Thursday, April 17, 2014

Something You Don't See Everyday

With some solid melting we had a week or so ago, and then more freezing temps after that, some interesting things were happening out in the woods.  The melting created a lot of water and then the cold temperatures at night froze the top of the water again.  Soon after that, the water dispersed into the forest and these cool tables of ice were left "hovering" above the forest floor.

I stopped on the side of the road on the way to work to take a few shots of this the other morning.  Today on my way into Ely, there was someone at this spot taking pictures, too.  Keep an eye out for interesting things in nature no matter where you are.  Each day there can be something new.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

North American Beavers up Close

Ever wonder at all the work that must go into those pesky beaver dams that you find yourself portaging your canoe over on certain routes in the Boundary Waters?  Beavers are truly master craftsmen :) and when it comes to work ethic, they outshine everyone else.

I've witnessed them fill up a culvert and reroute a waterway overnight after it has been completely cleaned out the day before.  When they are compelled to build a home or a dam or get new wood for food, they are virtually unstoppable.

This video was shot near a residential area in Canada.  Perhaps wilderness beavers do it differently :) but we doubt it.  Very cool to watch.

Busy as a Beaver... now you know why!

Monday, April 14, 2014

BLOG 67. Wrong Words Can Crash Your Canoe!

BLOG 67. Wrong Words Can Crash Your Canoe!
Cliff Jacobson
Cliff's canoe. Steel River, Ontario

Many years ago, I capsized in a rapid on Ontario’s Steel River. The canoe slammed a boulder, over-turned and wrapped.  Seconds before the disaster, I called  “right—go right” to my novice bow partner!  A cross-draw would have pulled the bow around and saved the day. There was plenty of time to avoid the rock. But instead of “cross-drawing”, she “drew” left and pulled us right into the rock!

My partner blamed herself for the mishap, but I insisted it was my fault. Why? Because I had taught her to respond to the commands of “draw” and “cross-draw”, not to “right and left”. In the heat of battle, beginners often confuse signals, especially right and left.  I should have known better. Moral? If you train your partner to respond to specific commands, always use them and never vary from the plan!

Another example:  There’s a 20 meter falls along the North Knife River (Manitoba) that requires extreme caution.  We put ashore well above the drop and prepared to line the boats to a rock shelf near the lip, where we would portage.  It was an easy line.  As a safety precaution I gave specific orders to “Use the stern line only”. If you have a bow line, there's the possibility that it may be pulled in too tight which would cause the canoe to broach sideways to the current.  When dealing with novices, a single stern line is the safest plan.

The first three canoes had no problems, but the fourth capsized as it entered the current.  The man let go the rope and the canoe headed for the falls. Fortunately, my wife, Susie, leaped over a beached canoe and grabbed the floating line.
Below Northern Lights Falls on the U.S./Canada border
What went wrong?  This canoe had been snugged to shore, bow facing upstream, whereas the bows of the others all faced downstream.  The paddlers took my words literally and attempted to turn the boat so that the stern (and stern line) would be upstream.  As the bow spun out, it caught a rock and the canoe swamped.  My fault again: I should have said:  “Use only the line on the upstream end of the canoe.”

Poor communication may have a humorous side, as this account from my book, EXPEDITION CANOEING, reveals:

“Two experienced canoeists were lining their 18-foot Grumman around a rapid on the Kanaaupscow River in Quebec when, without a word, each simultaneously let go of his line momentarily. The canoe, now free, slipped quietly away and out of sight down the rapid.  The disgruntled canoeists walked the shoreline of the river and carefully searched the rapid for signs of the canoe.  Nothing!  Did the craft dive for the deep currents and become wedged between rocks?  The pair had sat down at the edge of the pool below the drop to contemplate their misfortune when the canoe, bone-dry and undamaged, mysteriously floated to shore within a few feet of where they were sitting.  Joyously, the men climbed aboard and smugly waited for their friends upstream to finish the half-mile-long arduous task of lining the rapid.”

These cases show what can happen when fuzzy thinking or adrenalin clouds clear communication. This said, why, has it taken me nearly a life time of canoeing wild rivers to appreciate the value of following my own advice?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

What are you looking forward to this paddling season?

A Boundary Waters trip means different things to different people. Some people come up here to get back to the basics, to travel light, challenge themselves, and explore. Other groups like to set up a comfortable base camp and spend their time relaxing and fishing. Pictographs, waterfalls, fishing, wildlife, solitude, relaxation, self-reliance; these are just some of the reasons people come to paddle these waters. From explorers to anglers, from solo solitude seekers to groups of friends and family, the Boundary Waters is holding lifelong memories that will touch your soul—all you need to do is come and take them.

That in mind, I thought I would share some of the things I am looking forward to this paddling season (in no particular order):

1. Fishing. I can’t wait to get deep into the woods, to a lake that sees only a handful of people every year, and catch my dinner. (Pulling in a few hogs sounds pretty good too.)

2. I can’t wait for campfire food.

3. I can’t wait to really challenge myself this year. Sometimes, I like to take very aggressive trips and do lots of miles over some tougher terrain. Not only do I look at it as great exercise, but I enjoy the idea of traveling to areas that don’t get too many visitors. I know it sounds kind of crazy, but I can’t wait to literally paddle and portage all day.

4. I can’t wait to get to some new territory this summer.

5. I can’t wait to take my Quetico canoe trip with the guys. It’s always an adventure; it’s always fun. The fishing, the stories, the food, the scenery, there are a million reasons I am looking forward to this trip.

6. I can’t wait to paddle some rivers this spring when the water levels are good. The Little Indian Sioux River to the south and the Beartrap River are first on the list. These small rivers, and rivers like them, have a unique wilderness feel. The portages can be hard to find and not too many groups pass through. It is a very intimate wilderness setting and I have often encountered wildlife.

7. I can’t wait to find an awesome campsite and watch my dog, Agnes, do laps of joy. She bounces around, ears perked up, tail wagging, smelling everything and thoroughly exploring the entire area. She is a great canoe dog, but her favorite part of the day is when she realizes we have found a spot for the night. At this point, she knows I am done paddling her around for the day and it is her turn to burn some energy. (She also knows it is probably getting close to dinner time.)

8. I can’t wait to cast a line from shore as the sun sets.

9. I can’t wait until the evening scene at my campsite on a solo trip. All the camp chores are done after a long day’s paddle, I am pleasantly stuffed from a walleye dinner, and the fire is glowing with Agnes curled up next to it as the sun sets. Maybe I can hear the white noise of a waterfall in the distance. I can’t wait to sit comfortably and wait for the Milky Way to take over the night sky.

10. Most of the time, I enjoy the solitude the Boundary Waters and Quetico provide, but sometimes you meet some interesting characters in the woods. I can’t wait to meet the person or group who has obviously been out for a couple of weeks or even months. They usually have some pretty good stories and a really neat route planned.

11. I can’t wait to hear the rain fall on my tent and drift off to sleep, dry and warm.

12. I can’t wait for a good drying day after a storm.

13. I can’t wait to see the group leaders who are trying to expose beginners to the wilderness, especially kids. This is an incredible place and it is awesome to see people who are willing to take on a little extra responsibility to share everything the Boundary Waters has to offer.

14. I can’t wait to paddle on glass through the fog as the sun rises.

15. I can’t wait for moments like this with good friends.

It is going to be an exciting 2014 paddling season. Now all we need to do is wait for the ice to go out!

What are you looking forward to this season? Comment below.