5/09/2015 0 comments

Baraboo River VI

La Valle to Reedsburg
☆ ☆ ☆

A trip that begins with a bang of rapids, several scenic sandstone bluffs, an expedition trek to an incredible waterfall (albeit artificial), but then peters to a long and unremarkable monotony (the only highlight of which is finishing, in order to bike shuttle a fun dedicated state trail the whole way back to the put-in).

10
Huge waterfall at dam on Big Creek created Lake Redstone.

Date:
April 23, 2015

Class Difficulty:
Flatwater (Plus one Class I(II) drop)

Gauge:
Reedsburg (NOAA Gage): ht/ft: 96.8 | cfs: n/a

Gradient:
1.8' per mile

Put-In:
West Main Street boat launch, La Valle, Wisconsin
Take-Out:
Walnut Street boat launch, Reedsburg, Wisconsin

Time: Put in at 10:20a. Out at 2:50p.
Total Time: 4h 30m
Miles Paddled: 12.25

Wildlife: Sandhill cranes, geese, wood ducks, deer, turkey vultures, bald eagle, muskrat, frisky fish, turtles, hawks and an owl.
Time worth driving to: 1 hour

This trip has been simmering on the back burner for some time now. I still have a desire bordering on a fool’s errand to paddle the entire Baraboo, because it’s such an old gentleman of a river steeped in history nearly inconceivable. And because it’s one of the longest free-flowing rivers in the country. And because Sauk County is like the “little Vermont” of Wisconsin. Throw in a fun rapid in the beginning and exposed sandstone bluffs along the way, and I’m a cheap date.

Plus I’ve long carried a flame for the button-cute little city of Reedsburg. Unfortunately, there’s nothing romantic or swoon-worthy about the long, tedious segment of the Baraboo River from Lake Redstone to Reedsburg. But the short clip from La Valle to Lake Redstone is a gem.

What we liked:
The put-in access is excellent, as it’s a concrete ramp boat launch (that said, it’s situated between two bars, so parking may be an issue during the summer. If so, just leave your car down the street. La Valle is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it hamlet.)

Less than 100 yards from the put-in, lies a thrilling rapid underneath the Highway 58 bridge where there used to be a dam. The best run is on the right; the chute on the left is shallower and has precarious rocks. I wore my sprayskirt and I’m glad I did. The rapid comprises two drops, roughly five feet total. It’s not dangerous but it’s not a drop to take for granted either. There’s an eddy on the right that recirculates back to the drop to run multiple times.

The next mile is fairly humdrum frankly but soon you’ll see a lovely sandstone bluff on the right – the first of four to Big Creek. You’ll pass under the handsome bridge of “The 400 Trail,” one of the prettiest state trails for bicycling in Wisconsin; go left, as the right channel around a downstream island is a mess. More sandstone bluffs appear on the left up to the confluence of Big Creek.

What’s “Big Creek,” you ask? A little stream that creates a huge impoundment thanks to the dam at Lake Redstone. If the water is high enough, you can (and I encourage you to) paddle upstream a third of a mile to a rapid, take-out and walk 30 feet to the huge waterfall that is the dam (I sawed and trimmed a navigable path myself, so this is totally doable).

The waterfall is crazy impressive, at least 40 feet high. There are hiking trails to the left and right to the top. To the left of the dam/waterfall is a levee that presumably helps keep artificial Lake Redstone a basin (or prevents the lake from catastrophically flooding the valley below). If you wished, you could schlep your boats from the creek up and then down the hill and put-in on the lake. For a nice review and more on Lake Redstone, see here.

There’s a makeshift boat launch at a wayside immediately downstream from the confluence of Big Creek at the Baraboo River, off Douglas Road, where you should just quit your trip then and there, for the rest of the river to Reedsburg is just painfully monotonous.

What we didn't like:
I repeat, it's painfully monotonous from Big Creek to Reedsburg. Seriously, it’s all a hardwood floodplain wetland. The only thing that breaks it up is one mother of a logjam that you must portage around on the right (there’s a well-worn foot path, so it’s obvious that this huge obstruction has been around for awhile), which in turn is followed immediately by another obstruction that I barely squeezed through all the way to the right in between the bank and the butt end of the root base of a down tree.

Also, the surround sound of traffic from Highway 33 is constant. Ordinarily I would say something like “you’re never far from the road…” but that’s too passive. Here, you feel like a semi is about to run through the wetland woods at any moment, so watch out.

Lastly, locating the takeout in Reedsburg is a bit of a wild goose chase. To be fair, there are signs telling you to turn left here, turn right there. Essentially, (not that I recommend using this boat launch either to begin your trip or end it) the access is on the downstream side of the Webb Street bridge on river-left. But to access it you are encouraged to follow the signs along Webb Street > Railroad Street > Walnut Street taking you in a roundabout fashion. Once there you find yourself in a deserted dirt field. Rest assured, there’s direct access to the river.

Also but unrelated to the river, some d-bag on an ATV rode the 400 Trail when it was soft from intense rains and rutted the hell out of it. Not only is this profoundly inconsiderate, it’s prohibited. Now taxpayer dollars have to go to maintaining the trail just because some yahoo was selfish.

If we did this trip again:
I’d definitely do the La Valle to Big Creek section again and combine it with an exploratory of Lake Redstone. But I won’t paddle all the way down to Reedsburg again.

***************
Related Information
Baraboo River I: Village Park to Highway 113
Baraboo River II: Haskins Park to Highway 113
Baraboo River III: Union Center to Wonewoc
Baraboo River IV: Haskins Park to Highway 113
Baraboo River V: Haskins Park to Highway 33
Miles Paddled Video: Baraboo River IV: Haskins Park to Highway 113
General: American Whitewater
General: Riverfacts
Guide: Paddling Southern Wisconsin
Overview: Hunt Fish Camp
Overview: Wisconsin Guides
Video: Wisconsin Paddles: The Baraboo
Wikipedia: Baraboo River


Map:



Shuttle Information:
7.8 miles by bike along the trail or 7.9 miles by car along Highway 33.


Photo Gallery:

01
Nice put-in at La Valle.

02
Outstanding rapids below Highway 58 bridge in La Valle.

03
Former mill building.

04
Floodplain forest for first mile.

05
Occasional pleasant openings with pretty views of Driftless hills.

06
First of four sandstone bluffs.

07
"400 Trail" bridge.

08
Another impressive sandstone bluff in the first 3 miles.

09
"Quaint" tunnel on Big Creek.

11
View from the top of the dam at Lake Redstone.

12
Back on the Baraboo approaching a monster logjam.

13
One of several pretty sandbar beaches on this trip.

14
Eviscerated bridge literally to and from nowhere!

15
Approaching downtown Reedsburg.

16
Another bridge for the "400 Trail" near the takeout.

17
The takeout in Reedsburg.

18
On the "400 Trail".
5/09/2015 0 comments

Driftless + Drifter T-Shirts

We're smitten by the driftless area so we thought it would be cool to create some shirts. One, titled "driftless" illustrates the river systems within the region and the other, "Drifter," shows its place in the Midwest. They are now both in our Spreadshirt shop.



5/07/2015 0 comments

Puchyan River

County Road J to Huckleberry Road
☆ ☆

A monotonous trip through a marshy wetlands that empties into the Fox River between Princeton and Berlin. There are far too many obstructions and really not much “there there” to recommend doing this.

07
Expect to see this with little else in the way of variety.

Date:
April 19, 2015

Class Difficulty:
Riffles

Gradient:
1.3' per mile

Gauge:
Gauge note: There is no official gage and correlating with another nearby is speculative (there used to be a gage right in Green Lake but lack of funding so to its retirement in 2012). You can try comparing the Silver Creek at Spalding Road gage immediately east of the Puchyan River in Green Lake just to see recent activity compared to the historical average.

Put-In:
County Road J, St Marie Township, Green Lake County, Wisconsin
Take-Out:
Huckleberry Road

Time: Put in at 2:55p. Out at 6:00p.
Total Time: 3h 5m
Miles Paddled: 8.25

Wildlife: Wood ducks, sandhill cranes, Canada geese, softshell and snapping turtles, muskrats and beaver evidence.
Time worth driving to: It isn't

I first read about this trip in a long out-of-print paddling guidebook a year or two ago, which might account for the lack of updated info on this small river. As in, this trip is a pointless waste of your efforts, for there are 3-4 portages minimum, and the surrounding landscape is just a flat boring marsh without anything spicing it up. And unless you already live nearby, it’s a bit of a drive to get there. Not even the charm of the Puchyan Prairie State Natural Area held my interest all that long.

What we liked:
The trip begins with an exciting and totally unexpected premise of a rocky streambed and riffles past a tall bank on the left. There’s an impressive rapid drop at a bend to the left that you can’t see from the put-in. The water was too shallow to run this without scraping the hell out of my boat but in higher water this could be a lot of fun.

The water is clear and the bottom sandy the whole way through. There’s little to no development but for the occasional farm off in the distance and lots of hunting blinds (one of which bore a “Men’s” placard on the front door the likes of which you see on bathroom stalls, which made me giggle). The river meanders through the cattail and sedge meadow marsh but not obnoxiously or laboriously. The wildlife sightings were pretty good.

The shuttle route is scenic (more so than the river itself) but you know you’re getting desperate when the shuttle, which is nothing more than a means to an end, offers more variety than the reason why you come to a place initially: to paddle.

What we didn't like:
OK, first that rocky rapid drop in the beginning. The current was too strong to head to the left, where it would have been the easiest and safest portage. And the right bank is lined with brush and trees. Instead, I purposely ran aground, got out and walked over and down the slippery rocks, tugging my boat behind me. And then there are two more deadfall obstructions about 25 yards apart requiring you to schlep your boat up the tall bank and portage around the two (I noticed, after it was too late, that there’s a right channel next to the rocky drop that looks like it’s clear of obstructions.) Some way to start! I still had over 8 miles to go and it was 3 pm on a Sunday.

There will be at least two more portages (thankfully spaced out this time). For a marsh, I was expecting there to be like, zero portages, due to the relative lack of trees. Not so much. But it sure is a lot of marsh. Marsh and little else but marsh. There’s one hill off in the distance you’ll occasionally spot just to give some sense of topographical relief but that’s it (and for me that’s nowhere near enough).

For such marshy barrens at this time of the year, I had been anticipating a raucous cacophony of birds. Nope. Hundreds of thunderous wings migrating hither and yon? Negative. Lots of turtles kerplunking in the water and then poking out their little periscopic heads to see where I was but that was it.

This is a long drive from Madison for so little payoff. Worse still, there is nowhere to take-out while on the Puchyan River. No, instead one must paddle half a mile upstream on the Fox to a very inconspicuous spit of land about 10 feet wide. Paddling upstream for a river that isn’t worth it in the end? This is a tough sell.

Upon reflection, I don’t mean to be so critical of this trip, but frankly, I had been hoping for more. I had even slipped into shorts and sandals for this trip, since the late afternoon weather took a bright and warm turn. Maybe it was better back in the day, but I can’t for the life of me imagine why anyone would actually include this in a guidebook.

And maybe I wasn’t being totally objective. I had already paddled an arduous short trip for three hours earlier in the day, so perhaps I was tired and impatient. I had had no beer until putting-in for this trip either, so that could account for something too I suppose. And I don’t care much for marshes in the first place. So take this review with a grain or two of salt. But for what it’s worth, if you happen to be out in this part of the state, check out the nearby White River instead. It’s much prettier, more varied and has none of the dumb obstructions here.

If we did this trip again:
Hell to the no. It’s too monotonous and has too many pointless logjams and deadfall. If anything, I’d be curious to check out the upstream segment from Green Lake to County Road J, which looks less marshy and has a couple hills.

***************
Related Information
Wikipedia: Green Lake


Map:




Shuttle Information:
5.2 miles (and a pretty ride actually.


Photo Gallery:

01
The fun put-in at County Road J.

02
Shallow riffles just down from the put-in.

03
Pretty short segment before the annoying crap comes in.

04
Totally random and too-shallow-to-run rocky ledge.

05
Immediately followed by not one but two obstructions.

06
The open marsh begins.

08
Pleasant, but deadfall awaits...

09
There are lots of these scenes, some of which can be negotiated without portaging.

10
...And then some others must be portaged.

11
Happy to find it all open again.

12
Spoke too soon!

13
A very pretty scene late in the afternoon.

14
Like a pile of match sticks, these preceded another logjam.

15
That's the Fox River on the other side of the low embankment.

16
Confluence of the Puchyan (right) at the Fox (left).

17
Very tiny takeout a little hard to locate.
5/05/2015 0 comments

Pecatonica River III

Brownton to Winslow
☆ ☆ ☆

A lazy-loaf float trip down the slow muddy waters of the Pecatonica River in its last stretch in Wisconsin before dipping down into Illinois. There are no outstanding rock outcrops or riffles on this trip but there are many pleasant ridges and hills. Check out the cool artesian well and waterfall in Winslow after you’re done.

05
The proverbial shotgun shack down by the river.

Date:
April 16, 2015

Class Difficulty:
Flatwater

Gradient:
1.3' per mile

Gauge:
Martintown: ht/ft: 5.92 | cfs: 700

Put-In:
Highway 11 boat launch, Brownton, Wisconsin
Take-Out:
Highway 2/Winslow Road boat launch, Walnut Road, Winslow, Illinois

Time: Put in at 12:40p. Out at 4:45p.
Total Time: 4h 45m
Miles Paddled: 11.5

Wildlife: Soft shell turtle, bald eagle, turkey vulture, wood ducks and a muskrat.
Time worth driving to: 30 minutes

I’m either a sucker or a hopeless romantic for insisting on covering as much of the Pecatonica River as I can. Why do I do this? Because it’s a river with reliable water levels that flows through the Driftless area, for one. Plus it has secrets here-and-there, worth every effort of trying your luck. The segments between Gratiot and Browntown look excessively agricultural and divorced from their natural setting but I had more hope for Browntown downstream. It’s a pleasant trip but none too spectacular. But as far as a kick up your feet and crack open a beer-type of paddle trip is concerned, this was fun with a friend.

What we liked:
The access off Highway 11 is outstanding. Just upstream is an attractive rusty truss bridge of the Cheese Country Trail that spans both the Pecatonica River and a tributary creek as well. Due to the large width of the river, you won’t ever have to portage, duck under, scoot over, or maneuver around any serious obstacles.

The wildlife sightings were pretty good and there are few houses to pass. Instead, most of the land surrounding the river is agricultural. But there usually are tall ridges and small bluffs lining at least one of the banks of the river, so it’s rarely boring. There are some modest rock outcrops here and there but nothing as dramatic as those upstream of Calamine or downstream from Darlington. And there are some former bridge foundations and stranded pylons, too.

There are two incredibly large logjam pileups like bookends in the beginning and end of this trip. Neither obstructs the mainstream; they’re just cool to look at and appreciate the wrath of a river in flood stage. There’s quite a quirky looking bar on the right bank, half a mile upstream of the takeout, that looks like a hoot (though I wouldn’t go alone unless wearing a Confederate flag bandana or maybe a Fox Racing t-shirt).

Definitely head over to Paradise Cove in town after you take out. It’s located at the end of an alley off of Carver Street (the main street in Winslow); there are signs pointing to it. The fresh spring water is cold and delicious, plus there’s a pretty little waterfall, water wheel and covered bridge. It’s an attractive setting all around.

What we didn't like:
The trip is simply unremarkable. It’s not ugly by any means and it does have its moments but there’s little to capture your imagination after two hours.

If we did this trip again:
I don’t think I would. For the drive and distance, there’s no compelling reason to. I’d rather explore other segments of the Pecatonica as yet experienced.

***************
Related Information
Pecatonica River I: Calamine to Darlington
Pecatonica River II: Darlington to Red Rock
Pecatonica River East Branch I: Blanchardville to Argyle
Pecatonica River East Branch II: Hollandale to Blanchardville
Pecatonica River East Branch III: Highway HK to Hollandale
Pecatonica River East Branch IV: Argyle to Blackhawk Memorial County Park
Camp: Pecatonica River Trails Park
Good People: Friends of the Pecatonica River
Guide: Paddling Southern Wisconsin
Map: Pecatonica River
Overview: Wisconsin Guides
Video: Canoeing the Pecatonica River in Darlington, Wisconsin
Wikipedia: Pecatonica River


Map:




Shuttle Information:
9 miles with some good hills if bicycling.


Photo Gallery:

01
The excellent put-in off Highway 11 just west of Browntown.

02
The stately truss bridge on the Cheese Country Trail upstream.

03
Soft shell turtle.

04
Lots of pleasant hills surrounding pastures and farmland.

06
Some trees look prettier without leaves.

07
A pleasant stretch of raised banks.

08
Springtime paddling gives you glimpses of the landscape you never see in summer.

09
Some of the modest rock outcrops you'll see here and there.

10
Funky old watering hole in Winslow.

11
Paradise Cove artesian springs in Winslow.
5/05/2015 0 comments

A Few Brief Hours

Here's a wonderful entry for the 2015 Kayak Session Short Film of the Year Awards, a video essay by Chad Christopher on his reasons for kayaking.

What I really like about it is that, while whitewater-centric, it transcends and reveals a human truth in every variety of paddler.