Tag Archives: Panasonic Lumix FT2

Winter packrafting in Scotland

I should have been off to France in early November to packboat down the Allier River, but the current job drags on. So despite the very short days, it struck me I ought to finish off my summer’s packrafting plan. On that occasion I ran out of time at Fort William while realising my idea of traipsing merrily across the bogs of Rannoch Moor from loch to river was – as usual – over-ambitious. Being my first packing trip, I also learned a bit about what gear works for this sort of travel.
End of November I’ll walk southeast for two days down from Fort William to west Rannoch along the West Highland Way, like any normal person. Then I’ll put-in near the road bridge at Loch Ba and paddle northeast for two slow days onto Loch Laidon for Rannoch station to train back home. Another perfect mini adventure!

Nov 25:
Looks like the forecast is freezing and snowy, so I’m a little concerned that a weekend of sub-zero temperatures may be enough to thinly freeze the lochs by Monday when I reach Loch Ba, making it too thin to walk on but too hard to paddle across. (a couple of weeks later we indeed experienced a paddling-through-ice scenario on a local river. Wind is forecast at 18mph headwind, but not till Tuesday which on top of -2 ought to chill things down. But that’s the final day’s paddle to the station so it can be endured or walked.

On the way I’ll be trying out some new gear:

  • Full length Seal Skin socks for bog-wading immunity.
  • Self-draining trail shoes (normal hiking shoes with a hole melted through the sides). My Keen Arroyo drainers were not up to loaded walking.
  • Watershed UDB drybag/backpack and W’shed Chattooga day bag.
  • A waterproof Panasonic FT2 camera that can just hang off the neck come rain or splash. No more scrabbling with a Peli box while watching out for camera-killing drips and the rocks ahead.
December 5 ~ All Pack and no Paddle

I ended up only packwalking for three days, reversing the West Highland Way (WHW) from Fort William to Bridge of Orchy. It was nice enough, especially the last day after a bit of snow to improve grip. The only other person I met was this guy who’d cycled the WHW from Glasgow (95 miles) in 2 and a bit days. Pretty good going as I soon found out it’s not all rideable or even easily walkable in icy conditions.
On the first day I misjudged what I needed to wear a couple of degrees below freezing and ended up overheated and worn out after a long climb out of Fort William. After 13 miles I descended to Kinlochleven, a former ally-smelting company town for which the Blackwater reservoir had been built a century ago. From above it looked like some sinister gulag hidden in  a valley. With snow on the hills I thought the hostel here would have been packed out with cramponards, but there were only 4 others in and close up Kinloch doesn’t look so bad. The smelting works have now been converted into an ice climbing centre, while I imagine plenty of excess hydro power still pours down the pipes to get fed off to Fort William.

Day 2 was a slog up along the pipeline towards the reservoir and then breaking off on the WHW path towards the walk’s 560-metre high point at the Giant’s Staircase before dropping to Glencoe. From the top the Blackwater reservoir looked grim but was clearly unfrozen which boded well for tomorrow when I hoped to paddle the nearby lochs to Rannoch station. For the second time that day I went flying on ice, ripping off my metal watch strap, tearing my trousers and bashing my knee. The heavy pack amplified the impacts. Then later, walking on the flat towards the isolated Kingshouse Hotel at the head of Glencoe, I slipped again on and landed hard with the heel of my hand on a sharp rock which hurt a lot. With three similar falls on the previous day, after 9 miles I staggered into the hotel feeling pretty beaten up, but what a lovely cosy old place to spend the night! There was a fantastic view out of my room across to the pyramid peak of Buachaille Etive Mòr, while deer gathered below my window in the dusk.
It snowed overnight and leaving Kingshouse Hotel, after a few miles I was expecting to get a view east over to Loch Ba from a high point cairn on the WHW, to establish whether it was worth schleping cross country to get to the water. The previous night had been forecast at -10°C and at the viewpoint all to the east was just a snowy tundra, with a small, snow-covered frozen loch south of Loch Ba for sure. Was Loch Ba frozen too? I couldn’t see from there nor from any other point further on the WHW, despite scooting without a pack up a hill for a better recce. Only back home when I zoomed in on the photos could I see a thin blue line of the bigger Loch Laidon which was clearly unfrozen. So I probably could have managed it after all.
whw-stagsIt has to be said it was a lovely sunny day on the trail with only me, the stags, and some scurrying tracks, so with days short, I was happy to stick with what I knew and plod on to Bridge of Orchy station, rather than paddle to Rannoch station (the next one up) as planned.
So, a 40-mile walk in the snow with a heavy load. Nothing new there. What I should have done is taken the path from Kingshouse east to Rannoch, passing north of the lochs, but that would have missed out Loch Ba and the easy and shallow chute between the two lochs (though that may well have been frozen).
If nothing else it proved that you can set off for a walk with a camping load including a packraft as an option. If the walking is more pleasant or the packrafting not worthwhile, the modest extra weight is no drama. It would have been nice to go for a paddle but it’ll all be there next time and on the way to the station at Bridge of Orchy I was sizing up the Orchy River which drains from the moor to enter Loch Awe which I’d never heard of but whose north end is right on the Oban rail branch line. Sounds like a couple of nasty waterfalls need the be walked round on the Orchy soon after the bridge, but in tame water that’s too low for any hardshell it could be another little adventure with packboat and paddle. With roads, rails and trails, the more you look at a map of Scotland, the more packable stuff is out there.
A week back home and the temperatures have jumped, even in Scotland, so the papers have to write about something else. Today, December 10th, the webcam at Kingshouse is the standard miserable Scottish highland vista.
We’re going back in a month to walk back from Orchy to the hotel and from there to Rannoch station. Bring on some more Siberian winds.
I was back in the area a month of so later in mid January 2011 – still snowy but less thick cover. This time I could clearly see the path off the WHW leading down to the road bridge being repaired, the rushing torrent of the river Ba leading to the loch and even the isles on the loch, not totally ice bound. Maybe my eyesight improved over Xmas.

Gear

  • Seal Skin socks – very good while they last. Warm but not sweaty considering they’re initially waterproof. The knee length ones ought to make great waders.
  • Self-draining Karrimor trail shoes. No real wading to test them, but certainly better to walk in with a heavy load than the thin-soled Arroyos, even if proper tight lacing (which could be adapted onto the Arroyos) had a lot to do with it. I may adapt a decent pair of decent trail shoes from Meindl or whatever with a better sole, if some turn up half price. It would be nice to get some plain, non Gore-tex trail shoes for packboating but I don’t think they exist these days.
  • whw-udbWatershed UDB drybag backpack was suprisingly good when you consider the 16kg load I carried just on shoulder straps with another smaller yellow Watershed over the front. Part of the tolerable comfort I feel was that the UBD’s relatively rough fabric grips across the back like weak velcro and so spreads the load. The packstaff paddle shaft saved a few tumbles and so means the 4-part Aquabound paddle is well suited when trail walking and paddling.
  • fxg-FT2The Panasonic FT2 never got to be splash tested either but was otherwise easy to use (once you know Pana interface) and took some great shots and video. It does lack the full 25mm width of my normal Lumix TZ6 and I wonder if on full zoom the relatively tiny lens is on then limit. A great back up camera for watery places. I’m still using one in 2016.

Some more randomly ordered pics:

 

Packrafting in Scotland ~ gear

This is the gear which worked for me (or not) on my first big trip to the Scottish highlands in summer. There’s plenty more chat about gear and tips on the Alpacka forum, among other places.

Backpack – TNF Terra 60
I bought this last year for Coast to Coast when my packframe and dry bag idea proved dumb, and then realised it’s the first new backpack I’d bought since the 1970s – a Karrimor Annapurna I recall. They’ve got a lot better since then and although parts of the Terra’s shell seem as thin as tights, it has all the features you want: adjustable strap height, shoulder pull and chest straps, fat padding, attaching loops and buckles for lashing on the boat wrapped in the pfd, and a lower access zip to save tipping it all out. The back ‘verti-cool’ panel is of course bogus, you’re going to sweat carrying this thing, but even at 2.3kg I couldn’t have expected better from the Terra for what it carried.
This year the colour has of course changed and the size has gone up to 65 litres or more. Mine cost around £70 in a sale, but for what I used it for it was only just big enough. PFD, boat, paddles and dry suit all had to go on the outside.
In late 2011 I bought myself a 65+10-litre Berghaus C71 (right). It had many of the handy features of the Terra: what they call wand (mesh) pockets where the paddle blades can slot and sit under the side compression straps, an elastic on the back to stuff the rolled up packraft under, as well as a pair of straps along the bottom to take a rolled-up drysuit and to stop the mounted packraft slipping down. Well that’s the way I visualised it while staring at the internet. Oh, and like the Terra last year, it was reduced drastically from £140 to 80 quid. More news in Gear when I’ve got something to say about it. 

Shoes – Keen Arroyo II
After years with Tevas, a few months ago I figured I’d try something that held the foot securely with more than Velcro and which had a better sole. The Arroyos turned up at half price – about what they’re worth – and have been OK for what they are. For some reason the sides carry the boast ‘waterproof’, but so what if it pours in and out of the holes?
I like the wide fit very much, the quick synching lace system is… quick; if you need more security you just tie a knot or convert to regular laces. My only complaint is that I doubt they’ll last long, especially tramping cross-country under a load, though to be fair they weren’t built for that and anyway, what gear does last these days?
Problem is, your shoes and socks will be soaked at the end of the day. Sure I had a spare pair of wool socks, but put those in the wet shoes and they get wet too. What is needed are knee-high Seal Skinz and around the bothy a light pair of ‘hut slippers’ or even just slip-ons to stop bare wool socks or Seal Skins wearing through. Some sort of roll up, unlined, no sole, Moccasin slip-on. Something like the hut socks on the top right, in fact.
When the Arroyos fall apart I have an OK pair of Karrimor trail shoes. They claim to be Goretex which is actually a pain for quicker drying, but I can tell you now I spent a lot of time last year looking for wide, non-Goretex trail shoes (for an annual desert camel trek that I lead) and gave up. As the Karrimor’s were cheap (and I have Meindls for proper walks), I think I’ll convert them to quick-draining river and trail duties by poking holes through each side, just above the sole. In Seal Skinz my feet will be dry anyway and the holes will mean I’m not walking around with an unnecessarily heavy shoes full of water. There’s more on that and packrafting shoes here.

Dry suit – Crewsaver Hyperdry Pro
I sold my nice yellow Kokatat Tropos Semi Dry suit the day before I decided to buy a packraft. That was a pretty good suit on the Spey one autumn, and the Crewsaver Hyperdry pro I picked up for £180 (rrp £300) looks as good, if not a bit better. It fits me great and like the Kokatat, has integral rubber feet – an essential feature IMO – as well as braces.
First thing I did was get it sent direct to a repairers to get a relief zip installed (£50-70). With a stiff back zip it can be hard enough to put on and take off; when tired you could wet yourself before that can be accomplished. Male or female (using a SheWee), you won’t regret a relief zip in your dry suit.
I knew if before I went, but what this suit also needs are some exterior draining pockets on the arms and legs for GPS, cameras and so on. It has a tiny key pocket on the left upper arm; can’t see much use for that. My Yak pfd has no useful exterior pockets and on my Kokatat pfd they’re a bit too small to be jamming in a camera while lining up quick for a rapid.
I found it a bit sweaty across Loch Morar, when I wore full-length under clothes and was paddling a bit too energetically. Next time, a couple of days later just in shorts and T-shirt on the Lochy it was just right, but they say far from a shore or bank in cold seasons some sort of thick underfleece is essential once you fall in, otherwise you get hypothermic almost as fast as without a suit. I’ve since given the Crewsaver a few immersion tests by wearing it for an hour or two in the water, practising rolls with a mate in a SinK. No leakage at all which may be to be expected but is still pretty amazing.
Packrafts and IKs are a bit different to SinKs in that a drysuit is handy against splash, even if you’re not falling in. And with the legs exposed and lacking a deck a quick draining pocket on the thigh, for a GPS for example, would be handy. If I get round to this I think I’ll get some velcro sewn onto the thigh front and the left forearm, so that any pocket construction is less critical. For the moment I’ve made an arm/leg strap-on pocket out of a spare Aqua Pack, some glue and a bit of the ballistic nylon left over from the floor. And I’ve now got a waterproof camera.

Paddle as Packstaff
My 4-piece Aqua Bound Manta Ray is OK as far as rigidity goes, but of course is very handy for travelling. I knew I’d need something like trekking poles with the heavy loads and terrain I’d be crossing, but of course didn’t want to take trekking poles just for that. In the end an old Lendal paddle sacrificed itself to make a 6-inch ‘nib’ to slot into the end of the Manta’s shaft, making a shoulder-high staff. While using it for what turned out to be a 3-day walk in winter, the fibreglass nib wore down, so needs some kind of metal over-nib.
sulpackstafferAs mentioned in the text, this proved to be a great aid on the gnarly crossing to Loch Arkaig and all the better for not having a trekking pole’s handle or loop. It’s just the right thickness all along of course, so you can vary your hand height, probe the ground, rely less on balance (so saving energy), use it to vault over ditches and streams and lean on it hard as you step around an outcrop above a mire. Plus you can lean on it when drinking by hand from a stream with a pack still on – very handy. I couldn’t see a £90 Leki pole taking such weight, let alone the cheapies I use which fell out of a cereal packet. Cross country in Scotland with a load, you need a packstaff or something similar.

Camera – GoPro mini camera
Short version, as these are well-known to kayakers and hair-boaters. They use two buttons but the menu is easy to learn. I set mine on SD (‘1’) but ran out of card in 2 days, long before the battery went flat. Looking at all the mounts which came with it, I settled on the headband which did most things for me. For back shots in the boat it tucked under the pack lines. With the cam on your head (make sure it’s not set too high), after recording in very still conditions you can hear the blood moving in your brain on playback; weird!
The 5mp stills are not as good as my heavier and bulkier LumixTZ6 (12mp), but for a fixed-focus, wide-angle, the video, even at SD, is OK. The only flaw is that it tends to underexpose (too dark) and the audio dies inside the waterproof housing when it’s not on your head. On your head your skull is a kind of amplifier when you talk, but you won’t hear what other people say. I may have the exposure set wrong but I’m sure it’s on auto. I expected this duff audio and removed it mostly when on dry land to do talking, or lately have got into taking and using the better Lumix for talking when not in rough water – but that means 2 cameras. If you’re talking to the Go Pro in the housing, get close or shout.
The best thing is the GoPro is so light and has a good series of mounts there’s plenty of scope to shoot good action creatively. But for £300 it’s too much for what it is and after a year or two I sold it. Check out this videos. Instead I use my waterproof Panasonic Lumix FT2 as a day camera and for paddling: better stills, better video exposure, easier to use, better sound and sells for a fraction of the price used. The GoPro is everywhere these days and lately improved, but to me is over-rated for the price.

Tent – Black Diamond Lighthouse
blackdiamondlighthouseI see packrafters talking about rigging their boats as shelters or setting up a simple tarp with string and using the paddles as tent poles. The way I see it, either you can sleep out in the open on your part-deflated raft or you need a tent for shelter from rain, insects or wind. In Scotland you need a tent for all three.
I don’t begrudge the 1.5kg of tent, poles and 4 pegs of my BD lighthouse. It uses a single skin of ‘breathable’ Epic fabric which in my experience breathes better some nights than others. Unless it’s freezing (and I’ve had minus 6°C inside) I very rarely sleep with all the flaps zipped up, but condensation seems to have a mind of its own, whether it rains overnight or not. No complaints about waterproofing (that failed later despite halfdomereproofing so I sold it). Like a packraft itself, it’s so small and light you don’t think twice about taking it and using it. They make it anymore as the fabric wasn’t fireproof (legal) in some US states. I bought it in Colorado in 2007 for about £200 – in the UK it was nearly double at the time. I since replaced with  conventional REI Half Dome (left) that can be pitched inner- or outer only. More on packboating tents here.

Sleeping bag – Mountain Equipment Sleep Walker U/L
Sometimes I look at this thing and think surely the Polar Loft fill has collapsed over the years when I compare it to my recently re-fluffed Yeti down bag which just makes you want to get in and hibernate. But at just under a kilo, it’s an ideal summer bag that works fine with a tent and a good sleeping mat plus a hat if necessary. It can feel sweaty and doesn’t feel half as nice as a down bag, but for watery activities with a risk of getting wet, synthetic does the job. If it’s too warm it zips right out into a blanket. It’s good to have a cheap bag for rough trips and save the down Yeti for when it’s needed.
They don’t make it anymore – or they probably do but it’s got a different colour and name. It cost me about £50 in a sale in 2005. Since replaced with a lovely down Marmot Arroyo Long.

Sleeping mat/raft floor – Thermarest ultralight
I slept on one of these for years before I moved up to an Exped Syn Air DLX after a period of back pain. Now the ¾ length Thermarest (118cm x 50cm, 535 grams) doubles up as a handy floor for the raft, something light to sit on and an OK overnight pad when lengthened with a pfd. I suppose the current version is the ProLite which is as wide and thick, but full length and 100 grams lighter. Since replaced with an Exped UL.

Dry bags
I got some imperfect Seal Line Baja bags years ago in Seattle that still have several more years left in them. On the Scotland trip I realised they also make a handy bucket (left) to save trips to the stream or lake.
The giant Mil-com bag (right) cost just £15 off ebay and make a great dry bag for my backpack. Alpacka advise that a simple, light inner dry bag will do inside the pack – let your pack take the hits. To me it seems obvious an exterior bag that keeps the whole pack dry up to a point is the way to go. It also makes a good sitting mat or door mat to the tent. The closure has no stiffener so isn’t as secure at a Seal Line or others, but it keeps the splash off and slows ingress if you capsize.
I’ve found a Decathlon compressor bag seals better than the fancy Exped ones I also have, most obviously because the smooth plastic rolling portion seals better than nylon fabric. The idea of a purge valve at the other end is definitely the way to go. Stuff the bag in there, roll it up and clip shut then sit on it to purge the air and plug the plug. A great space saver that’ll keep a bag dry underwater too, I’d hope. It only costs a tenner.

Cooking
A mate put me onto Tatonka 500ml mug. With graduated lines inside showing the volume, it works fine as a cooking pot and drinking mug. One thing I’d do for next time is make an aluminium windshield to wrap around the mug and hang from the handles down over the burner. Speeds up cooking and so saves gas.
They’re a bit hard to find in the UK. Amazon sell them for £12, though they’re listed as €10 from Tatonka.com.

No-name butane burner
It’s like the MSR Pocket Rocket but at £14, it was half the price and better still comes with a piezo igniter so no lighter needed (though I carry one just in case). A great little cooking gadget.

Pack & Go meals
The last time I ate a freeze-dried meal was some awful stuff by Raven about 30 years ago. Never again, and since then I convinced myself that this sort of stuff was just more overpriced camping gimmickry; you can buy the same or better in Tescos.
But I’m not sure I’ve ever walked alone for over three nights between re-supply points until this trip. I saw a good review of Pack & Go meals and bought a few day menus. Breakfast is ready brek with raisins, plus an oatmeal bar, rehydration powder (left at home, used lighter/litre Zero tablets instead, below right), a chocolate drink, an evening meal and a pudding. All up £10 and less than a kilo per day, but as you’ll have read, I got pretty hungry by day three as no lunch is included. For that I had cuppa soups and tea.
In Fort William I bought a similar Mountain something meal, tasty salmon and potato but I realised what makes the P&Gs so user-friendly: you pull apart the base to make it stable, rip off the top, open out and pour in the given amount. This is often stated as too much and does not match the three suggested boiling water level lines marked inside – use those not that stated quantity. Then you zip it up, put on the water for the desert (variations on choc or custard or rice pud and fruit) and 6 minutes later dinner’s ready while pudding warms up.
As you’d expect, some meals taste better or are more satisfying than others. Boil-in-a-bag options may be tastier, but are twice as heavy and will use several minutes of gas for boiling. With plenty of water around, stew-in-a-bag saves gas and means no washing up.
I wouldn’t want to live off this stuff for days and days and I found the daily quantities not quite adequate for what I was doing. However, preparing for another Scottish packrafting trip in late November (when I imagine I’ll need more fuel to keep warm), I now see they offer two sizes: 125g at ~400 calories, and 180g with around 700 calories for ‘big eaters’. That’ll be me then.

Gear summary: what worked well in Scotland

  • Pakstaff – a great idea
  • Mini carabiners, great for lashing and attaching
  • TNF backpack (comfort, not capacity)
  • Mil-com dry bag (failing a submersion)
  • GoPro camera, all things considered
  • Garmin 76 CSX with OpenStreet mapping
  • No name Goretex light cag
  • And of course, the Alpackerai!

and what didn’t

  • Keen Arroyo II shoes
  • Sock/hut shoe strategy

What I could have left

  • Gloves
  • Head torch (as usual)
  • Water bladder (water everywhere)

What I should have taken

  • Ally wind shield for stove
  • Lid for the cup
  • Hut shoes or slippers for when day shoes and socks are soaked
  • A lighter that doesn’t fall apart
  • Another SD card
  • A brolly to try out as a sail. More on sailing here