Kayaking Trip on the Namekagon River

MichaelWith the front and back storage compartments completely loaded, I had just enough bungee on the deck to hold my backpack. The NiceRide commute to work in the morning had been a challenge and drifting into the current of the Namekagon River on Thursday night I tried to ignore the ponderous weight of fly-fishing gear, food, back up fly-fishing gear, spare clothing, spin casting gear and camping gear weighing down my 14.5 foot Wilderness Systems Kayak. The plan was to find a campsite quickly after putting in below the Trego dam, and spend Friday, Saturday and Sunday paddling, drifting and fishing downriver to the Saint Croix, where I would meet up with my ride home.

Kayak on the riverFriday morning came early and the paddling was amazing – quiet at every corner, occasional riffles and a handful of down trees allowed me to cast and cast and cast and … not catch anything for hours. I stopped near dusk and found a campsite with an immature bald eagle circling overhead, one of a handful I’d seen throughout the day. Maybe the highlight of the trip, and the simplest part of the trip, was bathing at the end of the day, putting on fresh clean clothes and setting up camp. Saturday morning started much the same as Friday, beautiful water, plenty of casting, some good strikes, but nothing to write home about. After making a change in my presentation I managed to net my first significant bass before entering the series of small rapids that greet the Namekagon as it enters the Saint Croix river.

Smallmouth bassNear Danbury, close to dusk, I found two pockets of active bass, and managed to get two more nice smallies, before settling in at a modestly buggy campsite. Having drifted past my first take-out, and off the only map I had, I agreed to meet my ride home closer to Grantsburg; two full map sections downstream. Sunday was too windy to fish, and I eventually made it home to Minneapolis, where I started taking off the ticks and drying out my flies.

Thank you to Wyatt and Adan for helping me get there and my folks for helping me get back.

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Recommending the Colorado Trail

Elizabeth here from the clothing department. One of the best trips I have been on is backpacking the Colorado Trail. This backpacking trail goes from near Denver to Durango, Colorado. I walked the entire length of 486 miles solo in one go and took about five weeks to do it. There are also some outstanding parts of the trail that could be done as a shorter trip. Much of the trail is above 10,000 feet and being a flatlander from Minnesota I couldn’t get over the beauty of the high country!

I managed to keep my kit pretty light for this trip with a base pack weight under 15 pounds and that made the walking very enjoyable. I would go into town once a week to grocery shop and stay at a backpackers hostel to get a well deserved shower. Finding camping along the trail was pretty easy, there is no designated camping but many good spots that get used fairly often. The trail is remarkably clean, well maintained and easy to follow.

One of my favorite items of gear would have to be my Altra mesh top trail running shoes. Since I had a light pack I didn’t need super supportive footwear. I found very breathable footwear was better for me than waterproof, even though I did get a lot of rain on my trip. I also really loved my lightweight trekking poles which took the pressure off my feet and legs. My ULA pack and Rain Kilt also worked really well for me on this and other backpacking trips.

If you have questions about backpacking in general or this trip specifically, I would love to be of assistance. Please find me in the store.

Happy Trails!

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Midwest Mountaineering staff step out and start their own ‘Backyard to Backcountry’ Blog/Podcast!

It’s finally here! The three of us got our act together (and mainly I mean Adam, our technical genius, got tired of waiting for me and Steve to figure out the internet) and made a blog. So without further ado, welcome to the momentous Backyard to Backcountry Podcast Blog!

To start things off right, I think it would be worth it for you, the reader, to get to know the three of us just a little bit. A few years back, Steve hired Adam and I (Kevin) at Midwest Mountaineering, an outdoor shop in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the three of us quickly learned that what we had in common was a deep passion for the outdoors, an insatiable thirst for adventure and wild places, and an intense concern for the health of the environment. Although the three of us came from different walks of life, and our outdoor resumes are vastly different, these common values made us fast friends. It wasn’t long before we started scheming and dreaming of doing a podcast about the outdoors. So who are we?

Steve Schreader, our host extraordinaire, is a Minnesotan whose passion and enthusiasm for the outdoors was fostered over hundreds of trips in Minnesota’s famous Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. When he’s not paddling he loves to ski, climb, backpack, and is currently starting down the path of alpinism, getting ready for a trip to Mount Rainier. Steve is a wealth of knowledge and experience, and has forgotten more about outdoor gear than most of us will ever know.

Adam Vachon, our east coast transplant from Maine, is our inventive co-host and go-to thru-hiker. When he’s not creating his own ultralight gear or solving our technical issues, you can find Adam out on the trail. His outdoor pedigree includes a thru-hike of the Appalachian trail, multiple paddle trips through the BWCA, and countless backpacking trips. He is currently preparing for a second go at the AT. This time, he wants to complete it in two and a half months!

As for me, your third co-host, my name is Kevin Malloy and I’m originally from Michigan’s unparalleled Upper Peninsula. My childhood was filled with forest adventures, camping, paddling, skiing, and snowshoeing. These days, my passions have grown to include backpacking, climbing, writing, photography, and of course, gear! I have spent the last 12 years or so working on a PhD in Archaeology, and have been fortunate enough to travel all over the world doing what I love. I try to take every opportunity I can to see as much of this beautiful planet as possible. Much of my time has been spent in the Scotland where I fell deeply in love with the Scottish highlands, specifically the largest, most challenging group known as Munros (every mountain over 3000 feet). My dream is to summit all 280 of them (of which I’m currently at 22).

[ Click here to visit ‘Backyard to Backcountry’ blog post archive ]

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Guide to Cold Weather Paddling

Winter is here but that doesn’t mean you have to stop paddling! With the right skills and equipment you can paddle even after the snow starts to fall. Read our Guide to Cold Weather Paddling to find out how to stay safe and warm while you enjoy the rivers and lakes of Minnesota during the coldest months of the year!

Cold Weather Paddling Clothes

Paddling in cold weather can be very enjoyable if you are wearing the right clothes. Here are a few options to consider.

Wetsuits – Neoprene wetsuits are designed to heat the layer of water between your skin and the suit and are ideal for paddling in early fall and late spring or on cool summer days. The Farmer John and Farmer Jane wetsuits are a popular design for paddlers as they allow for the shoulders and arms to move freely. Wetsuits can be worn in water as cold as 50 degrees when combined with a drytop or a paddling jacket.

Drysuits – When water temperatures dip below 50 degrees it is best to paddle in a drysuit. Drysuits are designed to keep water out of the suit and away from your skin. They range from $500 to $1,200 and come in a variety of waterproof materials. In Minnesota, drysuits can extend your paddling season anywhere from four to five months and are an essential item for cold weather or winter paddling if there is any chance of immersion.

Layering – Merino wool and fleece are popular choices for layers to wear underneath a drysuit. When the air and water temperatures dip below 40 degrees, try who layers of merino wool with a fleece sweater or vest as a mid layer.

Neoprene Hoodies – Neoprene hoodies keep your head and neck warm on cold weather days. Some helmets, like the Sweet Rocker helmet, offer additional insulation as well.

Neoprene Gloves and Pogies – Keeping your hands warm is essential to paddling in colder temperatures. Try neoprene gloves combined with pogies when the air temperature and water temperature are in the 30s and 40s. Neoprene mittens are another popular choice.

Cold weather paddling presents some dangers and challenges. For this reason, it is important to know the risks and exercise caution while on the water! Here are a few safety pointers to keep in mind if you are considering paddling when the weather is cold.

Ice – When temperatures dip below freezing, ice will begin to form on your clothes and can cause your sprayskirt or other items to freeze to your kayak. Zippers will also freeze, making it difficult to unzip your lifejacket and drysuit. For this reason, make sure there is a warm place or car near shore where you can thaw out your clothes and paddling gear!

Hypothermia – Know the signs of hypothermia before you go cold weather paddling. If you are experiencing symptoms of hypothermia, tell a friend and head back to shore immediately. If you are paddling downriver, bring an extra dry bag of warm layers and fire starters in case of an emergency.

Paddle With a Friend – Never paddle alone, especially in cold weather! Before heading out, make sure each person is dressed appropriately and have a safety plan in place.

Cold weather paddling can be fun if you are well prepared. Interested in paddling this winter? Come talk to our expert staff in the Paddlesports and Ski Department and we will help you get started! Ask us. We’ve been there.

Stay warm and see you on the water!

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The Best Part is the Alpine Start

Blog post by Stephen Schreader - follow Stephen on Instgram @stephenschreader

August 19, 2017 1:30 am
Lakeside Campground at Base of Mt. Elbert

“Dude, Kevin, wake up, did you hear that?”
“Yeah, what do you think it was?”
“I dunno. Maybe it’s a bear, should we check it out?”
“Yeah. I’ll shine my light and take a look.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me, Jon’s giant shelter just collapsed due to the cold. It’s not a bear, what time is it?”
“About 1:45 am. We should probably just get up, we’ve only got a little bit of time before we head out”

Summitting Mt. ElbertAnd so began our trip up to the top of Mt. Elbert. Awakened by the sound of a fake bear, which turned out to be the collapsing of our giant inflatable shelter provided by Mile High Mountaineering. In August of 2017, 7 staff from Midwest Mountaineering set out to climb the tallest peak in Colorado. Malaz, Lee, Dan, Garrett, Kelcey, and Steve, were being joined by a number of others who were already in Colorado; Kevin from Midwest Mountaineering, and Jon, Deidre, and Chelsea from Mile High Mountaineering. The goal of the climb was to raise funds for the very popular urban youth outdoor group, Big City Mountaineers. Jon had called this event the ‘Top-O-Rado Rager’, and since we are going to have a party at the top of Colorado, its sounded like a pretty good name to go with.

Ill-fated inflatable tentAt 1:30 am Kevin and I were awoken by the sound of the shelter crashing, and when Jon got up due the crash as well, we figured we may as well start the day by getting our breakfast prepped and head out. We wanted to be at the trailhead and begin the trek by 4 am. We figured that would be enough time for us to summit the peak and be back down below tree-line before the storms came in. Jon joked that the only worse than getting woken up by a real bear, is being at 13,000 ft when storms start rolling in.

Early start on Mt. EbertAfter breakfast, we all gathered in the vehicles, and drove a hour north to the northern trailhead to begin our trip. Other groups had the same idea as we did. We could already see headlamps halfway up the peak – we were amazed because we thought we might be the earliest group on the trail. The sky was gorgeous, you could see what seemed to be every star in the sky, and if you looked straight up and cupped your hands around your face, it almost felt like you were swimming in space.

sunriseThe temperature when we started was about 25 deg. F, but by the time we began moving, I realized I’d need to drop some layers due to over heating. By about 6 am we had hit the treeline and could see the sun peeking over the horizon. Every time we would stop, Dan, Kevin and I would look at each other and say the same thing, “Nothing like an Alpine Start”.

Returning to tree lineOne foot in front of the other, step by step, finally by 9 am and after 3 false summits, we all made it to the top of Mt. Elbert, 14, 439 ft.  We took a group photo with the Midwest banner, and a few more photos before making our way back down and arriving into camp around noon. Sure enough when we hit the tree line at around 11 am, the clouds began to roll in and we could see storms developing off to the west.

Once back down in camp, we kicked up our feet, cracked open a few beverages, lit a campfire and relaxed for the rest of the day. Knowing that we had all accomplished our first 14,000 ft peak, one of many to follow, because the mountains are always calling, and we must go! Questions about climbing Mt. Elbert? Stop by the store. Ask us. We’ve been there.

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