After weeks of paddling in our living room, struggling with lines, straps and bulky fake packs we finally found some sort of configuration to fit it all in and around the packraft. Yes, we are kind off ready to pull out the “2 person – full gear – 1 boat” – packrafting theme. For upcoming backpacking – packrafting expeditions we not only have to learn how to comfortable fit it all in the raft, we also have to have the skill to do a fluid change-over from backpacker to packrafter and back, because the get in and get out theme could be quite some hassle if you don’t figure out a good procedure. A lot of cursing would follow during the next 48 hours. Wicked! Our first float on a real river, with packs on the go.
GoLite Pinnacles strapped on the Packraft
A misty weekend at the end of february. The serpentine Semois River winds its way on a slow pace trough the thawing Belgian Ardennes. Winter is the best time to go paddling in the Ardennes, because over spring and summer water levels drop dramaticly, which would do no good to a packraft, rubbing the rocky river bed.
It’s amazing how stable the Unrigged Explorer floats the water. We have a 4-piece kayak paddle, which we split over the 2 of us, each paddling a part canoe style, with an added T-piece to the tail. Thanks to the techniques described in Roman’s bible we quickly get the hang of it. You have no idea on how fast this beast can make a turn. On one strong stroke you’re turned perpendicular against the current if you want to.
Lightning fast water navigation, that’s what a packraft can do for you, even if you’re 2 in 1 boat and loaded with 2 packs! There’s not much space left in the boat, so Katrijn sits between my legs, with her knees bend in front. The Kamasutra of Packrafing calls this the Honeymoon Position. Word! Katrijn does the scouting for rocks, potholes, trees,… shouting all kind of strange noises to atract my attention on quickly action – reaction. With 2 in 1 packraft, you can not add a spray deck, so we’ll have water in the boat when we reach the PR2-3 class. That’s gonna mean a lot of in and outs.
Bivouac along the Semois
Did you know that swans do not like (yellow) packrafts? They fly over in herds just 30cms above our heads almost picking our caps. Heart pounding. They are extremely aggressive if you come too close by. And the comfort zone is easy reached. One moment I really tought a swan would slaughter our beast, wich gave the sleepy valley an early wake up call when I openend my panic throat.
The nice thing with the meandering Semois, is that we can test out a bunch of times the backpacking – packrafting change-over. Floating some curves. Get out. Hiking over the hills and put the boat back in the river. We had quite some attention from the locals in the small villages. Are you walking around with paddles? So you kayak? No we packraft. Look at my back. An inflatable boat? You guys are nuts! It’s winter! Kayak season is summer. Probably.
A pit stop at the local pub of Alle - refilling on La Chouffe
We had quite some new gear to field test out, like Katrijn’s fresh pair of Inov 8 Terroc’s and our new RAB Photon Jackets. But I’ll put that in a future blog. The packraft may take a rest now, coming up is the Marathon of Rome and a 16-day Sarek winter trip.
More pics of our trip you will find here in our online album.
Packrafts are now official for sale in Europe in the Packrafting Store through Sven and Marc from packrafting.de.