Last night I could hear a barely audible sound. It was a muffled roar. I could almost feel it more than hear it. The only reason I could pick it up was I have heard the sound before and when I have it brought a fearful uneasiness. In the evening I could pick it out. It was different from the light whispering of white pine that I camped underneath. It was the sound of big water going over falls or heavy rapids. It’s muffled roar was in the direction I would be heading the next day. I made a couple satellite calls last night. I had a thought that maybe these would be my last calls. Last night I had a feeling of danger and high adventure. The danger and fear come from the thought of the anticipation. I have experienced this before and knew, way down deep, the action tomorrow would be different from my hesitation I felt before I fell off to sleep at 8 o’clock.

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Last night I could hear a barely audible sound. It was a muffled roar. I could almost feel it more than hear it. The only reason I could pick it up was I have heard the sound before and when I have it brought a fearful uneasiness. In the evening I could pick it out. It was different from the light whispering of white pine that I camped underneath. It was the sound of big water going over falls or heavy rapids. It’s muffled roar was in the direction I would be heading the next day. I made a couple satellite calls last night. I had a thought that maybe these would be my last calls. Last night I had a feeling of danger and high adventure. The danger and fear come from the thought of the anticipation. I have experienced this before and knew, way down deep, the action tomorrow would be different from my hesitation I felt before I fell off to sleep at 8 o’clock.

I was up at four a.m. and got all in order, had breakfast , broke camp, and by the time I was loading my canoe the light was right to start hauling. Today I did the full length of Crooked Lake, about 20 miles. Crooked Lake is actually a crooked flowage with waterfalls, rapids and quiet moving water that suddenly appear and erode the ice in one of the channels between the islands. The bad ice is black and the open water is black and open water can be seen at some distance because of its contrast with the snowy landscape. Open water has the characteristic of caved in shoreline with the drifted snow collapsed into the water. This shoreline is the most dangerous and under no circumstances would I travel in the area. If you did venture there you might find yourself falling through 4-5 feet of snow into the deep water and there is no way to get out. But this is as obvious as not stepping in front of a speeding bus. It is the very subtle black patches in the ice that mean thin ice and current. For me it is as obvious as a flashing red light, but to be safe you have to be aware every instant of the time and this is the beauty of river travel at break up. This and my knowledge keeps me safe. You read ice by the color of the ice. The winter ice is straightforward, unless you have fresh snow. But when it gets above 32° the entire characteristic of ice changes. Slight black splotches, very slight are the early warning of current activity. Usually slight splotches will lead to areas of more black and at these present temps there is usually a spot of open black water. Green ice is safe ice right now. Green ice with blotches of brown ice mean areas of slush under the ice. On the lakes in these present conditions they’re usually safe. A foot of slush is common on the lakes, and although it is very scary breaking through the crust on the lake into the slush, it is most likely safe. Last year John Stinson and I did a canoe haul from Atikokan to Ely and we had almost 100 miles of this type of ice, with a foot of powder snow over crust and almost a foot of slush underneath. John said that trip was the hardest thing he had ever done.

On the river I avoid the brown areas when the temperature rises above 32°. These areas are safe and fast travel in the early morning when the temperature is colder. This is why I travel using stars to navigate by on the lakes. But on the river I am out there as soon as the visibility is good enough to read the ice. Night or early morning travel is fast, or better yet on a day that remains cold with no snow I can make 25 to 30 miles. Once it starts to thaw then I stick to the green ice. Next to shore is a bad place to be. The snow and thawing makes it unsafe. I travel next to shore only if it is green ice. The water next to shore is usually a much darker root beer color. Much darker than slush ice and this ice can too be rotten. When I am in this type of questionable situation I travel always on skis, with one ski pole in one hand and my canoe paddle in the other. The paddle is a large strong Kevlar blade which I use to probe ahead and if it goes through I stop immediately.

I wear a professional whitewater kayak life preserver and I have my emergency satellite beacon always with me, carried in a small water proof case which is carried in a Fannypack. The waterproof case is about the size of a pound of butter. The life preserver is essential because falling in with skies, a harness, and ropes presents a complicated and dangerous situation. The skis don’t float and they have a tendency of pulling you down under water The life preserver allows you the calm into think things out. It is important not to lose your skis in the water, because you need them in order to travel.

I read the flowage of the water. There are many finger like islands and if you figure where the current channel is, then you can avoid a lot of problems. It is the same skill of reading the water when you are rafting. Many times today I had to paddle. I am now very comfortable paddling. I have never done anything that requires every instant of attention. If your mind is comfortable and wanders, those leisurely thoughts often will abruptly morph into panic as your canoe, without warning, scraps a hidden rock. I’m always programming the present situation of where I would end up if I tipped over. There’s a lot of shore ice that extends out and if you tip your chance of getting yourself out on fast ice is slim let alone getting your canoe out. So I’m reading the ice, the wind, the shoreline , etc. The real dangers are rocks in calmer areas. If there is a current you can usually read where the rocks are but in the black murk they suddenly appear like monsters in the water. I paddle in the far stern so I am blind in the bow. I can’t see the rocks coming, So I move slow and cautious. I had a number of launches and getting back on solid ice or ground. Some were straightforward and some were a little hairy and required creativity. I know the ice so well, but there is always more to learn. So I know my odds. I always have a paddle or a ski pole when I am rolling onto thinner ice. From the river there is usually thin zone and then solid ice after that. To reach the solid ice you have to pass over the thin ice first

It’s getting late and I am starting to fall asleep so I must conclude. I had some portages around the falls and the snow is wet and deep and very tiring work. I did four loads per portage. I had some beautiful travels on the ice, especially in the morning. I passed by the picture rocks, there was green ice there and I was in some fast travel. Later the thaw got heavy, usually I quit then, But I travel a 12 hour day and quit at 5:30. It takes at least an hour to get the camp set up, trampling down an area for the tent and around the canoe, there is water to fetch from the slush layer. I like setting up camp even though I am exhausted. Then there is dinner, then hot water for the four thermoses to prepare for morning so I can make a quick departure. There are the satellite updates, a few calls to make. It was an exciting and adventurous day. I am in perfect shape.

Over and out

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