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12 Months of Paddling

Kayak and 12 months etched out of snow.

I did it! On Saturday, I closed the circle and paddled year round for the third or fourth year in a row. I set a goal for the last few years to paddle at least once a month, even in winter when it’s cold. Most years in my area, Lake Superior remains completely open, but every once in a while it freezes completely over. This year, it didn’t even get close, and the area experienced enough warmer days throughout the winter to make paddling bearable for a couple of hours at a time. So, I did it! 12 Months of Paddling in a row. I usually don’t write about personal accomplishments here, but Lee’s Kayaking Year Round in Ontario post inspired me to write this one.

The Year’s Highlights

I did so much paddling this year that’s it hard to pick the highlights. Here are a few from each month.


Sea kayaking under the arch at Tettegouche State Park.The year started with a bang. For our first trip of the year, Ilena and I tripped down to Tettegouche State Park. Tettegouche and Palisade Head form one of the premier destinations for kayaking trips on Lake Superior. The route is stacked with 100-foot-plus cliffs, loads of caves and arches and lots of committing sections. We were lucky to get a trip in when we did, because later in the year, the park’s most famous arch collapsed.


A small wooden canoe like Paddle-to-the-Sea and my kayak.

In May, I found a wood-carved voyager in a wooden canoe reminiscent of wooden canoe in the children’s book Paddle-to-the-Sea. I found the guy washed up on a rock next to the campground in Grand Marais, so I took him out away from the shore and placed him in open water. I saw a boy and his mother on shore. I wondered if he had carved the boat or had set it free.


Kayak at the waterfall on the Fall River, Minnesota.June was an extremely calm month and I paddled often. For the last couple of years I’ve been fighting tendonitis in my forearms and a shoulder injury. I remember that June felt pretty good, and I hoped to do some long distance kayaking during the summer. In the end, I decided against it to help further heal.

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Canoeing the Kelso River RouteIn July, my family visited, and we took a trip a day trip into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. It was my brothers first trip. He loved it. We paddled the classic Kelso River Route, although we didn’t make it to the dolmen, a good time was had. We used canoes from Sawbill Outfitter, one of the best outfitters in the Tofte, Lutsen and Grand Marais area. I also spent lots of time on the big lake.


Rock beach and kayaks on Lake Superior.In August, I paddled a ton, both solo and with the Sawtooth Mountain Paddlers (Grand Marais’ Paddling Club), which meets each week in the summer on Wednesday nights to paddle on Lake Superior. Ilena and I tripped to a secret beach to search for the semi-precious gemstone thomsonite. We found a couple of good pieces. I also managed to get out surfing more often than the past, because I found a reef that breaks on two-foot waves, which we see on Lake Superior pretty often. And the water was warm! Ilena and I took a week-long trip into the BWCA and paddled a big Sea Gull Lake loop.


Kayak and the Grand Portage Witch TreeIn September, I soloed a ton. The club paddled out to the Susie Islands and stopped at the Spirit Little Cedar Tree, commonly known as the Witch Tree. This is by far my most favorite kayaking trip on Minnesota’s north shore. It’s long, varied and is committing. Once you’re out in the Susies, if bad weather hits, you gotta deal with it. The weather was so nice in September that it was hard to not go paddling.


Kayaking through a sea arch on Lake Superior at the Manitou RiverOctober turned out to be another sunny and warm month, which is rare in these parts. I took advantage of the weather to paddle another committing trip on Minnesota’s north shore. I tripped down to see the waterfall of the Manitou River. The month, which is usually wavy, had way too many calm days, but I managed to get out a few times after big blows. The highlights include a wonderful day of long-period swell in the 6 to 8 foot range. The people on Artist’s Point had a heyday taking pictures of me.


Kayak and the Kiyi on Lake Superior.In November, the Kiyi, a NOAA research ship, visited Grand Marais and the first ice coatings started to form on my boat as I paddled around. I spent much less time on the water and much more time working on finishing up the switch from Nessmuking to PaddlingLight. I also managed to photograph the sunrise many days during the month.


Kayak in Grand Marais, Minnesota.December felt pretty cold. Ice formed quickly on the kayak whenever I took it out, so I only got out a few time. A long trip to Aruba, and island that has only rec boats, didn’t produce any paddling time. I did get slightly tanned from all the sun in the 83 degree temperatures. The inner harbor froze up.


Winter sea kayaking near ice.I cross-country skied a ton in January, because the conditions were the best in years. I enjoyed the month of skiing, but I also managed to get out on Lake Superior a few times. I got one of my favorite kayaking photos of the year from January.


Winter ice and kayaking near it.In February, I spent some time paddling around sea ice on Lake Superior. We didn’t have much, but I took advantage of it as much as possible. Nothing was large enough to land on, which is rare towards the end of February. Most of the month, I spent time photographing the sunrise and sunset. I got some of my best winter images this month. To top off the month, a few good friends visited and we went ice climbing, and I taught two Winter Photography Workshops.


Kayaker sitting on ice cake.Then just on last Saturday, I paddled for the first time in March. I decided to break out the Explorer and went out on Lake Superior. There was interesting ice in the Grand Marais harbor, and I found a piece of ice cake just big enough to land on! So, I got up on the piece of ice and lounged around. Tried my hardest to paddle it around, but that didn’t work. I remember thinking, “I love paddling.”

What a great year! Here’s a toast to you and to paddling. Have a great paddling year!


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