The return trip

Smooth patches

I left off yesterday just as we were rounding the corner into McNally Bay. With the sun now behind us, you could see some reflective spots on the ice surface. It turned out, when we got closer, that these were the most gloriously smooth patches of ice on the whole lake. Evidently the water had pooled in these spots, and with no underlying snow to texture the ice surface it had flattened out like glass.

Where the sun hits

Toward the north end of the bay I noticed this pattern in the snow. The north side of the bay, which the sun shone on most of the day, was snow-free, while the west side, which remained shaded, still had a layer of snow on the ground. It was evident in other spots, too, where little ridges provided protection from the sun, but nowhere was it as pronounced as in this particular spot.

Backcountry campsite

At the north end, the furthest you can skate before you have to turn around and head back again, there is a backcountry camping site for the provincial park. Empty now, of course, I don’t think the park gets many winter campers although in theory the sites are open year-round. The sites are marked by bright orange signs, to guide people in who are arriving to it by a water route. I’m not quite sure where they would be launching into the water, though, unless it was by Kingsford Dam, since the whole west side of the lake, the side the road runs along, is private land.

Taking a break

Dan and Raven take a break. By the time we reached the top of McNally we were starting to feel a tad fatigued, our long visit with the neighbours notwithstanding. Plus it was just nice to sit down in the sun for a few moments and soak it in.

Leaf-warmed ice

I stopped to snap photos of a few things out on the ice. One of the things that caught my attention were the many leaves scattered about the surface. Nearly all of them were oaks, more than likely marcescent leaves loosened by the winter winds and come to settle on the lake. Where they came to rest they absorbed the energy from the warm sun and re-radiated it to the ice around them. Virtually all of the leaves sat in little melted hollows such as this.

Icefishing holes

McNally Bay is a favoured spot on the lake for icefishing. I suspect this is partially due to the depth of the water here compared to elsewhere; Kingsford isn’t a deep lake anywhere, but the deepest spots on it are in McNally. There were at least three different areas where icefishers had set up shop for a bit. In a couple spots they’d brought firewood (or, as we noticed, harvested it from downed logs at the edge of the park – better than cutting live trees I guess, though they shouldn’t be removing anything) and made themselves small campfires for warmth. They poke small twigs into the ice beside the hole, partially, perhaps, to mark the hole in case it snows, but it’s also used to tie the fishing line to. There were perhaps seven or eight holes in this particular patch, and with the surrounding mounds of snow they looked like little winter gopher colonies.

Largemouth Bass

We encountered a guy out icefishing at another spot distant from the ones above. He’d just set up and hadn’t caught anything yet. Today when we were out we happened to run into his brother at the same location. I’m not sure how long they’d been there, but they had a good fire going and a pot of chili simmering on the camp stove. He was friendly and offered us a beer, or a Pepsi, or a bowl of chili, all of which we politely declined since we didn’t want to be gone long. He had already caught a couple of fish, however, which were hauled out on the ice; a Largemouth Bass and a Northern Pike. They were planning on eating them for dinner that night, so I guess the fish were left to suffocate and/or freeze to death. Not having ever had the desire to kill a fish, I’m really not sure what the most humane way of doing so would be.

Northern Pike

I took advantage of them being there to snap a couple of photos, though. I had seen a couple pikes before, in the summer, when Dan had got them on his bass lure, but because they’re toothy he hadn’t ever really pulled them out of the water, so this was the first good look I’d got of one. I was amazed at the amount of colour in it, especially its fins. Look at that orange! This was just a small individual, only about 14 inches (36 cm) long.

Pileated work on downed tree

On our way back down the east shore we passed that downed pine that I mentioned at the end of January. I took advantage of the second visit to have a look at the broken end of the fallen portion. A closer inspection revealed two square-shaped holes in the outer bark of the tree, one just above and 90 degrees from the other. The work of a Pileated Woodpecker. I’m not sure if it had been going after carpenter ants that had invaded the tree’s heart, but the placement of these two holes so closely together was undoubtedly what had weakened the trunk and caused it to snap in the windstorm.

Chasing the ball

As we turned for home we were facing into the sun as it began to sink into the sky. It made navigating the bumps and ridges on the ice more difficult as the glare washed out most detail. I was skating a little bit behind Dan, who was still managing to engage Raven in a game of chase the ball (she always has more energy than we do), and happened to snap this shot just at the moment they crossed over the reflected sunlight. It’s probably my favourite shot of the outing. Notice Raven is beating him to the ball. Even with her barefoot on the ice and us in skates, she’s still faster than we are.

Headed for home

Approaching home and Raven recognized where we are. She took off across the ice in the direction of the house, clearly anticipating a drink of fresh water and a nap on the comfy couch.

They’re calling for snow the next couple of days, so depending on how much we get that might be it for the lake-sized skating rink. I’m hoping it only amounts to a few centimeters; as long as it doesn’t get a crusty top to it, it’s still possible to stake through a small layer of snow. And I really do enjoy getting out on the skates, with the whole lake as our playground.

Back on the blades

Nameless Island

Yesterday was such a nice day that Dan and I decided to take Raven and go out on the lake for a skate. The warm weather last week had melted down the snow on the ice surface and smoothed it all out, so the lake was snow-free and relatively smooth, perfect for skating, something we hadn’t done since before Christmas. Despite that we’d had a few days of above freezing, though, the ice was too thick to melt enough to be a concern. A couple weeks ago our neighbour measured it at 23″ (58 cm), and peeks down through frozen-over ice fishing holes confirmed that it was still plenty thick, despite the warm temperatures. Our neighbours suggest that the ice will stay on the lake till April 15, give or take a couple of days, which means we’ve still got a couple months of frozen water, although I imagine the last few weeks as it starts warming up it’ll begin to thin out and become more unstable.

Playing ball

We went out with the intention of being gone just an hour or so, but ended up spending the whole afternoon out. We skated up to the far end of the lake and dropped in on some neighbours we’ve gotten to know there. Dan hadn’t met them and I knew Raven would be thrilled to visit with them and their dogs. I told Dan it would just be a short visit, but he saw through that, he knows me too well. The skate was nice, though. Easy going, and considerably faster than walking. It’s about 3.5 km (2.2 miles) to the end of the lake one-way, and we tagged on a loop into the eastern bay (Kingsford is sort of Y-shaped, with one branch being the original river channel heading to the dam, and the other being an enclosed bay), so we probably did about 8 km (5 miles) of skating all told.

Cabin on the lake

The lake is interesting in that the residents are divided into two groups, a set of cottages along a private lane at the north end, and the houses and cottages along our road and the offshoot lanes down at the south end. In between is no man’s land, aside from a couple of small cabins such as this one, barely large enough for a cot and a heater. The reason for this split is because the waterfront in the centre bit is too far from the road to be practical to run access in. Laying in a private lane, and then following that up with hydro, would add an extra hundred thousand or more to the price of your home.

Grapevine arbour

It’s funny the evidence of people that you come across, though. In one spot we found these metal chairs set up along the edge of the water, now acting as a grapevine arbour. I’m not sure if that was the original intention of their placement there or not. Just a short distance away was a little fence-like structure, also covered in grapevine, that may or may not have been built for the purpose.

Raven in the wetland

We swung by the wetlands we’d visited back in early winter, but because we had our skates on we didn’t go in to poke around (except for Raven). The wetlands are another reason the mid-section of the lake hasn’t been built on. Because they block easy access for boats or swimming, your effective waterfront would actually be a couple hundred yards out. Wetlands also affect what sorts of building restrictions are applied to your land (obviously more would be in place given the sensitivity of wetlands to runoff and other pollutants). The properties along that stretch would make great hunting or vacation retreats, and I do suspect waterfowl hunters take advantage of the proximity of the wetlands in the fall (we heard gunshots in that vicinity during that period), but it would probably not appeal to residents or serious cottagers.

Shotgun shells

And then there’s the evidence of people you don’t like to see. Shotgun shells dumped and left carelessly on a little island beside the wetlands. Some of them looked older, but some looked relatively new. I don’t think that gun hunting has been open since early December, though archery was still allowed for a while longer than that. Even if there isn’t someone potentially hunting out of season, at least clean up your mess before you leave. I’m not that keen on sport hunting, and things like this make me even less so.

Muskrat pile?

I believe this is the work of a muskrat. Called a “push-up”, muskrats make these piles in spots around frozen ice by either finding or making a hole in the ice (when the ice is thin) and then pushing submerged vegetation, fine roots and other debris up through the hole. As they push more up, the pile grows and expands to create a dome-like structure over the hole. They then use these frozen dome covers as protection while still allowing them to come up for air and rest when away from their lodge. There were lots of these push-ups scattered about the lake, but mostly in the vicinity near the marshes.

Open water

There was also a fair bit of open water around the base of a couple of stumps, and a small channel that cut through the ice for a little ways. We didn’t approach closely enough for me to take a good look, but I wondered whether it might have been the work of one of our lake residents, muskrat, beaver or otter. I still haven’t seen the otter myself, just their tracks that one time back in December.

Stress fractures

The entire lake was criss-crossed with these stress fractures, cracks that formed as the lake ice shifted and settled. Most of them only ran through the top two or three inches of ice and appeared to be just superficial. They were a bit disconcerting at first, but after the initial wariness wore off, it was interesting to look at the cobwebbing patterns they made on the ice surface.

Open channel

Another channel in the lake ice, going from a small island to the mainland. There were a few spots in the lake where the original river channel still carried the water swiftly enough to open it up before the rest of the lake, but I don’t think it goes through here. It may be another mammal corridor.

Snowmobile tracks

This is also a mammal corridor, the sort with big machines on skis. The snowmobiles compacted the snow enough that when it all melted, the tracks remained in the ice, rendering it rough and bumpy. The snowmobilers were coming from the north cottages and going round into the enclosed bay. They’d taken the same track enough to really rough up the ice through this spot, making it difficult to navigate on skates. Other tracks, where they occurred just singly, could be glided over without too much trouble.

I took so many photos during the outing. I didn’t realize just how many I’d taken until I got home and started going through them all. Ten to twelve photos is my limit on a post, so the other half will appear tomorrow.

Ice formations

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Just before Christmas a neighbour from the other end of the lake discovered my blog while searching for photos of Kingsford Lake to send to a friend. It’s nice to know other people on the lake, but we haven’t met too many of our neighbours yet. Unlike in subdivisions, where you might meet someone who’s out shovelling their driveway while you’re walking your dog (or etc), you don’t tend to have many opportunities to run into your neighbours in rural settings. Most of the folks we’ve met have been deliberate introductions – for instance, Dan returning a dog to house 8994 (the number on the dog tag) and meeting the owners (it turns out their dog is a regular wanderer), or our neighbour to the south noticing me with Raven down at our dock, and coming down from his place to say hello. We have met a couple others on the road, but we still don’t know a lot of the residents. So it was nice to meet someone who’s been in the area a while and knows the lake and its people.

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She sent me a note the other day to warn that the company who manages the dam at the north end of the lake, up near where their house is, had opened it up to allow some water to drain. She indicated that the water had been flowing through the dam at an impressive rate, which would cause the water level of the lake to drop abruptly and might make the ice unstable. We’ve heard some eerie groans and gurgles coming from the lake, often sounding remarkably like a bathtub draining, frequently at first though they’ve mostly subsided now. We’ve seen some of our other neighbours (whom we can identify from our house by their accompanying dogs) out skating or skiing on the lake the last few days, so this afternoon we decided to venture out with Raven for her daily walk.

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When the water first started draining out of the lake from under the layer of ice, there would have been an air pocket between the new water surface level and the frozen ice above, sometimes referred to as a suspended ice roof. If this is large and/or the ice is thin, it can be dangerous, as the ice no longer has the pressure of the water pressing back on it from underneath and lending support. Even thick ice, that’s normally considered safe, has the potential to crack when it’s not supported by water underneath, and if someone falls through a hole into the water, their head and arms can often be below the level of the ice and therefore out of sight from potential rescuers. Some of the bathtub sounds we heard was likely air being sucked in from the edges of the lake or islands where the ice was open, to fill the void that the emptying water was leaving.

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However, there is some evidence that the ice has settled as the water level dropped and now rests atop the water again. One of these signs is the ridges of ice affixed to the sides of rocks and tree trunks at the lake edges. I was really fascinated by the ledges left behind by the sinking ice, where it had affixed to the earthbound surfaces. You don’t think of the ice as moving, and yet here was evidence that it had.

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I thought it was neat how you could see the progression of the sinking ice level. In some spots there where three or even four ice ledges, one above the other. If the gurgles were the air seeping in under the ice surface from the edges as the water level dropped, the groans must have been the ice itself settling back down to sit on the water.

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The other apparent sign that the ice has settled down onto the water again was this. We found about eight of these holes. About 8 inches (20 cm) in diameter, and spaced regularly in a line across the open part of the lake, these were obviously someone’s ice fishing holes. The ice level in the hole was about an inch below the surface of the surrounding ice, and while most of the lake ice was cloudy white, the ice in the hole was a clear black. If you cleared the snow off its surface you could see the milky white of the thick lake ice forming the sides of the hole. The fact that the hole was frozen over implies that the ice was resting on the water surface, since if it had been drilled while there was air under the ice it wouldn’t have frozen closed again (there being no water in the hole to freeze). I suppose it’s entirely possible that these were made before the water level dropped; although they looked relatively fresh, it’s really rather hard to tell for certain. There was a layer of crusty snow over the pile of ice shards, which we got last night, so all I could really tell was that they weren’t drilled today.

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The most definitive way to tell where the ice sits relative to the water, of course, would be to drill a small hole and check it directly. Our neighbour to the south has been checking the ice; when we saw him the other day he said that it was 6 inches thick, but gave no indication of whether there was an air pocket underneath. We don’t have an ice auger or a drill bit long enough to make even a little hole that we could poke a straw or stick through, so we have to rely on the information of others. As long as we haven’t had a warm spell to soften the ice, we’ve still been going out, but we stick to the shallows and go out in pairs and try to be careful while we’re out there.