Winter is a great time to re-live our adventures when the weather outside is not the best for any sort of water activities. It is also a time to note the lessons learned from some adventures so that we can learn and become better paddlers.
The northern part of the Moose Horn River is almost a small creek close to the town of Mahtowa, Minnesota. Driving by it for years, I often pondered what was down the wild back country it flows through as it makes it’s six mile journey on the way to the town of Barnum. I would drive along MN state highway 61 and get peeks of it as it flowed through some of the local farmland. I would drive up dirt roads and look for good places to launch from making mental notes as I watched the rate of flow.
Just like my river adventure on the Kettle River close to where I grew up (read here) this river had a certain romantic pull to it. The problem was I was scared out of my wits to try it alone. I didn’t have anyone I knew who would paddle it with me. But, that didn’t stop me from dreaming.
I set out one late summer afternoon to paddle it. I stopped at my Dad’s place on County Rd 4 and let him know I was heading out and where I was paddling. He suggested I launch from one of the farms along the river instead of County 4. I listened, nodded my head in agreement, but really had my mind set to launch where I wanted straight from the highway.
Then I called a good friend of mine in Barnum and asked if she was free to pick me up and haul me back to my truck once I reached Barnum.
“Sure, How long before you get here?” she asked
“I am guessing a couple of hours. If you don’t see me before dark maybe try to call my cell phone and check on me. My truck is parked along county road 4.” I replied
When I reached the launch point I noticed that it was a bit of a drop from the road and pretty swampy to get the kayak into the water. The water seemed to be hardly moving here along the highway. I pushed and pulled the kayak through the tall swamp grass to a level spot on the waters edge. I quickly and not gracefully loaded my butt into the hull.
The water quickly pulled me in the direction of flow south towards Barnum. I drew in a deep breath as I tried to make sure the kayak was heading where I wanted to go and not directly towards the log that now was in front of me. Narrow and deep the banks were lined with swamp grass and brush willows. I rounded a corner and another and then on my left was a house with other small out buildings. Then just more swamp and blue sky.
The flow of the current slowed. I floated into a wide area of still water filled area with small islands of grass. I knew I should keep heading in the direction of the water flow but now that was a bit of a challenge to determine where the water was going. I had to look at other indicators besides the now mostly still water. A leaf floated by and I watched as I tried to determine where I should go. The leaf floated off to the left. Ah…. that must be the right way. I started to paddle in the direction of the leaf.
I was now engulfed in a narrow path of water that was surrounded by tall swamp grass reaching towards the sky. The frogs were happily singing as I paddled into this unknown area.
Then the water stopped. A cascade of water dropping three foot to the continued river below.
A beaver dam had the entire river blocked off. The drop to the other side of the dam looked more of the challenge than I wanted to face. With no clear area to portage my kayak from the banks. Disappointed, I turned my kayak around and headed back towards the road.
Now the frogs singing sounded more like heckles and laughing than singing as I kayaked back on this river through the swamp.
I pulled my kayak onto the bank at the farm I had passed on my way towards the now known beaver dam. I would leave the kayak and walk to get my truck.
When I finally had the kayak loaded I considered my Dad’s advice to stop at one of the farms along state highway #61. I was not going to let this river win, I would just get past the swamp and it would be fine.
Or so I thought… the story continues in Part #2. (Here)
Lesson #1– Listen to your Dad even if he doesn’t kayak!
Things to do in Mahtowa, MN.
TJ’s Country Corner – Known for the best homemade wurst in the area. Great for camping trips. I recommend the wild rice brats. They are great over a campfire after a day of hard paddling!
Willard Munger State Trail – This 70 mile bike trail from Hinckley to Duluth, Minnesota runs right through downtown Mahtowa. Perfect for cross country skiing in the winter or cycling in the summer.