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Muddling 'round Murtle Lake

(part of my catch-up series of postings)

It'd been about a dozen years since I'd last paddled Murtle Lake. On both my previous visits, I'd done overnight sidetrips into the surrounding alpine, but I'd never given the lake a complete circumnavigation (if that's the right word for paddling around its full inside perimeter).

I left Vancouver about midmorning on September 14. My original plan had been to make a leisurely drive up that day, stay at the Blue River car campground at the start of the 27k gravel road into the lake, and get an early start in the next morning. But I found myself at the campground by 5 o'clock in the evening. On impulse, I made the drive to the start of the portage. By 7PM I was ready to roll (literally - with my kayak wheels). After a brief backtrack to retrieve a camera I'd forgotten in the car, I got to the put-in about 8PM. By the time I locked up my wheels and launched, it was well and truly night.

The paddle in was magical. Venus and Polaris shone so bright in the sky that I could navigate by them alone. That is, until I reached the north end of the shallow lagoon where the put-in is located. Then I promptly and repeatedly went aground searching for the narrow channel through the marsh and sand that leads to the lake proper. I flicked on my GPS (which I'd almost decided not to bring, since Murtle navigation usually consists of "Keep the shore on your right", or left, as the case may be.) By zooming into to the widest map view, I was able to locate and paddle inside the lines of the channel, which pinched to just a boat length wide in places. Just as the channel widened and deepened and the lake hove into view, I spotted the first campsite to my left. A fire burned there, but the many canoes and tents on the small site signaled "No Vacancy." I carried on into the lake, made a hard right, and hailed the fire at the larger site there, asking if there was any room at the inn. I was welcomed, and guided to a landing near the last empty tent site.

After I'd made camp, I headed up the beach to the fire. My night paddle was the subject of much comment. After my hosts drifted off to bed, I expropriated one of their comfy folding chairs to sit close to the fire. I brewed up hot soup and used it to wash down a lavishly peanut-buttered sandwich as I admired the heavens above. As always, the stars were astonishingly bright and plentiful compared to city skies.

I rejoined the gang 'round the campfire for breakfast the next morning. They included a couple who had been the Murtle Lake PFOs (Park Facility Operators - the folks who work for the privatized companies that run many BC Parks) until about a decade before. The male half of the couple had been a logger before that, and also had trapped martins. He recounted that there had been resistance among the locals to the creation of Murtle Lake park, but he personally was glad, at least in retrospect, based on how the surrounding areas had been overlogged and overhunted since then. An interesting guy.

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With the leisurely breakfast and storytelling, it was 11AM before I was on the water. The lake was clear and calm as I passed the Wavy Range campsite (on a previous trip, I'd hiked up to Wavy Peak and camped there overnight). As I neared the Moonlight Bay campsite about 2PM, there was a sudden whoosh of wind sweeping in from the northwest, accompanied by the almost instant whitecaps that form on fresh water. I pulled into Moonlight to have lunch and a think about whether to carry on. In the end, it seemed silly to head out into beam seas when I was safely ashore on such a lovely site. (The site was in the lee of the wind, and the sun was shining.) As I leaned back in my camp chair, I thought back to my last trip to the lake, when Moonlight Bay was as far north as I got. That had been in the late fall, the weather had been cold, gray and wet, and I had been frankly spooked about going further north. Now I was seeing the sweet side of this same site. Same place, entirely different experience.

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I cooked supper over a campfire, and kept it going into the cool of the evening. Across the lake, I could see the occasional flare of another fire, and even hear the odd peal of laughter over the now quiet water.

The morning dawned clear and calm. I pulled the plug on my air mat about 6AM (settling on to cold, hard ground goads me out of bed more effectively than any alarm clock.) On my way up the North Arm, I overtook a canoeist on a daytrip from his camp at the Wavy Ridge site. We chatted as we paddled companionably to the head of the lake. We landed there about 11:00AM, just as a solo female kayaker was putting in to make her way south after spending the night. I was doubly glad I'd opted to stay at Moonlight the previous night. I wouldn't have wanted to intrude on her space.

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After such an early landing, I had camp made and lunch eaten not long after noon. I opted to explore the nearby river. (I switched from my quill paddle, easy on the arms and shoulders for deep water paddling, to the wider-bladed Lendal, better for the river shallows and battling current.) On the river's sandy delta, I spotted the tracks of both moose and wolves. I made my way as far upstream as the shallows, current, and prospect of running back down allowed. (A sea kayak is designed for efficient straight line tracking, not for jinking around river features. The idea of swimming in icy mountain melt while watching my boat carry on downstream solo was not appealing.) But it was lovely to paddle in such a different environment from the wide, sprawling lake. And the drift back down was wonderful - the sun hot on my arms, and a warm wind ruffling the low riverbank bushes and occasional tree. It made up for the dearth of moose or wolves.




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As I emerged back onto the lake, I spotted a yellow canoe with a pair of paddlers fishing. And, crossing the beach directly in front of my campsite - a cow moose. I laughed aloud. She was too far away to photograph with the pocket camera I had to hand and the DSLR was buried in the boat.

Back in camp, I was frustrated to discover that all three pens I'd brought along for filling out my journal had crapped out. (Yeah, I know, I should have brought pencils. I will next time.) I was muchos bummed - a trip without a journal is almost like no trip at all. The myriad of details, mundane and sublime, that bring one back to the moment are so soon lost to memory without a record. I love reliving my trips through my journals on winter nights. So I frantically began searching my stuff for another pen or something I could convert to one. Would the needles in my sewing kit let me write in blood?

The solution, once it occurred to me, made me smile because of the generational differences it marked: both my pocket cameras have a video mode. A video diary. My tweenage niece would have landed on the idea in seconds, not the hour of pondering it took me.

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During my dawn patrol pee the next morning, I spotted the moose once more. This time she was not far away, feeding on the rich subsurface plant life where a northern branch of the river flows into the lake. I scuttled to the tent to grab my DLSR and spent a happy, if cool, hour snapping shots. Afterwards, I crawled back into my sleeping bag to rewarm and fell back asleep until almost nine thirty. Clearly this was nature's way of validating my decision to take a day off from paddling and simply hang out and enjoy the beauty. So I did.

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I started off with a huge brunch of pancakes with real maple syrup, "instant" pre-cooked bacon, and a couple of mugs of coffee. Afterwards, I indulged in hot bathing with water heated on my stove. Finally, I washed my paddling shirt, a pair of pants, and some of my not-so-lacy unmentionables in the lake, with a weird result. I'd noticed the day before that the beach gleamed metallic silver in the sun. Closer investigation had revealed tiny, shiny flakes of what I took to be quartz silica coating the shore. Some combination of wind, wave, and/or current clearly sifts these flakes as a prospector's pan sifts lighter rock from heavier gold, and concentrates them at the north end of the lake. As my laundry dried in the sun, it looked as though I'd sprinkled everything with glitter. It was the first time I've owned sparkly underwear (that I'm prepared to admit to).

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As I made my way back from washing my supper dishes that evening, the two canoeists, who were camped down the beach, invited me to join them for a mug of wine. A chill breeze was now flowing out from the river valley, so I converted my Dreamwalker sleeping bag to uber-vest mode before I rejoined them. The conversation flowed as easily as the Bordeaux, with that instant camaraderie that occurs so regularly in the hinterland. Dick and Steve had been doing backcountry trips together since they were boys in the US. Even now, in their late 50s or early 60s, they get together at least once a year for an adventure, though one now lives in Chicago and the other in Toronto. Soon we were swapping the "we damn near died then but it's funny now" stories that anyone who's spent a lot of time in the wilds has a repertoire of. I quickly recognized the laugh I'd heard across the lake the previous evening.

There was frost in the cockpit of my kayak as I packed the next morning, but the sun soon rose on another perfect day, warm enough to paddle in shorts and rolled-up shirt sleeves, cool enough to energize you to paddle moderately hard without sweating in the least.

I landed at the Wavy View campsite at noon, childishly delighted to beach within sixty seconds of the ETA I'd reckoned when I set out that morning.

I like the seafaring feel of long crossings over salt water and the unblocked view to the horizon when I'm paddling on the outer coast. But there is much to be said for mellower trips on fresh water. No guessing games in the morning about where the waterline will be by the time you've carried down your kayak and loaded it. Not having to search for drinking water. Not dealing with the relentless accumulation of salt in your clothing and gear. No long, multi-carry portages to get your cargo and boat above high tide when you land. The chance to dry out condensation-damped tent and gear in the afternoon.

I made a fire again that night. Across the lake at Moonlight Bay, where I knew Steve and Dick would be camping, I saw their fire and headamps. We'd simply switched places from where we were three nights before.

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For dessert that night, I treated myself to an Aunty's Pudding http://www.oldfashionedfoods.co.uk/ourfoods/browseourrange/Auntys.aspx. Not having packed the microwave oven the package suggests for reheating, I improvised by simmering the cup in hot water for 20 minutes. It came out great - steaming hot cake with a sticky, sweet sauce. The perfect dessert for a cold fall evening. (Available in Vancouver at Celtic Treasure Chest http://www.celtictreasurechest.com/, FYI.)

Bright sunlight on my tent woke me about seven the next morning. As I paddled south, I could see a heavy haze over the hills down the lake and on the east side - traces from the forest fires in the Peachland area, I believe. The lake was calm through the morning, and I slipped along near the shore, where the alders were just starting to be flecked with fall yellow.

I landed at Cottonwood campsite about 12:30. It was beautiful (as pretty much every site on Murtle is), and as I ate lunch, I debated about stopping there for the night, since the wind was starting to pick up from the west. In the end, I decided to paddle at least as far as the Smoker Islands, with the idea that if the headwind became too strong to make progress against, I could turn around, raise my sail, and run before it back to Cottonwood. The landings on the Smoker Islands proved more brutal than I'd remembered from when I'd camped there years back, one of the few campsites where the shoreline is barred by rocks. I believe that was a result of the water level being several feet different than my last visit.

P9190189 Smoker Islands small.jpg


I carried on to the File Creek campsite. The water between the Smokers and File Creek was so shallow I could touch the bottom with my paddle, and I was concerned about going aground in places - a sharp contrast with the fiord-like plunge into unseen depths in Murtle's northern arm. I was glad the wind was not any stronger - large waves build quickly in shallow waters and I was taking these on the port quarter.

Shortly after I landed at File Creek about 2PM, Carl, one of the PFOs, pulled up in his launch to see that the site had wood and TP. We chatted a bit. He'd heard the story of my night arrival through the jungle telegraph. Apparently it was the talk of the lake. Carl's another ex-logger who's kind of repented as result of the massive mechanical overharvesting he sees going on in the areas outside the park.

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After Carl left, I had the site to myself for several hours, nice for updating my video diary and thoughtful reading of my book. I also explored the area, noticing with interest the prints of a large, clearly bull, moose at the end of my beach.

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In the early evening, I watched a pair of canoeists approaching, bucking the same angle-on-the-bow wind I'd been fighting earlier. In a rudderless craft, that was a trickier proposition than it had been for me, and I could hear bickering between the bow and stern paddler as they neared. This annoyed me a bit as I didn't want to be sharing a site with a feuding twosome. But their tension vanished as soon as they were ashore. Since I had wood cut and laid out in the site's one fire ring, I naturally invited them to join me. Lothar and Wayne kindly brought beer (a stout German brew), and we all chatted amicably before heading off to an early bed.

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Rising to yet another perfect day, I was on the water early. Soon after launching, I passed an osprey watching the world from a convenient tree. After paddling into a light headwind, I stopped on Fairyslipper Island about 11AM to pump the bilges (mine, not the boat's) and adjust the kayak's footpegs. The wind died during my stop, which let me set a course directly for the point where the ranger's cabin sits, rather than having to loop the shoreline of the entire bay. Once across to the point, I paddled pretty much entirely in the shade of the trees. As I flitted through the odd sunny patch, the shadow of my boat chased me across the shallow, sandy bottom, clearly visible through the light turquoise waters.

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I reached Sandy Point campsite about noon. The two canoeists there were just stopped for lunch and a bit of fishing, so soon I had the place to myself. I spent a happy hour or two basking in the sun by the shore, keeping the dragonflies company, and observing the tiny, insect-like creatures that crawl like micro tractors through the shallows. Later, I read my book again, taking long pauses to contemplate the passages and the way the shifting sun changed the texture of the Wavy Range on the opposite shore.

Supper was a salty delight of hash browns and bacon, tamped down with another Aunty's pudding.

In the evening, Wayne and Lothar appeared again, having gotten a later start than me and dawdled on the lake fishing. On this larger site, they were camped well away from me, so I joined them at their fire (I didn't bother to make one for myself.)

I launched about ten the next morning, at the same time as Wayne and Lothar in their canoe. I quickly left them behind, not because of any great speed on my part, but simply because they'd stopped to fish. Finding the channel from the lake to the lagoon presented no challenges in daylight, and I was at the take-out about 11AM, after a week of incredible weather for fall: warm days, pleasantly frosty nights, no rain and none of the epic thunderstorms I'd experienced on my last trip.
 
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west_coast_russ said:
Great report and pics - thanks for sharing.

You're welcome, Russ. Always nice to get an atta-boy and know I'm not posting into a void.
 
But it was lovely to paddle in such a different environment from the wide, sprawling lake. And the drift back down was wonderful - the sun hot on my arms, and a warm wind ruffling the low riverbank bushes and occasional tree.

Thanks for the post...
That beautiful stream remind me of my state Mo. and the ozarks....
 

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woodman said:
Thanks for the post...That beautiful stream remind me of my state Mo. and the ozarks....
Thanks, Woodman. There’s a shared loveliness to rivers, isn’t there? The rocks and soil on the bed may vary. The uplands may be mountain peaks or desert flats. The surrounding vegetiation and birdcalls differ. And yet, across different continents and many decades, they have something in common that always calls to me and tells me I am home.
 
kayakwriter said:
woodman said:
Thanks for the post...That beautiful stream remind me of my state Mo. and the ozarks....
Thanks, Woodman. There’s a shared loveliness to rivers, isn’t there? The rocks and soil on the bed may vary. The uplands may be mountain peaks or desert flats. The surrounding vegetiation and birdcalls differ. And yet, across different continents and many decades, they have something in common that always calls to me and tells me I am home.

You got that right...just the smells of the area around those precious streams bring back decades of memories....and the emptiness you feel when away from the river that keeps calling you back....Man can you imagine being here 500yrs. ago to see how pristine things were... :big_thumb
 

kayakwriter

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Hi all,

Bumping this posting/thread as I've re-added the missing photos. (WCP as a whole lost some photos as a result of a goof in an upgrade made a few years back. And I lost additional photos in some of my postings when I refused Photobucket's extortion - after offering a certain amount of free storage for a couple of years, they suddenly turned around and demanded cash or else any place you'd linked to your Photobucket images would only show a faded, heavily watermarked version of the image. )

Over the winter, I'll be going into replace/upgrade the photos in my personal postings, and to crosspost them to philiptorrens.com
 
What a great read. Looks like a beautiful place to spend a week.
 
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