ice danger never encountered before

The river near our house almost never freezes, but a week of really cold weather and no wind allowed a glass smooth half inch thick layer of ice to form along the banks of the river. Down the central channel there was a clear area bout 30’ wide.

I paddled down stream for about a mile and could hear the ice creaking and breaking from the displacement wake of the boat but did not think about it. When I turned around I found that my passage had broken up the ice, and the once clear channel was now full of floating ice being carried down stream by the current.

Heading back upstream against the flow of the ice chunks was one of the hardest paddles I have ever encountered. Between ice chunks building up under the boat, and my paddle catching on large pieces of ice I was seriously thinking about hopping out and portaging back across country. I finally did make it back to my take out spot.

It was a very warm day, (56) and I briefly though about not fully gearing up as I only intended to be out for several hours.

I am glad that I was dressed for immersion (dry suit) as a quick afternoon paddle could have turned out much differently.

Ice chunks

– Last Updated: Dec-01-13 7:29 PM EST –

Even if you set up a shuttle, with a vehicle downstream,
it can be a real unpleasant day on occasion.
Plan ahead, take backups, redundant gear, think hard.

Ice chunks float down into tight bends, curves,
switchbacks, etc. sometimes causing Ice Dams.
If you get tooo close you risk pushed under the ice,
or worse yet, getting pinned by current against the ice chunks.

If the banks are real steep, and you only have a few buddies,
someone will have to exit their boat, scamper up, and
throw ropes to haul the kayaks , up and over.
You did bring throw ropes, right ?

Now you are forced to get off the river and walk thru
the woods, past the impassable barrier of ice, because
your shuttle vehicle is located downstream, and you want to get home,
frozen toes in booties and all.

A large ice shelf may exist when you want to exit,
only to break repeatedly causing frustration.
An old laundry soap plastic bottle on a long string,
tied to a tree may aid folks in exiting.
Simply pull yourself and the boat up to a point
where the ice shelf supports your weight.
Falling thru, banging shins on ice shelf, causes
bruises which hurt like hell and last for weeks.

The rule for paddling alone in ice
1. Gear up so you don’t embarrass yourself.

Pretty hard paddling
and hard on the boat playing icebreaker. We have not yet done that this year. Last year it took half an hour to get 150 feet to open water. Paddle hard in what you have opened…slide on top of ice and let the weight of the boat and you crack the ice. Back off. Repeat.

Life is in the way. The lakes are freezing fast. Doubt we will have time to do that again. Ice out in May.

Two years ago we paddled in open water and had to break ice to get back to the car. It had been just above freezing but afternoon temps dropped near zero in early Dec, Kinda neat watching ice crystals form and join up though.

Imagine that
you have been out all summer and you have to get to your destination in a week but all of a sudden you can feel winter closing in and your out of food and you start to worry. Ugh.

Be careful of wind on lakes
It happened to me once that a very slight breeze closed a passage behind me. I didn’t even realize it was happening because the wind was so light. A danger in late fall when the ice is forming in pieces that drift easily.

Not for me . . .
I’ve paddled in and around ice plenty, but I have come to the conclusion that for me, the risk vs reward equation never favours mixing ice with strong current.

I’m not sure what happened in your case - but a canoe/kayak wake shouldn’t break up a half inch of clear ice - it might have been rotten from the warm weather, or less than the estimated thickness.

Beware the Bergy Bits …
They can make for tough paddling. I’ve only had a problem once – on the Jeremy River in CT. It was a warm day after a prolonged cold snap. Snowmelt brought the river up nicely, which is why we were there, but the warm temps and the rising water broke up the ice upstream. Big chucks came floating down like mini icebergs. They collected in a large ice dam behind a dam that we needed to portage making the takeout a little tricky. The ice dam shifted repeatedly as more ice piled up behind it.

In the end, we made it though fine, and it turned out to be a great day. My favorite picture from that day is Daggermat poling though a pretty good size class II rapid

My scary experience
I was once paddling a slow creek in early spring just after iceout. When paddling in open water with no indication of it being there,I suddenly ran up on a submirged shelf of ice almost dumping.What made it so scary,was that it came when I had no hint of it’s presence. I thanked God I was wearing my drysuit and added it to my reasons for being prepared for thr unexpected.


Drysuit and more
You can never be to prepared especially this time of year.

One year, a friend wanted to try another friends boat up an inland stream in winter. Dead flat water but icy cold and frigid air. He is a top notch paddler and owns every piece of equipment known to man. But just put on a super thin farmer john considering the conditions and just wanted to try the boat. He paddled up river about a quarter mile and got out to adjust the backband - slipped in the mud and fell in.

He describes his trip back as absolute hell.

All it takes is one stupid error and you’re dealing with water that is a killer.