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Pole, paddle, push and pull your way over ice

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Anchorage Alaska / Pocono Mts.
About a week ago my lake had enough open water to go out for a paddle. I could only paddle for a few hundred yards before hitting ice. In order to reach more open water I would have to bust through ice near shore that was too thin to support the boat. The pole was the tool to do that.

The next obstacle I encountered was ice too thick to bust through. I used a combination of the pole and an ice hook to get from the weak ice to the strong ice. I pushed the boat as far onto the solid ice as I could. Then I pulled myself far enough up on solid ice to get out at the stern to push the boat to the next open water. I used the hook for that.

When you push your boat across the ice you need to support some of your weight on the gunnels if the thickness is questionable.

Once I got to the open lead and the bow was near the edge of the ice I got back in the boat. Then I used the straight point on the ice hook to push the boat into the water. Sometimes the solid ice crossings were short enough that I could get up enough speed with the pole to slide across it. It is an exciting feeling when your hull slides from the ice to the water, especially when standing.

I was able to cover about 1.5 miles one way which made it quite worthwhile for me. Without the pole or hook my paddling would have been limited and nowhere near as fun.

5A161C7F-B816-4EEC-BD24-8958049FB390.jpeg
This is where the pole is needed.

ACBC79F1-6391-4AF2-9549-E1856667EB5B.jpeg
You need a hook to get up on “safe” iceE8B4F014-A803-4556-AA83-C27A7C5F08A2.jpegE3038F7F-4BBE-4DE4-AE65-B391BC89093C.jpegyou can use the hook as a probe to check ice thickness. I was surprised to find the ice to be not much more than an inch thick and still supported me. That’s with weight on the gunnels.

It was great fun and a great way to extend the paddling season.
 
I take my cues from nature. The night before I went out in the yard and a beaver slapped his tail at me. In the morning a muskrat swam by and my old friend the goose had already been back a few days, so I figured it's time. I got four days in, one being 5 miles, so I'd say it was worth it.

Now the lake is totally thawed out due to Thursdays rain and warm temps, but it's a little too windy for me today.
 
when I was a kid, my dad had a couple of heavy, clunky paddles that he fiberglassed forged nails into the face of, so when we hit ice it was a simple matter of holding out the paddle flat, slapping the ice, and pulling yourself along, you had to be careful about not slapping your leg on portages though and putting them point up in the boat so you didn't create a sieve...
 
Looks like a lot of fun! We would normally have close to 3 feet of ice by now, but unseasonably warm temperatures have the ice hovering around a foot.
 
The only ice paddling story I have goes back to the mid-80's when I was a whitewater trip leader trying to find a new river for our Connecticut AMC group. I decided to try the unknown and undocumented Roeliff Jansen Kill, which is a tributary that enters the Hudson River in the Mid-Hudson Valley, a little below Catskill, NY, which was the training home base for the young Mike Tyson.

RoeliffJansenKill.png

To make sure that the river was safe for our class 2 group on this late March trip, Tom P. and I scouted and ran the river together the weekend before the scheduled trip. It was a lovely and safe run, beginning below a waterfall and ending 100 yards downstream on the Hudson. When Tom and I reached the Hudson, it was teeming with ice floes and small icebergs from the ice break up much further north. The sun was glistening off this landcape of ice and water, and Tom and I had a blissful experience slaloming around, through and amongst the small icebergs. So memorable!

However, the weather got colder the week before the trip, for which about 25 canoeists showed up. They were excited about paddling a new river and by our reports of iceberg bliss. What we found is that the last half mile of the RJK, before the confluence with the Hudson, had frozen over into a mass of hard ice interspersed with icey slush.

Steve T. got out of his canoe and started pushing it along the frozen ice patches. I said, "Steve, this isn't a frozen lake. Underneath that ice is a strong current. If you fall through the ice, you may get sucked under the ice shelf and drown." He immediately agreed and got back in his canoe.

We daisy chained our canoes together with our painter ropes and pushed ourselves along the hard ice with our paddles. Thankfully, in those days, many of us whitewater paddlers had strong Iliad or Norse paddles, which are almost unbreakable.

When we got to the slush closer to the Hudson, we just paddled through it with tiring, Herculean pulling strokes, making very slow progress. It was like paddling through thick mud. Your forward stroke took forever from plant to recovery.

When we reached the Hudson, it was completely free of ice—no icebergs or ice chunks, blissful or otherwise. We all successfully reached our vehicles at the takeout, very cold and muscle-achy but unscathed and undrenched. Tom and I felt sort of bad the river was completely different from what we represented it was, but the primary communal reaction at the takeout was, "That was a unique and great adventure."

Years later, folks still talked about that ice/slush first descent, likely exaggerating the tale.
 
Al, tell us more about your ice hook. The head looks like it was hand forged -- did you make it?

I don't have much use for one here in Virginia, especially this winter, but I have been fascinated with the idea of canoe travel on ice ever since I read Garrett Conover's Beyond the Paddle.
 
when I was a kid, my dad had a couple of heavy, clunky paddles that he fiberglassed forged nails into the face of, so when we hit ice it was a simple matter of holding out the paddle flat, slapping the ice, and pulling yourself along, you had to be careful about not slapping your leg on portages though and putting them
It sounds like your dad was a die hard.

 
The only ice paddling story I have goes back to the mid-80's when I was a whitewater trip leader trying to find a new river for our Connecticut AMC group. I decided to try the unknown and undocumented Roeliff Jansen Kill, which is a tributary that enters the Hudson River in the Mid-Hudson Valley, a little below Catskill, NY, which was the training home base for the young Mike Tyson.

View attachment 134141

To make sure that the river was safe for our class 2 group on this late March trip, Tom P. and I scouted and ran the river together the weekend before the scheduled trip. It was a lovely and safe run, beginning below a waterfall and ending 100 yards downstream on the Hudson. When Tom and I reached the Hudson, it was teeming with ice floes and small icebergs from the ice break up much further north. The sun was glistening off this landcape of ice and water, and Tom and I had a blissful experience slaloming around, through and amongst the small icebergs. So memorable!

However, the weather got colder the week before the trip, for which about 25 canoeists showed up. They were excited about paddling a new river and by our reports of iceberg bliss. What we found is that the last half mile of the RJK, before the confluence with the Hudson, had frozen over into a mass of hard ice interspersed with icey slush.

Steve T. got out of his canoe and started pushing it along the frozen ice patches. I said, "Steve, this isn't a frozen lake. Underneath that ice is a strong current. If you fall through the ice, you may get sucked under the ice shelf and drown." He immediately agreed and got back in his canoe.

We daisy chained our canoes together with our painter ropes and pushed ourselves along the hard ice with our paddles. Thankfully, in those days, many of us whitewater paddlers had strong Iliad or Norse paddles, which are almost unbreakable.

When we got to the slush closer to the Hudson, we just paddled through it with tiring, Herculean pulling strokes, making very slow progress. It was like paddling through thick mud. Your forward stroke took forever from plant to recovery.

When we reached the Hudson, it was completely free of ice—no icebergs or ice chunks, blissful or otherwise. We all successfully reached our vehicles at the takeout, very cold and muscle-achy but unscathed and undrenched. Tom and I felt sort of bad the river was completely different from what we represented it was, but the primary communal reaction at the takeout was, "That was a unique and great adventure."

Years later, folks still talked about that ice/slush first descent, likely exaggerating the tale.
Glenn, the next time that happens get the axe from your ditch kit and make a pole to get through that slush.;)
 
Al, tell us more about your ice hook. The head looks like it was hand forged -- did you make it?

I don't have much use for one here in Virginia, especially this winter, but I have been fascinated with the idea of canoe travel on ice ever since I read Garrett Conover's Beyond the Paddle.
I learned about ice travel from Conover's book also. I always thought I would use it in Ak. for spring trips, when the rivers thaw before the lakes, but it seems pretty usefull down here in Pa.

I got that hook on ebay, it's old and hand forged. Do a search for ice hook or ice harvesting tools.
 
Looks like it might be one of these.
I have an older version used in the logging industry. I’ll take a pick when I get out to the shop.
Search ‘pick pole’ or that link is a ‘pike pole’
Jim
That's exactly it Jim, right down to the little twist at the tip. Mine was a lot cheaper, around 30.00 and didn't come with a handle. I put that handle on as an experiment to see what size drill bit I would need that would be a good fit for the large hand forged threads on the hook. It worked so well that I just left it on that bent piece of beaver wood I found in my yard. It held up for a few years, but cracked from the stress on my first day out. That's why you can see a field repair had been done in the photos. Next time I'll use a hard wood and maybe back it up with a hose clamp. I did like the bend in the stick though, it made it a lot easier to push.

The lake I'm on was created for ice harvesting, like most of the man made lakes in this area. I'd bet there is a few on the bottom, and if they held up as good as the horse shoes I've found they might still be good.
 
You can see that the one for logging has a much more robust connection to the handle. I guess they didn't need that for sliding slippery blocks of ice around.

Seeing that, now I know I need to reinforce the end with something like hose clamps.
 
I inherited a Logrite hookaroon from my mother in law, who was a chainsaw artist. She used it, along with a peavey, to move big logs around, but it looks like it would also work for this application.

 
Paddling in Maryland, it’s rare to have to contend with ice. The few times I’ve done it, I found poling effective. I’ve been able to push my canoe up onto the ice, but can see the pole would be ineffective if the water is too deep to push off the bottom.

Once up on the ice, I walk to the stern, concentrating weight in a small area. Then I sit on the stem. Then legs over the side and onto the ice, with the stern between my legs. Then I can push the boat, but I keep my chest over the stern so I can dive back in if the ice starts to crack.

I’m told it helps to file or grind the pole tip flat. My poles just have a bolt end for a tip, so I’m sure squaring them off would help the pole bite in ice, but have never done this.

in 2010, I encountered a lot of ice at Assateague. That was salt water and the ice was rotten. I’d push the boat onto the ice and it would slowly cave in. It was hard work and very slow progress, like 3-5’ per pole push. 3F7F519F-858D-4D37-B682-CDBBD310FDF9.jpeg
A wake of crumbled ice
 
At this point, i haven’t any use for an ice tool; and Lord knows we have plenty of it up here.
However in looking all this over it seems like a very easy upgrade would be to fit a hook to a the pole some of you already use. It would be quite simple to make a threaded head that is flush to the outside of you’re current pole which would be permanently mounted to the pole and any number of “attachments” could be fabricated for different scenarios. A hook and push point much like a fire poker head for ice work, a duck foot head for poling in muddy areas, a basket head to hand your buddy in the next boat a beer! Well, anyway you get the point.
 
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