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.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

BLOG 66. It's here! A Lightweight, Totally Breathable Wind Anorak

Cliff Jacobson

In February of this year, friends and I canoed 130 miles across the Everglades. It took us eleven days.  During that time, we had a 25 mph head-wind that never stopped. A wind like this would be a stopper in the BWCA, but because the Glades are so shallow, waves never got much over a foot high. But the temperature never warmed to T-shirt weather either. I don’t know what we would have done without our wind jackets.

I can’t imagine going on a canoe trip without a wind-shell. I wear one every day over a wool T-shirt, long johns or layered clothing. When it becomes groady, I just swish it in the lake, wring it out and spread it on a pack to dry.

But highly porous wind-shells have largely gone the way of the passenger pigeon. Everyone must now have Gore-tex in the belief that “waterproof AND breathable” are a good thing. They are if it’s raining. They’re not if it’s not. Here’s why: Canoeing is hard work. The pores in Gore-tex are just too small to rapidly remove large amounts of moisture (sweat) when you’re working hard. The choice is to take off the jacket and get cold, or keep it on and enjoy a sauna. Unless you can open the neck and cuffs and unzip the under-arms, there is no middle ground.

A totally breathable jacket is what you want—one that doesn’t have ANY waterproofing.  But just try to find one. After hours of searching the web, I discovered just two (L.L. Bean and Outward Bound) that “marginally” qualify. “Marginal”, because while these jackets lack a dedicated waterproof coating, they have been chemically treated to repel water for quite a long time. I tried to remove the chemical treatment with repeated washings (six times!) in hot water. No go. I had the jackets dry-cleaned. Nope. Surely, the chemist who developed this water-repellent treatment is pleased. I’m not. The jackets are too hot to wear when I’m working even moderately hard. Three decades ago there were scores of highly porous wind-shells. But they are gone now because newbies evidently fear that a drop of water could pass through the fabric and God-forbid, get on their skin! Or maybe they think that one garment for wind and rain is a good idea. Yeah, like using the same canoe for whitewater slalom and flat-water racing!
The new Piragis wind-shell

That’s the bad news.  Now for the good. For three years now, Steve Piragis and I have been working to develop a better wind-shell. We envisioned a conventional over-the-head design with three pockets (two through-the-body slash pockets and a zippered kangaroo pocket—just like the old models. The chosen fabric (lightweight nylon) would be strong, lightweight and quiet in the bush, and it would have a silky soft, draping feel.  The jacket would be cut very full in the body and sleeves—to make room for layering. Zippers would be substantial. The vertical zipper would run high up the neck so drafts could be sealed without having to tighten the hood cords to gather material. Quick-draft sealing is important when you’re fighting wind and can’t put down your paddle to adjust your clothes. 

Piragis has offered a wind anorak like this for two years now, but it wasn’t perfect so I never blogged about it. This new model—available in spring 2014 (like right now!) is. The fabric is right—soft and quiet, the zippers are right (not too small or too large), the pockets are right, the hood is right. And the lobster-red color is totally right. I’m excited that we finally got it ALL right. Admittedly, I had a selfish motive for pestering Piragis to develop this old-fashioned wind-shell. My ancient L.L. Bean model had worn thin; the zippers were shot and I couldn’t find a suitable replacement. Now I have one. And so can you. This new Piragis model is much better than the old. It is lightweight and compact enough to fit in a cargo pants pocket; it can be easily washed and dried in the field; it defies wind, and it looks real good. I love it!

Cliff Jacobson