Reflections on a great paddling seaso
October is usually the last month of the year for good paddling with a mix of nice days in the 60’s or even 70’s with sunny skies and colorful fall foliage, and some days very cool with north winds and cloudy skies.
But you get out when you can and enjoy it. It’s also a time to reflect on this year’s canoeing and kayaking experiences.
My first outing this spring was April 1 when the temperature was near 80. I couldn’t find anyone to go with on short notice so I went out to my favorite solo paddling spot — Chester Woods Lake — where I spotted a pair of eagles preparing their nest on the big pine tree on the Southeastern edge the lake where Bear Creek comes in.
After 2 ½ hours of paddling around the perimeter of the lake, poking every nook and cranny along the shoreline, and working on my paddling style, I felt I was ready for a great summer of paddling.
This year was one of the best for paddling area rivers with lots of sunny, warm days and just enough rain to keep the less traveled forks, branches and creeks at a nice level for canoeing and kayaking. I prefer the less traveled routes since they offer a wilderness-like appeal, great scenery, wildlife viewing and fishing opportunities through the blufflands valleys.
One memorable paddling excursion was in late May on the South Branch of the Root River between Mystery Cave 2 and Forestville State Park.
This route winds through a narrow forested valley lined with limestone bluffs with a mostly shallow rocky bottom with many small rapids and many tight twisty turns to keep your interest. We stopped for lunch at a paradise-like setting with a limestone bluff laced with green leafed vines, moss and ferns.
The only sounds were of nature, birds singing and the gurgling sound of water rippling through the rocks. It was so quiet that it was like being in a vast wilderness.
This is a very rough route, one that I can usually run once every few years since the water level is critical to having a favorable paddling outing. A too-low river level means you do a lot of walking and too high and you could slam into a rock wall or get caught in a tree strainer. This route is not a DNR maintained route so the accesses are rough and there are usually hazards such as tree jams across the channel, tree strainers along the river banks and fences.
On this trip, there were several fences we had to contend with. At one spot we were held up for 15 minutes waiting for the cattle to move out of the river. OK this is not a wimpy route, you need good paddling skills and some faith to outwit the obstacles, but if you are up to the challenge it is an exhilarating experience.
What goes around comes around as the third week in September when I kayaked around Chester Woods Lake, a nice sunny warm fall day with a little color in the trees.
I spotted two eagles, some geese, ducks and turtles. As I was driving back home it clouded up quickly and started to rain, the beginning of the torrential rains of September 23 and 24 across Southeastern Minnesota that caused record flooding, especially on the Zumbro River.
I’ll stay off the Zumbro the rest of this year. I did scout some of the upper branches of the Root River where the water level was high but did not go over the banks. As the water level recedes on the Root I may get a chance to get in a few more paddling outings. For more area paddling trip reports and photos check out: www.RiverPaddling.com