Sunday, April 9, 2017

Ice out on Chequamegon Bay April 7, 2017

The water temperature in the bay is creeping up. Liz said that she saw the last ice on April 6. I provided temps in Fahrenheit for my American exceptionalist friends as well, just click the picture.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Almanac October 22, 2013

First real frost this morning. It was -3.3 C in our backyard.

On Friday, October 18 we were walking home from dinner at Groundswell, a neighborhood restaurant. As we were walking past the west side of our house, Lynn pointed at a ghostly face in the shrubbery, asking "What is that?"

It was a good-sized opossum. I tried to take some pictures and even though I saw the critter frozen on my cell phone screen, it did not save. Oh well. Very fun, though! Side effect of global warming that warm-weather beasties are moving north? What's next, armadillos?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

North Fork Flambeau River, October 2013

Thursday, October 3--Change in Plans

I was in the middle of packing when I got a call from Craig. He sounded a little perturbed and asked him if he was OK. He insisted he was but immediately dropped the bomb: the shuttle service we had lined up for the Namekagon had called him a short while ago and told him that they had been flagged down by National Park rangers who had warned them that they would lose their outfitter license if they’d facilitate anyone getting onto the Namekagon. The Namekagon is part of the St. Croix National Scenic River Way and—as I had to find out after I picked up Wednesday’s Star Tribune—off limits to visitors, along with National Parks and National Recreation Areas for the duration of the federal government shutdown. Craig and I had a quick huddle and made some quick decisions, switching from the Namekagon to the North Fork of the Flambeau. We were disappointed but at the same time we were glad that we had a fallback option. I alerted Joel and Ben, urging them to be a little earlier because of the added distance and kept packing.

Friday, October 4--Deadman Slough to Oxbo Camp

Parting shot at Deadman Slough Landing.

We left on time at our house, around 11:50. Lynn was home and saw us off, warning Ben and Joel of my propensity to boss everyone around and urged them to use the facilities one more time because otherwise they would have to go in a bottle.

Nice to leave at a reasonable time, traffic was reasonable to non-existent. Beautiful fall colors in evidence along the way. I love that trestle bridge between Barron and Cameron.

As we arrived at Deadman Slough around 15:15, we noticed Craig’s car, it turned out that he had beat us by just five minutes. What timing! Craig had been able to line up a shuttle from 9-Mile Tavern, a local resort, bar and canoe rental, which he expected any minute. We quickly unloaded the van and Craig hopped into his vehicle, Joel into the van, and off they were en route to our take-out point. Ben and I packed the canoe, hoping that the shuttle would indeed stick to the estimated 45 minutes. They certainly did, an old truck pulled up and disgorged Craig and Joel. It turned out that our shuttle driver had somewhat of a weighted foot, which facilitated our timely departure greatly at around 16:30. A parting shot with self-timer and off we were. Since mosquitoes were in evidence, homing in on my hands, I applied some DEET. I had just heard that some researchers, going through millions of natural substances by testing them on luminescent fruit flies had found a handful DEET substitutes that were wholesome, inexpensive and without any of the unpleasant effects of DEET. Can’t wait for this new class of insect repellents.

Craig estimated about a one hour paddle and we were close. The skies were gloomy but major rain held off, some light misting was all we had to contend with. The water moved swiftly and we were not bothered by irksome winds so paddling was very easy. Craig had done this stretch with his Indiana group over Memorial Day and the water had been extremely high at that time. Craig, Ben and I had done the same trip in October of 2012, with extremely low water. I had been a little worried about a pectoral strain I had contracted a few weeks earlier but the paddling seemed rather therapeutic.

We arrived at Oxbo Camp at around 17:30. Joel was kind enough to set up the tent while I collected firewood, remembering that when we had been at this camp site in 2010, I had encountered a couple hunting for grouse. After I had enough wood I began with dinner preparations. Just as I had a nice little fire going, everyone seemed to be done with their camp chores and started to drool over the nice rib-eye steaks I had marinating in some olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and soy sauce. After I had enough embers, I threw the meat on the grill and kept Mellie at bay who would have loved a piece of the action.

Steak sandwiches are almost done!
The rib-eye turned out to be excellent, some of the best we’ve had. We washed it down with some individual-sized bottles of wine that Joel had brought along. My blackcurrant Aufgesetzter was not as popular. I think it must be too much cinnamon and vanilla, will cut on this back next year. But if they just realized how healthy blackcurrant are … Actually, Joel insists that he liked it just fine. The meal was rounded out with some chocolate-covered pretzel crisps from Costco and another beer and some conversation.

I turned in around 21:00 and closed my peepers almost immediately. This must have been one of the mildest nights of any of our fall trips. It rained a little but not too much. I woke up only once but went right back to sleep.

Saturday, October 5--Oxbo Camp to Mason Creek Camp

I got up around 6:30, driven by an overfull bladder. I needed to wake poor Ben to find the coffee and pretty soon everyone was congregating around Joel, who was fixing his delicious blueberry pancakes and bacon. I guess the cowboy coffee in the French press must have been a little too strong, both Joel and I suffered later from caffeine jitters.

How about some for me???
Smell of coffee and bacon. Breakfast's almost ready!
Hard to believe that there are arachnids this size outside of the tropics!
While we were breaking camp, we discovered a good-sized wolf spider which had decided to make Ben’s tent her abode. In hindsight I am not so sure what caused Joel’s jitters, caffeine or a bout of arachnophobia.
We had an early departure at around 9:30 for the fairly short paddle to Mason Creek Camp, which we completed in less than two hours. Even so this morning’s trip did not go without a few adventures. When I tried to reign in the sleeves of my parka which were dragging in the water I bumped my hat over board. And during one scary moment Joel and I broadsided a submerged boulder in one of the many swifts and took in a couple fingers of water. Not much in terms of wildlife. I did see a pileated woodpecker, the obligatory bald eagles, Canada geese and frogs. No mammals but one fun sight in various locations along the river were swarms of which I am pretty certain to be riffle bugs (Veliidae). The reason for my identification is their small size. Unfortunately, I did not take a photo. They were busily running about the water surface. We did have a few showers but nothing too bad.

There goes my hat!
A very easy morning on the river.
We disembarked dry at Mason Creek Camp but did not have a chance to set up our tents when it began to rain quite heavily. This was the heaviest rain we encountered while awake and we quickly erected Craig’s gigantic Noah’s Tarp. Even folded over to half  its size it covered the picnic table and some additional area and we huddled underneath until the rain let up. Fortunately it took not too long before the rain stopped and we erected tents, set up kitchen and collected firewood.

The worthwhile team effort to get out of the rain. 
After chores we did some resting and reading and then went for a walk along the grassy service road that connected our camp to the outside world. We met a couple, they were on the way to the river for some fishing. The woman really enjoyed Mellie, she had lost her chocolate lab  in the previous year and was just thinking about getting another dog. Her husband told us about paddling opportunities on the Chippewa River Flowage. Might be another good fallback option for emergencies.

Always important to have a good book along!
Craig working on his Reuben Soup
When we returned, I started the fire and Craig began with dinner prep. He was making Reuben soup, a delicious concoction of Reuben ingredients. I will make this a staple in my kitchen, easy to prepare, hearty and delicious! For dessert, we had gourmet marshmallows with Ghirardelli dark chocolate. Joel and I were the only takers.

Starting to rain, time for bed.
As we finished dinner with some wine and blackcurrant liqueur it started raining again and we made a quick retreat to our tents. The rain increased in intensity and did not let up until early morning. I was glad for the liner tarp on the inside of the tent because even a good tent seems to never protect perfectly from water seeping through from the bottom. Joel did have some issues with a Chinese water torture-like drip right where his head rested on his pillow and needed to move some. As far as we could tell the rain stopped after 2:00. Other than the sound of heavy rain drops and the chorus of snorers the night was quiet though both Ben and Craig insisted that they heard heavy footsteps in the woods and something crashing through the underbrush. But neither was 100% certain since the rain noise made sounds hard to distinguish.

Sunday, October 6--Mason Creek Camp to Hwy W Landing

The aftermath of  a rainy night
Joel and I got up around 7:00 and Ben and Craig soon followed for a strong cup ‘o joe. Ben made a fantastic sausage omelet with toasted bagels for breakfast. Since everything was too wet to lounge about or to light a fire we broke camp (see funny time lapse) and departed around 9:30.

We were on the river for only another hour. I had the camera running the entire time. Unfortunately, the lens fogged up. Initially I thought that water had entered the “waterproof” camera but I stumbled over the fact that waterproof cameras have an issue with moisture condensing on the inside of the lens if outside conditions are cold. The moisture appears to be evaporated by the warmth generated by the camera’s electronics and condenses on the cool outside surfaces.

When we approached Hwy W landing, Joel and I noticed a boy with bb gun stepping out of one of the cabins. He looked up into one of the trees, took aim and shot. Then he pumped up his air rifle vigorously, which caught Mellie’s attention since this can only mean one thing: squirrel! The boy’s swagger cracked me up, I felt like he was putting on a show for us.

Landing at Hwy W was easy and we quickly loaded up everything. A quick farewell to Craig and off we went for the non-stop trip back to St. Paul.

At Joel’s we were able to congratulate Anne on her Twin Cities Marathon finish. She was still overwhelmed by the experience, bringing back memories of my only marathon in 1988.

During the week following the trip I removed about 20 ticks from Mellie. I did not find any on myself.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Nemo Espri 2 Review

I have used this tent on several canoe and camping trips. I started out by having very mixed feelings but by now it's growing on me and every time I set it up again, I find something new to like. I have used the tent in torrential rain and windy conditions, no complaints. The Nemo Equipment Espri Ultralight Backpacking Tent comes with an interchangeable tent door and small vestibule. I have used it with the vestibule. There is a larger vestibule available for this tent (Espri 2P Trekking Pole Vestibule, trekking pole, separate pole or stick required) which I own but have not yet used.

  • Feels rock solid when erected, even without additional guy lines, for which several attachment points are provided. (Guy lines are provided, stakes for guy lines are not)
  • Once you have mastered the setup, this tent is very quick to erect and tear down.
  • Well ventilated
  • Worked well in strong rain
  • Worked well in strong wind
  • Lightweight and compact
  • Comes with eight good quality tent stakes (similar to MSR GroundHog Stake Kit) in a pouch rather than a plastic bag. Not sure that this is standard now, it's been a while since I purchased a tent.
  • Nice to get a tent pole repair tube. I personally have not broken an aluminum pole yet, but I know it can happen.
Cons (many of which can be reduced or eliminated after repeated use):
  • The permanently attached center connector takes some getting used to. The clip for attachment to tent has to point towards the ground and I have had to inverse the pole setup several times.
  • The patent connectors are on the small side. The poles attach to plastic tent corner connectors via a ball (on poles) and socket (on tent corners) system. The rain fly attaches to that same connector via a hook. Both are rather small and have a very tight fit. There are several issues related to this:
  • The tightness makes it hard to insert the tent poles and hook the fly during setup and harder to pull out and unhook during tear-down. Because of the small size of the parts, mud or grit in the works is a definite factor and exacerbates the tightness. If you don't want to step on the corners of your tent, you will need both hands to pull the pole from the socket and unhook the fly. Especially unhooking the rain fly with cold fingers is a pain. I found that twisting the hook will help. I assume that a little wear and tear on these parts may help.
  • The rain fly attaches to the side walls of the tent via a tiny snap hook, which I like. I do not like that the snap hook is so small and the snap is so tight that it is next to impossible to unclip it during tear-down, especially with gloved or cold fingers. I am seriously considering to cut off part of the snap.
  • If you are using this as a two person tent, there is very little room for gear inside the tent or in the very low-profile standard vestibule.
All in all, in spite of its shortcomings I do like this tent because of its sturdiness and light weight.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Flambeau River 2012-Day 3

On this last morning we woke up to sunny weather, still air and frost. Our freshwater supply contained more ice than liquid water and I had to ask Mellie to sit on Craig's jerrican for a while to melt enough water for coffee. We took our time, got our potluck breakfast going. Pressed the griddle back into service, this time making eggs over-easy, which was less challenging than beaten eggs. Craig had provided some little-sizzler-like sausage which provided the grease coating on the pan.

Weather data and route for today.  More info here.
As we were taking down camp after breakfast we noticed that the wind was picking up again, coming from a southerly direction. That meant another day of headwinds. Ben and I were more concerned about having to face some Class I water with little space to maneuver. But we took off undeterred. We saw bald eagles, kingfishers and a variety of waterfowl along this stretch. Not sure whether they are a little more active in nicer weather or simply more visible.

The first two unnamed rapids did not provide much of a challenge and we barely touched ground. During the calm stretch between the two, we came upon three otters having a little shore lunch, munching on a fish. They did not seem in the least bothered by our presence. They'd probably read about their cousin's attack on a swimmer in the Duluth area and knew that we humans would keep a respectful distance.

Three otters having a little shore lunch.
Negotiating Porcupine Rapids. Not much of a threat but we wanted to avoid
Porcupine Rapids 1 and 2 were fun to run and the only stretch giving us a little trouble was Porcupine 3, which was very wide and very shallow. This was the only place where I had to drag the canoe free. As we exited Porcupine Rapid #3, we started looking for Camp 41. I thought it was close to the big boulder river right but it was another 200-300 m farther downstream. No trouble landing here and good teamwork carrying everything to the car. After a parting photo I finished bringing our gear up while Ben and Craig did the shuttle. Craig would head for home after dropping Ben off at Dix-Dox.

After I was done organizing the gear, I took my ritual post-canoe-trip ablution in the Flambeau's cold waters and read in the warm sun while waiting for Ben. No trouble on the way back home, we made it back to St. Paul by around 1900. Another great fall trip!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Flambeau River 2012-Day 2

When I drifted from sleep to doze I kept hearing precipitation hit the tent. It seemed too loud for snow but was lacking that certain wet smacking sound so I thought "sleet" and drifted back. At one point I needed to use the facilities and zippering up on my return I heard Ben's startled and sleep-groggy voice "Christian, is that you? Oh good, I thought it was some animal." Morning came, and with it coffee and breakfast. There wasn't much snow but enough to be noticeable.

OK, where's my breakfast?
Craig has smelled the coffee.
Ben made a terrific omelet with sausage, bread and bagels. My newest acquisition, a griddle fitting over both of my Coleman stove burner did an adequate job. The lip around the surface is just not high enough to contain liquid egg batter. It didn't help that the stove was slightly off kilter and that thus the egg pooled and eventually ran over in one corner. But after a while Ben got the hang of it and we all got plenty of egg and sausage.

Route and weather data for today. More info can be found here.

By the time we finished breakfast and were done with the dishes, most of the snow had melted. There was noticeably less wind this morning and we were glad for it. We made quick work of breaking camp and were on the river by 1130. Today's progress was not slowed by wind but rather by gravel banks lurking barely under the surface of the slow moving streams. Craig did much better than we and I want to say that this was due to the extra 5 cm of draft we had but it could just as well have been due to his greater ability to read the current. Either way, I got out of the canoe to drag at least a dozen times.

A little sun and blue sky makes a big difference!
Craig suggested breaking for lunch at Cty Rd W bridge. However, low water made access here difficult if not impossible. When we were able to pull over a few hundred yards further downstream the bank was mucky and covered with black, unsavory ooze. We moved on, like yesterday we did not have much more than 10 km to cover. Indeed, soon we noticed something that looked like bright yellow canoes near where we thought the campsite to be. Instead, it was an erosion run-off prevention fence near what looked like some earth trail work in progress. George's Island campsite was less than 100 m farther downstream and the first thing we noticed was a Caterpillar backhoe in the middle of a three-site camping area. Not very scenic but this was the last option before finishing the trip at Camp 41 tomorrow.

Almost breaking a sweat while unloading in the sun.
So we unloaded, this time under mottled sunshine which made everything appear more beautiful. There were some suggestions on how we could press the Cat into service, like using its arm to provide a support for a tornado-proof wind shelter. We ended up leaving it alone and erected the tents around it. A word about my tent: I started using this lightweight Nemo backpacking tent last summer and was initially disappointed. It was easy enough to set up but the take-down seemed iffy. However, with every setup, I found something else to like. It's sturdy, well thought out and the hangups for the take down just were items that required some getting used to. I am warming up to it!

George's Island campsite comes with its own Cat. No more worries digging
a latrine, collecting firewood or dousing hot embers with dirt.
There is the Rat Pack and there is the Snack Pack, in the proposed new
Olympic discipline, synchronized snacking. Craig and Ben both have work
to do on their makeup and their grin. 
After the camp chores were done, we went for a hike to explore the vicinity. We walked along West Ln, which connects CR W to Camp 41 Landing and then struck out cross country towards the river and the trail our backhoe was breaking. The forest had a haunted quality, which was further enhanced by a light mist fallen trees, pale sphagnum moss and abundant pitcher plants (Sarracenia purpurea). Craig pointed out some rhododendron (likey Rhododendron groenlandicum) to me. Always good to take a road (or no road) less traveled.

Haunted woods. 
Watch out, Mel! Carnivorous plants like young dogs on
a bed of sphagnum moss.
After our return it was lounging by the fire, chatting and reading. After a while, Craig started with dinner preparations and became rather frantic when he could not find the potatoes he had packed in foil to accompany his chops. We told him not to worry as we had enough bread to feed an army. He gave up after a little while and we had pork chop sandwiches which were excellent. Like yesterday, I made some mulled wine for an after dinner drink and night cap and like yesterday, I was the only one to indulge. A cold beer on a cold night just didn't seem that attractive to me.

Sometime after 2000 we called it a night and sought refuge in our tents and sleeping bags.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Flambeau River 2012-Day 1

As usual I awoke early and got up to feed my every-hungry dog. I don't know, the way she behaves she appears to be in constant starvation mode. Yet she is and looks fairly well fed. After dog it was coffee for my human companions and me. A French coffee maker was "pressed" into service, extra coffee was poured into a preheated thermos, which because of the cold forecast I made triple-sure to pack. Craig joined me quickly and after we had a couple cups'o'joe we went for a quick survey of the vicinity. We took the interpretive trail down to and along the lake and on one of the signs we read that the area had been devastated by a wind storm in 1977. Many of the old-growth pines had been toppled but we were amazed how much the new trees had grown in just 35 years. Some of them must have easily topped 10-15 m.

When we returned we were met by Ben. After some more coffee, a light breakfast and doing the dishes we broke camp and got on our way. Craig would have liked to stop for a cup of coffee to study the map out of the wind, but all establishments were closed. I stopped at the Flambeau State Forest Headquarters on Cty Rd W, just across the street from Red's Big Bear Lodge. The friendly DNR program assistant Judy and a local guy informed me that the water levels were low and that the last dam opening had been before Labor Day. They both suggested to paddle downstream from here. Since I seemed undeterred, Judy asked if I would mind phoning in a report after we were done.

Today's paddle and weather data. More info here.
Oxbo Resort.
After a quick consultation with Craig and Ben, who had remained in the cars, we headed for Dix-Dox Landing just next to Oxbo Resort. We made quick work of unloading and the water level actually did not look all that bad. We helped Craig to get his canoe ready and set Ben's and my gear near the water. Ben and Craig left to drop off a shuttle vehicle at Camp 41, our finish point which gave me time to load my canoe and set up my cockpit, with compass, map and Garmin FR305 watch.

Looking downstream from Dix-Dox Landing to recreational trail and Hwy 70
After I was done, Mellie and I were headed for the recreational (speak ATV and snowmobile) trail just downstream from the landing. As I crossed the parking lot, I was greeted by an oldster in camo. Ed, an 84-year old retired butcher from Chicago was hunting grouse. we chatted, he came up here regularly to spend time in his late brother's house and enjoy the outdoors. He showed off a neatly gutted and plucked grouse he had shot earlier with his Belgian-made (as he pointed out when he heard that I was originally from there) Browning over-under. We parted, he headed for the only car in the lot and I headed for my bridge for some pictures.
Trunk Hwy 70 bridge across the North Fork of the Flambeau. When we went
under this bridge two years ago, most of the boulders were under water. The
car driving across is grouse hunter Ed's.
Ready to take off. Mellie (her tail), Christian, Ben and Craig at Dix-Dox
Craig and Ben did not make us wait too much longer and we shoved off. As we paddled down the river we became quickly aware of two facts: the strong westerly winds and the shallow water. It did not take long for Ben and me to get hung up. A couple of guys of around 80 kg each and 35 kg of solid black lab plus gear (even though we left a bunch for Craig to take) took their toll on our draft. But we managed.

Craig, closing in on the camp site near Log Creek. In 2010, Ben and David got
hung up on one of the now fully exposed boulders, possibly the one top right.
Our first stop was the campsite near Log Creek. Craig likes to visit it because it reminds him of a past trip he guided with a group of kids from the Red Cliff Chippewas. They had a close call, this camp, at which they had planned to pitch their tents had been devastated by a tornado. I remembered this location for a different reason, this is where David and Ben hit a sleeper rock in 2010. Fortunately, unlike today, on that October 9, the temperatures were downright balmy. Today, many of the rocks that had been covered by water were fully exposed.

About 45 minutes later, after a failed attempt to stop for lunch (too muddy), we landed at the chosen campsite for today, Mason Creek. Total paddling time for the 10 km today was little more than 90 minutes but I am sure that Craig would beg to differ that this was an easy paddle. Where Ben and I were sharing paddling duties, he had to face the wind alone. Our only concern had been getting stuck in the shallows. Near the end of today's leg I had to wade and drag the canoe free several times.

Craig, arriving at Mason Creek campsite. 
Ben, lugging up our stuff.
Once at Mason Creek camp, we carried our gear up the hill to the spacious and level area, picked our tent sites and set up camp. Craig and Ben took some time to erect a wind shelter since it was still blowing pretty hard from the west. There was plenty of dead fall in the woods around the camp site and soon we had a respectable wood pile that should last us through the evening hours and tomorrow's breakfast.

Today's weather made a wind break de rigueur.
Craig tells a story
We shared a beer and some stories around a mid-afternoon fire and then the short hike to Mason Creek along the grassy ATV trail in the woods. Several times we stirred up game birds. They took off too fast and all I could see was a longish beak on a smallish bird but based on habitat in the woods rather than wetland and the length of the beak I assume they were American woodcock (Scolopax minor) and not Wilson's Snipe (Gallinago delicata). It amazed me that Mellie, who was allways exploring ahead would not see or stirr up the birds and it was us, literally stepping on them who would get them to take evasive action. I guess Mellie is not a flusher.

Stroll to Mason Creek

After we returned, we spend some time reading, tending the fire and chatting. Around 1800, I set up the grill to cook the steaks. As usual, I got some nice marbled New York strip from Widmer's, the best meat market in St. Paul. Since I had re-sliced the steaks to make them thinner and easier to eat on a sandwich, they were cooked very quickly and soon, three happy campers were munching. The marinated tomatoes were an excellent topping. Note: it was so cold that the olive oil in the marinade had congealed.

Time to turn in.
As darkness fell, the snowflakes that had been dancing down sporadically throughout the afternoon began falling more regularly and around 2000 they drove us into our tents. In previous years, Mellie, who is after all a spoiled city and indoors dog had shivered and shattered her teeth throughout the night to a point that she kept Joel awake. This year I had come prepared and covered her up with a fleece blanket and my rain coat. No shattering and shivering this year. I read for a little while, but was soon lulled to sleep by the whispering of snowflakes on the tent walls.