Off-Grid and Free: Lake Ice Out and Springtime Preparation on an Ultra-Remote Homestead

Reader Contribution by Ron Melchiore
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Ice out! The lake is finally ice free — it’s time to put the boat in the water, dust off the fishing rods and stalk the creatures of the deep!

In a previous post, Off Grid and Free:The Dangers of a Slush-Covered Lake, I had voiced my concerns about slush on the top of the ice surface and how those conditions complicate float plane travel. But once the lake is well on its way to melting, travel by float plane is no longer an option. The planes cannot land safely on a lake surface of rotting ice. At this time of the year, any float plane that was on skis is now being converted over to pontoons for open water. During this period of spring break up, we are truly on our own and an expensive helicopter is the only means of transportation available to us.

Thoughts on Lake Ice

“Spring break” up is one of the most exciting times of the year for us. Not only have we survived the long winter, but animals are more active and migratory birds and waterfowl have come home. We eagerly watch the lake as it slowly releases its icy shackles with the anticipation of open water, fishing and boating to come. The following is an excerpt from my book Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness:

“Lake ice doesn’t melt like a big ice cube. As it melts, the ice starts to honeycomb and melt water trickles down through small, nearly invisible fractures. It is through these cracks and small air bubbles, which were frozen in time during freeze-up, that melt water flows, eroding the ice as it permeates the layer. The lake goes through stages of melt, with the color of the ice changing from white to gray, to dark gray, to finally black, as the thickness of the ice decreases.

When the ice turns dark, we know we are getting close to ice out. By the time the remaining ice is 6 inches thick, we are able to pick up chunks that shatter into dozens of smaller fragments, as though they were sheets of glass that had been dropped.

Wind plays a big role in how fast the ice melts. Think of it as a big fan blowing air across the surface of the ice. Once the ice sheet has melted along all of the shoreline, it becomes a free-floating mass, able to be pushed around by the wind. Holes further out will start to open as wind keeps working their edges. If the ice is weak enough around its edges, we will hear a tinkling sound as the wave and wind action loosens small shards of ice. Bays are the first to shed their icy shackles, the water no longer confined by a frozen layer. Soon thereafter, smaller ice sheets break away from the main body and are driven by the wind currents on to land or into each other. More and more chunks break off, and soon there are wide open expanses of water, not only along the shoreline but further out. The direction ice sheets move is, of course, determined by the wind. It is both fascinating and scary to see a sheet of ice maybe 3⁄4 mile long being pushed down the lake, towards our shoreline. Once the sheet has momentum, it’s hard to stop and it will start piling up on shore as the ice keeps advancing, pushed by the wind.”

Moving Ice Is Powerful

A moving sheet of ice has enormous power. We all know the effect glaciers have had on the earth’s surface, but each year, we witness a mini version of the force of an ice sheet on the move. If we are at the beach at just the right time, we can watch as it piles up on shore, chunks of ice folding upon themselves accordion style as the wind driven ice continues its push forward. Anything in its way is subject to those forces.

In particular, our dock. Despite our best efforts to protect it, the sheet of ice took our dock and deposited it onto the shore. I now have a day’s work ahead of me to rebuild sections and get it back in position where it belongs so we have a place to park the boat. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen every year. If we are lucky the wind will blow it away from our beach, but no such luck this year.

While the “pool” is open for water play, I think we’ll wait until the water warms up before we take our first swim. Believe it or not, a dunk in 35- to 40-degree water doesn’t have much appeal!

Thanks for reading and I’ll be back again shortly. Please stop in for my next post. It will be about a subject that is dear to my heart. I will tell you how we survived direct hits by two different forest fires.

Ron Melchiore and his wife Johanna currently live alone 100 miles in the wilderness of Northern Saskatchewan. Ron is the author of Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness published byMoon Willow Pressand is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Connect with Ron at In the Wilderness and on Facebook and Pinterest. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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