We started out meeting at 11 AM at Hudson Mills Metro Park, I live the closest to the Park and was the last one in the group there. I think I was the only one in the group that went to the office to pay for entry to be legal. 2011 yearly sticker was already valid and I visit the park often year round, mostly in the summer using the 6 mile paved loop trail to roller blade.
We had the parking lot and kayak launch site to ourselves, in fact we saw no other boats on the river. Five hardy kayakers, 4 guys and a gal were there to do the river from Hudson Mills to Zeeb Road estimating a 2+ hour paddle. We left one vehicle at Hudson Mills and spotted the rest of the vehicles at Zeeb. Return car trip back to the launch site courtesy of our self appointed photographer Bill who did not paddle.
Traveling down Huron River Drive by car we did not spot any frozen sections of the river. South of Zeeb we knew it was frozen in the wider section of the river South of that point. There was a concern at the Rail Road bridge as the side normally paddled on was frozen, the open side looked like it had a drop off.
Launching was fun sliding down the snow covered hill into the river. The current was a bit strong there just after the rapids South of the Territorial Road bridge and where the Mill used to be. Once we were all in the water we headed down the river, the current was enough to move us at a good pace with a very light paddle. The river had lots of ice sculptures from when the level was higher. The temperature starting out was 26 degrees going to a predicted high of 30. We were all quite comfortable, two people had dry suits, everyone had on the appropriate gear for a cold paddle if we stayed out of the water.
We spotted lots of wild life: hikers in the park looking at us like we were nuts, geese, an eagle, an osprey, muskrats, and blue birds. No deer were spotted.
We came around a bend an hour and 15 minutes into the paddle and found a frozen over river. This was almost to the cider mill in Dexter and a section we could not see from the road. We all knew the river was open again just around the next bend. A couple kayaks tried to break the ice without much luck. There was private property on one side and was densely wooded on the other side of the river. So a portage around the ice was not a sure thing.
Decision was made to turn around and paddle up the river. For this kind of effort we were all over dressed, in no time we were over heating inside our outer shells, the hats came off and we really got our exercise. The current was the strongest at the launch point and the water shallow to get much of a bite with the paddle. An hour and 45 minutes later we we back at the launch point. The dry suits turned out needed as one person needed some assistance in the water to reach the take out point. I was paddling in a couple places as hard as I could and was not making forward progress, the combination of the current and the shallow water was making it almost impossible. I floated back a little, tried a different angle of attack, and at one point used my paddle as a pole to push me against the current. There was no plan to paddle back up the river on this trip.
Well we all made it, all got into the one vehicle to go down to Zeeb to get the rest of our cars. We shared hot chocolate on the ride (one person was thinking ahead). We left all our kayaks unattended, as not many people have racks on their cars in the winter to do anything with the abandoned boats. Back at the launch site we very quickly loaded the boats onto our vehicles, got out of our sweaty clothes and into dry ones. It was now almost 3:30 PM.
Next stop was the Dexter Pub for some liquid refreshment (Two Hearted Ale and Guinness) along with some well earned burgers. The Pub has some great food. We were known as "table one" the crazy kayakers. All the cars got a spot in front of the bar and it looked like a kayak convention. Not a normal sight in winter on main street in Dexter.
Next time we are going to find someone with a small plane to go down the river before we do to find any frozen sections.