Sunday, December 26, 2010

SNOWFALL ON ABRAMS CREEK AT CHRISTMAS-PADDLING THE MISTRAL

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To walk through a wilderness in winter is beautiful; to quietly paddle a canoe through it is nothing short of glorious!
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My infatuation with the wilderness wouldn't allow me to stay in doors today.  I looked outside this 
morning to see heavy snow falling.  The ground and trees were white.  I had to pinch myself to assure I wasn't back in Pennsylvania.
I couldn't resist getting the canoe out for a paddle up Abrams Creek.  As I backed the truck up to the fence to load it; my family had gathered at the gate.  I suspect they thought we were all going to the woods.  All, that is, accept Douglas.  He knows when it's time to go.  He just lays back and show's no interest because he knows it's not time yet.   Maybe later.  This morning on the water would be a good test of the Mistral canoe and I guess, of me handling it.  The roads looked pretty clear of snow as I drove South toward Chilhowee Reservoir and Abrams Creek.
Abrams Creek is back in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park and it flows into Chilhowee Reservoir.  In short;  that's mountainous country.  The closer I got the worse the roads became.






I'm not used to seeing the nose of a canoe hanging over the cab of the truck.










The further I drove, the whiter the country side became.  But, the road was still clear.  These shots are well North of the Reservoir.










Slush started to appear on the road about five miles away from the mountain and Abrams Creek.  It's obvious the road crews maintain the roads in towns and nearby suburbs but, the outlying stretches of highways are less than desirable to drive on.  I'm used to Pennsylvania so it doesn't bother me at all.  I can see, however, why this much snow causes havoc down here in the South.  It just doesn't snow much down here.  Well, rarely..


The shot above was taken on Route 129 which runs along Chilhowee Lake.  The overpasses are frozen solid and must be approached with care.  Yes, they freeze like that in Pennsylvania too.  That's why I'm sensitive to overpasses.  I had very scary experience driving over a frozen, icy overpass with a motorcycle many years back and I lived through it.  During deceleration on the surface of the overpass, the back wheel of the bike slid very slowly up beside and slightly behind my position on the seat.  I remember saying out loud, "just a little more and I'll be across this bitch.  Hang in there just a few seconds more."  The front wheel touched the road surface on the other side of the overpass and when the rear wheel caught the unfrozen surface it put the bike into very hard left then right movement.  It straightened out and I kept going.  I never forgot that moment.

I pulled off the road for a picture of Chilhowee Lake.  It may appear like a cold, bleak place but, to me it represents what real life is.  This is real.  It isn't contrived by the human hand.  Oh, humans created the lake with the help of the Little Tennessee River but, humans can't control the weather.  Well, not yet anyway.  It is beautiful out there.

The point where Abrams Creek flows into Chilhowee Lake is just ahead.  My morning would finally begin.  The big canoe was frozen to the top of the truck cap.  The protective bunk material (carpeting) had snow on it when I loaded the boat up this morning.  I had to pry and twist the canoe about to break it free.  Finally it rested on my shoulders and I walked down a steep hill to the water's edge.  Not bad at all.  I brought the attachable canoe wheels along just in case.  They certainly would not work on this stone strewn little hill.
I still can't get over the size of that canoe.  She's a big girl for sure.  It only took a few minutes to get under way.  A very light snow fell from the sky during the launch process.  It is only 28 degrees and a heavy snow is quite possible.  Ha;  bring it on.
I was instantly amazed at how much the terrain had changed with the addition of snow on the boulders and trees.  The views were breathtaking!  I forgot about the cold and held myself to an easy paddle cadence.  The big canoe glided upstream effortlessly.  
The water's surface was smooth but, I could hear the wind in the tops of the trees making it's presence known.  "Threaten all you want to Winter breeze;  I ain't goin back."
Something just submerged across the creek near the stream bank.   I missed it.  It wouldn't matter because I elected to bring the Canon Elph camera today.  I envisioned much trouble handling the big D50 Canon with gloves and taking it out of and putting it back into the Pelican waterproof box.  The Elph resides in my parka pocket, easily withdrawn for a quick shot.  However;  it would be useless for wildlife shots.  I still have to get the glove off my right hand to take a picture.  It's just the nature of things.
The wind has finally reached the water.  You can see the slight washboard effect it is causing on the surface.  This is not a problem at all.  The canoe is handling perfectly.
I am surrounded by gorgeous sights.  The water and surrounding mountainside are spectacular with their blanket of snow.
 A normally blase shoreline of brown becomes supremely gorgeous after nature highlighted it with white from her Winter brush.
A little head poked through the surface only for an instant.  It is an otter.  I can do nothing with it.  My camera will not serve the purpose well.  I notice the little fellow is not curious like his cousins on Indian Boundary Lake.
This little guy made only one showing and I guess, went into hiding.  The otters on Indian Boundary Lake are curious and will pop up here and there around the canoe.  They will even follow for awhile showing themselves occasionally by popping up for five to ten seconds at a time before tiring of the game.
The water's surface has gone smooth again.  The slightest bend in the creek changes the direction of the wind.  A small change down here is a major change way up on the side of the mountain.  That's where the wind comes from.  I'm happy the wind isn't blowing hard.  It's very cold out here.
The canoe is handling perfectly.  At no time do I feel threatened with feelings that the craft is unstable.  I feel I could easily stand and move about freely in this boat.  I have paddled it today from a kneeling position and I actually liked it.  There is a feeling of greater control while paddling from that position.  I believe, in reality, the weight transfer of the paddler more forward in the boat helps put the front end down deeper in the water thereby creating basically a longer boat.  A longer boat glides with less effort and is less prone to be moved by breezes. 
If you look closely you will see that the canoe is slicing through near frozen water.  It is cruising through a thick slush that is very near frozen solid.  Cruising isn't really the word.  Sloshing is more applicable.
I can hear the shriek of a Bald Eagle.  I'm sure of it.  I chastise myself mentally for not bringing the big 500 mm lens and the D50.  But then; I pull myself down to reality and think about what I'm doing out here today.  I'm here only to enjoy a Winter's snowy day on the water like none I have ever had before in my life.  This is a real first for me and already memories have been burned into my memory that have no equal.  But, the Elph is in my hand at the ready.
A commotion in a large pine tree off to my right can be heard and a beautiful bald eagle launches into the snowy sky, shrieking loudly,  proclaiming his position as king of all that is below him.  His graceful, yet powerful flight represents absolute freedom.  What a wonderful bird to represent this nation of ours.   He disappears as quickly as he appeared.  I feel a cold chill run down my spine as I watch this natural wonder fly toward the highest point on the mountain.  Magnificent!
These slushy areas are becoming more prevalent the closer I get to the mouth of Abrams Creek.   I can foresee becoming trapped at a camp site by a frozen over creek.  This slush will certainly freeze solid tonight if the temperatures stay as they are.  I had to really paddle hard to slosh my way through the slush.  A guy could get tongue tied using words like slosh and slush to frequently together.  Below is an over the shoulder shot of the slush.  The snow is really coming down now.
I see movement to the left and a really large otter slides down the bank and into the water.  I've got to get over to the bank and wait to see if he comes up for a look around.
This is a good spot to watch from.  The wind is picking up as can be seen from the texture of the surface.  It's really cold out here.  Sitting and waiting in the Summer is easier than sitting here and freezing in the Winter.  I need to keep moving for warmth.  I'll give it another ten minutes.
I can see the snow falling pretty hard up ahead.  There is one more bend in the river before arriving at the mouth of Abrams Creek and the wind is blowing down that course of water directly toward Abrams Creek.  You can see the snow blowing if you look at the top of that big, tall pine in the right side of the shot above.  Look closely at the water below the paddle blade.
That otter isn't showing.  I'll move on ahead.  The snow is falling steady now.  It's beautiful out here.
I believe the entire end of this creek will freeze over by tomorrow morning.  I'd not want to leave a camp tomorrow morning and find this entire expanse of water frozen.  I have no idea what one would do.  A canoe could not be lined over ice.  The ice would not be thick enough to walk on so portage is out of the question.  The cliff side goes too vertical from the water to walk along.   I guess a fellow would just have to sit it out until the thaw occurs.  
We finally arrive at the mouth of Abrams Creek.
We are greeted by huge snow covered boulders.  I have been here many times but it looks foreign today due to the new white designs nature has painted on the landscape.  I have to keep my eyes on the bottom of this section of water also.  Enormous boulders lie inches under the surface.  The Mistral glides over or around them effortlessly.  She responds perfectly to the paddle strokes.
I paddle up the center of the channel to the boulders but think twice about landing here.  There isn't much sense spending time on land as I need to wander back down the waterway toward the truck.  I want to keep this leisurely pace and not rush for a moment so I'll let the current turn the Mistral down stream from whence we came.
It is so pretty back here that it is a struggle with my conscience to stay or leave.  I'll float about for a few more moments.  Finally I let the current have it's way with the Mistral.  She turns with the flow and points herself downstream.  I sit back and let the water carry us along.

The picture below is an accident.  I have named the composition "Frozen Feet."
There is a little natural landing just ahead that I will, must, pull into so I can walk about and thaw out my feet.  I'll take a few traditional shots of the Mistral floating alone.  I love those shots.
Just after this picture; the paddle slid off the gunnels into the water.  The canoe almost passed it by.  I lunged for the staff and just caught it on the palm grip.  Another split second and I would have been without a paddle.  And I would have deserved to be without a paddle.  Two paddles should, must, be in the canoe at all times for just this reason.  I am angry with myself for making the mistake of bringing only one paddle.  I'm not sure how I would have retrieved the floating paddle had I missed my grab.  I ended up with a soaked glove.  It could have been worse.

That error leaving the second paddle in the truck is irritating me.  When out here totally alone; one must think of every conceivable thing that can go wrong and be prepared for that possible occurrence.  There is no partner to assist in emergencies.  Emergencies happen sometimes.  They don't need assisted by lack of good judgment by somebody acting like a pilgrim on the water.  I'm mad at myself.  It will never happen again.
My pull off is just ahead.  This is the area where I saw the otter.

This is a very nice spot to hang out in.  A thought just crossed my mind.  Imagine that!  I wonder what kayakers do if they lose a paddle?  I don't think they have room to carry one of those spare long paddles with a blade on each end.  Maybe their paddles screw apart into two sections somehow and fit into those little hatches in the boat.  I'll have to ask somebody.
The Mistral looks grand floating here in front of me.

That boat sure has a huge capacity for gear.  We'll find out shortly.  That ol girl is going to Calderwood the first chance I get.
That black thing sticking up off the seat is a seat back.  Thank you Paul.  That is one of the best things I ever got for a canoe.  I have a sciatic nerve thing going on and that seat back allows me to take the tension off my waste as I do power strokes with the paddle.  A great thing to have on any canoe.
The next shot shows me something I have been concerned about with the Mistral ever since I ordered it.  See where the bottom of the boat curves up out of the water.  The canoe is actually 17.5 feet long but, there is about a foot of it out of the water.  That is caused by the fact that it has what is termed a steeper rocker, the degree of angle from center of the boat to the bow and from center to stern.  In short, that little section of the boat is not in the water.  It allows wind to push the bow or stern left or right more easily.  It also allows quick, easy steering.  This canoe has a 3.5" rocker.  My Champlain has a 2" rocker.  The Mistral has white water capability and in white water one needs a faster turning boat.  On flat water, like I do, it isn't as necessary to turn on a dime.  So, Esquif built a boat that is sort of in the middle of the road.  I have about 50 pounds of ballast, logs, in the bow right now and the bow is still out of the water.  I would suspect it would take a good hundred pounds to push that bow into the drink properly.  It is a freighter canoe and when loaded the bow will be in the water further.  It's just an observation.  Look closely and you'll see the effects of rocker.  The bow of the boat is out of the water as can be seen in the photo.
It's not a big deal as I don't intend to paddle this boat much unless I'm going camping.  I have the Chaplain for afternoon cruises.  Wow;  it's great out here.
It's time to float on down the stream.  This has been a fantastic outing.  My kids are awaiting my return.  It doesn't look like I'll get them out to the forest today.  That's OK as New Years day is coming and I believe I'm off work that day.  There's plenty of time for them to get in the woods.  This slush is getting thicker.
Getting close to take out now.  I may put a slide show of all the shots from this entry up here.  I love the tune Pachelbel.  If I can remember how to put the slide show together;  I'll use Pachelbel Canon as the music for the slides.  I think I'd select Pachelbel performed by George Winston.  That's a piano piece.  I'll see.  Hey;  how bout another short movie clip?
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Today has been a very special day for me.  I'm blessed to be able to live the life I love and it is a privilege to invite you along for the ride.  Merry Christmas to you and I hope you enjoyed this entry to the blog.   Today has been a very beautiful experience for me.  I love my canoes....
Copy and paste the following link into your browser for a compilation of all the pictures in this entry

http://picasaweb.google.com/loucksgl61/MISTRALONABRAMSCREEKATCHRISTMAS?authkey=Gv1sRgCOT7jO_4heKMxQE#5561489785900529762