Black Earth Creek – Winter Paddle
Guest Author: Eric
Date Paddled: January 20th, 2018
Put-in: Olson Road
Take-out: Wolf Run Trailhead Landing
Distance: 2.3 miles
Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
Gradient: 8' per mile
Water Level: Black Earth Creek @ Black Earth 45 CFS or 2.2'
This was my first foray into winter paddling so I wanted to try a short trip on a river that I was familiar with, was close by, and was easy to get off in case I got cold or wet. This section of the Black Earth Creek from Olson Road to the Wolf Run Trailhead in Mazomaine was perfect because it is short, safe, and there is a trail and/or road nearby for the whole trip. So if needed, it would be an easy and short jog back to my car or bike. Once I got on the water I wished I had planned for a longer trip as it was a delightfully serine and visually beautiful trip and thanks to temps pushing 50, clear blue sky, and lots of sun. With proper gear and clothing I was warm and toasty the entire trip.
This is a short section of the creek with several wing dams and ledges that were put in the creek bed to improve the oxygen level for trout. At higher levels these make for short fun rapids and drops, at lower levels they are a bit trickier as some of the rocks are exposed, and there are several shallow areas. This section has an especially nice 2.5 mile bike shuttle option using the Wolf Run Trail that runs mostly right along the river from its trail head on Crescent Street to its end at Wisconsin Heights High School, which is less than a ½ mile from the Olson Road put-in.
The key to staying warm when paddling in winter is, in a word, neoprene. I had neoprene gloves, socks/ booties, neoprene pants and a “shorty” style neoprene wet suit, a full spray skirt, and a waterproof jacket. As I said I was very comfortably warm for the entire trip. My feet, hands and arms did get wet a few times during the trip due to the rapids and ledges and getting out of the boat to take pictures and go to the bathroom ( very difficult in a wetsuit… remember this if you like having a beer or two while paddling) but I was warm none-the-less. Neoprene clothing is not meant to keep you dry, it is meant to keep you warm even if you do get wet. For safety I also had a complete set of warm clothes with me in a dry bag, and another set in the car.
The put-in was a bit tricky as there was a shelf of ice all along the bank, that did not look strong enough to stand on and was snow covered and slippery. In the end, I was able to knock a little “V” into the ice shelf with my paddle, and by setting the kayak in the V, I was able to just slide down the shelf into the creek. There were shelves of ice most of the way, which while making for some very beautiful natural ice sculptures, also made it difficult to find places to easily get out of the creek.
I had never run the creek when it was so low, and although there were many more shallow spots and exposed rocks, I never had to get out, and never completely bottomed out. There were a few more obstacles to avoid, and it was more necessary to read the river to stay in the deepest part of the river, but it was still very runnable. Because the river was so low many of the wing dams were clearly visible at or just below the water level
I have run this section several times before, but for some reason this time the trip seemed different, very quiet, peaceful and serene, very little road noise, no wind, not even much wildlife other than a few muskrats. Perhaps it was the beautifully sculpted ice shelves, or the bright white snow against the clear blue sky, or just being outside and on the water after the last cold snap, but it was an amazingly relaxing and enjoyable trip.
What I liked:
Easy and safe way to try winter kayaking, beautiful scenery, sunny and open landscape, an easy but muddy bike shuttle, and good small local restaurants in Mazo (Base Camp and Wall Street Bistro).
What I didn’t like:
The wet, sloppy, muddy bike shuttle…I mistakenly brought my mountain bike (no fenders) and got completely muddy and soaked to the bone, before I even got on the water (see photo) but fortunately I had an extra set of clothing in a dry bag in the kayak. Getting on and off the creek was tricky/slippery due to the ice shelfs, as was having to get out of and into a wetsuit to go to the bathroom (talk to a surfer sometime to hear their solution)
If I did it again:
I would go all the way to Walking Iron Park on the other side of Mazo and/or put in at the Shoe Box and I would use a bike with fenders, and maybe use a Stadium Pal (Google it)
The trip started at Olson Road bridge (a good access option).
The trip concluded at Crescent Street in Black Earth by the Wolf Run Trail access. This is a relatively new landing and a good access option for paddlers.
Hazards and Log Jams:
Class I rapids and some ledges. Skill level intermediate.
River Depth, Navigability and Current:
The trip was done at 45 CFS per the nearby gauge at Black Earth. This is a bit below the recommended levels, but by paying close attention to the river it is runnable without too much scraping bottom.
Addendum from the Webmaster:
Thanks for the review Eric! The pictures look great and it sounds like you had an otherwise good time aside from the bike shuttle. A cool trick for winter paddles might be go right after a snowfall to get that “winter wonderland” effect before wind removes the snow from the trees.
The following is a list of Black Earth Creek trips segments previously done on this website.
- Upstream of Cross Plains: I suspect the creek is actually large enough to run here, but deadfall is probably an issue.
- Cross Plains to Salmo Pond: 3 miles. Some obstructions, but is on my to-do list. You can launch by the Kwik Trip or by the Ice Age Trail.
- Salmo Pond to Black Earth: 4.2 miles. A good section (reviewed here).
- Black Earth to Olson Road: 4.1 miles. Another good section (reviewed here).
- Olson Road to Walking Iron Park: 3.7 miles. Best section on the entire creek (reviewed here and later as a guest winter review here).
- Walking Iron Park to W. Hudson Road: 1.1 miles. A small but great section that is recommended as an add-on to an Olson Road trip (reviewed here).
- W. Hudson Road to Blynn Road: 4.4 miles. An ok section but nothing special (reviewed here).
- Bylnn Road to Mouth at Arena: 6.8 miles. Technically now Blue Mounds Creek, this is the weakest section (reviewed here).