Sunday, January 26, 2014

Warm Winter Paddling, Part 3

An unusual weather pattern settled over the prairies last week. In the wake of the much-hyped "polar vortex" that brought very cold temperatures to much of the USA (i.e. the jet stream pushed cold northern air southward - sounds like "winter"), we had a week of unseasonably warm weather. With the warm winter air, comes the wind. Mid week we even had winds of up to 110 km/hr here in Saskatoon. As a result, although I had wanted to take advantage of the warmth and get out on the water earlier, I was unable to do so until the dying hours of the system (work and family life were also major factors). So, with the wind blowing about 30 km/hr from the west, I went down to the river on Sunday morning to check the conditions. Happily, the river bank created a lee blocking the wind, the conditions on the west bank of the river were calm and beautiful. Home I went to grab my kayak and paddling gear and returned to the river to get out for a short paddle.

Ready to go & dressed for immersion: NRS neoprene hood, long underwear top & bottom, Level Six hot fuzz unisuit (one-piece long undies), fleece sweater, double layer of warm socks, Level Six Emperor drysuit, Chota mukluks, thick neoprene pogies, PFD, spray skirt. 
The paddle was indeed short - my GPS tells me that I was moving for just over 45 minutes - as we had other family activities happening that day and my wife needed the car. But, a short paddle is much nicer than no paddle at all.

It was 1.6°C at launch according to Environment Canada. I launched from the west side of the South Saskatchewan River at the boathouse in Victoria Park because it afforded me good access to the river and parking. Transporting the kayak to the water had never been easier, simply sliding the boat along in the snow. Launching was OK, the docks are out at this time of year (though a piece remains this winter) and the river bottom here is muddy due to the silt that the water treatment plant just upriver dumps back into the river (an iron-rich clay that the plant filters out of our river). I chose not to launch at the piece of dock due to a large tree branch caught up under and beyond the dock. However, I was able to get in from the bank easy enough without bringing a bunch of the orange clay mud on board.
Taking a break  in the eddy to get a couple of  photos.

Looks like I really need to stretch the neck gasket on the drysuit!

With the low angle sun, the snow and water, it was REALLY bright. I must remember to bring sunglasses next time.

The open channel in the river sticks to the west shore and that shore was ice free meaning egress was possible to the west bank anywhere that I paddled. The open channel is fairly narrow from the boathouse and upriver to beyond the water treatment plant, so the current was relatively strong through this stretch. I was able to paddle upriver at about 3 - 4 km/hr. I paddled upriver about 35 minutes until my allotted time was nearly up, then turned with the river and headed downstream. Now going at speeds of up to 13 km/hr, I was back at the boathouse in just a few minutes, so continued downstream toward downtown Saskatoon, before once again turning back toward the boathouse.

The ice pushed up this large chunk, 1.5 m or so tall.

Heading downriver toward the city centre.

Happy paddler!

Strange tracks in the snow.
It was a short paddle and a beautiful day on the river. Clearly, it was so short that any sensible person wouldn't even have bothered. I'm glad I did.

GPS track overlayed on Google Earth satellite imagery. I have drawn in the approximate ice cover as a translucent white shape (I only drew it as far as the Idylwyld Bridge, though it does continue downriver to the weir). Upriver on this map is toward the bottom left corner.