This was supposed to be an early winter camp outing to test out my new gear and get more time in my boat in cold weather conditions. However, mother nature did not see fit to comply with my cold weather wishes and instead gave me nearly summer like conditions for the day. I’m certainly not complaining.
My support crew (Lyn and Dave, my parents)
This morning my parents rehearsed their support crew duties while they graciously gave me a ride up to the Grandfather falls dam. The dam is a notable spot not only for the large concrete wall that holds back the flow of the river but for the two large tubes that the entire Wisconsin river is funneled into. The roughly 10’ diameter tubes are about a quarter mile long and concentrate the river’s flow down a steep drop into the power house. It’s an impressive engineering feat and even more so because the tubes are made of wood girdled with steel bands much like a very long barrel. I would have been happy to put in further up stream but avoiding the long portage around this dam is nice. Besides, the name of the game today was to test out my camping gear not put miles and miles on my boat. From the tubes I paddled downstream about 10 miles to the Council Grounds State Park just above Merrill Wisconsin. At that location there is another dam so the required portage makes for an opportune spot to make camp, which is what I did. With the river pushing the paddle down took only two hours. The Ikkuma handled great with the added weight of camp gear. I had forgotten how shallow the class II rapids are upstream and the boat earned it’s first few scratches, considering the venue, well earned badges of courage.
Much of the gear I’m using on this trip is new to me having realized that the equipment I’ve been using for years probably didn’t have another 5000 miles left in it. I’m going with a North Face Mini Bus 23 for my tent. This being only my second time setting it up, it went well. It’s much bigger than only one person needs but my thinking is that I’m going to be living in this thing for the next ten months so I better be comfortable. I love the fact that I can sit upright in it and swing my arms 180 degrees and not touch the walls of the tent. I can bring all my gear inside with me and on weather days will be perfectly comfortable being stuck inside all day. I also prepared the first dinner (Mac and cheese) on my MSR Reactor cook system. I don’t think I’ve ever boiled water so fast, it’s almost supernatural. I think the system would serve me well but obtaining the mixed fuel canisters it requires may be the catch. We ended up backtracking on our way up here today when the huge sporting goods department at the local everything store didn’t have the needed fuel. A sixteen mile round trip trek to Gander Mountain on the opposite end of town turned up what I needed. It’s all going to depend on what kind of mileage I can get out of the canisters of this fuel. If I can get five or six days out of each can then I can probably carry enough to get me through to possible assisted resupply towns. Otherwise I’ll have to go back to my white gas fueled Whisperlite. With the temperature rapidly dropping with the setting sun tonight will test the insulative qualities of my North Face “Snowshoe” zero degree bag. I have a twenty degree “Cat’s Meow” that I’ll be switching back to once the weather permits. But for now I’m not leaving anything to chance. A comfortable night’s sleep is going to be vitally important if I am to keep paddling every day.
River view from camp
One thing I’m discovering is that because of the very short days as we near the first days of winter I’m only going to be able to paddle about eight or nine hours a day. After cooking a meal and writing a blog post I’ll still have hours of time to fill before I feel ready to sleep. Or worse yet if I turn in too early I’ll be up and ready to go hours before daylight returns in the morning. I may just have to carry along a good book or two.