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Posts Tagged ‘Boundary Waters’

 

10.10.13.mailchimp

With the first wisps of cooler, drier air finally beginning to replace our muggy, buggy summertime, some of us in South Florida look forward to more canoeing excursions. Day trips are fun, but have you ever considered canoe-camping? Canoe camping is not for everyone but can be addictive! Do you want to feel a little like Lewis and Clark? Canoes were a big part of the exploration of North America.

You can visit areas not accessible by any other means. Night skies will be dark, starry, free of light pollution. Canoes provide excellent opportunities to photograph wildlife. A canoe-camping adventure is a very good reason to get into shape. But, this should not be your first time canoeing! You will NOT be a happy camper!In my experience, there are two types of people: campers who use canoes on occasion, and canoeists who camp on occasion. The former group usually overpacks. Not as bad as “glamping”  (Google it!) but they are still determined to bring all of life’s comforts and luxuries with them. If they’ve brought too much, just let them paddle their own gear!

With wilderness areas disappearing quickly, you will most likely have to make an overnight reservation at a government-owned preserve, purchase a permit, and stay for only a specific length of time. Even the million acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota requires camping permits for overnight stays. My favorite place to canoe-camp in the fall and winter is Georgia’s 700-square-mile Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. I also recommend Florida’s Canaveral National Seashore, where Orange Island was a lovely place to camp after a vigorous paddle as strong ocean winds kicked up Mosquito Lagoon. In 1997, along with his son Ryan Kazo, and friend Frank Parker, my husband Tom paddled the treacherous 100-mile Everglades Wilderness Waterway.

Like most things in life, when canoe-camping, prepare for the worst, hope for the best.

Know the area well before you make your reservations; especially the hydrology, as in, where does the water come from that you will be paddling on? Is it snow melt, salt or brackish, spring or tidal controlled? Will you have to slog through mud? Are there rapids? A heavily loaded canoe made for tripping is not as maneuverable on whitewater. Portages are to be avoided if possible!If you go far enough north, as to the Okefenokee, you will have to brace yourself for brisk cold fronts sweeping down, especially in January. Have you paddled in strong winds and choppy waves? Always prepare for bugs, no matter what time of the year, and in the SE USA, alligators and rattlesnakes.

Even if you love kayaks with all of your heart, for overnight camping, here canoes win out over kayaks. A typical human cannot possibly carry enough gear to be comfortable in a kayak. Gear includes water. A gallon of water weighs eight pounds. Only if you have someone provisioning your paddling route (which sort of seems like cheating to me) could a kayak be feasible.

What kind of canoe do you have? Not all are suitable for overnight trips. WRT has both tandem and solo canoes made by Mohawk, proven perfect for these adventures. You may need to rent a canoe from a local outfitter. Paddles are also essential, so don’t wait until the last minute to get familiar with yours. Even if you rent a canoe, buy your own paddles and paddling gloves. You will be a happier camper. We in WRT use both double and single paddles. If, like me, you paddle solo, a double paddle is essential; but I also keep my single handy.

Your canoe should have ropes (also called lines or painters) attached to the bow and stern, about 15’ each. NEVER get out of the canoe without taking hold of the painter. If your canoe dumps, always stay with your canoe; never try to swim to shore. The canoe will stay afloat, even full of water. In our canoes, we have attached eyelets along the inside edge of the gunwales, so that we can stretch bungee cords to hold our cargo, even if the canoe tips.

Practice getting into and out of your canoe from different heights, from docks, from beaches, from the water. Notice in the photo montage that we are camping on platforms built at least a couple of feet above the water. Paddling with a partner? Practice everything together: switch from bow to stern and vice versa.

Essential: first aid kits for humans and for canoes. We learned the hard way that antibiotic eye ointment is indispensable. As is duct tape! Everyone in your group needs to know basic first aid; the Boy Scout Handbook has good info. Visit your doctor and your dentist before the trip. Tetanus shots up to date? If you take prescription meds, keep them in waterproof containers. Pack a spare pair of eyeglasses.

If it’s cold, or you feel uneasy, wear your personal flotation device, which you’ve purchased well ahead of time, so you know it fits. Keep it handy, if you feel confident. Keep your rain gear handy, too.

Take great care to load your canoe; make sure it is perfectly trimmed (balanced), because you may otherwise have to compensate in your paddling to make up for an uneven load. That gets old FAST, and could cause you to hurt yourself. In the Okefenokee, there were no places to get out and repack for several hours. Make very sure you have a decent amount of freeboard (distance between the gunwale, or top edge of the canoe, and the waterline). If the water will be choppy, will you have sufficient freeboard? In Mosquito Lagoon, Tom had to rescue friends who had overpacked their canoe! It was not really made for camping, with much less freeboard than our Mohawks. Our friends were in great danger of drowning, once their overloaded canoe swamped in the chop and bluster of a spring cold front.

Do not assume that anything electronic will work out there. Do not rely on a GPS or cell phone. Learn how to use an old fashioned compass, and how to read a (waterproof) map. Have spare flashlights and batteries. Headlamps let you work hands-free. Add a pad and pencil to your personal gear.

Invest in a waterproof digital camera, but even then, stow your camera when boarding or disembarking from your canoe. I’ve seen some very expensive equipment ruined because of carelessness.

Water! Pack even more than for drinking; you may need to wash dishes or yourself. At least you won’t have to paddle it back! I always made sure to load the firewood, most of the water supply, and beer in my solo canoe. Then everyone looked out for me! Wildlife such as raccoons may rob your water or food supplies, and they may be more clever than you could anticipate.

Buy or borrow the best quality sleeping bags and tents. Zippers can make your life a living hell. Good quality zippers are essential! There’s nothing more embarrassing than getting stuck inside! Down filling will stay wet longer than man-made fibers, which can also pack tighter into your canoe.

Although camping without a campfire and S’Mores wouldn’t seem right, where you will obtain fuel? Don’t assume the area where you will be setting up will have dry wood to burn. There is also risk of introducing insects into an area if you bring firewood with you. Duraflame has introduced Campfire Logs, safe for roasting hot dogs or marshmallows. Check to see that open fires are even permitted. Don’t make Smokey the Bear mad at you!

When paddling, always keep the canoe in front of you and the one behind in sight, but don’t follow too closely. Keep at least one canoe’s length from each other. What if you get hung up on a root?

Last but not certainly not least, leave no trace. What you pack in, pack out. Do not leave litter behind. Don’t cut down or chop at trees. Respect the wildlife; you are visiting their home. If there are outhouses, please use them. Further reading: How to S**t in the Woods by Kathleen Meyer.

Consider this to be a very brief introduction to the wonderful world of canoe-camping. Now grab a paddle and get out there!

Thank you for your interest in Wildlife Research Team!

Hope to see you in a black canoe,

Donna

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