Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Spray Falls adventure

This has to be the longest stretch that this site has gone without a new post since 2007 when I started writing it.  A combination of other work related writing and an almost unprecedented thirteen days away from the desk had made me lazy and a bit preoccupied.  I'm back.  I find that being outdoors constantly dampens the urge to write while sitting in front of a computer screen doing mundane, non writing related tasks seems to fuel the urge. 

My time off was book ended by coaching at the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium on the front end and being coached by Turner Wilson and Cheri Perry on the back end.  Both experiences provided excellent learning opportunities and being on both sides of the kayak learning model helps with both instructing and being instructed.  The guiding aspect of sea kayaking is one that I attempt to avoid but one that is expected of us on day one of the GLSKS.  This year I drew the Spray Falls Adventure, along with FivePieceRoy, MrEngineerGear, Marius, and Ray.  The five of us had roughly  fifteen paddlers and the tour was indeed an adventure.
The paddle began off loading boats at one of the finest mosquito preserves on the UP, the Beaver Bay campground.  This years late, wet summer has made mosquito breeding conditions absolutely perfect.  The silver lining was that it sped up the launch considerably.  The route for the tour is certainly an adventure.  It begins with a short paddle from a small bay through a channel and into Beaver Lake is. A creek leaves Beaver Lake and flows a twisty, snaky 800 meters to Lake Superior.  At the end is a log jam that requires a roughly 80 meter (16 rods for you BWCA fans) portage.  It was a bit of a character check and watching some folks help with four or five boats vs. others helping with zero boats gave a pretty good indication of what to expect on the big lake. It was a rainy day, a deluge at times, and we could hear far off thunder but had not seen any lightning flashes.  Radar on the iPhone seemed to indicate the storm was over Grand Island and moving off to the northeast, good news for us, bad news for the two Grand Island tours, one of which waited three hours to launch.  Our group paddled about a mile southwest along the shore and stopped at the end of twelve mile beach, the last landing spot before the cliffs, to evaluate the weather.  Rain but no more rumbling helped us decide to paddle the two miles to the falls.  There were nooks and crannies to play in and gulls and mergansers to entertain us, which tended to string out the group, a situation that was not a problem on water as flat as a pancake and with five coaches.  Then we saw the falls.

The same wet weather that favored the mosquito community had increased the flow of the falls to triple or quadruple its normal volume.  A paddler could normally paddle under the flow and cool off but paddling under this flow would result in an instantly snapped neck. I'm not sure what the cfs flow was but at 8#/gallon there were tons of water cascading off the cliff every second. This was bluntly pointed out to a couple of folks and everyone kept back a decent distance.  The amount of spray and velocity of the wind coming off the water column highlighted the force of the falls.  We regrouped to head back to the creek mouth and things became strung out again, bad if the lake was active but again, with five coaches spread out and keeping contact with everyone it worked OK.  After 'riding drag' as we paddled and pulled our boats back up the creek to Beaver Lake, we encountered the southwest wind in the wake of the storm that had nicked us. Our friends off Grand Island had a hell of a time getting back with with gusts up to 30mph but fortunately minimal fetch.  Some of our newer paddlers had a tough time on the inland lake but we all managed to get to the small channel to the bay in good shape.

LIke real estate values, the key to this tour was location, location, location. It was arguably the best tour choice of that stormy Thursday. One tour was called off, a couple more delayed, and the Grand Island ones offered a bit more challenge than some people had hoped for. Tow belts were indeed deployed.  We missed the lightning and were in the lee of the SW wind while on the big lake. It seemed that everyone had a great experience as evidenced by the beer fueled conversations at the annual Beers with Bill slide show.  Other than a bit of towing, all we guides had to do was paddle, chat, and keep our eyes open.  Like most of 'em, it was a good day to be on the water.

No comments: