Monday, May 19, 2014

Fun With Ice

The ice is finally out, or at least in the distance, in our little corner of the Lake Superior paddling world.  My ‘go to’ launch for short trips and fitness paddling is the north side of the coal dock in Washburn, WI.  It’s a nice scenic jaunt out to Houghton Point with a couple stacks and a couple small caves along the way.  The above photo was the first Saturday in May, two weeks ago.  The image below was taken a week ago Saturday.  Although the launch area is clear, ice can be seen on the horizon and mini icebergs are still floating around in the bay.  Water temp seems to be at an even 34F pretty much all over the lake.  The sat photo would seem to indicate that we are one of the few areas on the lake still ‘blessed’ with a fair amount of ice.  Saxon Harbor is still frozen in and it appears that the area from Duluth Harbor to Port Wing still has plenty.

I can’t complain however since the ice is gone a full week ahead of last year.  The ice and snow have wreaked havoc with a number of different things however.  The county crews are out replacing signs that were blasted over by the snowplow wake.  Many homes were damaged when the wind pushed the ice up on the land in inexorably inland.   In a more minor disaster, the hop trellis in my yard collapsed (gasp!) due to the weight of ice and snow on top of it.  Also, the Madeline Island ferry has been delayed and cancelled due to the ice pack that refuses to melt being pushed  around the lake by the wind. 

I had planned on padding somewhere on Saturday but everyone seemed to be busy.  Until I  got  a text from ChrisG  saying that not only was it too nice to work but that there was a pretty big iceberg floating between Bayfield and Madeline Island.  Our three man group was launched within the hour.  The icebergs are a result of a big northeast blow early in the season.  It piled up plates of 8” ice and stacked them like cordwood along the area of Friendly Valley Rd and Bayview beach.  We are fairly certain that they are what are floating around in the bay and west channel at this time.  

It felt good to get in the Explorer for the first time with the intention of paddling more than a couple miles.  It seemed like it took a long time to get to the ice but of course perspective on the  water, especially with your ass literally on the water, can be tricky.  Our guess is that this berg was about 100’ x 60’ and at least 8-10 feet high in the highest spot.  Like most icebergs 70% of it was under water and the super clear ice with the sun refracting though it made the base look like we were in the Caribbean.  A quick hand in the water dispelled that fantasy very quickly however.  We paddled around it a few times, ChrisG blasted up on it and ate his sandwich, and we got some good pictures of the beast.  This is yet another one of those Lake Superior ‘you don’t see this every day’ experiences. 

Next weekend is Memorial Day and the annual wood splitting festival on Saturday morning at Camp O.  the plan is to sneak up to Saxon Harbor and check out the progress of the melt.  Many of the Gales participants from last Fall remember our launch and paddle up to the Montreal River.  This year that could be the absolutely last place that there is ice on the big lake.  Unless we get a south blow and then all bets are off.  Fingers are crossed for one more ice paddle, a rarity on Memorial  Day weekend.