Sitting quietly amongst the long grass of the river bank all I can do is sit back and enjoy the peacefulness a river can offer. With mountains towering up and dominating the skyline behind me with their jagged and sharp lines, to the calmness of the water that is slowly rising all around me. As I sit back pushing my weight against my rucksack I am drawn to the flow of the river, slowly its pace has settled to the point it feels like the river has just given up on its task of delivering water to its eventual destination, the sea. In fact, a stick that drifted past me just a couple of minutes ago is now on its way back to me. My senses are on fire and although I spend countless hours outdoors this is a whole new experience, I am giddy with excitement and excitedly poised for the final chapter of this epic two day trip.
Packrafting has been on my radar for quite a while now with amazing imagery popping up in magazines and all over social media. I enjoy bikepacking and had always thought my first trip with a raft would include wheels but a chat with Gather Outdoors (a great online portal for ethical and outdoor enthusiasts) put me in touch with Jason from Tirio, a packrafting guru based in Snowdonia. After a few phone conversations with Jason it was evident we had one thing in common and that was enjoying anything that the outdoors can offer. We soon got talking about a multiday trip but first it seemed sensible to make sure I could actually paddle one of these lightweight buoyant crafts without causing harm to myself or those around me. Jason pitches the idea of an overnight trip starting in the hills of Snowdonia and finishing by the riverside walls of Conwy castle. Sounds perfect, right?!
After a quick coffee and kit check we head off by foot with the packrafts strapped to our rucksacks. Raft and paddles amazingly come to less than 3kg so they really do not hold you back or cause any discomfort from the additional load. We tap out a few km before reaching our first water crossing. Jason included a relatively small lake into the beginning of this trip so we could go through inflating the raft, securing our kit and of course paddling techniques before we hit the more committing water later on. I was amazed how quickly we could set the rafts up and be on the water paddling. Also just how stable these super light rafts feel. After a couple of km of paddling we hit the far shoreline and set about packing down and heading off by foot again, this next section sees us head into some more mountainous terrain.
The day passes quickly along with the distance covered, not having to walk around bodies of water really transforms the journey and makes me continuously think of routes that that I have avoided before but now would be transformed with this versatile method of travel.
Soon we reach our camping spot for the night and set about getting the tarps and tents erected before settling down to cook food. We chat about the whole leave no trace philosophy and Jason shares some new tips and methods with me. For me there is nothing better than a wild camp, small fire and good company. The day soon draws to a close with a star filled sky and only the noise of wildlife and the gentle rustle of the wind for company.
We wake to the warmth of the sun and a sky that shows promise of a great day to finish on. After a quick breakfast we pack down double check for rubbish and head off towards the Conwy river. This will be the longest and toughest paddle of the trip, although we will use the tide to our advantage Jason explains how the winds will mean we will have to paddle fairly hard in places to keep the rafts moving in the right direction.
As we reach the river it is noticeable how fast the water level is rising , there will be a little wait before it slows and the final 18km paddle will commence. Rafts ready and bags secured inside we sit and wait on the side of the river. Slowly the river creeps around the rafts until we eventually start to float, this is a moment I will remember for a very long time. Quietly we sit in the long grass, calm, peaceful and seeing a river from an angle I have not really appreciated before. I am absolutely taken in by the pack raft and its versatility , compactness and what it can add to a trip.
Soon the river gives us the sign that we are ready to paddle and I follow Jason’s lead, following the meandering river as it slowly widens the further down we travel. Leaving the mountains behind, the landscape flattens and structures of modern day life become more apparent. This trip really is a trip of two halves. With only a few kms to go the wind picks up and the river fights us, my arms work hard to keep the raft moving forward and I soon find myself consciously thinking about my paddle strokes and efficiency. By now the river has widened considerably, mud banks soar above our heads and I feel rather insignificant compared to the choppy waters that surround me. It was this moment I really appreciated having an experienced leader with me and that a trip like this is not something you should undertake with little or no training.
By now I am totally immersed in what I am doing, my surroundings and the excitement of this amazing new experience. As my arms work hard my mind wanders, we paddle the final corner and Conwy Castle comes into view. That’s it, my first packrafting trip is complete and what a trip it was.
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