Monday, December 8, 2008

Winter shift

A fresh blanket of snow covered our fleet overnight, another reminder of how short the on-water season is in this part of the country. But on the positive side, the snow also holds the promise of renewing the waterways with the spring melt (still four or five months away). I’ll use this down-time primarily to process video, photos and waypoints gathered over the summer and fall, and soak up some additional knowledge from resources I’ve discovered but not had time to investigate fully.

Also, I intend to attempt at least one recovery over the winter; one that could not safely be done from a kayak when my wife and I were on the St. Croix River late this fall.

It was October 19th when Julie and I hit the backwaters near Osceola. It was a beautiful day, and we gathered a good amount of trash. But one item we could not grab was a large blue barrel, which we had originally been alerted to by Lisa at the St. Croix River Association. By the time we spotted the barrel, it was already coming on dusk… and we were about a mile and a half downstream from our landing near the bridge. I marked the waypoint and captured this photo, but there was no way we were going to get the barrel into or onto a kayak. We talked about a few different ways to attempt it, but decided none could be safely accomplished that day. One of the ideas we had was to wait until January, when the shallows in this part of the river should be mostly frozen… and taking it out by sled.

Two days later, Julie presented me with an awesome gift: A pair of snowshoes.

Barrel... you’re goin’ down.

So, along with some winter photography, studying, editing and target mapping…I’ll teach myself how to snowshoe this winter. (If you’re interested, I found a good book for some tips: Snowshoeing (A Trailside Series Guide), by Larry Olmstead.) Perhaps the target I could not strap to my kayak this fall can be extracted by dragging it across the ice this winter.

Several variables must come together before I try it. First, the deep cold of January must return on schedule, and make the ice thick enough to cross. Lots of folks fall through the ice every season, voyaging out before the ice is strong enough to support their weight. The risk is even higher on the St. Croix River, for three reasons:
  1. The water beneath the ice is in constant motion, and the currents can cause the ice to erode and shift with little warning.
  2. The river is fed by numerous springs; while these "natural faucets" have a cooling effect in the summer, they can have the opposite effect in the winter, again warming "soft spots" in the ice.
  3. Unlike a typical Minnesota or Wisconsin fishing lake, you don't see the traffic of ice fisherman or snowmobiles having gone before you, indicating a route that is safe to traverse.
I'll have a lookout partner, and I'll stay as close to the shorelines as possible. I'll tie an escape cord around my waist, and bring along both an ice axe and a hook rod, each of these being smart accessories anytime you're on a frozen body of water. And most importantly, if the ice sounds hollow or doesn't feel safe... I'll turn around and go home.

© 2008 Mike D. Anderson. All rights reserved.

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