came in for breakfast. A lot of chattering saw us lose the way until we turned back and followed the Germans. They all had the yellow pocket guide and never put a foot wrong.
Down by a lagoon near the scattered tombs of Aperlae (left), the Purple House pension was a groovy, chilled-out spot for a lunch break (below left). It was spoiled only by the owner claiming his gushing spring water was undrinkable, that it was three hours to the next water but hey, he had 1.5 litre-bottled for 5L a shot. Only the last bit was probably true but this has been the wayfarer’s burden ever since weary Silk Road traders stumbled upon a remote caravanserai – or indeed service areas sprung up alongside motorways.
There was water 20 minutes away at the next lagoon. I could have put in here but it would have meant rolling up for a one-km portage to the final lagoon into Uçagiz. So I stuck it out on the trail with Tyrone and some Belgian women I’d been running into over the last few days. We talked about the fearsome dogs we’d encountered: she’d been bitten by a town dog (as was I in Myra next day) and had taken a day out for a rabies shot, even though it’s not been known here for decades. Tyrone too had had a close call with a snarling kangal. The Myra dog that went for me came out of nowhere as I rounded a corner. Maybe these dumb mutts can sense that I don’t feel the same way about dogs as I do about tomatoes.
The Belges didn’t need a packraft to set a cracking pace on the LW, camping all the way. Part of me envied them that freedom and adventure. I was equipped and had planned to do the same some of the time, but for fifteen quid half-board, I really enjoyed the cushy pensioner’s life: rinse my salt-caked clothes while having a shower, get fed then get some reading in before flaking out. Perhaps two-up the camp chores are more manageable but come the evening I know I can’t carry enough food to stave my appetite.
The time had come to deploy my underused secret weapon and despite a messy put-in across tidal mud (left), it was of course divine to be afloat again, paddle in hand. I wasn’t racing but it was nippy too. Even with their head start I covered the couple of clicks to Uçagiz harbour ahead of the others. As I arrived a young German girl from last night’s pension was bathing her sore feet off the quay. ‘That’s a good idea’ said her partner, eyeing up my boat. That will be 16 clicks please, plus 3 for the boat. Sorry, I got no change.
I looked out across the mouth of the lagoon next morning and decided I could surely paddle out to unseen Simena / Kaleköy and pick up the LW from near there. Now this was a much better way to start the day! I was so excited I forgot to pay my respects to the nearby ruins of Teimiussa, Out in the lagoon small islands showed evidence of other ancient buildings and bobbing into the harbour of Kaleköy, I passed the well-known sunken tomb.
Off the island opposite is the famous sunken city of Kekova, the consequence of an earthquake dropping the whole coast a few feet. But a guy in Kaş advised me that Kekova wasn’t quite the underwater Atlantis it was made out to be. Scuttling round to Kaleköy harbour past million-dollar boats with black-out windows, I clambered onto a rude concrete pier, aired down the Yak then helped some locals heave a refurbished skiff back into the water (left) before heading up to the hilltop castle.
This could be my last day on the trail as the next stage was a 32-km walk inland up to 1800m and back down to Finike. Most did it with two-nights wild camping, but I only had one day to spare before needing to head back to Dalaman airport and from a transport point of view it made sense to wind it up in Demre.
The trail that day provided pleasant interludes through wildflower pastures but by the afternoon reverted to the gnarly, toe-snagging coastal terrain. Another shepherd’s camp and more rabid kangals with barks that made your hair stand on end. Out of water, I had to hang half into a well to just reach the water with my bottle strapped to my packstaff hanging from my fingertips (left). Like the book suggested, organise a handy cup or bucket on a string. Just ahead was a stray cove of white stones backed by an olive grove and an empty shack. With the handy water nearby, I contemplated an early cut and a camp. I eased over the barbed wire and rested a bit in the grass while mozzies whined at me, but thunder was rumbling up in the hills and without a tent I was equipped for neither rain nor tormenting insects.
So I got back on the trail and followed the coast eastwards, at one point tripping and pressing my week-old knee wound into the rock. Well, I suppose the surge of adrenaline gave me the handy boost I needed. Presently I dropped down to a rickety bridge over a beachside stream (left) and a hermit in a nearby shack invited me in for a coffee just as the storm let go. Great timing and he was a nice guy, a crustacean diver still in the game but estranged from his family after doing 21 months inside. I didn’t ask what for – abalone poaching? – but his coffee and good company hit the mark as the rain hammered against his plastic-sheeted cabin. Once the shower passed I moved on across the beach to the old harbour of Kale, now a marina and boat yard for tourist boats doing the famous Blue Cruises.
The guy advised there was a pension near the Myra ruins in Demre town, about seven clicks road walking making about 21 with 2 in the boat. I spent two nights here, taking a morning to explore magnificent Myra’s carvings, theatre and cliff-bound rock tombs. It was one of the most impressive sites so far, even if the approach was a minefield of Myra-themed souvenirs and overpriced snacks. Round the corner at a roadside fruit-picker’s snack shack, drinks were a fraction of the price and the welcome far more genuine. There were more rock tombs round the hillside: the so-called River Necropolis set behind some orange groves. Few come here as it’s a bit of scramble to reach them, but I did and so signed off my Lycian trek.
Knowing what I know now, with better preparation I could have done a bit more sea paddling. As it was I failed to get into the rhythm of this walk in my 12 days on the trail; probably a combination of equipment, terrain and mindset. But I did lose 3 kilos! The windy Patara beach day was just bad luck, but without proper maps or forecasts, scuttling solo between remote coves and around headlands felt too risky. With company it would have been another matter and paddling some sections – like into Kalkan, out of Kas and Sidema to Andriake/Kale certainly would have been a whole lot more fun than walking on a calm day. Had I appreciated that the book’s map and my GPS’s OSM display were inadequate I’d have lugged my MacAir to view the OSMs full detail on Base Camp, or printed sections along with Google sat images in advance, but that’s how it is first time in a new place: coulda; shoulda; woulda… But the fact is, unlike a kayak (even an IK) or with no boat at all, the great thing with a packraft is that it gives you the option to walk when you must or want – and to paddle when you can or dare.
The Lycian Way is a 450-km path in southwest Turkey between the towns of Fethiye and Antalya in the east. Established in 1999, it links a network of paths and tracks along the coast and through the adjacent mountains, passing sites of ancient Lycia.
Along with encountering rural Turkish culture, the agreeable Mediterranean backdrop and the springtime wildflowers, it’s these fascinating ruins that set the Lycian Way apart from most other long-distance walks. Turkey has no shortage of impressive historical sites of course, but on the Teke peninsula where Lycia flourshed from 500BC there’s a particular concentration of such monuments. Some, like the huge complex of Myra (above left) are fully-fledged tourists sites with entrance fees. Others, like tiny mysterious Sidyma (right) or Phellos poke out from the scrub high on a ridge and are all the more atmospheric for being virtually unvisited.
At times you’ll find yourself literally walking over the jumbled rubble of some long collapsed temple (left), along a clay-lined Roman aqueduct or up a steep cliff path that’s been a trade route for millennia. These’s nothing that significant about the obscure Lycians – a mini-state that in turn fell under the influence of the Greeks, Persians and Romans over the centuries before fading away as more recent empires made their mark. But one of their legacies are their distinctive rock-carved tombs which dot the landscape, alone or in clusters, along the entire walk and survive in the most unexpected places (right).
Looking at the intricate topography of the coast I figured it might be worth carrying the 3.5-kilo penalty of my packraft and paddle blades, even though I knew I’d walk at least 90% of the time. I didn’t expect to finish the entire walk in two weeks either, but was sure my feet, legs and shoulders would enjoy the odd respite on the water.
Note that the information that follows is only based on me doing the first half of the walk.
Guidebooks and Maps A local ex-pat Kate Clow conceived the original walk in the 90s and wrote a guidebook, now in its 4th (2014) edition. I used the 3rd (2009) edition bought years ago and anticipating dealing with out-dated info. The guidebook includes a tear-out colour map that unfolds to show four panels covering the route. They produce an iPhone app too with an all-important tracklog, and you can get a few hundred free waypoints if you can prove you bought the book.
Out of curiosity and with some hope, I picked up the 4th edition a few days into the walk. As a historical guide to the ruins and their context it’s very good, but as a practical walking guide and despite four editions and some 15 years in print, frustration with the Lycian Way book was a common complaint among walkers. There’s a German guidebook (above right; I heard no complaints from users) and I was told of the Trekright app which you can read about here or buy here. I don’t use iPhones but one walker who used both apps said the Trekright app was ‘…the best $5 I ever spent’. There’s a very good summary of the walk from 2011 (the whole thing in 17 days!) on BPL. And this is another website of a couple who walked the walk and give lots of good info.
TOther than that you can download OSM mapping and try to install it into your device or GPS. I did that but all I could see on my Garmin 60CSX was a not so useful mass of contours behind the imported waypoints – no path or other detail which showed up on Garmin Base Camp on my Macbook (screengrab, left). Maybe my Garmin can’t handle all the detail or I did something wrong. I also tried to load a 2011’ tracklog into my GPS (see link below). That may have worked but I deleted it by mistake. A tracklog (‘breadcrumb trail’ or a continuous line displayed – no points to aim for) would almost make it too easy. But while 90% of the time the red and white waymarks (below left) are all you need, there are times when you’re lost and either hot/cold, tired/aching, fed up or perched on an exposed and loose slope where you just want to get back on track.
Routefinding The route gets modified from time to time as new roads get built or areas get logged, but despite a warning I was given, old waymarks remain so there must now be a few variations. The route often seeks out parallel side paths to a road or car track, even if these roads see just a few vehicles an hour. At times it’s an agreeable diversion, elsewhere it becomes a pointless and frustrating blunder up some river bed that you hope will work itself out. While I’d prefer to wind along grassy, flower-lined paths bedecked with fluttering butterflies, I don’t mind tramping along a jeep track or quiet road once in a while. If nothing else it gives you a break from concentrating relentlessly on where to place each step.
The lazy depiction of the official guide’s edition 3 trail map (left) made it hit and miss as a route-finding aid. Accuracy and orientation is improved on the 4th edition map (below left) but along with some clutter this map drops a lot of detail showing springs, wells and other water sources along the trail so overall it’s actually worse. Without the GPS waypoints in places I’d have struggled to follow or re-find the track.
In terms of route finding, this was my order of usefulness:
Red and white waymarkers, where present
Cairns – often built when waymarks missing
Waypoints in the GPS
Guidebook map (edn 3)
Winging it cross-country in a likely direction
Yellow signposts (infrequent, irregular and with inaccurate distances)
Ask other people (where present)
Guidebook (it was often impossible to interpret what you’d just walked)
We all agreed that, as with many guidebooks or poorly marked walks, after a few days of occasional blundering you develop a sense of the path’s logic even when the map is vague and the book is baffling. This lack of faith in the book, the map, the waymarking as well as the unnecessarily tiresome or boring route choices can encourage you to take short cuts or even bus rides or trailblaze your own Lycian Way. I doubt any two walkers follow exactly the same route but eventually we all got to where we were going – just not without occasional frustration.
Terrain Just about the whole walk is on limestone and much of the path is on narrow limestone-rubble mule tracks hemmed in by thorny Mediterranean scrub with occasional clambering over bedrock. And when I say hemmed in I mean at times a few inches apart meaning you or your clothing will get scratched and poked and snagged. As maintaining the vegetation let alone anything else on a 500-km path is a major task, you just have to get used to it.
The Lycian Way is not a walk in the park and is most taxing when negotiating an incline on a steep coastal side slope while tramping on loose rubble or sharply weather bedrock as thorny bushes torment you from head to toe and the drop to the sea focuses the mind. I was very glad of my packstaff (below right) and the boots I chose for this walk with thick shoes that were immune to what lay underfoot. Other walkers I met were suffering or even taking days out to seek out more rugged footwear. Elsewhere the route follows jeep tracks or dirt roads (right), quiet backroads and very occasionally and briefly, main roads. And sometimes there’s no discernible path at all (right) but in these places the waymarking is usually very good or you’re lost.
Paddling In a kayak it would be different, but at sea passing sometimes remote rocky shores and exposed headlands alone in a packraft was a bit intimidating. Mediterranean tides are minimal, currents – who knows – but the prevailing westerlies and afternoon sea breeze limited my choices to either sheltered lagoons or being able to easily get ashore onto a beach if the wind got up. With hindsight I now see where I could have paddled more had I been braver or had access to a reliable inshore forecast.
Accommodation Pensions offering half board (if there’s no resto option nearby) have cropped up in all the villages along the route in response to the Lycia Way’s popularity. Apart from the first night near the airport I never booked, never knew exactly where I might stay (often just one place in a village) but never had trouble getting a bed nor had to share a room. And there were many more walkers on the Lycian Way than I expected – some doing two-week’s worth like me, others doing sections between bus rides and a few going all the way and beyond. Pension prices ranged from 50L half board in a tiny room in Bel, up to 99TL in an inadvertently nice place in Uçagiz.
Besides a shower and a comfy bed, for me one of the big attractions of pensioning as opposed to wild camping (left – easy, providing you had water) was the fresh food. If it’s there I’m happy to use it and pay for it and as I only carried a sleeping bag, mat and a stove, the weight penalty wasn’t too drastic. At a couple of points alone the official route (just after I finished in Demre) there’s no accommodation up the mountain and you have to wild camp for at least one night. Along with help with lodgings in bigger towns and guidelines on transport, I downloaded and printed the Lonely Planet Antalya chapter. Well worth £3 and some ink.
Getting there and local transport I flew with EasyJet from Gatwick to Dalaman where, if I’d been smarter I could have hopped onto a bus direct to Fethiye which is a resort. But my plane arrived late, I had a local hotel booked and I’m not sure the Fethiye buses were still running. From Fethiye a 20-minute dolmus ride up to the pass before Olu Deniz cost 50p. At the end of the walk, from Demre I covered the 200-odd kms back Dalaman with changes in Kas and Fethiye over four hours and for about 25L. It was all very easy as most people outside of the villages spoke English. Locally, where there’s nothing, hitching is a viable alternative. Dolmus are local minibuses covering short village-to-town routes and modern air-con coaches cover longer routes at about 20p or less a kilometre.
Food and Water As mentioned, early on there were plenty of gushing springs by the track possibly fed by the still snowy mountains not far inland. After Kalkan springs got fewer and wells and cisterns became spaced out (as did I for lack of water). I didn’t filter my water – most of it is as natural as it comes. At lower elevations in the intensively agricultural areas I may have thought twice or used a tap. The big towns every few days have all the shops you need (with saliva-inducing Carrefours in most places) but village shops were disappointing, selling mostly long life stuff like cakes, biscuits and crisps plus maybe bread and cheese and spam-like sausage. What they lack is fresh fruit and veg. In rural Turkey most people grow their own.
Costs I averaged about 100TL a day over 18 days, pension-ing all but one night. That’s about £27, mostly on the half-board pensions. ATMs are surprisingly plentiful from the moment you land to the bigger towns. It’s possible to pay in Euros at some pensions.
In a line Surprisingly effective and well-featured carry-all pack harness.
Cost $100 from NRS but no longer made. The Six Moon Flex Pak is similar and a bit more sophisticated. I’ll be testing one of those shortly.
Capacity Vertical strap adjusts out to 1.96m; horizontal straps up to 1.8m. That’s a pack volume of some 200 litres but I imagine anything more than 25kg will be hard carrying. For that you’d want a Lastenkraxe.
Features Padded hip belt with small zip pockets, chest strap, fully adjustable 3-belt pack harness, padded plastic backboard; ice axe loop; padded pouch with elasticated cord on the back.
Q/d clips make getting to the pack easy. More comfortable than you’d think Fully adjustable Capacity for bigger loads than you can probably lift. Pouches could easily be added to the side straps.
Zip pockets on hip belt too small and awkward to get to. Not made anymore. Padding a bit lean over a long day on rugged terrain.
What they [used to] say The NRS Paragon Pack is the epitome of versatility. Rather than buying an entirely new dry bag, the Paragon™ Pack allows you to retrofit your existing bags into the ideal portage pack.
What’s wrong with a normal backpack? It took me a long time to find NRS’s Paragon was just what I needed for travelling with a paddle in my pack. It then took another year to get round to testing it properly on a long walk with a small boat. I admit a decent conventional backpack is better suited to walking long distances over rough terrain with heavy loads. I tried that on my first packrafting trip in Scotland, carrying a giant PVC drybag for my TNF Terra 65 while on the water. Although it’s not happened yet, the problem would be capsizing at which point the roll-top ‘drybag’ couldn’t be expected to seal for long. Because of that, everything inside that mattered needed its own drybag, neither of which would also last a prolonged immersion. All that bagging makes access a faff.
Then in 2010 I got myself my still brilliant Watershed UDB – a 1.1-kilo, 96-litre holdall made from a bombproof fabric and with a chunky drysuit zip – that is drysuit-dry not roll-top ‘drybag’-dry. I like my Mk1 UDB (also no longer made) because it’s a genuine immersion bag so doesn’t require back-up drybagging of the contents. Zip up the heavy seal and it’s as airtight as your pack boat and good to go. What’s more – especially on a packraft – a bag like this provides 96-litres of reassuring secondary buoyancy should my single-chamber packraft boat go flat on the water.
The UDB came with a rudimentary backpacking harness which, like the handles, were sewn to the bag. As we all know, a load-carrying backpack needs some kind of rigid frame or plate linking the waist belt and the shoulder straps so the weight can rest low on the hips, not hang high from the shoulders. When walking for days with typical 18-kilo loads, that makes a big difference to comfort and stability. The UDB’s token harness wasn’t designed for this and anyway, was poorly positioned on the bag.
As you can read here, I did the usual searches for ex-mil packframes and thought of cutting up a regular used backpack, but not before buying a Tatonka Lastenkraxe (left). That system, based on hunter’s L-frame packframes I’d seen in the US, can certainly carry a load but even with its huge padded straps and belts, at 2.7kg is a bit OTT and clanky for packraft travels. I think these sort of packframes are more suited to man-hauling very heavy loads or relatively easy terrain and then doubling up as a camp stool.
On the Trail At Gatwick check-in the Paragon slipped easily inside my UDB, avoiding the problem of stray straps getting caught in conveyors or landing gear. At the other end, fitting it took 10 minutes and I was out of the airport on the 3-km walk to the nearest hotel. I had concerns that the rigidity of the backboard (or ‘lumber support system’) wouldn’t be up to it, but of course once any pack is solidly strapped to a bendy board it can flex with the body but will maintain the rigid distance between the hip and shoulder belts. Only the strap mounting arrangements can come adrift under the load and for me, they didn’t.
My load was around 17-kilos + water and other bits in a small waist bag. That’s one flaw in running a UDB: there are no handy side- or mesh pockets to use, far less a slot to take a 3-litre water bladder. I was planning to rig something up between pack and harness but never got round to it. Early on, the Lycian Way was initially well provided with gushing springs, wells and cisterns meaning I could get by on just a half-litre bottle. Later, I needed another bottle but even then was often parched as the weather warmed up and usable cisterns got strung out.
Once something works OK I tend not to fiddle. I might have tried extending the back length to drive the weight more to the hips. The strap and back padding is not in the plush Lastenkraxe league. While I did have problems managing my balance on the gnarly and awkward coastal paths, in the end I can’t blame that on the Paragon, just the load, the terrain and me.
The lightweight NRS Paragon could easily take my current Seawave IK rolled up for short cross-country portages to and from the water. It will worked well with my other Watershed backpack – the 70-litre Westwater (left). Like the UDB, that bag came with rudimentary shoulder straps but became all the more useful and comfortable as a backpack once strapped to the Paragon. The pictures show a little more clearly how the pack wraps around a bag.
Now I know it works I may look into fitting fatter shoulder straps on the Paragon’s straps and other minor mods. Or maybe I’ll just leave it as it is.
Not much time for paddling at the moment, but with a staggering three days of cloud-free skies while the south had its traditional wet bank holiday, we had to down tools and go and do something. How about another walk over Suilven and paddle back – was last time three years ago already? The motorbike was left at Inverkirkaig, so this time it was just a paddle-and-boot ‘biathlon’.
With the car parked near Glencanisp Lodge, it’s about a 2-hour walk along the estate track to the turn-off leading up to Suilven saddle. On the way we pass Suileag bothy where Jon and I overnighted in May, tackling an Assynt variant on the Cape Wrath Trail.
It’s only a mile and a quarter from the estate track to the saddle, but with the 430-metre rise, it takes up to an hour. The washed-out last few feet onto the 600-metre-high saddle are on all fours. Above at the back, Quinaig, one of the best of the Assynt mountain walks. No packraft required.
At the breezy saddle it’s quite busy – well, ten people or so – so we decide to lounge around and not visit the 731-m summit, nice grassy spot though it is. Far down below on Fionn Loch, we think we can see three canoes heading upstream towards the canoe camp alongside the rapids (more or less the middle of the picture, above). But they’re moving so slowly, for while I thought I was mistaken. Soon we’d realise why they were creeping along at about one foot a second.
We set off down the exceedingly steep south side of the mountain.
Here I get my first chance to appreciate the canoe-handle T-piece I’ve added to the end of my packstaff. It makes a much better support when inching down steep slopes, and the long packstaff can reach down a foot below your boots. Anyone would think I was going on about packstaffs again.
Coming off Suilven, the gradient begins to ease. By Fionn lochside a strong easterly is blowing and the packraft fills up almost by itself, even if the boat is on the verge of taking off. This looks a lot more than the 15-mph forecast. The wind will blow us downstream, but it looks rather gnarly out there, and we’re only at the ‘top’ of the fetch. It’s about a mile and a half along the loch to the river inlet and will get choppier downwind.
Visiting baboons might enjoy a view of my butt patch – glued on with Bostik 1782 and (appropriately) lined with gorilla-tape. Even though the 2014 Alpackas have a bit more back-end buoyancy (as we were about to find to our cost), for the weightier and lazier paddler, a butt patch offers useful protection in the shallows.
Did I say it’s very windy? And to make matters worse I’m rather careless about the weight distribution, forgetting how we did it last time in much calmer conditions. With the packs in the middle of the boat and the Mrs’ legs tucked in, instead of reaching back, the bow was noticeably low.
Once out midstream, the bow started swamping in the chop which was a little alarming. The restful 1.5-mile downwind paddle to the river inlet is abandoned. I tell the Mrs to lean towards me, and I paddle across-wind for the other bank. The odd wave splashes over the side.
We could have tried again with the packs on my back, but were a bit unnerved. As it is, two-up the boat was a little hard to handle in the wind, and we have no pfds. So the Mrs takes to the bank – a long detour around a lagoon – while I tip out the boat then allow the wind to whip me along the loch, pulling over to wait once every few minutes.
I’m not sure I want to engage with the wind funnel at the ‘narrows’ of Fionn Loch, as by now the whitecaps and chop are getting it on. Plus I’ve lost track of the Mrs. So I pull over and stagger over the bogs to see where she is.
Reunited, we’re effectively on the south side of the Kirkaig river, so are still going to have to paddle across to get to the north side for the regular path back to the car park. I recall the river entrance nearby is in another bay which will be out of the easterly fetch. With better thought out trim, that crossing should be less risky.
I know from previous experience that trying to carry an inflated packraft even five minutes to the bay in this sort of wind will be like trying to wrestling a pterodactyl. So out with the plug and under my arm it goes. That’s the great thing with packrafts: they’re as easy to paddle in as they are to walk with, though there’s probably a more elegant way of saying that.
This rotting transom is all that remains of the last boat that came this way.
Another quick air up…
…and we set off across the small bay…
…for a small beach by the river entrance (above my right boot). Two up with the wind, I don’t want to get involved with the swift current flowing through the inlet towards bone-crunching waterfalls.
Back ashore I roll up the Yakpacka…
…and we set off for the 3.5-mile walk back to the bike at Inverkirkaig. And even here on the path the wind nearly knocks we over a couple of times. It was only an 11.5-mile day (10 for me on foot + 1.5 paddle), but by the time we get back to the bike we are pooped. Luckily, this year we have a lovely house to go back to.