Who needs a fat bike for winter bikepacking?

Packrafting on Loch Morlich

The Trip Report

My wife and I have just bought a couple of Alpacka packrafts for an upcoming trip in April when we are going to paddle down the River Spey from source to sea and then bike back to the source. We have some learning time planned with pack-rafting super guide Andy Toop at backcountry.scot to bring these two landlubbers up to speed before undertaking a serious paddle like the Spey. And only a few weekends to practise paddling by ourselves.

Neither of us has paddled before. I nearly drowned as a teenager and have a deep mistrust of water as a result. But we feel the call, the mixed mode adventure travel beckons us, offering a seamless way to move across the wilderness. We think that preparation, education and planning are key. Hence hiring a guide. A serious attention to safety and rescue techniques as I remembered the stories from paddling friends about the trouble they got into. The start of our education was Packrafting! An Introduction and How-To Guide First edition by Roman Dial. A quick read, but packed with lots of great info and anecdotes. Here is someone who has lived his life.

The plan was simple. Pack up our Brompton bikes which we are going to use for the Spey trip. Take the train to Aviemore and pedal out into the wilds for a weekends wild-camping and paddling on Loch Morlich. Not too far to pedal, we wanted to be close to civilisation in case we needed to dry out or warm up. The forecast was a few degrees above zero so we thought we would spend some time paddling then practise some rescue techniques ie one of us throws ourself in the water, the other assists with throw rope or we can practise getting back in the boat. Maybe practise firelighting at which I am really bad. So a micro adventure, a bit of this, a bit of that, nothing too strenuous! Aye!

Brompton packed up for adventure in the Rothiemurchus
Brompton packed up for adventure in the Rothiemurchus
On the shore of Loch Morlich we found a nice launch spot. It was snowing on and off so we put the tent up to keep the dog dry and give us somewhere to sort our gear.
On the shore of Loch Morlich we found a nice launch spot. It was snowing on and off so we put the tent up to keep the dog dry and give us somewhere to sort our gear.
omg! We just paddled the length of Loch Morlich in inflatable boats!
omg! We just paddled the length of Loch Morlich in inflatable boats!
Paddling back with the wind behind Suse asked if it was going to be like riding downhill. Foolishly I said yes. It wasn't, it was hard work for tired arms unacustomed to paddling. 3km on still water felt like a way.
Paddling back with the wind behind Suse asked if it was going to be like riding downhill. Foolishly I said yes. It wasn’t, it was hard work for tired arms unacustomed to paddling. 3km on still water felt like a way.
The plan to practise rescues in the water just seemed foolish then. It was snowing. We were soaked through. We were cold. A cafe seemed better!
The plan to practise rescues in the water just seemed foolish then. It was snowing. We were soaked through. We were cold. A cafe seemed better!
A nice evening wild camp. Someone had already left a stone firepit so we decided to use it. We spent 2 hours gathering and preparing firewood. Then I failed to light the fire! Perfect, cold and wet we will stay then. (I have been back since to burn the wood and remove all traces of the firepit so this nice little spot is a bit more natural again.)
A nice evening wild camp. Someone had already left a stone firepit so we decided to use it. We spent 2 hours gathering and preparing firewood. Then I failed to light the fire! Perfect, cold and wet we will stay then. (I have been back since to burn the wood and remove all traces of the firepit so this nice little spot is a bit more natural again.)
Why did it feel cold in the night? Apart from us taking summer sleeping bags to save weight. (A Nalgene bottle filled with hot water makes a great sleeping bag warmer.) It was cold because it snowed overnight! We did a lot of star jumps that weekend to get the blood flowing and us warmed up. Star jumps make winter wild camping warm.
Why did it feel cold in the night? Apart from us taking summer sleeping bags to save weight. (A Nalgene bottle filled with hot water makes a great sleeping bag warmer.) It was cold because it snowed overnight! We did a lot of star jumps that weekend to get the blood flowing and us warmed up. Star jumps make winter wild camping warm.
Single skinning it in the MSR Hubba Hubba. More room, less weight, it's the future.
Single skinning it in the MSR Hubba Hubba. More room, less weight, it’s the future.
Who needs a fat bike for winter bikepacking?
Who needs a fat bike for winter bikepacking?
On Sunday we planned to paddle the River Feshie. The pedal through the forest was stunning in the early morning light. Stupidly we took our waterproofs off when we got too warm, and then got soaked by all the snow melting out of the trees. By the time we got to the river we were soaked through and shivering. Time to head home! We were both exhausted. For a little trip we packed in a lot, learned a lot, lived a lot. It was fun.
On Sunday we planned to paddle the River Feshie. The pedal through the forest was stunning in the early morning light. Stupidly we took our waterproofs off when we got too warm, and then got soaked by all the snow melting out of the trees. By the time we got to the river we were soaked through and shivering. Time to head home! We were both exhausted. For a little trip we packed in a lot, learned a lot, lived a lot. It was fun.

The Gear

  • Bromptons, very custom build, article coming soon. Simply a great bike for micro adventures. A huge amount of gear can be lashed to the front luggage frame.
  • Alpacka Yukon Yak/Denali LLama
  • Celtic Paddles 4 Piece Packrafting Paddle
  • Astral V-eight PFD
  • Benchmade Triage rescue knife
  • Light my Fire firesteel
  • fire lighting tinder (I’ve since swapped cotton wool for firelighters which means I can start a fire!)
  • Lifesystems whistle
  • HF Weasel throwline
  • Clothing for paddling: waterproofs, Salomon Speedcross shoes,  Buffalo pile jackets, Powerstretch leggings, liner socks, Sealskinz socks, neoprene gloves (which are ace for bikepacking and paddling), balaclavas and warm hats. Not enough as we got wet from splashed water and wading out into the water to launch/land the boats. Next time we will try knee length SealSkinz socks, the Alpacka Cruzer decks and another upper body layer.
  • Suse used a Patagonia CragDaddy 45 pack, I used a LoweAlpine Cragsac (there is no link as this pack is nearly pre-internet, but it works superbly.) Both have full length zips allowing for easy packing and gear management. We line them with large Exped Schnozzel pump dry bags to keep gear dry and inflate our Exped mats.

The Route

I have since figured out that I can record paddles with my Garmin Fenix. Here are the bike routes for the weekend:

Home to Edinburgh for the train

Mike McFarlane
Edinburgh Scotland United Kingdom

Morning Ride

03/3/2017

Aviemore to campsite

Mike McFarlane
Edinburgh Scotland United Kingdom

Night Ride

03/3/2017

Campsite(ish) to Loch Morlich

Mike McFarlane
Edinburgh Scotland United Kingdom

Morning Ride

04/3/2017

Cafe to campsite

Mike McFarlane
Edinburgh Scotland United Kingdom

Afternoon Ride

04/3/2017

Campsite to Glen Feshie

Mike McFarlane
Edinburgh Scotland United Kingdom

Morning Ride

05/3/2017

Edinburgh station to home

Mike McFarlane
Edinburgh Scotland United Kingdom

Afternoon Ride

05/3/2017

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