Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A true fall paddle

A friend from Puerto Rico was in town yesterday and remarked, "It was like Puerto Rico here Monday; today its Minnesota". A fairly violent line of thunderstorms came through and the 86F high on Monday turned into a 63F high yesterday. Which is excellent news in my book. I loathe hot weather. I went grouse hunting on Sunday with the VOR's dad and it looked like fall, smelled like fall, grouse were flushing (none were harmed in this particular trip however), but we were in our shirt sleeves and it was 85F. Glen, being the resourceful woodsman that he is, quickly converted his long sleeve shirt to short sleeves and we pressed on, sweating the whole time.

That should not be the case this weekend. Five of us are heading to Voyageur National Park, up on the Canadian border, for a 4 day paddle. Highs in the low 60's and lows possibly below freezing. I paddled there once before on one of our annual post Labor Day kayak trips and its a marvelous place. It is a multi use park and you can encounter house boats, fishermen, other kayakers, and lots of wildlife. This time of year the houseboats are pretty much gone and only the die hard fishermen are out on the big waters of Rainy, Namakan, Kabetogama, and Crane Lakes. Our fall group circumnavigated the Kabetogama Peninsula but nothing that ambitious is in store for this trip. We unsucessfully attempted to get rooms at the Kettle Falls Hotel for Saturday night and were told it was the last day they were open for the season. We will be stopping for a beer or two at the famous Tiltin' Hilton bar. The floor is warped beyond belief and the system used to level the pool table is pretty unique. Our hope is that the fall colors are peaking, the temps on the cool side, and that the snow holds off for another week or so at least.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Multitasking weekend

Weekend plans were thrown awry with the passing of RudyA, the 82 year old father of our four Croatian buddies who provide unlimited entertainment, head scratching, and superb camaraderie at the hunting camp. PR was one of my roommates in college and I've known him and his brothers for over 30 years. Older brother, DrSteve is the primary landowner and owns the camp itself at the prestigious Reefer Creek Hunt Club. Rudy was a WWII marine on Okinawa, a Great Lakes commercial sailor, city clerk, and postmaster of Ashland, WI. There are a huge number of Rudy stories, a couple of which are printable. While we were in college Rudy stayed at our skanky apartment while attending a postal meeting. When he went to use the bathroom in the morning he inadvertently opened the wrong door and discovered one of our roommates vigorously testing his waterbed with his girlfriend. Rudy closed the door, turned to us in the kitchen and announced in a deadpan, "Chuck's up". In another classic incident, our buddy Woody strolled into camp after losing about 60 pounds over the summer. We all congratulated him and told him how good he was looking. Rudy checks him out for a minute and asks, "What did you name the kid?" He was a guy who said what he thought and there are fewer and fewer of those around. He will be greatly missed by us all.

The original plan was to attend the St Johns football game in Collegeville, MN with the VOR, her two sons GalwayGuy and GuitarMatt, and her mom and dad. I attended Rudy's visitation at Our Lady of the Lakes in Ashland, talked to about 40 people, and hit the road for Collegeville. By the time I arrived the score was 35-7 Johnnies. Coach Gagliardi is the winningest coach in college football history and has some unique philosophies like no hitting in practice, not being called coach, and allowing anyone who wants to come out for the team to do so. He has been as SJU since 1953 and show little signs of slowing down, winning his most recent national championship in 2003. The team also plays in the most beautiful campus stadiums I've ever been in. After the lopsided Johnnie win in Clemens Stadium we headed for Lake 'Sag' on campus to grill some brats and illicitly consume some fermented malt beverages. As you can see in the photo, we were caught!

Note the VOR attempting to talk her way out of this alcohol violation while her mom studiously avoids looking at the cop. We escaped with a stern warning and did not even have to dump out our beer. Since we were next to a lake (and just happened to have the kayaks!), GalwayGuy and I decided to end the day by working on our angel rolls. He has it down pat and I managed to hit 3 in a row in the Ore Freighter so we were both well satisfied. Voyageurs National Park next weekend with many of the the usual suspects; I'm counting the days.......

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Another update, BWCAW Redneck Rampage

The Lake County MN DA's office finally charged the group of five rednecks from Ely with a total of 79 felony and misdemeanor counts for verbally and physically harassing and making terroristic threats to several campers in the BWCAW back in August. In a former life I was a member of a DA's office in Wisconsin and was a bit worried about all the time it took to file charges on this case. Sweep it under the rug, bad for tourism, local councilman's son type of deal. Apparently in this case it was due to diligent and thorough work by the Lake Co sherriff's and DA's offices to charge the crimes properly and make sure all elements are proveable in court. We can only hope that is indeed the case and that these morons will be hearing, "You shore got a purty mouth" for many years to come at the Oak Park Heights Correctional Facility. This may help drive home the meaning of just exactly what a terroristic threat is with these jerks. It will be a bit different than telling a family camping in a wilderness area, "Maybe if you make us smores for an hour we won't f**king kill you". And these are just the state charges; the Feds and the Canadians have not weighed in yet. Here is the link to the Duluth News Tribune article but I had to reprint some of the most egregious stuff here on the blog:

According to the complaint, at one site where seven children were present, the suspects came to shore to swim, refusing to leave when asked numerous times, swearing at the campers and stating that they owned the land.

“No, we came to skinny dip and plan to, you can watch if you want to,” the complaint quoted the suspects as saying.

“Then screaming drunken, broken phrases, two of them took their clothes off and ran around in the water,” the complaint said.

On two occasions, the complaint said, the suspects poured gas on the lake water and set it aflame. They also caused nearly $1,400 in damage to a water gauging station by wrecking its antenna. One boat went into Canada and fired multiple shots. Twenty-one shell casings were recovered in Canada.

I guess I don't know what I would do in this type of situation. How do you know if they are 'for real' or bluffing? Minnesota is a Right to Carry state, what if one of the campers had been armed? Other than having to politely ask folks to leave designated camping areas that we had reserved, I guess my park camping experience has been pretty tame, positive, and non confrontational. A few of we usual suspects are off to Voyageurs National Park next weekend for a kind of farewell to the 2007 island camping season. This is a multiple use park (which I support) and, like the Apostle Islands, there will be motor boaters, sailors, and fisherman in the park. While the likelihood of an incident such as this happening is slim, I must admit somewhere in the back of my mind I will be a bit apprehensive if I hear an outboard after sunset. I guess in that way these ignorant slugs have impacted us all a little bit.

Wedding in Duluth

When my hunting buddies learned I would be attending a wedding on the opening weekend of Wisconsin's grouse and deer archery season openers, there was much laughter and needling. The only thing more humorous was when the PodMan learned shortly thereafter that his stepdaughter, daughter of the GurneyGranny, would be getting married the same weekend in his yard! Both brides were wise enough to schedule an outdoor wedding and the fall weather cooperated beautifully. The Voice of Reason's niece scheduled her wedding for Enger Park, a gem of a park overlooking Lake Superior on Skyline Drive. This actually was the perfect wedding because I was outdoors gazing at Gitchee Gumee, able to move around as the backup photographer, and got to squeeze a bit of paddling in as icing on the cake. Not to mention the partying with the VOR's family, who are a fun bunch of folks.

Duluth is a great town. Its 2,300 miles from the Atlantic Ocean and is the biggest port by volume in the Great Lakes at 40 million metric tons. The harbor itself is protected by a barrier island called Park Point. Its an island because toward the end of the 19th century they cut a ship canal through it and in the early part of the 20th century built the Aerial Lift Bridge. This is Duluth's signature landmark and features an excellent Corps of Engineers museum that sits right on the ship canal. They also have the schedule of inbound and outbound ships, both lakers and salties, so you can plan your ship watching. As luck would have it, the Queen of the Lakes, the Paul R. Tregurtha would be arriving in the afternooon. What better spot than Enger park, 600' above the lake, to set up the telephoto and get some shots?

Which is exactly what we did. A visit to Hawk Ridge....slow raptor day.........and a paddle near the Knife River rounded out the weekend. Usually we blow through Duluth on the way to camp or the North Shore or points east on the lake. I guess we need to slow down and take more time to check out Duluth.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Tip of the Keweenaw

'Hangin' out there' is a pretty fair description of Keweenaw Point. You have about 100 miles of fetch in many directions, a dragons tooth lake bottom to rile things up, and an island 2 miles off the tip to make sure that any currents funnel through nicely to pick up speed. In other words, its one of the coolest spots on the lake. The geology is fantastic with sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rock all jumbled together and I think its the only non harbor area on the lake when you can easily see two lighthouses at the same time. We were windbound there or maybe sloth bound depending on your viewpoint. A semi unanimous decision was made to do nothing, drink more coffee, and talk smart, and by the time thoughts of a move entered our heads we had some building 5 footers raking across the point out of the NNW. This gave us more time for hiking, reading, lounging, and that new spectator sport, beer can crushing. The rock wielder is none other than TheCommish, long term fall kayak trip veteran and former owner of the Worst Hat in History. Generating the cans for the sport is a large part of the fun; we did notice however that enjoyment of the actual crushing seemed to be divided along gender lines.

Another member of the party, the allegedly retired but always too busy FrugalFisherman, was happy for the days respite because loading his boat, which loaded looks remarkably like the Beverly Hillbillies truck, is kind of an all morning operation. He is nicely recovered from an ankle that he managed to break the Saturday morning of this years Canoecopia, probably to get out of paying for my parking since it was his turn this year.

The Voice of Reason, who was enjoying Nevada Barr's, A Superior Death, was quick to give me The Look when I suggested that a guy really ought to put on the tuliq and go out an play in those waves since, after all, we were windbound. RangerMark and spouse The GreenThumbChef gave the VOR their tacit agreement which served to insure that I would suit up and give it a shot. It was great fun and now I know for sure that I can roll the Ore Freighter (Aquanaut HV) in some big water.

The next morning dawned cool with light winds so off we paddled down the south shore toward Bete Grise. About the only other craft we encountered was a dive boat diving on the wreck of the Coast Guard cutter, Mesquite. Since 1844 there have been 140 shipwrecks in the Keweenaw, 40 of which have been located. The Mesquite went down in 1989 so the area can still be nasty, even in the Loran and gps age. We met up with civilization again at the Montreal River Falls, the lower part of which drops directly into the lake. This is a kind of daytrip destination for kayakers, hikers, and their ill behaved dogs. If a strange dog runs up and attempts to take your savory beer stick, you have my permission to put a size 11 in its ribs; its a dog, not a person. The stretch to the long curving sand beach at Bete Grise Bay has some fine escarpments, sea arches, stacks, and other interesting features.

Mount Bohemia ski area, one of the few areas in the Midwest where thigh deep powder is fairly common (remember those average snowfalls of 270" of lake effect up here) is literially 10 minutes away from Bete Grise bay. Wonder if I should wax up those tele skis and get ahead of the game? We landed in Bete Grise and headed off to the Red Jacket Brewpub/Michigan House where we had an excellent meal and managed to catch the house pale ale on tap. The Oatmeal stout will have to wait until next trip, I guess. Now the only questions is where to go next fall....hmmmm..........

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A few weeks back I got an email from Gail Green, one of the co owners of Living Adventures, an excellent outfitter in Red Cliff, WI. I figured with the recent incident on Long Lake and Silbs encouraging a letter to the editor, that this was the perfect time to post it. This was in response to an email I'd sent asking if they were going to address the July hypothermia death in the Apostles that I'd referred to in yesterdays post. Gail and Grant sent the following letter to the Ashland Daily Press who printed it in its entirety. Its excellent stuff.


Sadness translated to frustration as we at Living Adventure became aware of details in the fatal kayaking accident that occurred at the Meyers Beach/Mawikwe Bay sea caves earlier this month.

One point of frustration is that with proper equipment, training and general awareness, it may have been preventable. Hindsight is clearly 20/20 and no one is immune to the powerful forces of nature and it’s mysterious lessons. But there is much one can do to prepare for a fantastic experience on Lake Superior by paying attention to safety issues. Another effect of sea kayaking accidents here and an additional point of frustration is that they further a bias held by some people against sea kayakers and once again all kayakers get stirred into the ‘dumb kayakers’ soup.

As a commercial sea kayaking outfitter located on the shore of Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands, we are extremely sensitive to the fact that the Lake is the boss and that Superior is not ‘just another lake up North’. In introductory remarks to guests paddling with us, we frame their experience with, “You are about to paddle on the world’s largest freshwater Lake, a National treasure; Lake Superior. The spirit and renewal gained from an adventure here are huge and conversely the consequences of not being prepared are also huge. Lake Superior is Coast Guard regulated, sailors worldwide respect the seaman who successfully navigates these waters, as much as any ocean on the planet”.

Visitors paddling with local commercial outfitters have the advantage of sharing and learning from their years of experience and judgment. Savvy non-local commercial outfitters running trips in the APIS send their highest level guides who have adequate previous experience in the Islands. Among other things, seasoned leaders are aware of basic principles of how to safely travel in groups on inter-Island crossings and how to be visible among motorized boat traffic.

As kayaking has grown in the Apostle Islands, so have the number of ‘no-kayakers’ (circle with the slash over a kayak) bumper stickers on local vehicles. Part of this attitude roots in the deep recesses of prejudice and is not the point of this writing. Another part is due to discourteous and unaware behavior from some sea kayakers. Captains, deck hands and crew of local commercial fishing boats, excursion boats and ferry boats are Living Adventure friends and neighbors and many of us have successfully navigated these waters side-by-side since the mid-eighties, when spotting a sea kayak in the Islands was a rare occurrence. We are constantly trying to bash the ‘dumb kayakers’ myth here and love it when service experts working on our facility drive in with one of these stickers, take the time to know us and check out our operation, and just might possibly be seen later in town with a notably blank spot on their bumper.

By far the greatest percentage of sea kayaking accidents here occurs from the private sector; i.e. those venturing out without guides and mostly unregulated by the Park. The Apostle Islands are now on the map as a world class destination for sea kayaking. Kayaker demographics have expanded from the occasional hard-core paddler into the general population and our sometimes ‘instant gratification culture’ where the frosting is expected without reading the directions and taking the time to prepare the cake. Certainly there are numerous very knowledgeable and highly skilled kayakers safely enjoying the Islands and marveling at this incredible place. But many other sea kayakers new to the Islands often do not have basic safety where-with-all to wear bright and appropriate clothing, paddle in tight groups in the crossings, pay close attention to weather and sea conditions, learn and practice deep water rescues and paddle sea kayaks that are designed for inland seas and oceans.


The training for our guides is rigorous and many first season guides do not achieve the level of skills, safety knowledge and leadership that we require to lead groups on our day trips to the sea caves. The Meyer’s road/Mawikwe Bay sea caves are at the same time the most heavily paddled area in the APIS and some of the most potentially dangerous paddling. Before our trips go out there we scrutinize the radar, near shore marine forecasts and regional weather.

Once guides have a certain level of proficiency, their next step is to go through a process of shadowing trips with senior guides where they work as assistants. Their education includes not only learning on-water skills and judgment but also details of the cultural and natural history of the area. Lastly, they have a final ‘check-out’ trip with a senior guide trainer who determines if they are ready to solo lead groups out there. When they have solid experience leading the day trips, they are ready to start training to lead our overnight trips into the Islands.

* Minimal safety gear a guide carries: vhf radio, cell phone, first aid kit, repair kit, hand held signal flares, sky rocket flares, whistle, mirror, extra dry clothing, extra food, spare paddle, towing belt.

* Minimal first aid certification: wilderness advanced first aid; most are wilderness first responders.

* Minimal sea kayaking instructor certification: American Canoe Association Basic Level Instructor Certification and most have additional instructor certifications.



* Anyone wishing to paddle the Meyers Road/Mawikwe Bay sea caves pays the $3 parking fee and launches out in their canoe, recreational kayak (may or may not have flotation), rubber raft, etc. with wet suits or not.

* To embark on an overnight trip into the Islands, paddlers from the private sector additionally need to go to the Park Service building and purchase a permit to camp.


In both cases of fatalities at the sea caves the paddlers were individuals from the private sector who were caught off guard by the rapid changes in weather and sea conditions. On both days, local commercial outfitters had either pulled off the Lake early in the day or not launched at all. To make the Park truly safer, the APIS needs to pay more attention to standards for the private sector and recognize and support local commercial outfitters for the service we offer them and visitors in the Park.

Gail Green / Grant Herman

Owners: Living Adventure Inc.

Monday, September 10, 2007

"Kayaker" drowns in New Brighton

This was supposed to be the Keweenaw trip report and I will definitely get to that in the next couple of days. When I stumbled into work this morning a couple people asked me if I had heard about the kayaker that had been killed "up north". After a bit of digging and I discovered that 'up north' was Long Lake in New Brighton, a lake that we had several of our club skill sessions and recreational paddles on and is about a 10 minute drive from our house. According to the story in the StarTribune, a 73 year old man visiting, from California, decided to go out on the lake in the kayak. He had never kayaked before, was not wearing a life jacket, and did not know how to swim according to the Hennepin County Medical Examiner.

I'm not even sure what to say about this. Sympathy obviously for the family and relatives that this guy was visiting. Independent of that sentiment, accidents like this one are not good for the paddling community as a whole. What everyone remembers, including 4 of my own coworkers, will be that a kayaker drowned in Long Lake this summer. Can a guy who goes out in an unfamiliar watercraft without a life jacket, even though he can't swim a stroke, be called or thought of as a kayaker? I would have to guess that most of the people reading this would say no. The general public however, is a different story. Like the guy killed by hypothermia at the sea caves in the Apostle Islands this July, this sort of thing is just a waste and never should happen. I wish I knew how to get through to people, educate them, train 'em, and somehow help ward this sort of accident. But I guess all we can do is put forth our best effort to educate and influence those folks within our 'sphere of influence'. For me, that means going to work tomorrow and explaining what went wrong that caused this poor guys demise and what could have been done differently in order to prevent it. It also means me helping out at our skill sessions trying to get folks to paddle smart. Its tough to get my mind around the concept that at the same time we were windbound on Keweenaw Point, some poor guy was paddling off to his eventual demise on our safe little inland practice lake.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

On the water tommorow, apologies today

The crew has been assembled, fishing licenses purchased, and gear sorted in preparation for Manitou Island, the Gull Rock lighthouse and the tip of the Keewenaw tommorow morning. We spent the day bumming around in Calumet, Eagle Harbor, and Eagle River as the much needed rain tapered off. In the course of the afternoon I found myself bellied up to the bar at the very same brewpub, The Michigan House, that I'd savaged in the post from a couple days ago. I felt bad about my petulant, whining, "I want my beer" post after I spent some time talking to Tim the owner. Yes, he was out of both of his brews but only had a homemade half barrel brewhouse. He taps em Wednesday and when they are gone they are gone until the next Wednesday. He struck me as being very passionate about his beer and is looking seriously at a 3 barrel brew house that would potentially quadruple his capacity. When we get off the water I plan on swinging by with the hopes of finding his pale ale and oatmeal stout on tap.

We paddle out of Copper Harbor bright and early in the morning. Forecast looks good, and we're ready to go. Look out fish, here we come!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Hunters Point

Copper Harbor is a wonderful town near the very tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, a jagged, rugged, and beautiful rocky finger that juts out into Lake Superior along its south shore. At one point it produced the majority of the world's copper and miners from Cornwall, Finland, Scandanavia, Italy, and most of eastern Europe worked the ore for decades until it ran out in the mid 20th century. There are no chain motels, fast food, or for that matter chain anything up here, which is one of the main draws for me along with the outdoor fun. You have to really want to live here in the winter because the AVERAGE snowfall is 270" of lake effect snow. Yup, that's around 23 feet; seven plus meters of snow per year. The folks I've ran into up here are honest, tough, friendly, and decidedly independent.

Which brings us to Hunters Point. As you can tell from the photos its a very unique and very cool spot. Be sure to read Jim Rook's "A Naturalist's Description" on the Hunter's Point Park website. Rather than just have the government condemn the land and steal it from the folks who own it...Eminent Domain is the euphemistic name for that would seem that through a variety of grants, programs, fund raisers, and matching funds the residents and interested friends have actually bought the point for the township. I like the concept. Now they are trying to purchase another 70 plus acres that access the base of the point and also go up the side of Brockway Mountain. They are within $50,000 of pulling it off so if you have ever been there, want to go there, or are just a fan of this 'take the bull by the horns' attitude, log on to the website and slip 'em a few bucks.

The VOR and I hiked out there a couple hours ago and checked out the beach, flora and fauna, rocks, and the dense cedar forest at the point. You almost expect to see the Flying Monkeys swooping down on you. I also paddled around Hunter's Point, most memorably last spring with Aras and the Bessemer Convivialist. This is when the BC told us, "Someone who knows about clouds better turn around and look at these". After turning around (blue skies 180 degrees in front of us) we quickly began to paddle like hell for the harbor and managed to cut through the gap between the point and Porter's Island before the massive 40,000' high thunderhead was upon us.

This is a great spot, one that should be visited, enjoyed, and preserved for everyone that can appreciate and respect it.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Houghton beer interlude

After a leisurely evening in northern Wisconsin, dinnner with friends including the PodMan and GurneyGranny, we were off for the Keweenaw. We stopped in Houghton and paid a visit to a fine UP outfitter known as Downwind Sports. The BDM purchased his Impex Force 4 (which I spotted next to Pod & GG's garage) from those guys and was a happy customer. A few doors down we found an excellent international foods market and right next door the Keweenaw Brewing Company's brewery and brewpub.

This place is a find. They have a superb brown ale called Lift Bridge on tap as well as the best Dunkel Weizen (dark wheat) I've tasted since the old Hibernia Brewery in Eau Claire, WI went under 15 years ago. It is housed in a vintage brick building and there are two full bars as well as the production facility. Two beers are canned (note the miner logo on the Red Jacket Amber can; commentary is welcome) and growlers are available. I purchased a growler of the Lift Bridge brown after the VOR pulled a decorative pick axe off the wall and pried me off my bar stool. With $2 taps it took some serious prying. We did not visit the other fine brewpub in Houghton, The Library but it is at the top of the list for the return trip. With its view of the Portage Canal and the Ranger, the ship that takes hikers and paddlers out to Isle Royale, its a fine place to debrief after a kayak adventure.

We crossed the big blue lift bridge over the portage canal, purchased some staples at the excellent co-op in Hancock, and headed up the road to Calumet, hoping for a taste for the Oatmeal Stout from the Red Jacket Brewery which is housed in the Michigan House, a fine turn of the century hotel. Unfortunately, like the last two times I visited the joint, they were out of beer. Think about that. A brewpub thats out of beer....on Labor Day weekend. Sure, I quaffed a Bell's Oberon but as a business guy myself I have to wonder how the hell can a brewpub run out of its own beer!? Isn't that the primary reason you're in business? Maybe not. After all, its a nice eating establishment, the food is very good plus there is the hotel portion. Still, when avid microbeer fans are 'shut down' in their quest to add another fine ale to their lifetime list word will get around. When I asked when they would have more beer I was told, "no idea". If you have beer in the fermentation tank I would think you would have a damn good idea of when you were going to rack it. In my opinion it seems the restarurant and hotel are winning and the brewery is losing. Any insights on this place would be welcome.

Two more days of R&R in Copper Harbor with some day paddles, hikes, and general lounging until the rest of the contingent arrives Tuesday.

(Photo credit to Aras )