Monday, April 28, 2008
It was a kayak filled weekend, just not much actual paddling. I gave a talk on kayak fishing at Midwest's Outdoor Expo, attended the auction and exhibits, and was generally immersed in paddle mania. On Sunday GalwayGuy and I headed up to St Cloud to a Greenland demo and rolling session at St Cloud State University. The demo was organized by Alex and ChrisG and coordinated by (who else?) the Coordinator for Experiential Education, Ivan Bartha. Ivan told me that he spent 10 years in Marquette, MI which had me more than a bit envious. There was an excellent demo followed by a marathon 3 hour rolling session. As a noted chlorophobe (or is the correct term 'anti-chlorite'?) I opted for paddling in the extremely high Mississippi River. This was likely not the wisest move in an 18' sea kayak but the river was wide and I was able to ferry across the current from Beaver Island back to the launch fairly efficiently.
Before I took off for my ill advised (though fresh water friendly) paddle however, Ivan and I snuck down to the little used aquarium-like viewing window underneath the pool. Lighting conditions created extreme suction, to use the polite term, but we still got some decent shots of underwater Greenland rolling. It was a great perspective that you normally don't see and it was fun to watch the form and the attempts to learn new rolls. GalwayGuy now has the shotgun roll and a kinda sorta stick roll added to his repertoire. The stick roll was working in Jeff's skin boat but a bit of work still remains to hit it in the new Capella. Which of course, puts him light years ahead of yours truly. We shall see where the summer takes me but I publicly vow to add the shotgun, crook of elbow, and a forward roll before the lakes become stiff again this fall. Ah, to be young.
P.S. Don't forget that the registration for the Northern Lights Qajaq Society's Traditional Paddlers Gathering opens on that favorite communist holiday, May Day. Speaking of tradition, that is also the day you need to get in line for tickets to the Great Taste of the Midwest beer festival in Madison. Coincidence? I think not.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Yesterday Midwest Mountaineering had their annual canoe and kayak auction. It was definitely a buyers market. All the sellers brought their craft to offer but many buyers looked at the 35F (1C) temps and the horizontal blowing snow and decided maybe they would just take a peek at CraigsList instead. There were many bargains to be had. A Klepper Aerius II went for $700, a P&H Capella RM for $775, and a NDK Greenlander Pro sold for $1,100. GalwayGuy and I were looking to upgrade the Valley Skerry RM to a better, more stiffer, faster boat that would be fun to roll. A friend in Washburn has had his eye on the Skerry so it would not be subject to the uncertainty of the auction block. The auction is a tradition almost as old as humanity itself. While its almost certainly predated by the worlds "oldest profession" it has to be close and appeals to the base emotions of competition and desire. While not as powerful as lust, I think that both are right at the base of Maslow's pyramid. The human dynamic at the auction is almost as entertaining as the bidding process itself.
I had considered bidding on the Capella RM since this was the boat that GG and I had identified as a 'keeper' at Canoecopia. We also took a break from our safety boating duties on Thursday and paddled a RM and also a carbon fiber Capella at the soggy demo beach. I let the Capella RM pass when it came up for bid however. I needed to see what that bright yellow, almost new looking Capella 169 in the carbon fiber/kevlar layup would go for. Of course you pretty much knew who was going to bid on it before the auction. Just look for the people that were checking it out and bad mouthing it out loud (I think the skeg cable is kinked; is this a crack in the gel coat??). By now the auction was nearing its end after 2 1/2 hours, the crowd had thinned considerably, and shivering was a bit more pronounced. The P&H Capella 169, carbon fiber/kevlar layup, hit the blocks and when the smoke cleared I owned it. I had sent GalwayGuy in to man the SKOAC booth since the auction ran into my shift; the first thing he asked me when I walked up was whether or not we got the Capella RM. I had to tell him nope, we didn't and he looked a just a little disappointed. Then I told him we got the carbon fiber model and he was a bit incredulous. I don't know if its the fact that I've 'bs-ed' him a bit in the past or he just wanted to see the boat. He grabbed the car keys, ran out to the parking lot and returned with a smile on his face. At that point GG, BjornDahlieOfMahtomedi, and I needed to raise a Summit pale ale to toast the new vessel. How much did I get the boat for? Sorry, can't tell you, you might want to buy it from us in a couple of years.
Friday, April 25, 2008
A group SKOAC mambers volunteered as safety boaters for Midwest Mountaineerings canoe and kayak demo last night. Memories of last years demo, soaking up the sun, paddling a boat or two, eating grilled hot dogs, and generally enjoying spring were drifting through my brain when I told RonO to count on me to help keep the paddling public safe from themselves. That idyllic scenario didn't quite play out last night.
The forecast was not optimistic. The old adage in the Great Lakes states is that if you don't like the weather just wait 10 minutes. It took a bit longer than that but the gentle rain at the 3pm start quickly turned to a deluge, filling canoes and kayaks waiting to be demo'ed. The fog formed rapidly and our buddy Aras, who parked on the opposite side of one mile wide lake Calhoun, had to make the first blind crossing of the lake that I can recall to get to the demo. It was a hardy group that was testing the boats also. Over 100 folks, mostly interested in the touring sea kayaks, came out to paddle. I think the miserable weather may have convinced the rec boat folks to wait for another time. RonS, the Bessemer Convivialist, and another paddler that I didn't see got to haul the three folks out that went over in the 42F (5C) water. Two of them were actually dressed for immersion. Many of the safety boaters including Alex, ChrisG, GalwayGuy, and myself could not resist immersing ourselves in the first fresh water rolling opportunity of the season.
Back to our changing weather. An offshore wind quickly came up and just as quickly switched 180 degrees to an on shore wind. This blew the clouds away and shortly after the demo ended the sun came out. We all agreed however, that putting your boat and gear away, getting changed, and having that essential post paddle beer was much more pleasant in the sun. No problem paddling in the rain but attempting to pack sodden gear and boats in the rain is another, much more depressing story. Cheers to the hardy souls that needed to get out and try a boat or two and thanks to the intrepid SKOACers that kept an eye on them on a less than perfect April evening.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
I can't argue with this precaution. I'm just wondering how they will enforce it. On Isle Royale there are really only 3 spots to get your kayak transported out to the island (Houghton and Copper Harbor, MI and Grand Portage, MN) so that should be fairly simple. In the Apostles the rule only applies to boats launching from park land. This would mean if you launch from Red Cliff you don't need to worry about it but if you launch from Meyers Beach you do. Also, none of the boat launches for the larger motor and sail boats are on park land so I'm not sure that this will be anything more than a symbolic gesture. Practically, its an easy thing to do. 1/4 cup of household bleach in 2 gallons of water is the normal formula for killing nasty things in homebrewing equipment and this should work well for a boat wash also. A quick wipe with your bilge sponge and you're golden. Or just roll the boat in the pool; that will kill anything including a few of your mucous membranes. I noticed our paddles on the Mississippi River so far this year have left a noticeable scum line on my boat, most of which is organic material that probably should not be moved between bodies of water.
I'm not sure if the rangers at the park landings will be enforcing these rule or just how it will work; that remains to be seen. I'll make a couple phone calls, check out the logistics, and follow up on this post. I read in this mornings paper that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency was ordered by a judge to begin regulating ballast water released from ships in Lake Superior to help stop the spread of exotics. Right now the only ship on the lake that treats its ballast water is the RangerIII, the park service boat that shuttles people out to Isle Royale. Stopping the spread of these exotics is an idea whose time has definitely come and we kayakers need to do our part to help with the problem.
Monday, April 21, 2008
It wasn't just bird life down on the Mississippi last weekend, we also saw lots of fish life. And fish death. The estuary in the National Wildlife Refuge is fairly shallow, less than 3’ (1m) in a lot of places. The water is raised and lowered by means of a flood gate which managers use to mimic the natural cycle of floods and droughts. This can expose mudflats to germinate plants which migratory waterfowl and marsh birds eat. With such low water levels, a hard freeze followed by snow on top of the ice causes the oxygen to deplete and if the ice doesn’t thaw fast enough in the spring a large fish kill can result. This years hard winter, still lingering in the northland, caused a very large and malodorous carp die off in the refuge. But its not dead carp that this post is about. It’s the live ones.
On Sunday we launched near the base of Trempealeau Mountain (seen in above photo) and were going to paddle around the delta of the Trempealeau River and the dike that borders the Refuge. We were paddling up river against a good current. The water was high and rising, high enough to close the road into the Refuge when we drove by later that day. This area was also full of waterfowl and we figured if we could find a decent spot to land along the dike we could sneak up to the top with the long lens and surprise the hundreds of waterfowl that were certain to be floating well within camera range. I spotted a little backwater, an eddy really, where there was minimal current and a decent spot to get out of the boats. I told the VoiceOfReason to follow me quietly and we would get out and begin our stalk to the top of the dike. I spotted fish swirls as soon as I got out of the current. This little backwater was full of big spawning carp. I turned around and said softly, “Look at all the fish”. But I really didn’t need to point that out because dozens of carp in the 10-15 pound (5-7 kilos) size range were swirling and coming out of the water around the VOR’s boat. I’ve known her long enough to know that she has a definite snake phobia. What I didn’t realize was that swirling, broaching prehistoric looking fish would provoke the same terrified reaction. There was first a look of confusion and disbelief and then, “What are they!? God, there are dozens of them”. Confusion and disbelief quickly turned to horror as they continued jumping out of the water and then “Get me out of here! They are going to LAND ON MY BOAT AND TIP ME OVER! HELP, PULL ME OUT OF HERE!!....HELP!!” Which I would have been happy to do except for one thing; I was laughing too hard to even get out of my boat. When I finally got over to her she was holding her Greenland stick out of the water, either to club attacking carp, club me, or maybe to keep the carp from gnawing on the paddle. This triggered another fit of laughter on my part and I had to raft up and lay on the deck of the Avocet to regain my composure. Fortunately she didn’t hit me with the paddle and took the whole thing with good humor. Once the massive adrenaline rush was over that is. She was fairly certain that the carp master plan was to flop up on her deck, cause her to capsize, and then begin eating her. I pointed out that the carp diet normally didn't include humans and that she was probably OK. I still can’t figure out what got the carp all riled up. It seriously looked like one of those old movies where the guys are crossing the river somewhere in South America and the piranhas attacked, water roiling, people screaming , and arms flailing. I suspect that after my boat came into their little cozy carp cove, that they tried to swim out and were blocked by the VOR's Avocet, possibly offended by its lily white hull or perhaps even sexually attracted to it. Or maybe ‘Avocet’ means ‘carp tormenter’ in Latin; who knows? I just wish I could have got a good picture of it but, as I said, it was hard to even keep the kayak vertical while roaring with laughter. I tried to re-enact the scene by suggesting that the VOR paddle out of the little backwater while I waited with the camera but all that idea got me was ‘The Look’. You guys all know exactly what I’m talking about. I did manage to locate the school again and get a few shots of them surfacing but nothing as dramatic as attacking a woman in a sea kayak. The VoiceOfReason claimed that this was, “the most terrified I’ve ever been while kayaking”. As I ticked off a half dozen other incidents in my head when she would have been perfectly justified to be much more scared than here, I realized just how traumatic this unprovoked and remorseless carp sneak attack was for her. But I also have to confess that I’d laugh just as hard, maybe harder, if it happened again.
In the depths of the Great Depression Franklin Roosevelt set aside a few hundred acres on a large backwater of the Mississippi River and designated it the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge. Since then it has grown to 6,200 acres with several miles of dikes to control water levels. The bird migration up and down the flyway in the spring and fall is spectacular and birdwatching was the goal of this weekends paddle adventure. We were not disappointed. A number of bald eagles, hawks, and vultures complemented the array of wading birds like herons and egrets, as well as diving and puddle ducks of at least a dozen species that I was able to count. The usual giant rafts of coots and the not so usual flocks of white pelicans were abundant also. I had hunted ducks about 30 miles north of this area for most of the decade of the '70's and can say I never saw a pelican back then. They are an impressive bird and their formation flying as they bank back and forth in giant flocks, must be seen to be appreciated. I remember taking a friend down here a few years back and his comment was that he had no idea that topography like this existed in the state of Wisconsin.
The VOR and I set up camp at the Trempealeau Hotel, an old railroad/rivermans hotel built in 1871. Small authentic rooms with minimal amenities and a bathroom down the hall and for $40 bucks a night it served us just fine. The bar and dining room downstairs offered a half dozen micro brewed beers on tap as well as Guiness which was the perfect place to end the paddle day. Two miles from the hotel was Perrot State Park, sited amid the bluffs of the Mississippi River. Indian burial mounds, the site of an old French trading post from the 1600's, and another large estuary. This furnished us with some fine paddling also. In fact, the road to the refuge was flooded on Sunday, a foregone conclusion since we had to drive through 6' of water to get in there on Saturday, so it was good we paddled them in the order that we did. It will be interesting to see how the Apostle Island foursome fared this weekend but we had a great time on the river and will return again when the fall migration hits its peak in October. It can be interesting trying to paddle a 18' sea kayak in moving water. Maybe I'll check the kayak auction this weekend and see......nah, no storage space.....at least at this point.
Stay tuned for tomorrows post: Carp Attack! "The most terrified I've ever been kayaking!!" - VOR
Friday, April 18, 2008
My first experience with wetland preservation was back in the mid '70's and pretty much a selfish exercise on my part. Northern States Power, now Xcel Energy, decided that the perfect place to build a new nuclear power plant was on the Chippewa River near the township of Tyrone,WI in the midst of a swampy backwater (read: wetland) area. This spot happened to be one of our favorite duck hunting areas so we leaped upon the Stop Tyrone movement, allying ourselves with environmentalists, anti nuke folks, and a smattering of fellow duck hunters. Opposing us were the construction trades unions, NSP, and our pal's the developers. Hearings were contentious and the debate was often stupid and childish. But we won. The Mallards, Teal, Wood ducks and Bluebills that wound up in my freezer probably weren't happy about it but at least now they still have a place to get shot at 4 weeks out of the year and kick back the other 11 months.
Right now there is a unique piece of wetland south of the Twin Cities, called the Seminary Fen,that is directly in the path of this proposed amendment. My guess is that this would be one of the first pieces of wetland to be 'wetland credited' out of existence. You can read about the unique properties of a fen here. In this case it is a bridge extension proposed by the Minnesota DOT, the same folks that brought you the 35W bridge in, rather than over, the Mississippi River last August. Can you say Eminent Domain? I was alerted to this fine piece of legislation by my friend the ZumbroImpressionist, a Sierra Club member, landscape artist, and paper drive Czarina. This link will get you to a more detailed explanation of the issue and a draft note to send to Moe, Larry, Curly, and other legislators who think this is a fine idea. My letter may be a bit more direct and to the point than the nicely worded missive from our pals in the Sierra Club but thats just me. We need to decide whether we want another strip mall and a bridge to get us there more quickly, or wetlands that we and numerous species of plants and animals can use and enjoy. No need to wonder what side The Lake is the Boss comes down on.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Roughly 20% of the lake was open with a giant ice floe in the middle, ranging from about 4" to 10" (10-25cm) thick. Once again it was honeycombed, as you can see in the photo, although a couple times I took a run at it and skidded up on the sheet instead of breaking through. I could sense the unspoken 'he has the mind of a 14 year old' thoughts of my two companions but it was just plain fun smashing through that rotten ice and watching it part and break off as my bow hit it. There were ducks, geese, and gulls all over, working the edge of the ice; we were the only homo sapiens on the water. The skyline of downtown Minneapolis was clearly visible in the background and it was a wonderful night to be on the water. It did get cold when the sun went down however. We got off the water about 8:15 and as we were tying the boats on the roof the wind switched to the northwest. In the space of about 10 minutes the ice sheet blew in to our shore and completely blocked in the spot we launched and landed from as well as about a half mile of open water that we paddled through to get back to the takeout. As the VOR and BC stood on the ice we all agreed that, like so many things in life, timing is everything.
I hope the Apostle's expedition sees that same ice melting this weekend but I'm a bit skeptical. Reports from MrSafe, a noted Ashland realtor, reports, '30" of ice in Chequamagon Bay and large drifting plates of ice at Saxon Harbor'. GurneyGranny weighed in this morning with,'The only open water I've seen is the channel they busted from Bayfield to LaPointe. Tell em to watch out for ferries!'. An experienced group of paddlers the likes of RonO, RonS, Alex, and ChrisG should be fine but need to remember that the lake is indeed the boss, especially in April. My plan is to head down to the Trempealeau National Wildife Refuge, paddle, and take pictures of the incredible migration that's heading up the Mississippi flyway this time of year. I am sure that notes on the two trips will need to be compared at some point next week over a cool pint of Summit Maibock.
Monday, April 14, 2008
We hope the ice melts at some point this spring. Its certainly taking its sweet time. Next Thursday is the kayak demo on Lake Calhoun, part of Midwest Mountaineering's Outdoor Expo and the folks at Midwest are a bit concerned. Our SKOAC group will be providing safety boaters and I reassured Jerome at Midwest that I would throw in my ice fishing stool along with the kayak gear. Big plates of ice are still drifting around the Apostles although the Madeline Island Ferry has been operating for a bit over a week now. The image above is of the ice buckling near the Trek & Trail launch in Bayfield. When the wind blows the ice toward shore and it has nowhere to go it just buckle up. When the plates of ice press together out in the lake you get pressure ridges such as the one in the image below.
But I'm pretty much sick of ice. Its too thin and black to skate or fish on and it makes kayaking extremely difficult. So why and how does it melt? Normally in March the air warms and the sun gets more intense which melts the snow and allows light to penetrate the ice. The ice acts exactly like glass in a greenhouse and the water beneath the ice begins to warm and the ice starts to melt... from the bottom up! When the ice melts to about 4-12" (10-30cm) it transforms into long vertical crystals called 'candles'. These conduct light even better so the ice starts to look black because not much sunlight is being reflected. Even my dad, a notorious thin ice fisherman, would avoid black or 'honeycomb' ice as being too unsafe, even when the lunker bluegills were biting voraciously. Warming continues and meltwater fills between the crystals which start breaking up. Then the wind comes up, breaks the surface apart, and piles the crystals up on the shore. And out come the kayakers! Since I am far too scientifically ignorant to come up with the cogent and understandable description above, I need to credit Ed Swain of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Heck, I didn't even take the pictures so I'll need to credit RangerMark for those. In fact if I don't get on the water soon I may need to change this to a microbrewed beer review blog, 'The Malt/Hop is the Boss'. Eight of us have $10 apiece in an 'ice out on Lake Calhoun' pool and the last date picked was tomorrow, chosen by the VOR. This means she needs to buy a round for the rest of us losers at the first Lake Calhoun paddle of the season. Here's hoping its before the demo 10 days from now.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
One staple of this trip is always a quest for the perfect brewpub. We have not found it as yet but will continue the relentless pursuit as long as we are able. We hit the Estes Park Brewing Company, New Belgium Brewing, Fort Collins Brewing, and the Left Hand Brewing Co in Longmont, CO. Left Hand was by far the most intriguing. My friend Davey came back from the men's room and informed us that he couldn't find the flush handle for the toilet and until he noticed it was on the left hand side of the tank; every thing in the brewery was geared for lefties. As a left hander, I was pleased by the right handed angst this caused. Even more impressive was the great jazz combo that was playing and the cask ESB on tap. Readers (and beer drinkers) in England take cask conditioned, hand pulled real ale for granted but when we find it over here it causes more excitement than the mountain goat we spotted up in the park. Needless to say we bellied up and the foolishness ensued. I'm not sure if we were supposed to be ZZ Top or Jake and Elwood but by then it really didn't matter.
Today we explore Boulder, CO and then down to Denver for the battle of the Catholic schools, Notre Dame vs Boston College for the national NCAA Division 1 hockey championship. Coincidentally we discovered that the Wynkoop Brewery, 4 blocks from the arena, also has cask ESB. Boy, we really like this Colorado front range area.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
I was too lazy to pack my skis so I took advantage of the 3 ski demo at Loveland. I skied three pairs of the latest and greatest in telemark gear. What I discovered is that I really like and appreciate my current gear. Short, wide skis with more sidecut means all the damn things want to do it turn. When you try to go straight and fast its like driving a car thats out of alignment and has unbalanced wheels; lots of shimmy and instability. I think I fell about a half dozen times as my skis decided I needed to keep turning up the hill instead of transitioning into a turn in the opposite direction. I did eventually figure them out but I want to ski the skis; I don't want them to ski me.
I distinctly remember a similar feeling the first time I paddled my Greenland stick. It had a mind of its own and i remember thinking I'd just wasted $100. After about 15 minutes of struggling however, the small muscles began to learn and get used to the stroke, and the advantages of the paddle began to reveal themselves. No such epiphany occurred with the tele skis. RonO and I were talking about wing paddles and surf skis. I'd like to give both of them a try this summer if I have the opportunity. I'm not sure if it will be a Greenland stick or a tele ski experience but I hope I will be open minded enough to give it my best shot and get a feel for what people are talking about. After all, I don't want anyone to think I'm getting old and curmudgeonly.....
Saturday, April 5, 2008
There was still ice on most of the backwaters but the main river was wide open. Lots of waterfowl were moving north on the legendary Mississippi Flyway including Mallards, Bluebills, Wood Ducks, Buffleheads, Coots, Canada Geese, and loons. We saw a hawk being harassed by a smaller bird and doing perfect barrel rolls, talons outstretched, whenever its small tormenter got close. On the homo sapien side, a few new ostentatious 'McMansions' had gone up in the past year and lots of folks were out working on docks, yards, and just enjoying the day. We enjoyed a short two hour cruise and got our rusty muscles and that crucial kayak balance synapse firing correctly after a winter of pretty much ignoring the boats. A couple of lovely homebrews on the beach and the first paddle of 2008 was history.
On the Lake Superior front, along with the guys going through the ice at Roys Point, the GreenThumbChef reports that there appears to be a narrow channel weaving its way along the shore from Washburn up to Bayfield. By the time I get back from Colorado next week I may need to verify that report.
Friday, April 4, 2008
The lake began its own ice breaking operations a couple miles north of Bayfield near Roy's Point. A couple guys out jigging for lake trout went through the ice on their four wheeler yesterday afternoon. Even though they came back to land on the same tracks they drove out on, shifting ice, warm weather, and wind had opened up a spot and in they went. They were in the invigorating 32F(0C) water for about 25 minutes before the wind sled got out and rescued them. One guy went to the Ashland hospital and was treated for hypothermia. I would imagine the wheeler is at the bottom of the lake. As tasty as lake trout and coho from the cold water can be, a person needs to take a few precautions when venturing out this time of year. The old man was a classic thin ice fisherman; they always bite better when the ice just forms and when its going out. His technique, NOT endorsed by my mother, was to wear snowshoes and a vintage Stearns life jacket over his snowmobile suit. The key piece of gear was two wooden dowels with finishing nails drilled into the ends on a piece of string around his neck. Using these two 'ice picks' a person could haul their frozen rear end out of the water fairly quickly. Once you're out, getting to shore before your clothing freezes on you becomes the goal. Wool Malone type pants and you're all good; blue jeans and you will soon be like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz, right before Dorothy shows up with the oil.
In the next few weeks I hope to be rounding Roy's Point in my Aquanaut. Ice breakers and guys going through the ice are just two more signs of the spring we are all looking forward to.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
There is debate on how many words the Inuit-Aleut languages have for snow. We denizens of the Great Lakes snow belt have plenty of snow terms ourselves. The stuff that we got Monday was heavy, wet 'mashed potatoes' snow thats hard to drive your skis through. Sunday at Spirit Mountain gave us 'sugar' snow, a fine grained wet snow, as well as some 'corn' snow which is snow that has been frozen, thawed, and busted up a number of times. When we were out west we encountered wind blown 'grabby' snow, which caused a spectacular face plant by GalwayGuy. JeremiahJohnstone has the video but so far has not released it. We did not encounter much of the lusted after 'champagne powder' but did ski a lot of 'packed powder', a bit of 'crust' snow, and a little 'ice' over the course of the trip.
So whats the point of all of this? This is the absolutley last reference to snow that you'll hear in this blog until November. Although I will have one more ski day when I'm working in Colorado next week, I'm done. Sick of it. Want it to melt and go away and fill the lake back up. We hope to paddle in the river somewhere this weekend and once my hull hits the water thoughts of skiing and snowshoeing will be banished from my brain for the season. The beauty of living up north is that they will come seductively creeping back into my head sometime around October but for now its big swells, high braces, and breaking waves that dominate my daydreams.