Four Days on Murtle Lake in Wells Gray Park

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by eriktheviking, Sep 1, 2009.

  1. eriktheviking

    eriktheviking Paddler

    Joined:
    Jul 4, 2009
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    Location:
    Prince George, BC
    In late August I spent four days paddling on Murtle Lake in Wells Gray Park. Murtle Lake is the largest lake in North America that excludes motorized travel and is a haven for paddlers. The lake has an area of 6,900ha and over 100km of shoreline to explore. A number of day hikes can be undertaken from various locations around the lake- a nice way to stretch those boat legs. Murtle Lake is particularly popular for fishing- with good numbers of Rainbow Trout and Kokanee. The majority of people I met on the lake were fishing- either actively or passively trolling as they paddled around.

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    To access Murtle Lake, you drive on Highway 5 to Blue River BC, and then drive 23km (~45 minutes) on gravel roads to the parking lot at around 1000m elevation. It is a 2.5km portage on a good trail to the lake put-in. The trail is in relatively good shape and using a boat cart is a good option. Carts can be rented in Blue River.
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    The put-in is on Murtle Lagoon, and it is a further 1.5km of paddling to reach the lake proper. This year by late August the lake level had dropped quite low- the dock at the put-in was not too useful

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    The exit from the lagoon into the lake is lined by sandy beaches, and are a popular camp site.

    The structure of Murtle Lake can be thought of as a short (4km) South Arm, the longer (20km) North Arm and the Western Arm (~12km). Each region has its own character.

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    I spent my first day paddling up the North Arm following the Eastern shore. The North Arm is surrounded by the higher peaks in the region, and is fjord-like with steep mountain sides dropping down into the lake. The Wavy Range is a popular longer hike from the lake- a long day hike or longer following the alpine ridge.
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    The shore is punctuated by a number of sandy beaches and many stretches of boulder lined shoreline. The rocks are mainly from old lava flows, and the action of lake ice has pushed many of these rocks up onto the shore.

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    I stopped for the first night at a campsite near the end of the North Arm. Each designated campsite has an outhouse, a fire ring and a bear-proof food storage locker near a number of prepared camp sites. In late summer the lower lake level exposes more beach so additional tent sites on the shore are possible at some sites.

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    On the second day I crossed the lake and paddled south. I would stop every hour or two, when a nice stretch beach beckoned. This beach is composed of nearly uniform marble sized pebbles- actually a relief from the sandy beaches, where I get sand in everything. I paddled into the Western Arm where I camped for he next two nights. The camp site can be viewed in Google Maps at: http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=...9.7787&ll=52.1238,-119.7787&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

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    The Western Arm has more shallow water (extending more than 50m offshore in many places) as well as a number of islands- this is Leo Island, which has several camp sites on its South side.

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    On the third day I paddled around the western end of the lake. The island in front of me here is Smoker Island. Years ago there was a large fish smoker here apparently.

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    A bit of history. After the last ice age, Murtle Lake was cut of from fish bearing fresh waters by a series of large waterfalls, so Murtle lake was fish free for thousands of years. In the 1920's the Federal and Provincial Governments stocked the lake with Rainbow Trout and Kokanee. By the 1940's fish were abundant and Murtle Lake became a popular fishing destination- including from a Seattle angling club which built a large cabin here (now a shelter, in the SW corner beside the Diamond Lagoon). There were floatplanes, cabins and motor boats on the lake. In the late 1960's the BC government banned motor boats and the Lake became part of Wells Gray Park (apparently as part of a deal to create hydro dams elsewhere- which never did materialize). The road was built following an old trail from Blue River and it was decided to end the road 2.5km from the lake to maintain its wilderness character. The only motor boat you will see on the lake is the one used by the park wardens. They check that paddlers have paid their registration fees and they also travel down the North and Western arms on alternate days- if you get in trouble you should only have to wait a couple of days to be spotted.

    On my final day on the lake, there was a thick haze around the lake due to smoke traveling from one of the large forest fires to the West.
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    You can find out more about Murtle Lake on the BC Parks web pages: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/wg_murt.html and the park operator web pages: http://www.explorewellsgray.com/murtle.html
     
  2. Tootsall

    Tootsall Paddler

    Joined:
    Oct 1, 2008
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    661
    Location:
    Southern Alberta
    Nice trip and report, Eric. It's hard to tell from your photos but how hard is the pine beetle hitting up there?
     
  3. eriktheviking

    eriktheviking Paddler

    Joined:
    Jul 4, 2009
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    Location:
    Prince George, BC
    It looks like the dying process is still happening there as on some slopes you can se the red trees just developing. It looked worse in a few places where the trees are more spaced out- and unfortunately that was the case at some of the more popular beach areas. For example Fairyslipper Island is a lot less magical looking (below) and now is closed to camping.
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    The park staff have been cutting down some of the trees- where I camped at Tropicana beach, many trees had been cut though some trunks were left standing to use for tarp rigging.
     
  4. kayakwriter

    kayakwriter Paddler

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2006
    Messages:
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    Great report. I did two trips to Murtle Lake one summer several years back. This brought back great memories.