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An ‘ice’ thing about paddling in the winter: pretty cool water formations!

Dear reader, I’ll start with the same advice I gave a loved one who received a kayak as a Christmas gift: be extra cautious around the water when it’s cold. Hypothermia is a real concern with potentially fatal repercussions. As I’ve been warned by Facebook friends after they see my winter kayaking posts, “Don’t fall in!” Let me reassure everyone: I only embark and disembark when my husband is at hand to help me out if I do tip into the water beside our ‘drock’ (no, that’s not a typo; it’s what we’ve christened the large rock that serves as my entry point to the river… dock-rock, get it?).

The clay that Ormstown is known for lines our riverbanks, and that clay is slippery when wet! So, I don’t get out of my boat while I’m away. While I usually drag home garbage I find during outings – and there is a bunch of junk accumulated along the banks after the high water and winds since my last paddle in the autumn – I have restrained myself and left it behind. Scrambling to lug plastic buckets into the boat or pull feed bags from branches might cause a tumble.

 

Some pancake ice spotted on the Outardes River on New Years Day is formed from frazil which according to the Oxford University Press is soft or amorphous ice formed by the accumulation of ice crystals in water that is too turbulent to freeze solid PHOTO Lorelei Muller

 

Furthermore, whenever the water is high, I steer clear of the river’s edge where it is possible to become caught up in overhanging branches and then struggle to get untangled against a strong current. Finally (this last point is especially directed at my aforementioned loved one), I keep a respectful distance from all rapids.

Ok, now that the “mom” in me has had her say, I’ll share what the adventurer in me recently discovered.

On the first day of this new year, I celebrated a first for me. I had never been paddling in January before, but open water beckoned me to start 2024 with a little jaunt. So, I donned layers of clothing, my life jacket, and waterproof gloves, and then hubby and I headed down the hill where we broke up some ice around the “drock” to get my kayak into position. He waved me on my way, with a promise to come help me out when I called to announce my return.

Paddling upriver, I could hear cracking sounds as my waves disturbed the thin ice lining the river’s edges. A flock of crows watching my progress from the treetops called back and forth; I suppose they were alerting each other to my presence, but I like to imagine they were saying things like, “I hope she is caw-ful,” “Ice and easy does it,” and “What a cool way to travel.”

The fish, frogs, and turtles that I enjoy watching during warm weather are all in hiding at this time of year and the waterbirds have migrated south, so there isn’t too much wildlife to see. But, as I discovered during my first cold weather paddle at the end of November 2022, there are often unusual ice formations to be found along the eddy in the wide spot below the rapids that make the 600-metre trip worthwhile.

 

Ice formations observed along the Rivière aux Outardes in Ormstown PHOTOS Lorelei Muller

Arriving at that spot on New Year’s Day, I saw something that I had never encountered before. The eddy was covered with what looked like frothy white lily pads, all bumping against each other. Upon closer inspection, I was able to lift up individual circular disks; they had a low profile in their centres, but the outer edges were higher and seemed to be made up of hundreds of frozen bubbles. I put several atop the deck of the kayak to take home to show hubby.

Research on the internet revealed that the phenomenon is called pancake ice. It is relatively rare because conditions must be just right; the ice pans form when temperatures are just below freezing. According to The Weather Channel, “The ‘lily pad’ or raised-edge appearance of pancake ice can form when each disk bumps up against one another, or when slush splashes onto and then freezes on the slab’s edge.” Ultimately, I think this spectacle was the result of water flowing back upriver into the eddy and swirling into frozen circles. Even if I haven’t got the science quite right, it was a pretty cool discovery, and quite an “ice” way to start the new year.

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