This weekend I was at Strontian on the Ardnamurchan peninsula with the Ochils Mountaineering Club staying at Sunart Camping. The weather forecast was pretty naff, but I did manage a bike ride, and a couple of trips in the packraft on Lochs Shiel and Sunart. Not as ambitious as my original plans, but pack rafts and howling gales ain’t a marriage made in heaven!
Saturday dawned OK, I even saw (fleetingly) a patch of blue sky! The rain started soon after I set off on the bike from the campsite heading for Polloch. Both Strontian and Polloch are at sea level, but unfortunately the 8 miles of road in between also rises pretty steeply to about 350M – a fairly tough pull with 2 loaded panniers full of boat bits!
Upon reaching the top it was battering it down and I toyed with the idea of ditching the boat behind the transmitter station and retrieving it on the way back. Sods law dictated that if I did that, then the bloody sun would be out when I reached the lochside!
I descended steeply down the other side mindful of the slippery pine needles that covered the road, a short ‘up’ beside Loch Doilet saw my chain break, and pull the front mech out of alignment. Bugger! Chain fixed, and front mech re-alligned, I reached Polloch to incessent drizzle. Time for soup!
Just down the fire road from the car park, I located a spot from which to launch the boat, and got my kit sorted in the shelter of the trees. The drizzle stopped just as I was ready to launch the boat – result!
Initially paddling into the wind, I headed down the inlet to Loch Shiel proper and turned right with the wind. I reckon the wind in the middle of the Loch was blowing at a steady 30-40KPH, so once the sail was up, I was making around 10KPH.
Given more time (and a lift back!), I could have done the 15K’s down to Glenfinnan in under 2 hours, but alas, I had the paddle back up the side of the Loch into the wind, and the bike ride back before dark to consider. I settled for a destination where the Loch narrows @ Gorstanvorran. I spotted a wee beach and sailed right onto it for a bite to eat and a few photos.
Paddling back, I stuck close to the shoreline which offered a considerable amount of shelter. My backup plan had the wind been too strong to paddle was just to walk back along the lochside track – the versatility of packrafting…!
I made pretty good progress on the return taking just over an hour to reach the inlet where the bike was parked. I was then able to deploy the sail again for the final KM.
Boat back in the panniers, it was time to struggle back over the pass again – i’d cycled the other side, but this side seemed steeper and I was knackered so i’ll admit to pushing a wee bit. The descent down the other side to Strontian was great though.
I’ll definitely be back to Loch Shiel for a multi-day trip next spring before the midges emerge!
I awoke Sunday to a howling gale and battering rain so opted to go back to sleep! I finally left the site at about 11AM. My original plan had been to cycle west down Loch Sunart and then packraft back but although the rain had stopped, the wind was howling onto the north side of the Loch so that was never gonna happen.
I drove west to the parking for the bird hide, and found an area sheltered by a wee island to launch. I had intended to paddle around the island, but once I stuck the nose of the boat out into the loch proper, the wind threatened to get under it and have me swimming. I tried going clockwise instead – not gonna happen! I found a sheltered spot to land on the island and went to look at the seals (from a distance) which must be about to calf.
To get back to shore, I had to brave that wind again, which appeared to have gotten stronger still, add to that it was pissing down again! Still not wanting to swim I paddled outwards trying to avoid taking the waves straight on as I feared might expose too much of the underside of the boat to the wind. Once lined up, I span around and with the wind directly behind, pulled the strap for the sail, and shot in the direction of the shore like a bloody speed-boat! Never been that fast in the packraft before, GPS said peak speed was 25KPH, and I had a bow wave action going on. I was back on the beach in about 90 seconds! Damned good fun, but with the increasing wind and pissing rain I decided against pushing my luck with another lap!
I took the rainbow-powered Corran ferry back, and stopped at the OMC Cottage for a couple of quick geek-tasks before heading home.