Blue water stretches from shoreline to shoreline in all directions on Red Rock Lake. We are elated to find the lake open on February 26, two weeks ahead of its normal ice-out date, yet another expression of the mild, nearly winter-less winter of 2011-12. It is too windy at the kayak launch, so we carry our boats to the deserted motorboat ramp just around the corner and set out from its lee aspect. Roiled by a strong southwest wind, whitecaps churn in the center of the lake, but we encounter merely choppy water as we paddle along the wind-blocking south shoreline.
Sunlit bluffs beckon to us across the bay, so we cruise with wind-pushed ease around the first headland and slip into a calm cove. Tucked into its narrowing neck, we find a wedge of rotten ice, a retreating remnant of the winter ice sheet that covered the whole lake only a week ago. Beaten into brash by waves and warmth, its undulates in slow rolls like a bedsheet billowing in a breeze.
|Photo by Brian Lange|
We paddle out of the protected cove and approach the exposed headland of Elk Rock Bluff. Extending beyond the wind-blocked shore, its sheer cliffs rise directly above a riot of clapotis, incoming waves colliding crazily with waves reflecting from the cliffs. Advancing slowly, we creep through the confusion with steady paddling and expectations of bracing. Conjoining waves lift our kayaks high above base level, letting us surf into troughs. A long minute of rock-and-roll paddling gets us past the pinch point and into calm water on the far side of the bluff. I look around for my partners and count all three of them: everything is OK.
An avenue of calm water now stretches out of sight along a gently curving shoreline of low, north-facing cliffs. Patches of snow linger on their shaded slopes. Waves rounding the corner from the Elk Rock headland slap against the cliffs and splash noisily onto their faces. Icy water dripping from cold bedrock in the cool air has frozen into legions of blue-white icicles, generating a landscape of daggers and dragon teeth that scrolls gently past my kayak as I drift along the snow-splotched shoreline.
Beyond the bluffs, we discover a sandy beach piled high with brash ice, so stop to explore. Brian clambers atop the ice pile and strikes a summit pose with his paddle as I snap his photo while crouching in the frigid water (comfortably dry and warm in my drysuit); from this angle, he appears to be in an Antarctic wilderness. For an instant, we are both transported to that cold, wild, faraway land, our imagination empowered by today's special, icy scene at Ranger Point, Lake Red Rock, Iowa.
Regrouping, our foursome heads home. We glide easily along the icy cliffs, enjoying them for a second time. Rounding the point at Elk Rock, the wind that had been held at bay by the bluffs strikes us from directly ahead, slowing our pace to a slow-motion crawl. It rushes over the lake, pounds the cliffs, and roars through the trees, noisily mixing disparate sounds like the cacophonous buzzing of a gigantic food blender - a stentorian voice of wild nature. Pushing through the wind, I hear it gradually diminish from a bellow at the exposed, rocky point to a mere whisper when we finally succeed in reaching the lee shore. Stepping out of my kayak onto the concrete ramp, I look back at the bluffs and look forward to a new season of visiting them.