Tag Archives: Watershed Ultimate Ditch Bag

2011 Alpacka Yak – first impressions

I’d parked the RV at the end of a 55-mile track south of the highway at Hole in the Rock, the top of a gully which drops 500 feet down to Lake Powell and which is bit of a scramble in places. If this was the Australia that I know, the chasm would be plastered with ‘Gorge Risk‘ signs. Looks like the Americans have got over all that, if it ever existed here. What you see – a steep, boulder-chocked gully where you want to take care – is what you get.
Getting down and back up from the lake wore me out for a day, but what was I complaining about? In 1880 Mormon pioneers spent six weeks here lowering two dozen wagons to get across what was then the Colorado river (read right) to get to a new settlement on the far side.
Once on the water I only went for a bit of a splash-about in a flooded arm off the main body of the lake as it was a bit windy and I wasn’t sure what weather lay ahead. By the time I got back to the top it had clouded over and stayed that way till I left the GSENM a few days later.
Changes on the conventional looking pre-2011 rafts are summarised herepointy ends, greater length, extended stern, 2-part backrest/seat and a deck that zips right off. I also have a feeling the floor’s made from a chunkier or stiffer fabric and so the extra butt-patch I had specified (left – done for free) may not be so necessary – but it sure feels worthwhile when scraping along a boney Scottish burn.
On the water first impression was not so good – oh dear the 4-inch shorter Yak was seemingly narrower at the front than my old Llama and I couldn’t put my feet side by side when pressed against the front (left image on the right) – this wearing size 11 Keen Arroyos (fairly wide). But deflating the alpackas2011backrest from full gave my legs more room and I actually found that both feet placed flat on the floor below the bulge of the side tubes worked fine (right image above right), just not so sure if this is so intuitive for brace control. I checked the front interior width of my Llama against the new Yak and it’s only an inch wider. In the picture left the new Yak and Llama fronts seem near identical in interior front width.
Getting back in the longer Llama, I now see the reason my feet didn’t jam was that I had a few inches gap between the front of my feet and the inner front of the boat where it tapered off. Sat against the back I could never reach the front to brace which is why I got the Yak. Also, the UDB on the new Yak may have constricted my feet a bit that day. Paddling a few days later without the UDB, I can’t say I noticed the foot jam. Got all that?
Other fascinating facts from my comparative measurements (above right) show the new Yak is only 8 inches longer then the Llama, so a new Llama ought only be 12″ longer, not 20 inches as estimated from the Alpacka website’s measurements at the time. The new Yellow Yak is nominally 4 inches shorter inside than an old Llama.
Other than that it feels much like the old Llama. Like they claim, turning/spinning doesn’t seem to be affected by the increase in length, but I’m sure the Yak’s bow yawed less from side to side as I paddled, due I suspect to the extended tail damping the paddle-induced pivoting effect, rather like a rudder or skeg. I did have my part-filled UDB strapped to the front where any weight tends to reduce yawing anyway. It was the first time I used the UDB on the water and have to admit the added guarantee of its girth and buoyancy was reassuring should a Colorado river barracuda make a bite at my Yak. Couldn’t really do any speeding in the conditions – it may be just half a mph faster, but that’s still some 20%.
As anticipated, the new 2-part seat is a real improvement. No more having the backrest flop down as you’re trying to get in quick off a steep bank or into a fast flow with a need to line up or burn. Like on my Llama, I just clipped the seatbase onto the hull tabs with a single snaplink each side (inset, left) rather than mess about with the string they supply. Makes taking it out and drying/cleaning the insides easier.
Later on, washed up on the wrong side of the Virgin River Gorge in northwest Arizona, I also found the part-deflated backrest a handy way of portaging the empty boat – a bit like a Sherpa’s headband (left).
So, bottom line, not huge difference in operation apart from less yawing which was never that bad anyway once you compensated for it. Can’t say I noticed any added buoyancy/better trim with the longer back, but it might be noticable from the another PoV. The zip-off skirt is a nice idea; one less thing to unroll and dry after. The added snugness I dare say I’ll appreciate in rougher conditions and it sure is nice to have a yellow boat for a change!
There was a discussion on BackpackingLight about the new shape and here Roman D gives his opinion for a harder core of white water utility. More pack-Yak adventures this summer.


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: