Sunday, April 18, 2021

Late season kayaking creates its own surprises

| November 15, 2020 12:00 AM

After two consecutive weekends of foul weather, the Flathead Paddlers kayaking group I belong to was finally able to sneak in one more outing Nov. 1 under relatively mild temperatures and fair winds, the latest this particular annual trip has been scheduled.

Mind you, this is a hearty group, having participated in the annual New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge in Woods Bay for many years by kayaking out on Flathead Lake to watch the plunge. Many longtime members have also traveled to both coasts and foreign countries for extended sea kayak camping trips and are experts at Eskimo rolls and water rescues. All members must “prove up” each year by demonstrating their ability to re-enter their boat after capsizing.

But the trip to the Thompson Chain of Lakes is a leisurely paddle.

You might think it would be difficult to overdress for kayaking in November. It was about 45 degrees when we launched out from Middle Thompson Lake; I’d already reduced my outerwear twice beforehand. Drysuits or wetsuits are ideal layers in such conditions.

Kayaking is the perfect group sport for a global pandemic. Given our sea kayaks are between 14 and 18 feet long, and the average paddle length is somewhere between 220 to 240 cm, the sport just lends itself to safe social distancing both in and out of the water — paddlers assist each other in taking the boats off their car roofs and carrying them end for end down to the water; and on the water kayakers are spaced comfortably from one another to avoid smacking each other with their paddles.

This particular Sunday the tamaracks shone like golden candles on the mountains across the lake and clearly mirrored on its calm surface. A group of 11, we had the lakes entirely to ourselves. One of the charming qualities of the Thompson Lakes chain is the Middle and Lower are connected by a meandering path of tall reeds, which is fun to navigate. The Lower lake also has a long stretch of reeds and grass that we paddled through single file and where we encountered the first thin sheaf of ice.

It was the first time I personally have encountered ice while kayaking, though I’m sure many longtime group members have. Three of us decided to nose up onto a little ice shoal together; the sound of ice crunching under our hulls was a bit bizarre.

We paddled on, edging our way around the reedy, winding course until we we’re completely stymied by a thick stretch of ice spanning the narrows. A few courageous kayakers tried plowing through like the Titanic, rocking their boats side to side to break up the ice.

I lifted an ice chunk with my blade and it was easily an inch thick.

Now, we all knew there was a Porta Potty on the shore on the other side of that icy stretch and some of us may have been more determined than others to reach that destination. But it wasn’t going to turn out well for those who ignored the precarious situation before them.

So we turned back and paddled into the late afternoon sun. The temperature hadn’t changed appreciably the entire day.

At the end of the day, after we’d returned to our starting point, three skilled members of the group lingered in the water and, just as the sun came to rest on the top of the mountain behind them, performed in tandem three perfect Eskimo rolls as the rest of us applauded from the shore.

Community and Entertainment editor Carol Marino may be reached at 406-758-4440 or