Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Spring on Lake Superior

I took a break from my Canoecopia fueled kayak lust last night and did what could be the last cross country ski outing of the season with RonO and TheManFromSnowyLegs. The trails were nice but very slow as were we for the most part. I've got a couple more telemark ski trips on the calendar but with 50F(10C) outside today the snow will not be on the ground for very long. Apparently the ice is on its way out also.

(Photo courtesy of Steve Kuchera/Duluth News Tribune)

The Duluth News Tribune reported today that the Coast Guard Cutter Alder began operations in Duluth harbor. She will break ice in the harbor and then out the Superior Entry into the lake today. The CO of the Alder, Lt Cmdr Kevin Worth, says ice in the harbor is 20"-36" (nearly a meter) thick. The plan is for the first ship of the season, the 1,004' Mesabi Miner, to leave Duluth sometime this weekend with a load of coal bound for Marquette, MI. Satellite photos indicate the lake is 80-90% covered with ice as far as Two Harbors, roughly 25 miles (42K) up the shore. This is the third most ice cover in the last 20 years.

Still, if they are breaking ice, thousand footers are starting to move, and the pack ice is blowing around the lake, this can only mean the the breakup is a few weeks off. RonO, GG & I alerted RangerMark that we wanted the arctic experience this spring of paddling amongst the ice floes. Since his trip to work each day involves either the ice road, wind sled, or car ferry, depending upon the state of the water/ice between Bayfield and Madeline Island, we felt he would be the perfect source for up to the minute conditions. Getting the first Apostle Islands camping permit of the year however, has no interest for me at all. RonO and RonS did that last year and nearly froze to death. Fellow SKOAC members Rich and Sarah were right behind them with permit #2. A warm fire, an adult beverage, and a nice sauna are my idea of the perfect end to a day outside in the cold.

There have been many personal adventures and learning experiences associated with the first Lake Superior paddle of the year. Dumping with my fishing gear at the mouth of the Brule River, hitting the big rollers in Bark Bay with RonO, paddling the ice filled sea caves in May, snapping my Greenland paddle while test paddling my Aquanaut HV, and surfing from Bayfield to Washburn, also with RonO and TheCommish, while foolishly attempting to fish are all fond memories. The learning experience on about half of these adventures was to dress for immersion. The Brule episode taught me that a dry suit would be a really, really good thing for a guy like me. You don't really appreciate the operating principle of a wetsuit until that thin layer of 35F(1C) water seeps in to be warmed. Like skiing however, if you don't 'fall' once in awhile you just aren't trying hard enough to improve. The Greenland principle, reiterated by Dubside in his demo/talk, of being comfortable with and embracing the water is a valuable one to keep in mind. If you do that and remember the principle of not going anywhere physically that you haven't already been mentally, your spring experiences in the big lake will be both safe and enjoyable. I can't wait!

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