Freshwater Get-away

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September 30, 2022

Wanting a trip that was low in cost and complications, we’d opted for a fresh water adventure on Alouette Lake in Golden Ears Park. This avoided the time and deadlines of ferry trips, and let three of us revisit a campsite we hadn’t been to in many years. The expedition consisted of myself, my friend Rhian, and Paul and Nessa, two longtime friends I hadn’t seen in person since before the pandemic.

Rhian and I met the other two expeditioneers at the boat launch on Alouette Lake about noonish. As anticipated, with all the faffing about, we didn’t launch until about 1:30 – just in time for the afternoon wind to have ramped up in our favour.

The fleet ready to launch. The Narrows is visible in the distance as the gap between the taller mountain on the left and the much lower hill on the right. Photo courtesy Paul Richards
Kayaks ho! Getting ready to head up the lake.

The fleet consisted of three Seaward HV Tyees (my, Paul’s and Nessa’s personal boats) and Rhian’s rented skeg boat. I’d opted to bring my Tyee rather than my skeg boat for two reasons: Firstly, I wanted to wallow in the decadence of lots of cargo capacity for extravagances such as a full-sized camp chair and twin pizza ovens. Secondly, I knew from experience there would be an afternoon inflow wind up the lake, and I wanted to sail if and when possible. Since I knew the wind would be either fully with us or fully against, “barndoor” sailing only, I left the crosswind-upwind Falcon Sail at home, and brought only my mid and full-sized Spirit sails.

Paddling and sailing up Alouette Lake. Photo courtesy Paul Richards

We cruised easily along towards The Narrows (the bottleneck between the south and north ends of the lake), marveling at the unseasonably warm and dry weather. (Rhian and I had originally planned to bring our drysuits, what with it being the beginning of October, but had both changed our minds on looking at the weather forecast. Just as well: in our drysuits, we’d have been boil-in-bag entrees cooking in the sun.)

At first, I put up only the smaller Spirit Sail, so that I was paddle-sailing with the group. (As I explained to them I was really doing it for their sake, so that my slow, old-man paddling wouldn’t hold them back. I’m very considerate that way.) With the boost of the sail, it was like paddling an empty boat, rather than one heavily laden with luxuries. But for the last third or so of the trip, I couldn’t resist switching to the full-size sail, and bowling along under wind power alone. It all worked out, as my three companions opted to follow the western shoreline while I took a more direct line to our destination. We were never out of sight of each other, and we all converged again at the entrance to The Narrows with such perfect timing that any onlooker would have thought we’d choreographed it.

We’d been passed by several power boats as we paddled up the lake, but, mirabile dictu, the beach and campsite at The Narrows were unoccupied except by a quiet older couple who were daytripping in their little runabout. And even they motored off shortly after we landed, leaving us in sole possession of a site with our pick of several level upland tent sites, a proper outhouse, and a large sheet of weathered plywood someone had thoughtfully propped into place as a kitchen counter. As a crowning touch, Paul and Nessa produced still-chilled beers from a cooler they’d somehow jammed below decks.

Chateau Du Kayak red wine in a bag? Check. Two stoves and two Outback Ovens for mass pizza production? Check. The pizzeria is open! Photo courtesy Paul Richards
Fresh hot and sliced! Photo courtesy Rhian Evans

With no need to rig tarps either over our tents or over the kitchen-dining area, I had plenty of time to mix up the pizza crusts, knead them, and let the yeast work its expansive magic in the dough. Soon Filippo’s Primo Pizzeria was open for al fresco dining, with a million dollar view of the northern lake and peaks. Business was brisk, with such demand that I put a third pizza on as soon as a pan from the first round was available. This last pie took a while, but the diners were patient, applying themselves with a will to reducing the volume of our red wine bag so that packing would be easier on the return voyage. Later, as the Aunty’s Puddings simmered to warmth in the pot, we harked to an owl hooting on the far shore, admired the super bright stars, and goggled at a satellite train dump trailing like a gold bracelet strung across the sky.

October 1, 2022

As always, I slept better in the tent than at home. The night had been so warm, my winter-weight sleeping bag would have been sweltering, so I’d simply laid it duvet-style over me.

Rhian treated us to a slap-up brunch of eggs, hash browns and burritos. Afterwards, Paul and Nessa were ambitious enough to take a paddling daytrip down the north end of the lake. Rhian and I just hung out at camp; she pursued photography and a siesta in her hammock, while I wrote up my journal and admired the view.

Fall paradise. Photo courtesy Rhian Evans

Though we saw powerboats and paddlers come by, we continued to have our site all to ourselves. Amazing considering how warm the weather was and how accessible the lake is.

Paul and Nessa rocked back up in the late afternoon. Since it had been a while since they’d practiced wet exits, assisted rescues or paddlefloat re-entries, I’d volunteered to walk them through things. While we were getting ready and doing our dryland practice of skirt releasing, Rhian put us all to shame by paddling out and pulling off an impressive cowperson scramble re-entry. But of course, she had a skeg boat, much easier for scrambling onto the low rear deck than our high-decked rudder boats. At least that was our excuse and we were sticking to it.

Rhian shows us how it’s done.

Once we three were on the water, we had a worthwhile voyage of discovery: Nessa’s too-tight sprayskirt proved pretty problematic to release when actually upside down in the water. She didn’t panic, and got out under her own steam, but much better to make these little discoveries about your gear in rehearsal than in combat. They quickly added a less tenaciously-fitted skirt to their post-trip shopping list.

Skirt release rehearsal

Dinner, courtesy of Paul and Nessa, was gnocchi with assorted vegetables and chorizo sausage. For dessert, they provided a store-bought strawberry-and-rhubarb pie, which, as we’d done on our last camping trip here years before, we heated in the Outback Oven ‘til it came out hot and feeling fresh baked. Yumm!

October 2, 2022

We’d wanted to be on the water early enough to be back at the put-in/takeout before the contrary afternoon winds picked up, but hadn’t wanted to get up at a ridiculously early hour. It was Paul who had suggested the logical solution last evening: rather than make breakfast at the campsite, have coffee or tea and a snack, and save the big breakfast for the landing. And it worked a treat. In the still unseasonably warm weather, no immediate hot breakfast was no tribulation. We launched just after 9:30.

Photo courtesy Paul Richards

As we made our way down the west side of the lake, we discovered where all the campers who hadn’t been at our site were: bunched up on the beach south of The Narrows.

A fine and private campsite just southwest of The Narrows. The steep and lumpy portage to the boat ledge make it better suited to canoeists than kayakers.
Alouette Lake was formed by a dam flooding a former logging area. The underwater stumps are ordinarily both hazardous and unattractive, but Rhian Evan’s skilled eye has given this view a painterly beauty.
Photo courtesy Rhian Evans

Though we felt faint breezes, the advance heralds of the coming afternoon wind, the lake stayed millpond calm as we made our way home, landing at our takeout about 11:45. As one would anticipate on a sunny weekend afternoon, the launch area was a bit of a circus, with boaters and boats of all sizes and abilities jostling for space, a couple of bros determined that everyone should share their taste in music, and spectators in beach chairs, smartphones at the ready, hoping for Tiktok-worthy trailer carnage on the ramp. But all we had to do to maintain our zen was adjust our mindset from “wilderness paddling” to “bustling afternoon at the holiday seaside”.  

While Paul and Nessa paddled off for some final re-entry practice, I assembled the brunch kitchen on an upshore picnic table, far from the madding crowd. We enjoyed our blueberry pancakes and bacon leisurely in the shade as we watched the afternoon wind raise whitecaps out on the water and congratulated ourselves on dodging it. About mid-afternoon, we swayed boats and gear onto and into the cars, and headed home, much refreshed in body and mind.

Post-paddle brunch. Photo courtesy Paul Richards

Bagging A Bag Night

It’s been way too long since I’ve spent a night in a sleeping bag, so last Saturday afternoon I launched my kayak onto Alouette Lake in Golden Ears Park.

kayak deck compass with sail reflection

The inflowing anabatic wind was funnelled and accelerated into a strong breeze by the lakeside mountains. So I was able to sail and paddle-sail my way to the lake’s north end in about three leisurely hours. With blue skies above and the soft sighs of cats-paws on the water, it was lovely going. Continue reading