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Spring(?) Kayaking on Brule Lake in the BWCA

spring kayaking on Brule Lake with ice

This spring has been slow in coming. In northern Minnesota, we’re between 14 and 20 days behind median ice out, and it’s wearing a little thin on the nerves. This week some of the bigger lakes in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness finally started to go out, so with that in mind, Jeffrey and Michelle Forseth of Sea Kayak Safety and I went to paddle on Brule Lake.

sea kayaking BWCAThe put-in was completely ice free and it was 50°F, so we figured that we were golden, but as we paddled east along the shore, we started to run into ice and soon ice coated as far as we could see, except for ice leads along the shore. The leads varied in width from wide enough to accommodate all our kayaks to leads just wide enough for one kayak at a time and at points the leads disappeared.

When the leads disappeared, we’d have to power stroke until we hit the ice and then we’d slide over the ice and, hopefully, into water beyond. That usually didn’t happen. Sometimes, the ice would split into two and let us through and sometimes we’d get stuck on a piece of ice and push it around under our kayak until we were free of it.

kayaking Brule Lake in the BWCA near iceThe ice itself was black ice with honeycombed columns in it. It’s usually easy to push through ice like this because it breaks apart on touch. Most of the ice we encountered was still solid and in places up to a foot thick. We even found some that we could stand up on.

In addition to the ice, we had a light rain which caused an ice fog to rise on the lake. After lunch, the fog was so thick that it was a whiteout. We tried to circumnavigate one of the islands on the lake in the fog only to be turned back when we ran out of leads to follow.

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I have to say that it was one of the most unique paddles that I’ve done. The fog combined with the ice and the many islands of Brule Lake made it feel like we were at a faraway once-in-a-lifetime destination. A paddle like this just proves the old Minnesota proverb true.

“There is no bad weather, only the wrong gear.” -Minnesota Proverb