The Columbia Wetlands for Dessert
June 6, Columbia River
We wrapped up our trip with a satisfyingly, sweet experience. Our launch site was the public marina, under the bridge, at the bottom of the hill coming into Invermere. The sun was bright, the sky a cloudless, cobalt blue. No wind! The Columbia River looked like an endless strip of butterscotch, silky smooth and glistening. I couldn’t wait to search out its many layers of flavour.
However, my eagerness was tempered with some hesitance. Paddling the piece from Invermere to Radium would add a notch to our belt, but I hesitated for several reasons. We had reconnoitred the take out at Radium the evening before. It meant squeezing under a low bridge, in fast running water, and landing on a muddy slope approximate three kilometres west of Radium. The water was high, and we’d been warned we might have trouble fitting under the bridge. From a vantage point, above Radium, we viewed the swollen river. It spread out forming many subsidiary channels, between rows of trees, and looked like a complicated maze. Sitting low in the water, it would be difficult to identify the main channel; which promised a lot of dead ends and paddling upstream against a strong current, if you picked the wrong route. Finally, we had talked with both the owners of the public marina, and Pete’s Kayaking, who had mentioned both these problems, and shared that a woman had overturned the day before.
They informed us that the first stretch of the river from the bridge at Invermere, north was quiet, with little current. Several kilometres downstream Toby Creek joins the river. Here the Columbia narrows and increases in speed and power. As we drifted, deciding what to do, a young woman on a paddleboard, informed us we could easily paddle back against the minimal current.
I know Barb wanted the adventure of making our way to Radium, but due to my trepidation, and the fact we had only a half day before heading back to Calgary, we settled on exploring the wetlands up to the Toby. We would finish off the trip with a serene float.
Although the main migration of birds was over, the high sandstone cliffs, soaring osprey, blue cranes and hidden songsters made this a true melding with nature – a melt in your mouth sensation that left me mellow.
Lush borders of reeds enclosed small lakes, throughout the wetlands. We wove amongst them on the way back, reluctant to leave the water.
Throughout the day, a sundog framed the sun; a portent of the pleasure ahead.
As we paddled past the rotting supports of an old railroad bridge, and pulled out at the marina, I felt the way one wants to feel after ingesting a gourmet meal – replete.
Lake Windermere, June 5
A tumbling row of cumulonimbus cloud paralleled the lake on the east and west sides, leaving a blue canopy above us, as we hit the water on the third day of our trip. Appetites sharp, we couldn’t wait to taste a new stretch of water. We launched from the public picnic area at the north end of the lake. Again my goal (Barb just enjoys, she doesn’t need a goal) was to circumnavigate the lake, and we had all day to do it. We paddled south along the west shore, point to point, avoiding the large bay, where the public swimming beach is situated. We wove between wake boats, fishing boats and sailboats, tied to buoys off shore.
The water held a light chop, as we set out, the wind at our back. Within minutes we were working against a cross-wind. It died completely ten minutes later, enveloping us in sun heated air. Each time we reached a point and rounded it, we discovered another long stretch of water and another point. I began questioning my plan to paddle to the end before turning back, especially when the wind rose against us.
Windermere is visited by the most contrary wind. From one minute to the next it alters direction and changes velocity. How is that possible? It must have something to do with the fact it is actually just a wider part of the Columbia river, with the wind channeled between the Purcell range on the west side and sandstone cliffs on the east. I was surprised to learn it is never deeper than fifteen feet (4.6 metres).
A railroad line runs along the west side, so there are fewer developed properties, and more of nature’s gifts. She offered several delightful moments along the way, like a crane camouflaged against a boathouse. Osprey dived for fish, and birds sang out as we passed. We paddled through a cove of lily pads, their yellow faces, above succulent leaves, following the sun. As we passed by a camp, set up for the railroad workers, a radio, wafted music from the ‘60s; and an old favourite followed us down the lake, setting a rhythm for our strokes.
We lunched on a dock in front of an empty cottage; and swam in water so clear and clean I felt purified when I climbed out. Our kayaks tapped a tempo against the wooden steps, as we sunbathed. Back on the water, we headed for the next point – and yes – you guessed it, found another long stretch of water on the other side. As it was past the halfway mark, in time, I note for every trip, and we still hadn’t reached a narrowing in the lake, where it became river again, we decided to cross, and return along the heavily populated east side. I calculated we’d paddled about eleven kilometres. I learned later Lake Windermere is 17.7 km long.
For a while, we were caught up in viewing the many summer retreats, and toys, along the shoreline. Beautiful homes, with extensive docks stretching into the water, forced us further out. We’d hoped for another swim, as the sun was still blazing, keeping the cloudbanks on either side from covering the lake. But, with the Village of Windermere holding sway on the side of the water, every bit of shoreline was taken up with private property, or by community developments posted, PRIVATE. We were not welcome anywhere. Finally, we invaded a sandy point, and took possession of a small piece of a beautifully manicured green oasis. We satisfied our need for a swim and stretch, loitered for a snack and rest – all the while expecting someone would ask us to leave.
The wind was against us, and had strengthened considerably, as we resumed our course. I paddled in and out of the docks, seeking shelter in the protected water, while Barb took a straight course further out. We were happy when we reached the north end of the lake and could ease our strokes in quiet water along the treeline. Returning to our launch site, we enjoyed another swim, loaded the kayaks, and headed for the condo.
What made this trip especially filling was staying in a luxury condo, overlooking the lake. Knowing we would soon be enjoying a glass of wine and another sunset on the covered balcony made Lake Windermere an entre I relished.
The Fish Course
Whiteswan Lake, B.C. June 4
Succulent as scallops served on pea puree, Whiteswan Lake held my interest with its unique flavour. Everything I’d read about the lake promised a pleasing experience. Whiteswan proved an exceptional one.
The drive in, on a logging road off Highway 95, south of Canal Flats, heightened my determination to see the lake. We climbed steadily on a winding road, surfaced with crushed rock. Often, from the passenger window, I looked a hundred feet straight down, into a treed gorge, where water dancing over rock, played peek-a-boo with me.
After driving approximately fifteen kilometres, we came upon a tiny picnic site at the side of a small lake. Disappointing – you bet. Though it was pretty as a bluebell in a patch of scrub grass, it would take all of ten minutes to circumnavigate. Den, who did all the ferrying, suggested we drive further. This can’t be it, we decided with more hope than fact. The rain, till now, just spitting damp spots into the dusty road, took an interest in wetting everything. Go on or turn back? The consensus was we were paddling this lake, no matter what.
Our reward for perseverance soon appeared – a long stretch of water flanked by mountain vistas on all sides. As we drove down the south side of the lake, we passed several small picnic areas, and even a small marina and cement ramp. However, we continued around the east end of the lake to Whiteswan Provincial Park, a quarter of the way down on the north side. With the ceiling hanging low and gray over the lake, we kitted up in our wet weather gear and launched into a light crosswind coming down the length.
We decided to cross into the shelter of the south shore, and in our usual inexplicable style picked the widest part of the lake, then paddled on a diagonal, to make our route even longer. Ten minutes out, the rain stopped and I was boiling in my cold weather gear. Taking off clothing in a kayak is always a challenge. I managed fine until the leg zipper on my dry pants stuck, and I was forced to shore. Stripped down and paddling strongly I joined Barb, already intent on lining up a shot of me against the awesome mountain range to the west.
While I cruised the inlets along the shoreline, searching for magic in the smaller details, Barb took the direct route down the middle of the lake, scoping out the larger picture. She explained it allowed her to keep up with me, as her Tsunami was heavier and flatter than my Perception.
At the west end of the lake we found shallow water, the surface smooth as a shaving mirror, surrounded by the prickling growth of reeds. Fallen leaves formed intricate patterns on the sand bottom. Here the various bird songs coming from the fir locked shores, formed a playlist of nature’s best. We met up with Den, and ate lunch at the small marina we’d passed earlier. Unwilling to end the glorious experience, we decided to circumnavigate the lake, and Den, as patient and affable as ever, agreed to drive back over the rough road to the Provincial park again.
Off we went, paddling up the north side of the lake. There were few people on the water. I spotted only two fishermen, and a family of three in a canoe the many hours we paddled. At times, the silence and beauty created moments of rapture that stilled my breath, or shocked out an explanation of delight.
Loitering, we continued our tour of nature’s art gallery. A tree trunk split by lightning became a dramatic sculpture. Mountain streams formed gushing waterfalls as they leapt across the rocky edge to join the lake. Rocky abutments loomed like unfinished works.
Then long shadows floated beneath us, again and again. They were large fish, eight to ten pounds, swarming along the north shore. Clusters of five, three, seven were clearly visible against the pale sand bottom. In ignorance, I called to a nearby fisherman, “Here’s the spot. There are fish everywhere.” “They’re spawning,” he called back. “What kind are they?” I asked. “Trout.”
Indeed Whiteswan lake offered magic and miracles. When we arrived back in Invermere after a blissful day on the water, I felt certain our sublime fish course would lead into a delightful entre.
Little Lake Lillian
Paddling in B.C.
Driving west of Invermere on the way to Panorama Ski Resort, you come across the sweetest little lake. It won’t give you paddling for a day, but a few tranquil hours are there for the taking. There’s clear signage on the highway, announcing a public park, which offers a small boat launch and parking lot for easy access.
We found this piece of water in a serendipitous moment. Driving into Invermere, late morning of June 3rd, we had every intention of paddling Windermere in the afternoon. We found white caps bounding down the length of the lake, racing before a wind gusting 40 kph wind. Concluding we wouldn’t get a warm-up paddle (first of the year for my companion), but rather a hard pull, we looked for something less demanding. Checking our maps, we discovered Lake Lillian.
Nestled at the base a mountain, where the Purcell Range meets up with the Rockies, the little lake is well protected from the wind. A few cabins dot its shoreline, but a great deal of the edge is swamp. The water appears brackish; but, I was surprised by the stretches of sandy bottom, clearly visible. Big schools of good-size minnows swam among the reeds at the north end, explaining why the locals brag about the fishing.
Along the east side there is a protected nesting site, extending back into the woods. We circled the lake several times, enjoying the clean pine-scented air and glassy water.
Some unique fungus growing from downed trees caught our attention, as did a soaring eagle.
For the first of our four day, four lake B.C. paddle, Lake Lillian proved a stimulating amuse-bouche, sharpening our appetites for the next course in the meal.
Wind off the Water
We’ve had almost a week of wind, some gusting as high as eighty kilometres an hour in the past few days. This mighty force has kept me off the water. I don’t mind riding waves, but when I can’t turn my kayak around, I know I shouldn’t be out there. So what do you do when the season has started and you’re not on the water?
I put time into cleaning up and checking my equipment. I just vacuumed the accumulated sand out of my kayak, and cleaned the hatches in preparation for loading them. My next overnight camp is some weeks away, but I do like to carry spare parts. You never know when a tarp, rope or bungee cords will come in handy.
I also like to use a de-oxidiser to polish it up after a good wash. I’m fortunate in that I can store my kayaks inside, so I don’t have to worry about excessive weathering; but sun damage is a given after long days on the water.
Another thing I check is the smooth running of my skeg. Often pebbles and sand build up in the track, when I haul it onto a beach. If you don’t have it cleared before you’re on the water, you’re stuck with two choices, do without, or return to land and clean it out.
In an ideal world, all this clean-up would have taken place in the fall, but I have long since stopped berating myself for things that don’t get done for good reasons. It’s enough to know I’m ready now.
With everything tightened, cleaned and set to go, it’s just a matter of waiting. The wind will blow itself out. The whitecaps will lose their sharp edges, softening into ripples, and I’ll be on the water again.
My kayaks below. Top to bottom: Joy, Bubba, Balance, Serenity.
Afternoon Tea on the Water
Seldom do I head out in my kayak, without taking a thermos of tea and a snack with me. Usually the food is enclosed in a Ziploc bag and tucked inside a fanny pack that I wear in front for easy access. As it also holds other essentials like sun screen, bug repellant, and tissues, it is a handy accessory.
Most often I head into the wind, choosing the hardest paddling for the first part of my session. I have a set time on the water, and know at the half way mark I will turn around. Now, the reward. With the wind behind me, and my kayak weather cocked, I rest my paddle and pull out my thermos.
I associate nature and nurture, so food is part of all my outdoor adventures. Tea on the water feeds not only my body, but my spirit. I soak up the sun and silence, breathe in air so clean it has no smell and breathe out my angst. As I sip a cup of black tea, and crunch a cluster of nutty goodness, gulls race each other down the river. Startled, a family of ducks takes to the air with a cacophony of quacking. Of course, they fly ahead of me, so my forward progress disturbs them time after time. Exasperated I move further into the centre of the river, hoping the distance will give them a sense of safety, and me the peace I crave.
By far the most beautiful and varied part of Saskatchewan is our sky. I lean back and watch as a flock of geese stich a black V across it. If I’m lucky, I’ll catch the lazy glide of a pelican, its white wings outlined by the deepest blue. The best treat, for me, is the constant slide show of sun and cloud, forming infinite shapes. Shades of blue and white combine; creating tie-silk patterns of lavenders and greys, misty blues and brilliant white. When I’m really blessed the trajectory of sun on water becomes a magical path I paddle into my imagination.
Drifting finished, I pack my thermos away, and with the wind assisting, make up for stealing from my return time. Tea on the water. I highly recommend the experience. Join me in spirit the next time you’re out. I lift my cup in a toast to any paddler who rests their paddle for a short while, to sip at life.