Summary: Last paddle of 2003, on lake Minnewanka, one of
the last lakes in the area to freeze.
"Map is © Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada,
Department of Natural Resources. All rights reserved."
"Map is © Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada,
Department of Natural Resources. All rights reserved."
I've only 'known' Robert through the internet, never have I met him in person. Now he is driving down from Edmonton to my house, so we can meet and paddle in the fridgid November waters.
Both Robert and I can often be found on the kayak building and trips sections of the kayak forum (http:\\www.kayakforum.com). We have made several non commital attempts to get together in person and go for a short day paddle, all have fallen through, for various, usually weak reasons.
Lake Minnewanka is a fairly long lake, I'd guess close to, but not more than 20 km. It runs east between Mt. Aylmer and Mt. Inglismaldie, with Cascade Mtn (and banff) to the west. The lake then bends around Mt inglimalde, and Mt Girouard to the south, later after it passes Mt Peechee it bends off to the east again towards Ghost lakes.
The Lake was once smaller, made larger by a dam. There used to be a small town here, it must have been one of the most picturesque places in North America. Today the lake is larger still, a second larger dam has been put in place, flooding the old dam, and town of Minnewanka. Kind of a shame, however it is now within the boundaries of Banff national park, so in my opinion, it is now a better place, and will be for a long long time.
Rewind the clock back three weeks, it is November 8th, I went for what, at the time I thought was my last paddle for the season. The trip was also to Lake Minnewanka.
On that day, due to a very a late start, and I did not make it far down the length of the lake. I posted a trip report up on the kayak forum, telling of the great, but to short solo paddle I had. The day was stunning, warm, sunny, and it would be hard to find better scenery anywhere. I did complain that I did not make it past the first bend about a third down the length of the lake. I really wanted to see what the view afforded. Rob responded with a, "Dayum! Myrl, I think we have to see what's around the corner this weekend. If you're interested, I'll speak with the wife and arrange to be there, maybe Sat or Sun. What say you? I can't look at that picture knowing that it's so close and NOT be there to check it out."
This was it, one more chance, and likely the last one we would have to meet and paddle together this season. Unlike most of our other loose plans to meet this one had lots of reason not to work. There is a road warning in effect for Hwy 1 from Calgary to Banff due to heavy snow a day or two before. Lake Minnewanka is one of the last lakes in the area to freeze, on the 8th it was wide open. When Minnewanka freezes, I've been told it tends to freeze fast.
It's not all that easy finding out the current state of the lake, On the 8th, the National park information line told me I would not have water access, in fact I had 100% clear access to the water. For this trip I did not know anyone who was out recently, and have no idea if it is still open, with no easy way to find out. Finally, it is November 30th, which can be warm in Calgary, but is just as likely to be very cold.
The one thing this trip had going for it, in fact ensuring it would be attempted, is the desperation to get out one last time this season. Not being able to paddle for several months can make for a long winter. Both Rob and I wanted that wait as short as possible.
Robert drove from Edmonton to Calgary, a three hour drive, extended a bit as Rob had trouble finding my house. It would have helped if he had looked at the directions before driving past the main turn off to my section of town, but it would have helped more if I'd given him the proper directions.
Anyways...after Loading my kayak onto Robert's car we got on the road just after 10:00 AM, kind of a late start again, but not to bad, really good considering Roberts been on the road since 7:00am. This time of year, it gets dark around 5:00, a bit earlier in the mountains.
We chatted the whole drive to Banff, it is always nice talking to another paddler when you just meet, they just seem to be good folks, well worth getting to know. The view going into the mountains was stunning. In contrast to much of the summer, where it had been obscured by the smoke from the forest fires in the mountains. No longer so, we could see the mountains opening up to us from the horizon to horizon, looking rugged, and pristine with the winter snows already well established on them. The Sun had burnt off the high level clouds, and the skies were that crystal clear blue that we get in the colder months here in Alberta. Looks to be a fantastic day.
The drive is clear of snow, in spite of the road warnings in effect for the Hwy, warnings that threatened the last paddle of our season. I'm very glad Rob had the willingness to make the drive, just to see if the roads were really as bad as reported, as reported on the news as late as early this morning.
Once off the Hwy, and on the Minnewanka access road, we finally got to drive on a snow covered road, it was however well gravelled. At the parking lot closest to the now closed boat launch, we found lots of people out for cross country ski trips. We got a few, 'what are these guys thinking' looks, even had one person take our picture as we were unloading our kayaks. There was at least one other person that had our kind of insanity, making a comment along the lines of, 'what a great day for a paddle', boy was he right! We got him to snap a picture of us for us prior to us setting out.
Dragging both the kayaks 50 ft from the car park to the waters edge was a bit of work in the foot plus deep snow, with some drift action. Rob was back at the car, putting on his paddling cloths. He quickly caught up, got into is kayak, and was first to make it out into the water. I had changed out of my runners, and into my neoprene booties which allow my feet to fit in my kayak. As usual had a bit of trouble with getting my spray skirt on, once I got the neoprene over my cockpit rim. I realized that my paddle was still back at the car. A quick jog (there is no such thing as a quick jog up a slope through the snow, but it would have been quick if there was no snow) back to pull it from the snow bank. After getting back to the kayak, I remember thinking that, 'these neoprene booties work really well', my feet were not cold in the least.
Once again I was in the cockpit, I'd figured I could, using Rob's invented word "yakboggan" into the lake on the snow covered boat launch. The idea is to slide down the snow and gracefully shoot out into the water, this was my frist attempt. I was trying to suppress the imagination, an out of control slide cumulating in a tip and swim. Turns out, I had to lug myself and kayak through the snow, pushing with my paddle, no fast, easy and graceful slide into the lake this time. Probably a good thing, it could have been pretty embarasing.
The time was now pushing 11:30, giving us about 6 hours to be out on the water.
We were on the lee side of the lake, the wind blowing strait out. As typical with this scenerio, the waves were nothing, the wind mostly blocked by the shores. Only out a few minutes from the shore, we could feel the wind a bit, helping to push us along. We quickly got to the point of my first paddle on Minnewanka, after maybe 15 minutes. This is a point just across the bay from into which Cascade river flows (Stewart Canyon). The Fetch was now enough that the wind was causing some wave action. Although not anyting that an experienced paddler would even notice, enough that I'd been splashed up to my elbow by one rogue wave. I was at this time just wearing a fleece over a 'shorties' wet suit, and got the water on the unprotected arms. It was cold, but felt good as I'd been sweating with the exercise, and being over dressed in the warm car ride. However, I've enough experience with cold to know that what feels okay now can turn very uncomfortable in this kind of weather. Being wet is not a smart decision.
Close to the start looking almost due South into the sun. Mount Rundle in the distance
Just starting out, looking towards Steward Canyon. You can see the some of the effects of this years perscribed burn on the upper half of the mountian not nearly as sever as I expected.
1/2 way across the bay, looking east, with the south side of Cascade Mtn. in the background.
About 1km into the trip, have crossed the bay and are now back in tight to the shore. That is the north side of Cascade mountain in the background
Looking down the North shore to the East, after the bay.
The day was going well, we were ahead of schedule for making it down past the bend in the lake. The air was crisp, fresh, and envigorating, the semi-solitude exactly what the soul needed. Life is good.
We pulled over behind the shelter of an outcropping of rock, and I put my wind breaker on over my life jacket to help keep me dry, on went my toque, and I changed out of my bike riding gloves, and into my neoprene 'poogies'. Now I was ready to really get into it, time to get out past the furthest point I've been solo.
We followed the North shore, now riding the waves that were a foot or so tall, surfing them and being pushed by the wind, bit of a thrill with the odd hoot and holler escaping from both me and Rob. A few times having to work to stay off shore, but for the most part gliding along and having fun. However the shore is bending to the south, and the waves are starting to hit us from the side more than from behind. The waves easily flow over my deck, and occasionally break to splash onto my chest. I'd be soaked if not for my wind breaker, a good decision to put it on, I'm still dry, and warm.
We now debate between us crossing the lake or continue following the shore. We discuss the old 50-50-50 rule... which neither of us actually know, something like 50% of people will survive a 50 yard swim in 50 degree (F) water.... Hmm we are in about 0 DegC water, it is a few degrees above zero Centigrate, and it is over a km across the lake. The waves are not really bad, and we would be paddling more or less into them. A very, very small chance of either of us tipping. However, neither of us can roll our kayaks though, and if we do tip, in my mind it would be guaranteed to be very high in the adversity scale, with some risk of being disasterous. However successful crossing puts us in the more sheltered side of the lake.
The other option is to continue along the North shore, a higher, and real chance of tipping, The fetch is gets longer, and the waves bigger, and they are driving us to shore from the side and behind. (TODO: there is a term for this, but I forget.... Quartering waves?) If we Tip, we would be almost guarented to make it to the shore, but we'ed still freeze for a bit as we dried off and changed cloths. Still up on the old Adversity scale, but not nearly as high.
I was more inclined to stay with the shore, Rob argued for crossing. In the end we crossed, and had no problems, and a fair bit of fun. However neither of us were brave enough to get our cameras out and take any pictures during the crossing. This due to waves that were pushing only 2ft at the largest, with them being somewhat mixed, occasionally adding, to make taking of a picture seem somewhat perilous.
After the successfull crossing of the lake, we have a quick stop, a bit of a breather. No Rob is not 'hugging' the shore in releif, I just thought it would make a cool picture, and asked him to hang out there.
The bad thing neither of us thought of, paddling on the other side of the lake we were in the the shadow of the mountains, No longer were we in the warming rays of the sun. Still neither of us was cold. During a break, Rob's Hands were becoming uncomfortable, the same could be said for my feet. However nothing that a little exertion could not take care of once the blood was flowing. The decks of our kayaks were starting to look like the surface of a curling rink. Splashes of water were now freezing onto out kayaks, and the gear strapped on top of it. The shore line had the last few days of below freezing temperatures to build up the ice formations, making for some interesting pictures. Relativly small rocks at the water serface encased in several inches of Ice. The Multiple levels of hanging icicles due to the water level changes, and having the wave splaches freeze as the drip down off the rock. Robert took this picture of the "rock Chandellier"
We stop, and crack open my thermos, that has been strapped to the deck of the kayak. We share some cream of mushroom soup I made around 3 or 4 hours earlier at home. Still piping hot, once again I'm very impressed with the thermos. Fantastic, its is a very nice stop, we sit an float in the shelter of a bay enjoying the views, and just be. It is during the quiet times like these inbetween the paddels that "the song" (If you have not read song of the paddle you should) can be heard, felt really at full volume. The gentle sound of the smaller waves splashing against shore, with the light tingkling of the ice. The sound of the wind in the trees, and the larger waves out on the lake providing a constant low level ambiance. Acompaninyng the gental sway of the kayak, is the muted smell of the pine trees surounding the lake. You can almost feel the inner soul being filled with energy with every passing minute... but then it does start to get a little cool without the activity.
Well we paddel on a bit more, in a more relaxed manner, Of course we expected to be out of the wind, but it has turned with the valley. So we once again have a light wind at our backs, however the waves do not make the bend aound the valley, are are such that it is a relaxing paddle once more. We talk of things from seeing wolves (or wanting to), wondering what would happen if the side of the mountian gave way and hit the water at the other end of the lake. Mostly pointing out the things in the mountain back drop as we paddle through.
I snapped a few more pictures from this side of the lake, after this I pretty much put my camera away for good. It is extremely diffictult to hold with the poggies on, the trouble of taking them off, removing the camera from the dry bag for a few pics seems not worth the effort. I'm not sure how I came to such a stupid conclusion, good thing Robert keeps snapping pictures for the remainder of the trip.
Continuing on, the wind now at our back again, but we are more sheltered from the wind by Mnt. Inglismaldie which the lake is starting to bend around, we eventually make it around the wide arc of the corner. Take a few more pictures, and just bobbed around admiring the scenery. However we both know it will be a slog going back against the wind. Although we expect the wind to die down as soon as the sun goes behind the mountains, you can not always be sure. So we make the call to head back, having just made it to the inside of the bend on the lake, after being out around two hours.
Whew, it was a real grunt to get back, we would come out around a point strait into the wind, paddle pretty hard only to see the shore barely moving. A long 10 minutes later be some what sheltered behind a wee bit of an outcroping, still paddling hard, but making more reasonable progress, then come out around the point, and stroke, stroke... ugh. Fantastic scenery made up for it. The moon was out over the mountains and the sun was still above the horizon. There was not a cloud in sight, and the snow covered mountains all around. But to stop and look for a minute was to be blown back dozens of meters.
Slowly the fetch decreased, and the waves became less of an issue to be alert for, and we could look around. The wind is also lessoning, and we made a second crossing of the lake to take a more direct line back to the takeout. By now the Ice on our decks is a over a 1/4 of an inch thick. Is it my imagination, or is the kayak now more tippy? Can the extra weight up high on the deck, make that much of a difference? or is it just my imagination? I've also got a layer of ice on my torso, up to my armpits. Where I hold on my paddle is now 'grooved' as I've over and inch of extra diameter due to ice on the paddle above and below where the hands go. My toes are definitely cold now, not frost bitten, but uncomfortable. When I remember I now make a conscious effort to try and wiggle them, and push off against the foot brace, as I paddle, something I think I'm supposed to do anyways.
I mention my toes to Rob, and he tells me how he's lined up the inside of his kayak with a layer of foam, I think an old sleeping mat. He is nice and toasty warm inside, a trick I'll have to looking to for next season. His hands have warmed with the battle against the wind.
I intend to take pictures of my kayak when I get back to the boat ramp. Comming in, we are now sheltered again, it is easy paddling. But I'm tired, and starting to get cold. I neglect the pictures, and just smash the ice off the deck to get the hatches open, and get to my nice 'warm' running shoes. The Ice brakes off the surface easily enough. However, I have recessed hatches, and the water has frozen down in the crack between the deck and hatch. I've installed internal bungee cords to hold the hatches down, and have yet to put a 'handle' of some kind on the hatches, and my last excuse, is the now cold air in the hull is sucking the hatches down. Anyways I fail to get the hatch open and can not get to my shoes. My feet are now cold, cold like they have not been in well over a decade of stomping around in the Alberta outdoors in winter. I'm no longer impressed with my booties for keeping me warm as I'm standing in the snow.
By the time I haul my kayak up to the car, I do not want to stand in the snow. I'm given an out, as Robert offers to load my kayak for me (yes I'm a wimp) as I try and warm my feet in the car. However I'm shamed in to helping him. After we get the kayaks loaded, and start the drive home, we head out over the dam. Rob is the first to look out over the water where we've spent a very nice afternoon. The care comes to a screeching stop. It is dark, the water is smooth as glass. No wind. Rob suggests going back and going for some more. He is only half joking. We promise each other we will meet again, and come back in June or July, and go out for a few days and explore the full length of the lake.
copyright, Myrl Tanton, 2003