Saturday, April 16, 2011

Snow Filled Creeking: The Beav & Brule

Two days had past and the cold returned to Northern reaches of Minnesota. My breath rose in a ethereal cloud in the morning grey, as I lashed my boat into the bed of my trusty pickup. Stepping from my truck the frozen ground crunched loudly in the morning stillness as I walked towards the St. Louis River. Zimny, having taken a day off of work, was looking to utilize all the living daylight with boating... my enthusiasm coincided. Thus while the other paddlers still lay slumbering in their beds, myself and Zimny slipped quietly into the dark waters of the St. Louis river at flows previously unknown to me. Before us the St. Louis came alive, raging at 10,000 cfs its became character unpredictable and schizophrenic in its gnashing of teeth and yet playful nature. None the less  formidabile in its strength.

 High water on the St. Louis

Before us we climbed the the rising plumes of water, smashed through breaking waves, and rode reactionaries. The water was bigger than the whites of my eye's could encompass and yet I felt calm and controlled as we neared the Octopus. At such levels, the Octopus becomes a monstrous multiplex of hydraulics not to played with unless you felt the desire to gamble with mortality. And so we fought for the river right sneak. Yet when we arrived I took the wrong line and sat in an eddy too far removed. Before me a constricted channel had only one the mayhem of the Octopus. Zimny directed me to the only hope, a shitty upstream ferry. Having few choices, I fought tooth and nail and breathed a sigh of relief as I attained the refuge of a proper eddy. We charged ahead marveling at the transformation of the St. Louis. Rounding the island near the Jay Cooke swinging bridge we slipped over the small falls and picked our way across the river wide ferry to final eddy of the run. I swung into it breathing hard, the St. Louis was rewarding more than technique and demanded strength and exertion.

After the morning warm up we retreated to Zimny's abode, met up with Joerg, and flew the coop Northward. Driving up the Northshore a long procession of kayak topped vehicles sped up Hwy 61 bound for glory. The disappointment was harsh as the crew sadly observed that the Split Rock was too low for enjoyment. It would come to pass that myself, Tango, Chris, and Hooper would be the only one's to have run the river at reasonable flows for the remainder of the season. So the concensus became that we would run the East Beaver. And so it was a crew of 8 amassed on the East Beaver including the veteran kayak guru John Alt and sailed two laps off the triple falls. To my eyes the river paled in comparison to the levels in which I had run it days earlier, and yet the joy still remained.

In the waning daylight, the levels of the Split Rock and Beaver signalled that levels were dropping steadily and thus we all knew the more Northward creeks would be hold better snow pack and water levels. Thus we continued the Northward migration to Grand Marais and lazily sought shelter from the forecasted sub freezing temps in a hotel for the eve. After observing burly levels on the Cascade we all agreed that a run on the Brule river was in the cards.

The next morning, stepping into the crisp morning are we were greeted by a inch and a half of snow and temperatures hovering near freezing. Determined to paddle we all headed northward armed ourselves with our warmest gear. The crew had grown adding the Colorado contingent of Chris and Tango as well as Holton and
Scott White. Through the backwoods, we all trudged our boats through shin deep snow to the river. Mounting my boat, I put onto the Brule for the first time since my first season of creeking. Following the direction of Alt the large crew plucked it's way slowly down the Brule in an organized fashion. I smiled as we made our way through S-turn, The Canyon section, and marveled at the Devil's Kettle and Upper Falls while snow fell gently about the unfolding river.

 Lower Falls of the Brule (photo credit of Andy McMurray)

Thus launching in below we arrived at the final eddy before lower falls. I had only previously portaged the drop and knew of the large looming hole it hid behind a large wave preceding it. But the crowded eddy amassed with boaters hastened me to peel out and head for it. I charged for the whole focused on building momentum. The waters dipped an rose into a giant reactionary wave. Yet in it's trough a pine tree came into view, it's peak jutting out like a lance interested in skewering me. I quickly ducked and narrowly missed it, threw some strong strokes and crested the wave to see the 2 foot high wall of water ahead of me. I impacted the hole and emerged upright, unscathed, and relieved. The crew had good results and we forded onward to the last formidable drop of the run. My last run on sewer pipe, as a beginning creeker

My hands were numb as I climbed up a grassy bank from the river to the warmth of an awaiting vehicle. The run was good, but the weather was less than motivating. I made a day of it and headed back to the warm of the hotel and took hold of a beer while enjoying the hot tub. I felt blessed, but I let my motivation to paddle lay dominant to be thawed by warmer weather.

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