An Introduction to Rock Gardening
Michelle and I conducted this class twice this summer in the vicinity of Grand Marais, Minnesota, where the beautiful and rugged shoreline provides a variety of learning opportunities.
This was a three day introductory class to ‘Rock Gardening’ and a combination of journeys and skills development (learning/refreshing/building), building confidence where the water seems to be more active. This was a great class for those who felt timid or uncertain about paddling close to shore and for those who already do it, but wanted to improve their skills and learn new techniques. We also worked on developing rescue strategies for these areas.
We conducted our skills day near our base camp, thus maximizing our time on the water and being able to return to camp for lunch and review before returning to the water. The main key ingredient, though, had to be waves, not too big and not too small; enough to challenge and get a feel for but not too big to overwhelm. The location allowed us to find these conditions within minutes of paddling.
Our journey day took us to the Susie Islands where we had permission from the Nature Conservancy to land on Susie Island. The Susie Islands are an archipelago of islands near the Canadian border. Once mined and logged for the resources, now owned partly by the Nature Conservancy and partly the Grand Portage Tribe, the islands and surrounding waters are off limits to visitors without special permits.
Both groups performed their own simple navigation planning exercises in preparation of their journey: route, distances, hand-railing and bearings/back-bearings for the crossing. It wasn’t a very complex trip, some have been there before, but it was a good opportunity to reinforce their navigation skills. Some of the students were also in the navigation classes for club members taught by Peggy, Michelle and myself last spring.
There was abounding opportunity to paddle among the rocks and shoreline, continually building and refining skills along the way while being overwhelmed by the rugged beauty.
An interesting navigation opportunity arose for one group, as dense fog with visibility less than 100 yards settled in prior to our return crossing of just under 2 miles. Those who have never paddled in dense fog, soon realized the disorienting effects of not having visual references to keep a crossing on an accurate course. Those with more experience had the opportunity to reinforce the concept that diligence to their compass is critical.
Final Exam Day
Not really, but certainly an awesome day to pull things together, by refining the skills that were introduced during the previous two days.
A new venue, conveniently on the route home, presented new challenges. Who ever thought final exam day could be so much fun?
The real success of the class was to have students who were willing to explore a new avenue of their paddling. A sense of adventure, a joyous spirit and a bit of courage enabled these students to expand the enjoyment of the sport of sea kayaking. They explored the area where they once thought were boundaries and turned it in to a new playground of excitement and adventure, while also challenging and expanding their skills.
The key to getting the right conditions was to have a flexible plan, often shifting the curriculum to different days. One day of a journey, one day of skill building and a final half day to mix the two.
Both classes were very similar in content with a few variations due to the weather: fog at times for both: limited visibility in fog (less than 100 yards at times), rain, lightning, cool temps and beautiful sunshine
Skills developed were:
Turning in and out of the wind
Rescue strategies for near shore
paddling amongst gentle breaking waves on sloping shore
Paddling in/out of tight situations
Paddling parallel to rocks and walls
Navigation (theoretical and practical)
Feature guest writer, Joyce, shares her thoughts: Joyce’s review
View the pictures from both classes in the 2 albums below: