Moose Horn River Adventure – Mahtowa – Part 2

Moose Horn RIver South of Mahtowa paddle

Launch point top arrow. Stop point bottom arrow. About 1/2 river mile in length. (picture from google maps)

This adventure down the Moose Horn River was adding up to a bit more than I expected.  You can read part one to see how it started (here).

I bounced down highway 61 in search of the farm my Dad told me about in hopes that I could launch from a new location by-passing the at least one beaver dam.

I was in luck.  The farmer was home and I got permission to launch from their property.  I headed towards the launching point in their pasture. The farmer told me that two kayakers had been through the week before so the river must be passable. Easy enough I thought.

Under the barbed wire fence. Tip toe through the cow paddies with all my gear on my back, the paddle in my left hand, and the kayak on my right shoulder then down to the river bank.

“Perfect!” I thought as I load my gear and easily stepped into The Happy 4th (the name of my Otter kayak) .

I was about two road miles away from my original start point on County Road 4. The river was a bit wider here and seemed to flow at a nice easy relaxed pace straight towards my end point.

The paddle was easy for the first 100 yards.  I was in paddle bliss! Brush lined the wide banks and the water lazily flowed under my kayak.

I was not paying attention as the river turned suddenly more challenging for my experience level.  The river narrowed, willow brush started to hang over the river and into the water creating a cool looking tunnel to paddle through.

Moose Horn River just south of Moose Lake

This picture is not from this trip but another section of the Moose Horn that I have paddled. You can see that the vegetation can be challenging.

This cool looking tunnel also limited my paddling space on both sides.  The overhanging willows made it difficult to maneuver my paddle.

I realized too late I was in a dangerous situation as my paddle caught a willow branch and turned me sideways.  The water rushed quickly by as I reached for the branch and tried to unhook my paddle.

One wrong move, I was now dumped into the water. The kayak was wedged to a larger branch just in front of me. I saw it start to float to the side trying to head downriver with the swift current.  I quickly grabbed the side of the kayak. At the same time pulling at the stuck paddle.  I finally freed the paddle and somehow still had my hands on my kayak.

Now all my gear and I were quickly pulled downstream. I just hung onto the boat and hoped I would find a place to land my feet on solid ground.  It seemed like hours (actually it was maybe a couple of minutes) before my feet found and finally landed on a small sandbar.

My heart rate was speeding as I tried to catch my breath. I checked for injuries and if I had all my gear.  I found I had managed with only a scratch to my left arm.

As I stood there in the middle of this small sandbar and looked around.  I could see nothing but a dense brushy area. I was ready to let the river win.  I wanted to quit! I couldn’t see any way to hike out. The only way out was downstream. 

Now rattled, I slowly got back into the kayak, headed back into the current and thick underbrush.  Now the fun easy paddle was work. A struggle against nature to get off the river before dark.

I dumped the kayak three more times in a very short distance.  The swift water and brush being the main causes for my ship wrecks but then my nerves and strength were also exhausted from trying not to lose the kayak or the gear I had with me.  After the third time I swamped the Happy 4th I stood on the very narrow shore bank to rest. 

I stripped my now soaked clothes, wringed them out the best I could as the mosquitoes ate me alive by the thousands.  When I finally was able to pull my phone out of the bottom of the kayak (still safe and dry in the water proof box) I called my friend in Barnum and gave her the news.  I was landing at the next farm pasture I could find!

“How long will that be?” she asked

“I am not even sure where I am.  I can’t really be sure. ” I replied now a bit scared that I might have to spend the night outside and I had nothing to camp. The one snack bar I had packed was now gone. 

“Alright, just call me.” she told me. 

My confidence sunk to a new low as I heard the click on the other end of the line.

I slowly reloaded the kayak and pushed off to head downstream.  I had been on the river for three hours from this new launch point at the farm and I had no idea how much longer I had to paddle. 

I silently asked the universe for help to get me out of this situation. If I swamped the kayak again I didn’t think I had the strength to pull myself from the river one more time.  I started to paddle accepting my situation. The stream then started to widen and suddenly a saw a wide patch on the left side up ahead that looked like it was mowed manicured grass! 

“Really?” I thought “Maybe I am seeing things?”

I paddled quickly to the left, landed the kayak on the sandy nicely mowed shoreline. Looking up, I followed the mowed grass up the long bank, across a beautiful lawn, an old farmhouse stood about 100 yards away.

I was never so happy to see civilization! 

I loaded my kayak on my shoulders and hiked up the long field leading to the house.  I could see two older people looking out the second floor window at me as I managed my way up to the door. I must have looked strange coming from the river in my wet clothes and hauling a kayak.

I knocked and waited. An older lady came to the door. I retold my story.  I asked if it was ok if I sat in their driveway and waited for my friend from Barnum to pick me up.  She agreed and quickly returned to the safety of her house. 

I think I scared her looking like a drowned rat coming out of the river.

My friend came from Barnum, picked me up and took me back to my truck at the farm where I launched.  It was only a 1/4 road mile!

Later when I did the river calculation it was 1/2 river mile but it had taken me 3 1/2 hours to paddle!

I learned a lot of lessons that day. I have a great deal more respect for the smaller rivers in Northern Minnesota!


Moose Horn River at Moose Lake

Nothing like ending a paddle with a nice landing site! This one is on another part of the Moose Horn River south of Moose Lake, MN

Lesson #1 – noted in Part 1 (read here)

Lesson #2 – Never expect an easy paddle! Respect any body of water even if it looks calm. There are hidden dangers everywhere.  In this case it was the overhanging willow brush.

Lesson #3 – Conditions can change quickly.  River flow, weather, vegetation, and time of year can determine what conditions could exist on a river.

Lesson #4 – Always be prepared for the worst case situation. I had my normal snack, water, cell phone with me that day but if I had to spend the night outside I didn’t have anything to make a fire, use for cover.  My little adventure on this little river could have ended up very different.  I now carry my backpacking stove, flint, small fire starters, and a lightweight reflective emergency blanket when I paddle.

Lesson #5 – Always check the satellite maps.  Up to this point in kayaking I never used or checked out the route online.  I just took my chances.  If I had reviewed the images I would have had a better idea how the river flowed.  I still would not have known about the willow tunnel over the water.  With a little research ahead of time I could have determined the river distance I needed to travel, noted possible landscape markers that would have provided a safer paddle.

I am guessing my readers will understand why I don’t have any pictures from this part of my adventure.  I was a bit busy…

My apologies to my blog format, not sure what went wrong this time.  I hope it did not take away from your reading experience.