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From the Yellow River to the St. Croix

From the Yellow River to the St. Croix

The canoe trip has come and gone.  It was not the length etc. that we had planned but many things went against us (as they do on the river).  I knew this was likely the last trip with my bark canoe as it was, in my mind, on its last leg.  In truth, it seems that it was actually on its last toe and far worse than I thought.  The bark has gone fragile, the gunwales are broken, spliced, and weak, and we loaded the old 15 footer heavy with the three of us (me the smallest at 6′ 185#) and provisions.

I met Gene at the Yellow River Post on Saturday and Mike arrived Sunday morning.  Mike had just finished a night shift and had not slept.  He had also worked 19 of the last 21 days and was exhausted.  We gathered our stuff and quickly packed, eliminating duplicated items as needed.  I will show this gear and list items at a later time.

We received a grand fair well and headed down the Yellow River, a typical northern Wisconsin river full of rocks.  Due to crazy amounts of rain, water was very high and we had no issues with rocks.  We were able to see and steer clear.

Down the Yellow, we made great time until coming to the dams where we had two portages, the longer one being 1/4 mi. Below the last dam, we had some good rapids and VERY fast moving water that we shot successfully. We had to “thread the needle” between a few majorly bad rocks and did so with great success.  The water quickly shallowed and went to very shallow rapids for a bit over a mile.  We quickly hopped out before scraping bottom and commenced with a demi-charge.  We left the canoe packed and walked it the entire way. The rocky bottom was HORRIBLE on the feet and led to very slow going with a lot of pressure on the canoe as it was held back in the current, especially when we were slowed due to bad footing and bruising of the rocks (surprisingly my “hooves” fared well in the end, hurting during the demi-charge but quickly feeling better afterward).

Finally, the Yellow deepend as it slowed and backed up before entering the St. Croix.  We canoed the last bit to the St. Croix but the stress of demi-charging the old canoe down the rapids and holding it back made some seams separate and created some big cracks in the old bark. We took on a lot of water and were sitting low. We turned around at the mouth, with a last minute decision to land and make repairs. As we turned water was coming in through the lashing holes.  I am certain we would have sunk it had we gone into the St. Croix.

We repitched and patched the canoe and then continued 3-4 mi. down the FLOODED St. Croix to the only high ground around for a camp. The river is well beyond flood stage and most of the “shore” was water for a almost 100 yds. into the woods.  Most camp sites were flooded with their signs barely visible above the water.  Trees were floating down the river at a tremendous speed as the current was fast.

Our camp was a great sight and a nice rest spot.  We set up camp, got a fire going, and got the kettle on to make supper.  We then went to work doing more pitching, patching, and repairs.  The one old break on the gunwale I sturdied up with an oak branch wired on.  Other areas we wrapped with new watap (spruce root).  After supper and some spirits, we settled down for a half restful night.  I have been bombarded with more mosquitoes in the past, but I have never seen them that could bite through a wool blanket like this. WOW!

In the morning we had tea and biscuits (hardtack/ship’s bread) and prepared to leave.  Mike was having issues with his heart and was not feeling well (he has had some abnormalities with his heart beat and speed in recent months).  We decided to continue to Thayer’s landing and stop there to re-assess our situation.  The 2-3 miles to the landing went rather quick with the speed of the river.  Once there, Mike was feeling nauseated.  The next landing was 14 mi. down the river with nothing between (state forest land on both sides with little access).  Between the dangerous condition of the flooding river, the health concerns for Mike, my dilapidated canoe (which was now more seaworthy than when we began… for at least those miles we had just done and not having any idea what may happen downriver), and not knowing if there would even be anywhere to camp (or pull over in case of emergency) due to their being no land on shore… just yards and yards of treetops; we decided to call it a good trip and be safe.

We then contacted the director of the Yellow River Post, Steve, who picked us up and shuttled us back to the site where he opened it up to us to spend the rest of the day and night.  It was closed to the public and we had the post to ourselves.  A large thanks to Steve for his generous and helpful help.  We spent the rest of the afternoon mending gear, doing repairs to the post (including me fixing  an old toboggan), and doing a little gambling.  Supper was the same rubbabboo and we went to bed early for a good night rest in the post.

It was not the planned trip, but we had a little of it all… easy paddling, hard paddling, portages, demi-charges, rapids, mending on the go, mending in camp at night, etc.  It was also, as was the main goal, a good reconnecting of old friends that have spent little time together in past years.


2 Responses to “From the Yellow River to the St. Croix”

  1. John Powers says:

    Ike –
    An excellent trip undertaken by a most worthy crew. Maybe not the trip that was planned but definitely the trip that was worth taking, enjoying, surviving, and sharing. A grand adventure in all aspects. Can’t wait to read more and to hear the tale first hand at Portage.

    PS / Now the pensive looks recorded as you smoked those last pipes at the post before embarking seem more poignant!

  2. Isaac says:

    Pensive indeed. I had been thinking on this for months… routes, currents, rapids, portages, etc. The worries of the guide!

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