Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tree sitting time is here

Few things are more puzzling to non hunters than how a person can sit up in a tree for hours on end. I don't know if its because of the cold, the lack of entertainment, potential danger, or the perceived boredom. It can be brisk up there, I generally don't bring a hand held video game or battery operated TV, and old guys climbing in and out of little platforms 15' above the ground might be perceived as tempting fate. I find it anything but boring however.

There is constant drama in the woods. Our camp happens to be situated on the western end of Lake Superior and many birds migrating down the north shore find the dozen or so miles of open water to be just the spot from them to 'cut the corner' on the lake. Its amazing how many different birds a person can see if they are sitting quietly up in a tree. Mammals are constantly on the move as well. Porkies, fisher, squirrels, ermine, bear, otter, wolves, deer, and even a wolverine a few years back, have been seen from the many tree stands at the Reefer Creek camp. A person can even get some woodland drama from time to time. I watched a industrious red squirrel moving corn from a small pile to one of his many burrows. When he would run back to the burrow, a couple of blue jays would swoop down and eat a couple kernels and then fly back up to a small bush when Mr. Squirrel came racing back to the pile, chastising them in squirrel language. The jays would squawk back and this went on for several minutes. Unfortunately for the squirrel, I was not the only witness to the scenario. All of a sudden the woods erupted and before I knew it, a hawk was climbing past my stand, within 6' of me, with poor Mr Squirrel in his talons. If I'd just pulled up my camera and shot, I would have had one of the coolest hawk shots of all time but I was simply mesmerized by the event.

Like kayaking, safety is an issue and todays Mpls paper had a great article on how not to fall out of your tree. I may need to get one of those sophisticated vests since I have a tendency to doze from time to time in the tree. I am securely buckled in with a seat belt but this apparatus looks like it might be just the thing for more comfortable snoozing.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, this weekend will be a multitaking event with some kayaking, grouse chasing, and perhaps some quality tree time. For me and a number of my cronies, it marks the official end of the Gitchee Gumee padding season for 2009. Our Gales of November event remains (Tuesday, Nov 10th folks??) but that is on an inland lake.

Doug W. update: It appears that Dougs paddle and gps have been found. We hope for the best but fear the worst.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Doug W. update

Searchers found Doug's life jacket yesterday near Split Rock. This would make sense, according to the article, which said that the winds were strong out of the northeast, classic 'Gales of November' contitions in October. They said the zipper and straps were not fastened. The Milwaukee paper also is covering the accident, with some insight from our buddy Silbs.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

MIssing kayakers

Back in September a kayaker was lost off door county in Lake Michigan. He left Newport State Park and planned to paddle north toward Washington Island on a day trip. He never returned to his car and his kayak was found the next morning along the east shore of Rowley's Bay. He was reportedly wearing a white cotton T-shirt and blue jeans. I had not heard about the accident until the GurneyGranny sent me a link and told me that the fellow, John Kariger, lived in my hometown of Eau Claire and had lived in her neighborhood when she was growing up down the road in Osseo, WI. Last week in an eerily similar incident, a kayker went missing on the north shore of Lake Superior near Cove Point on Monday. His car with an empty kayak rack was found in the parking lot of the Cove Point Lodge and his kayak was found near Twin Points, a few miles southwest of there. His name is Doug W. and he is from Milwaukee. The authorities traced him using the serial number on his Impex kayak through an outfitter in Milwaukee. The Lake County sheriff said that Winter called his girlfriend about 9pm on Monday night and told her he was on the lake, could not see shore, and figured he was 2-3 miles out.

The scenario raises a lot of quetions for experienced kayakers. Was he wearing a pfd, wetsuit, drysuit, could he roll, and most importantly, what was he doing out alone after dark on one of the most treacherous bodies of water on the planet? Lots of questions according to another article on the accident published this morning in the Duluth Tribune, and it also said that his family is looking for answers. I know that for a fact. I got an email from his sister in San Diego yesterday afternoon. The Duluth paper stated that the search will begin again today, weather permitting. The lake is indeed the boss as we know. The Coasties are good, as I know from personal experience, but the more eyes the better. If kayakers and hikers along the north shore can keep their eyes open that would help a lot. I noticed in the photo of Doug's' boat that his bilge pump was still tucked in beside the seat. It looks like a well traveled kayak. There could be a paddle float, water bottle, deck bag, or other gear washed up along the shore that might help indicate where he is. I sent a note and a link to this blog to the North Shore Steelhead Association as well as the Superior Hiking Trail Association. The hikers get down to the lake and the steelhead guys are out of the lake chasing steelhead, browns, lakers, and salmon this time of year. Two of the most popular Harbors of Refuge are directly north and south of the area Doug disappeared in and the fishermen will be on the water this weekend for sure if the lake cooperates.

I know this area well and there are not a lot of places to get close to the water due to the rugged terrain. Once again if anyone is up there this weekend, spread the word and keep your eyes open. Depending on the wind and waves those along the south shore should be alert as well. When the kayak was found one of the first scenarios the authorities came up with was that the boat blew across from the Apostles. The family is looking for closure and anything that folks can do will be appreciated. Silbs has a piece on Doug in his post today as well, and it appears that the boat in the picture is indeed Dougs.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Anyone up for a race?

I received word from the GurneyGranny that a mutual friend is pondering organizing a kayak race on the south shore. CleanGene lives in the area and is active in a number of conservation organizations. To commemorate the addition of the Gaylord Nelson Wilderness Area to the Apostle Islands Nat Lakeshore, he did a little fund raiser which involved paddling around the entire archipelago from Meyers Beach to Bayfield. The one interesting twist was that he did it in a day. I believe he left Meyers Beach sometime around 4pm and paddled into Bayfield around 3pm the next afternoon in his meticulously constructed Chesapeake 17 LT. We both built the same boat; his would look good in a wooden boat competition. Mine looks great cruising past at about 30mph on the roof of my car. I also don't think that it or its primary paddler could go 75 miles in one stretch.

I'm intrigued by this idea and think it could be loads of fun. If you look at the map, the race would run from Herbster to Cornucopia. The course would take paddlers up the west shore of Bark Point and then cross the mouth of Bark Bay to Roman Point and into Cornie. Depending on wind and waves, it could be a very interesting race. Both Bark and Roman Points can be rockin' and rollin' if the wind is anywhere from dead west to dead east. I'm sure the logistics involving the safety boaters, Coast Guard, volunteers, etc would be formidable but also very doable. I've paddled the route before and it is scenic, fun, and challenging at times. A couple years back RonO and I set out into Bark Bay and reached a shoulder in the bay just south of Roman Point. The northeast wind hit us and the waves jumped up to all of 4'-6'. I remember thinking that it was May, the water was colder than hell, and we were on our way to CampO, where rolling and then jumping into a 190F sauna would be much more amenable than an involuntary roll in frigid Bark Bay. I slid over by Ron and had not gotten my mouth open when he yelled, "How about we turn around?". Great minds think alike I guess.

One of the things the potential organizers need to do it gauge possible interest since this is indeed a fund raiser. The Two Harbors Kayak festival has jumped up and down in size, usually because of weather and conflicting weekend events but its still a pretty good and well attended race. I guess if folks out in cyberspace would send me an email or comment on this post, I could pass it on to CleanGene. Between the Twin Cities clubs, the Madison folks, the two Chicago area groups, and the band of renegades in Milwaukee, I think they would draw a pretty good field. I could even see a tooth and nail relay competition between the clubs. My guess is that competition between ISK, SKOAC, MadCity Paddlers, CASKA, the Prairie Coast Paddlers, and the Beer City crew could be ferocious. I also know a few folks in Thunder Bay as well as the crew at Naturally Superior Adventures might be lured south as well. Plus, unlike Two Harbors, there is Woody's Bar in Herbster and Fish Lipps and the Village Inn in Cornie. Post race refreshment at its finest. It is Wisconsin, you know.

Feedback is needed. Let me know your thoughts on this thing and I'll get the info to the potential organizers. I may even have to lure RonO and the ManFromSnowyLegs into paddling the route a week from today on our way to the Annual Grouse Kill at Camp O. An adventure like this might even lure the Commish north from his chicken farm in Verona. Look for a report to follow.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pesky grouse

This weekends trip to camp was the usual multitasking event with deer stand relocation, scouting, and putting a steel roof on the new 'cut up shack'. That thing is rapidly morphing from a place to process venison without freezing one's behind to a luxury suite but that's another post. The main goal this weekend was to put a couple grouse in the cooler and we failed miserably.

There is nothing better than grouse hunting in the northern Wisconsin fall. The air is crisp, the leaves are multicolored, humidity and biting insects are just an unpleasant memory, and the woods smell wonderful. The Ruffed Grouse, or partridge, is a unique bird as well. Unlike the Ringneck Pheasant it's not raised in captivity and hunted on 'game farms' and the native population seems to be pretty much unaffected by outside forces like predators, hunters, weather, etc. The grouse cycle is a 10 year high-low cycle that seems to happen as regularly as clockwork. Some years there are lots of grouse and other years they are impossible to find. In any event they are damn near impossible to hit with a shotgun this time of year.

I started grouse hunting, or more precisely was exposed to grouse hunting, at about age 8. My grandfather, a guy born in 1900, never had the frustration of missing a flying grouse because he always shot them on the ground, 'ground swatting' as its known in these parts. No sense wasting a precious shell on an iffy proposition like hitting a grouse in the air. He would stroll the dirt and gravel roads and fire lanes and shoot the dumb ones where they stood with his cheap single shot 20 gauge. Since I'm really not hunting them to put meat on the table, I like the alternating frustration and exhilaration of wing shooting. In that particular sport the grouse 'wins' about twice as often as the hunter, a ratio I'm pretty much fine with.

A couple years back I had an encounter in the woods with another grouse hunter. I was trudging up the ravine from Reefer Creek at the end of the day and had just about reached the trail that runs along the ridge. I felt something looking at me and when I glanced up I saw a Great Gray Owl staring at me from a balsam about 20 yards away. We watched each other for quite awhile and then I turned down the trail to head back to camp. I had only gone about a dozen steps when I saw the classic 'dumb' grouse, sitting right in the middle of the trail. I could almost hear my grandpa urging me to 'shoot...SHOOT!". Instead I figured that this guy belonged to Mr G.G. Owl and continued back to camp. About a forty down the trail I was rewarded for my selfless act when another grouse sitting on the trail took off and flew right down it. He wound up in my famous bacon wrapped stuffed grouse breasts with white sauce, a culinary delight that I have not enjoyed yet this season.

Halloween weekend is the Annual Grouse Kill at Camp Olympia. This year I actually plan on bringing a gun and grouse hunting, a concept absolutely foreign to most of the attendees of this fine event. There may even be a couple hunting dogs in camp (unlike the thick headed beast pictured above), which makes the experience even more enjoyable. There is nothing quite like watching a good grouse dog, whether it be a pointer or a flushing dog, work. The kayaks will be on the roof for the traditional late season cold weather rolling close to the hot sauna, but my mind is pretty much switching from paddling to the hunting season. Even though I have not yet began to paw the ground or rub my head against trees, I think I may be officially in the rut for the 2009 hunting season.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Camera mania

A combination of forgetting my cameras at home last weekend and Silb's post about the death of yet another Pentax made me ponder my camera set up for outdoor photography. At this point I have an Olympus 790 SW for my waterproof/shockproof point and shoot and a Nikon D5000 35mm digitial SLR. I like both cameras and they take decent pictures. Where I have trouble is the seam between the obvious 35mm conditions and the obvious waves and weather that makes me pull out the waterproof Olympus.

If I divide my outdoor photography between kayaking, hunting, and skiing I have three unique issues to think about. Kayaking is the total immersion problem, hunting is rain and low light, and skiing throws those below freezing temperatures at the equipment. Freezing sweat does nothing to improve camera performance for the avid cross country skier either. On the kayak I have a Sagebrush Dry Bag on deck for the Nikon. It has a drysuit zipper and is made of hypalon, the same tough material used in folding kayak hulls. Every spring I do a few rolls with it filled with paper toweling so I can detect any possible leaks; so far so good. The Olympus is in my life jacket pocket and the question is always whether conditions are such that I can be 95% sure of remaining upright when I pull the Nikon out of the bag. As we all know, the best wind and weather opportunities occur when a person really needs to keep 'their hands on the wheel' as they say. Yet we all try to get the great wave shot. Big swells don't present much of a problem due to their predictability. The shot of the VOR sliding down a wave off the tip of the Keweenaw illustrates that unless you need some object to identify the waves or even big swells look like little chop.
The high speed super computer that is the human brain....OK,maybe mine's not that high speed and it can be easily slowed by simple distractions.....takes a bunch of factors like wind, waves, spray, direction of paddle, etc., into account. It then decides whether to tell me to let go of the paddle, unzip the dry bag, and pull out the Nikon or do a one handed scull and quickly grab the Olympus with the other. So far I've erred on the side of not dunking an expensive digital SLR and have come out OK. The boat factor is huge as well with the Aquanaut being a much more stable photo platform than the twitchy Q boat.

There has to be a better way to capture nasty conditions. They are far more interesting than your kayak bow jutting out into some placid yet scenic panorama, with a couple of your fellow paddlers boats and the backs of their heads in the foreground. Any brilliant ideas, short of a waterproof housing for the Nikon (which would make it the size of a small shed) would be greatly appreciated.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Moquah is still awake

The VOR and I headed north Friday night with the ultimate destination being the 10th wedding anniversary party at Camp O for the GurneyGranny and Podman. We all figured they owed us a party since they snuck up a hill and a decade ago and had the WoodFondlingBarrister tie the knot with only the KingOfIronwoodIsland as a witness. I was out at the deer camp on that beautiful Saturday in 1999, wondering where the hell they were since it was a perfect weekend to be in the woods. Possible nuptials had never crossed my mind because on more than one occasion Pod had ripped friends and acquaintances foolish enough to get married during the hunting season. Now, ten years later, the VOR and I planned to spend the night at the camp again before heading east at some point on Saturday.

It was a cold, crisp, starry night when we strolled in after dark, and it took about two hours for the pot bellied stove to get the joint from 42F up to around 60F. I got up to stoke the stove around 4am when it became apparent we were losing ground, temperature wise. When I headed out to water the shrubbery off the north deck, the stars had disappeared and snow was coming down hard at about a 45 degree angle. We awoke to a winter wonderland, made even the more spectacular by the fall colors, at or near their peak. The only toy I had brought along was a 28ga shotgun; no boats on the roof this trip. Or camera for that matter, which explains the cell phone camera image quality you are seeing this morning. We headed out on the trails in search of the wily grouse and within 200 yards of camp came across the bear tracks.

Moquah or Makwa (take your pick, I guess) is the Ojibwa name for the black bear. We have a healthy population in our area, as does most of the state of Wisconsin. Last year a grad student from UW completed a study that indicated the state has twice as many bears as the DNR thought we had. Out at our camp on Reefer Creek we've always had plenty of bears. We discovered that for a time our area was the problem bear drop off point for Bayfield County. If Mr Moquah was eating garbage in Washburn or Bayfield, he would find himself in the greater Oulu area before he knew what hit him. This made for more aggressive than normal bears but we managed to coexist. None of us have the least amount of interest in bear hunting, mainly because we don't like to eat them. That's as good of a basis for a hunting ethic as any I guess. This boy looked like he was fattening up for the winter from the path he was taking and the the mess he was making in the woods. From the size of the paw, we would estimate a male of between 300-350 pounds. That's my rather large paw in the shot next to the bears. The other shot is from a game camera of a large bear enjoying an unexpected meal of deer viscera.

Winter is coming. When I woke up on Saturday morning in the warm camp I was glad that we had the anniversary commitment or else we would have been agonizing about crawling out of our sleeping bags in our tent at the SilenceOfTheLambChop's Trout Lake kayak trip. I trust things went well but winter camping is an activity that I can not be talked into. Mr Bear has a few more weeks to fatten up, the leaves are still on most of the trees and look gorgeous, and Pod and GG are poised for another decade of bliss. For the first time I thought seriously about my skis and actually sitting up in a tree with my bow. By the way, I was surprised by covey of grouse and missed with both barrels. Next weekend I need to get my eye hand coordination a bit more dialed in. Bring on that change of season!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

So.......did you have any fun?

Our trip to Voyageurs National Park, the Damn Long Weekend III, was not what anyone would call ideal camping weather. It was pretty much 40F (4C) with a steady north wind and rain for the entire 4 days. We would have brief moments of no rain and did get 15 minutes of sun, met with the jubiliation below, on a day that was forecast to be 'partly sunny' but it was pretty much a 'Groundhog Day' situation with the temperature varying no more than 4 or 5F either side of 40F. When I got back to work they were literally waiting for me, first to abuse me about the Packer loss on Monday night, and then to ask if the weather was as miserable up on the Canadian border as it was in the Twin Cities. When I assured them that it was indeed, they all asked what they thought was the logical question, "So...did you have any fun?".

My knee jerk response was, "I wasn't sitting here was I, what do you think? And I still don't like the Vikings even a little bit". The problem is that most of my fellow employees have no frame of reference when it comes to camping in a tent that isn't set up on a state park site next to their car. The concept of being self contained and on your own when it comes to getting from place to place, and staying warm and dry while doing it, is just not within most peoples frame of reference. The thought that someone thinks that type of activity is actually fun, rather than going to the mall, playing video games, or sitting in a camper with pop outs and hook ups, is positively mind boggling for some. But yes, I said, it was fun. Then I tried to figure out why it was fun.

The main thing was being outside and doing something physical. There are people who become sullen, ornery, and snappish if they can't get outside regularly and I'm one of those people. I've also discovered over the years that when I'm outside and in it all day, the weather can do pretty much anything it wants to and I'll adjust to it. Its going from inside to out, whether from a warm building into the snow or from an air conditioned place into the summer heat. People are adaptable and get used to their environment, even if that environment is 40F and rainy. Mentally, the weather becomes background noise when we are involved in other things. Like paddling.

Mental attitude is huge in enjoying the outdoors when things ain't perfect but the physical is important as well. Good gear is crucial to having fun in less than perfect weather. My friend Paul up in Cumbria, near the Scottish border, has the philosophy that their is no such thing as bad weather, only crappy gear. I have to concur. My canvas pup tent, flannel lined sleeping bag, and 1/8" thick Ensolite pad from my Boy Scout days would have not made me very happy camping in VNP last weekend. Wool gear, a bit of Goretex, and a good hat can make for an awfully comfortable time outdoors.

Finally there is the company you keep. No whiners allowed has always been my motto. This piece of the foul weather enjoyment triangle is just as important as mental attitude and gear. Although fists were shaken at the sky and the epithet, "F**king rain",was uttered from time to time, everyone pretty much rolled with the punches. As evidenced by the photo above, weather angst was at a minimum, even though everyone was bundled up with their stocking caps and rain shells.

As an Oregon shoe manufacturer once said, "Just Do It". Maybe you will find that your answer to the question will be the same as mine. Damn right I had fun!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

America's best idea

I've been watching the PBS documentary by Ken Burns on America's National Parks. He produced an absolute masterpiece with his Civil War doc but has also had a clinker or two, most notably the baseball doc, which should have been titled, "The Very Limited History of Baseball in New York and Boston". I must admit that this one is pretty good and has a nice overview of the evolution of thought that made the concept of a national park possible, as well as the history and often sleazy politics that swirled around the creation of most parks in our system. Those political forces are still at work today.

After the parks were set aside by Congress, it seemed like the struggle over what form they should take had just begun. The image of Congress in all of these dealings is not a good one. First they needed to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into setting the land aside by concerned citizens and forward thinking political figures. This aggravated many of their under the table funding sources in the extractive industries like lumbering and mining, and made it tough for them to 'do the right thing'. They would then routinely not appropriate any money to run parks like Yellowstone or Yosemite until the army had to be called in to prevent their buddies, the lumber and timber guys, from just going ahead and logging and mining anyway. Once that craziness had settled down, the issue became what form the parks would take. Attitudes of guys like John Muir who advocated zero development clashed with those like Stephen Mather,the first NPS Director, who thought a paved highway and scenic overlook would be nice for every attraction in every park. In a lot of ways, that's where we are at now and the discussion over the management plan for the Apostle Islands is a microcosm of this national struggle.

It would be an oversimplification to say that the debate over the direction of the AINL is between the attitude that the whole park should be the incorporated into the Gaylord Nelson Wilderness area versus a 12 slip marina on every island and paved, handicapped accessible trails and facilities for every attraction in the park. Its a great big balancing act between those two extremes and a very nuanced debate over the pure outdoor experience vs Yellowstone-like traffic jams with the 'overlook crowd'. Once again, we have until the third week in October to get our thoughts and recommendations on the plan up to AINL HQ in Bayfield and its officially October today. Political forces are most certainly at work and the more input from those of us who actually use, enjoy, and dare I say, love the park, the better guarantee we have of a good and equitable plan. Those of us that have been to the majority of the islands have especially valuable insight to communicate. I've spoken to more than one NPS employee that has not set foot on more than 2 or 3 islands so input from 'expert witnesses' is particularly crucial.

Tomorrow seven of us leave for another National Park in the area, Voyageurs, up on the US-Canada border. This is yet another annual event, the DLW III (Damn Long Weekend, year 3). This park has similar wilderness vs maximum usage issues with gigantic houseboats, water slides included, and 150hp fishing boats zooming around for most of the summer. This time of year however, it is a wilderness experience because most of those folks have the boats up on blocks and the Stabil in the gas tanks. Plus they just don't like cold weather for the most part and it will most certainly be in the low 30's F this weekend at night. Like the Apostles, when the visit is made is very pertinent to the kind of experience that can be expected. I guess in that sense, we can have our cake and eat it too. When I get back I plan on getting my comments on the AINL plan up to Bayfileld and hope that a few of the blog readers will do the same.