06 July 2014

Life At Paddle Speed...

In August of 2011 I paddled up the St. Louis river, I wanted to see the headwaters of this storied river, to explore Seven Beaver Lake. However water levels were very low back then and I hadn't accounted for how long it would take to reach the lake. Instead of exploring the lake I settled for exploring the river, when I left the area I was certain I would return sooner or later and make it to the lake.

The plan was to put in at Skibo, paddle the eleven miles upriver to Seven Beaver, spend some time exploring, overnight on the lake and head back. A second night depending on the weather, near an old cabin I'd found here back in 2011.

On Friday we departed, newly refinished canoe and second oldest son.

Weather was good but the pressure was dropping and the wind was building, a front was moving in. I couldn't see a change in the weather happening before nightfall though. The first several miles of river is open valley, wild rice along the sides and marsh beyond that. It felt good to pull a paddle once more, the cadence, the glide, the fight against the wind. The serenity in places where the wind was no more, glass and gliding along.

The river narrows as it flows out of the forested belt a few miles before the lake. The water gets shallow in places, giant boulders hiding inches beneath the surface.

Some sections were too shallow to paddle. The banks overgrown and a portage impossible. We settled for walking the canoe up the river. Were the water levels any lower I don't imagine this portion of the river would be very pleasant to travel. There were several stretches that were not navigable from the canoe, added up I'd put this at a combined total of one and a half miles.

Later in the afternoon we rounded the final bend and emerged onto Seven Beaver.

As we paddled out of the narrow and into the wideness of Seven Beaver the wind hit us hard. The water was excessively choppy and crossing was dangerous. We paddled near enough to shore to peer into the surrounding woods, impenetrable and dense, we stopped and checked for campsites a few times but this is wilderness and camps are not the manicured things found in the BWCA.

We headed for the small island, the hope being the wind would keep most of the bugs at bay and that it wouldn't be as dense as what we'd seen along the shoreline.

The approach to the north side of the island was guarded by seagulls, at first I thought it was just a couple but as we got closer I realized they were everywhere, from the raucous they were making it was clear that they saw us as invaders, Seagull Island was under assault!

We navigated the surrounding boulders and pulled the canoe up. The wind was too strong now to attempt continued exploration. The island would have to do one way or another so we headed into the bush. Willows grew heavy around the outer line of the island, dense and tough to get through. Once we made it we found ferns near head high, finally at the center of the island we found a handful of trees.

It would do, though we would feel like Robinson Crusoe before the next morning. The island was tight and the ferns were Jurassic! The seagulls never stopped their refutation of the boy and I claiming their ground for the night. The remnants of eggs told the tale, the island was safe from predators and the gulls had claimed it who knows how long ago. The rocks were bleached white with their presence.

For shelter this go round I was using a Mountainsmith Mountain Shelter LT, it's a floor-less tent that can be erected with trekking poles, cut sticks, or tied off to tree limbs. A Titanium Goat Kestrel bivy, HPG Moutnain Serape inside of it along with a Klymit Static V. The bivy has mosquito netting across the face and zips up the side and across the front. As a result the bugs are kept at bay in this set up.

My son set up the GSX with a tarp combo that I used in the Manitou last month. We both really like this combination. His setup was the cat's meow, a soft bed of ferns, supreme bug protection and plenty of breeze within the shelter.


Dinner was Mountain House, I had the Sweet & Sour Pork, he had the Beef Stroganoff, not the most extravagant of dinners but damn fine for a couple of tired paddlers. Happy with the day we ate mostly in silence, each of us feeling the weight of a days paddle against the wind.

In the distance we could hear thunder, there was a coolness in the air. A storm would come in the night. Our position for a thunderstorm wasn't good, open water around us, small island, couple trees, it was the best we could do at the time though, not much to do about it but hunker down.

Without fanfare the night came upon us and we retreated to our shelters. Rain was tapping and the gulls still cried. Later, in the darkness the storm came, rain in driven sheets. Bright searing flashes above me, my retinas red with black streaks when the lightning ripped the sky apart. I counted, four miles away. I pulled the serape tighter and listened to the rain drumming the tent. Off and on all night this was the cadence. Each time the lightning streaked I counted, four miles was as close the the strikes got, by four in the morning I had it at about eighteen miles.

I made coffee in the shelter no long after weak sun broke the horizon, clouds held the morning light at bay.

We broke camp with the sounds of the storm off in the distance, and ominous clouds to the west. Breakfast was oatmeal in our canteen cups, some more coffee and a Larabar each. We were shoving off just before seven.

The last look at our island as we pulled away, leaving it for the gulls once more.

Our paddle back to the river was uneventful and easier that the paddle out. It was too early for the strong winds thankfully.

The clouds moved off as we neared the river rapids and the sun began to beat down on us. We were thankful for the wading and floating through the shallows and rapids.

Our paddling was lazy, we floated and fought bugs, hit the water and just enjoyed the ride. We stopped a few times including once at the old cabin but the years had not been kind. Nor was the winter on the woods nearby. Many downed trees, the area is dense and closed in. Bugs are incredibly bad in those woods, not to mention the amount of widow makers in the tree tops.

Not wanting to try to force another night in questionable circumstances we paddled to the take out, uneventful though tougher as the wind in the valley was strong and not in our favor. We took out and headed home, as I am at the end of all trips a bit bittersweet. Somewhat saddened by the fact that the trip was over, and eager to plan another.

1 comment:

  1. Great writing. You really took me along. I'm hooked.