Sunday, February 1, 2015

Alley of the Glaciers

Alley of the Glaciers Camp.jpgAlley of the Glaciers Camp

We arrived at our camp a little before 16:30. We had paddled about two thirds of our planned route in less than four hours. Our campsite has several gullies running through it. It did not occur to me what these might be but I think Larry must be right that they represent stream beds. They're a source of annoyance for me though as the banks are high enough to make a single step up or down impossible.

Several thousand years ago glaciers swept down across Michigan. I am not sure if they created the Manistee River but and all the associated rollings valleys but they certainly had a hand in shaping the land. Today the glaciers are gone and all we see in the winter is snow clad land along the curving course of the river. On the weekend of January 24-25, 2015 I joined 9 other adventurers to kayak approximately 17 miles of the Manistee River between Tippy Dam and Rainbow Bend. Our plan we to paddle about two-thirds of the distance on Saturday and the remaining third Sunday. We would overnight camp on the river. What follows are my thoughts written (and then edited later) during the trip. I hope you enjoy what you see.

Sitting on a couch In Lansing, MI - January 24, 2015

It never seems to fail: the night before a trip begins I sleep poorly. It's true that I couldn't sleep much even if I wanted to since we will be leaving so early but I have been laying on this couch for what seems a long time and not falling asleep even though I am tired. Maybe I can blame the couch but it is probably better to blame pre-trip jitters. After all, Mike C. , Mike J. and I spent some time earlier discussing things that could, though you fervently hope won't, go wrong during a winter kayaking trip. I am sure Mike J. is feeling jitters since he is the trip leader (OK, he has help from Larri but this is really his baby). I hope I can drop off soon because I want to feel ready for the real adventure later today.
Tippy Dam.jpgTippy Dam

It is overcast and nippy at Tippy Dam on the Manistee River. The temperature likely never rose much above the mid-upper 30s °F. It is obviously not too cold to keep fisherman from wading into the chilly water in their quest to catch steelheads. Our group arrived more or less at the same time and by 11:00 we had all our kayaks packed and ready to go. Man of the group then piled into cars to drive down to Rainbow Bend and thus set up the car shuttle. This would take well over an hour so our group of intrepid adventurers would not put paddle to water until about 12:30.
Snowy Bluffs.jpgSnowy Bluffs

We often would pass by bluffs like this. Now and then we thought we might have spotted the trails of river otters sliding down the snow into the river.

On the Mainstee River at camp (44.263781°N, 86.084637°W) - January 24, 2015


Let there be fire. As soon as shelters were set up people including Aaron (shown here) were out and about gathering wood from mere twigs to modest logs for our necessary campfire. It sure would cast a wonderful warmth and glow for the several hours we all would cluster about it sharing stories, making up tales, chatting amiably about whatever came to mind. When Chuck "Pathfinder" Hayden made a surprise visit having hiked in from the road which lies a good mile or so away the amiability may have grown more pronounced still. The light freezing rain that turned to light snow didn't dampen our sprits one bit.
I wonder if any of our group, at least the contingent of me, Mike C., and Mike J. slept well. Goodness knows some of us had a long way to come to get to even the starting point at Tippy Dam. Getting to Tippy Dam wasn't that bad and everyone seemed to arrive by 10:00. But arriving at the starting point and setting out on the river are two different things. We had to spend a good hour unloading the kayaks from vehicles and then packing them up. That is always a chore. Shove, push, squeeze those drybags filled with sometimes bulky gear through the narrow deck hatches into the confined spaces of the kayak. Struggle to get the hatch covers on, one side is snugged down and while you work on the other it pops up again, secure everything in place. If you're lucky and careful you haven't forgotten to squeeze something important in. Time passes and even though it is a bit above freezing you are beginning to get cold. In the end the boats are packed but you still can't get in and start paddling because cars have to be driven to the take-out point which is well over a half hour away. The bulk of the group piled into cars to set up the shuttle leaving a few of us behind to chat, try and stay warm, and wait. At least we had good company including the couple of fellows standing knee-deep in the cold Manistee River fishing for steelhead. By 12:30 everything was in place and we were shoving off from the boat ramp and beginning our paddle down river. This is a swift flowing stretch of river especially once you get beyond the wider pond-like area just below the dam. You are quickly greeted by numerous bends including big oxbow bends that send you past high banks shrouded in snow and topped with trees both bare and evergreen. Except for the sound of conversation and the slap of paddles against the water it is pretty quiet on the river. Now and then a rifle caused by water surging past a rock or log makes a sound. People spotted plenty of activity: eagles, loons, turkeys, pileated woodpeckers, some other small birds, beaver - but they were all pretty quiet. I wish I had seen them. Instead I paid attention to where I was paddling and who I was following. I didn't want to run into anything if I could help it. Turned out I couldn't. Just beyond High Bridge I brushed through some branches that were farther out than I'd though and I took some foliage away with me. No harm done. It's possible to chat while paddling. Groups of two or three kayaks seemed to form and dissolve all the time. Even now, in my toasty warm sleeping bag, I can't tell you what we talked about. But it was pleasant conversation and the time went by quickly. We were moving quickly at any rate passing by banks sometimes low and approachable and quite often steep and inaccessible. Even with our break at the boat ramp by High Bridge we reached this campsite in slightly less than 4 hours. Our pine tree (white I think) forested campsite is cris-crossed by gullies. Until someone, Larri perhaps, suggested it I had no notion what they were but I think the idea that they are stream-beds makes sense. In the winter they're kayak storage spots and irritations for those of us with shorter legs. Other than that this is a fine campsite with easy access to the river and a perfect spot for our campfire which we kept alive for several hours before all heading to our tarps, tents, or hammocks for the long night. It is nice to have a campfire. It's very nice when someone else builds it. I am just not up for that. It takes too long to gather up wood of the proper sizes to birth the fire into something worthwhile. But we have plenty of people who dearly love a fire and they got one going in short order. No shortage of dead wood. Soon most of us were having dinner by the fire and then settled in around the comforting light and warmth sharing stories and relaxing, if that is the word for it when the temperature is steadily dropping below freezing and a bit of freezing rain turning to a modest flurry of snow, as time creeps on by. Pathfinder, aka Chuck Hayden, made an appearance. That was a shock to us all. He had parked on a nearby road, probably a mile and a half away, and bushwhacked in to our site. As I glance at the map there may be a trail nearby but I am not sure (can anyone confirm this?). He sure can liven any event up. But he wasn't staying so so even our desire to stay warm by the flames ebbed and around 21:00 - surprisingly late - everyone had dispersed to his or her shelter. I am comfortably warm on my new sleeping pad and I hope I can fall asleep and stay that way for the next several hours: sunrise is at 08:00 or so.
Good Morning, Sunshine.jpgGood Morning Sunshine

During the night the temperature plummeted down to around 10°F. If you were up and had the eyes for it you could see stars twinkling. The sun is rising on a chilly morning. Fortunately our campsite is reasonably protected from the wind so morning chores aren't too areas once you get moving and warmed up.
Larry on the River.jpgLarry on the River

Larry is perhaps our most colorful, certainly brightest, paddler passing by one of the many snowy bluffs.

Sitting on the couch in Lansing - January 25, 2015

The trip is done; the adventurous portion of it is done since I still have to take the bus back to Ann Arbor tomorrow morning. What a difference a day can make. Sunday dawned partly cloudy and promised to clear throughout the day. It was also considerably colder and windier. I doubt the temperature broke 20F and the low during the night may have nudge 10. But sunshine can make you feel warmer even if, to some degree at least, it is all in your head. Certainly when we gathered again around a campfire we were all warmer and you warm up remarkably fast trying to work frozen tent stakes out of the ground but it really wasn't too bad once we got moving and got some food into our bodies. No doubt the trees helped block the wind which certainly cut through us while upon the river. A very fine morning of lazy packing and sometimes a bit of fun. After all, you aren't in a hurry or concerned with the remaining third of paddling if you take time out to build a snowman. But you can only dawdle so long and again around 12:30 everyone was in their kayaks and on the river. The skies had cleared up completely and the wind started to chew into us. I am glad I had my rain jacket to help act as a windbreaker and I reckon the PFD added some protection too but we all felt the bite of the wind on exposed skin. I wonder if the big drop in temperature and rise in the wind kept fishermen away because today I think we only saw a couple fishing from small motorboats marveling that people would choose to kayak at this time of year. Personally, I think today was a great day to be out even though parts of me were quite chilled. Colors really popped and though we spotted far less wildlife it felt good to be outside. I think everyone felt quite alive even those that may have been wiped out by the kayaking. Those last couple of hours, covering the last third of the 17.5 miles of paddling, seemed to go by quite quickly and I am sure everyone enjoyed the time immensely. That enjoyment was marred by the wretched wind and cold that ripped through us as we unloaded, almost as much of a chore as loading, the boats and put them on their various cars.
Rainbow Bend.jpgRainbow Bend

We have arrived at Rainbow Bend and Mike, aka Seadod, is one of the last to disembark. Of course, we still had to unload our kayaks and then put them up on the various cars before we could depart. That seemed to take an eternity. The wind had become fiercer and that made everyone feel far colder than we had been all day.
Once we got back to Tippy Dam and sorted everyone out it was time to head off home. We had a nice enough bar dinner on the way and I think everyone enjoyed how this short adventure came to a good conclusion. I know I enjoyed it and I am sure I learned a few things along the way about myself, my gear, and other people. All 17 photos can been seen in this Flickr Album.
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