Saturday, May 5, 2018

My First Paddle of the Year 2018

#32 South Kawishiwi River
May 2 and May 3, 2018
Adam Macht

On May 2nd, Joe and I hit the trail for my first paddle of the year.  Joe had been out a few days earlier and was able to get to Devil’s Cascade out of #14 Little Indian Sioux River.  This in mind, we decided we would try to get into #32 South Kawishiwi River, and if we were lucky, do the whole Kawishiwi Triangle.

South Kawishiwi River Portage
The portage trail to the river was pretty rough.  There were a few downed trees along the way that required a little teamwork to get the boat through.  When we got to the river, we had open water, but only along the edges.  We slowly made our way north when we saw a large ice sheet blocking the river.  We had to break a little ice and skirt the shoreline, but we managed to get the first campsite on the west side of the river.

The ice had pulled away (maybe 15 feet) from the west shoreline.  We decided to see how far north we could get.  Not far.  Less than a mile up, the ice was thicker than we wanted to mess with, so we decided to back track and take that first campsite.  We got to camp, got all set up, and started dinner.  Ribeyes, potatoes, onions, and garlic.  Not a bad way to start the camping season!  We had a nice fire and a relaxing evening at camp.  After a long, cold winter, it was great to back in the canoe!

View from my tent pad.

The warm sun hit my tent early in the morning.  (I love to put my tent where it will get good morning sun in the spring and the fall.)  I could hear at least 3 pileated woodpeckers and some trumpeter swans as I got out of my tent.  I let my stuff dry for a bit in the sun and then got all packed up.  Meanwhile, Joe slept.  We were in no rush to leave camp—it was nice to have a slow leisurely morning.  I started a fire and got some water boiling, and literally watched and listened to the ice melting.  It was an incredibly peaceful morning.

Campsite view on the morning of May 3.

Lots of ice had melted by mid-morning.
After a little brunch, we hit the water at about noon, and decided to see how far we could get.  The warm morning sun had done some work on the ice.  We were optimistic that we could get further than the day before.  We made our way north, skirting the west shore line, clinging to open water.  Now and again, we had to paddle through an ice sheet.  The ice was dark and soft and broke easily when our canoe bumped it.

Eventually, we were able to make it to Eskwagama.  It was clear!  We continued north to check out Clear Lake.  It was open as well.  We decided to keep going.  We portaged north from Clear, back to the Kawishiwi River.  It did not look good.  The ice was pushed back into the bay, but there was a small channel of open water along the shoreline (maybe 4 feet wide).  We contemplated turning around, but after some deliberation, decided to push forward.  We followed the edge of the river, getting out on to shore in a couple spots as the ice was too thick to get through.  Finally, things opened up a bit as we continued east.

Things looking a little sketchy ahead.
We made it to the 200+ rod portage on the North Kawishiwi.  The trail was long, and we were nervous to see if there was ice on the other side.  When we finished portaging, we came out to open water, but we could see quite a bit of ice in the distance.  Again, the thought of turning back crossed our minds, but we pushed onward.  The NE corner of the triangle was pretty icy.  At one point, we needed to cross the river to start heading south.  By some stroke of luck, the ice sheet had cracked and split apart.  There was a seam about 10 feet wide that we were able to use to cross the river.

We pushed south.  Hugging the west shore to stay in open water.  Just before the 30-rod portage near the south tip of the triangle, we ran into more ice.  It was a long slog, and we had to break some ice, but we made it!  It was smooth sailing after that.  By this point, it was starting to get dark, but the end was in sight.  We needed the headlamps for the portage out but made it back to the car without incident.

By the time you read this, I suspect the Kawishiwi Triangle will be open and ready for paddlers.  The bigger lakes still need a little more time, but this was encouraging.  It was so nice to knock the rust off from the long winter and get back into the canoe!  Hopefully you can hit the water soon!

Adam Macht