We had another excellent weekend on the Au Sable River, with twelve boats and seventeen paddlers participating. Many paddlers were veterans of previous trips, but there still were a few people who were new to this trip, although not new to paddling.
The weather was marvellously cooperative with clear skies and temperatures rising from -10 degrees Friday night to a high of 24 degrees on Saturday. Light winds contributed to the pleasant feeling and it felt very Spring-like.
Boat choices were varied with five tandem canoes, five solo canoes, and two kayaks. Rich and Emma, Dan and Brenda, Jason and Kelly, Bob and Cullin, and Chris and Debbie comprised our tandem teams. Kees and Larry were in kayaks, while myself, Ron, Dan, Mary, and George completed the crew.
During lunch at Burton’s Landing we had a chat with Ed, a marathon racer out practicing solo for the day. Other than another kayaker day-paddling, we were the only ones on the river. We chatted, snacked, and basked in the warm sun. We could see the small drops of liquid forming on the edges of the ice shelf we sat on; a sure sign of spring.
The weather remained perfect (for winter) for the rest of the day as we floated under Stephan and Wakely Bridges. There seemed to be a few more people at home in their cottages this time than on previous trips, but most of them never even knew we had drifted past.
We reached camp by 5:00 p.m. and set up tents, started the fire, and began cooking and eating. The cooking and eating part pretty much took up the rest of the evening. It is always amazing how much food you can consume after being outside all day, but you burn up a lot of calories keeping warm. Some cottagers showed up across the river and probably wondered who in the world was over in the campground, so we howled like coyotes to throw them off.
A full moon came up by the time we went to bed, and it was light enough to still see inside your tent the entire night. Temperatures dipped to 2 degrees by the time we got up in the morning, but by the time we relit the fire, cooked breakfast, and packed up our gear we were pretty warmed up.
During the float out on Sunday we saw numerous deer and bald eagles, including an immature. The big question mark for all of us on Sunday was if the takeout at Parmalee was clear of ice. We had seen ice across the river at the takeout when we ran shuttle on Saturday morning, and there was no way to tell if there was ice further upstream. The general consensus was to go ahead and plan on taking out at Parmalee.
As the day progressed and we got closer and closer, I began to think we would be o.k., but a mile and a half short of the takeout we ran into river-wide ice. The only choice at that time was to hike out the rest of the way. Fortunately, a cottage nearby indicated proximity to a driveway, so we figured that was our best “avenue” (pun intended).
Getting out was a lot harder on the 50 foot wide ice shelf sticking out from shore, particularly since it was a foot above the water. Not unlike mountaineering, we used knives and ropes to grip and haul ourselves and our boats up out onto the ice. The first ones out set up belays for the rest of the group and everyone was able to secure the shoreline.
The drivers began the hike out to the main road and retrieve the vehicles, and after about an hour returned to load everything up. There were certainly a lot more difficult ways to get everything out. Altogether, it was an interesting conclusion to another interesting trip. Surf and turf.