Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Maligne Lake Trip

I took my second long trip in my 16.5' kayak. This time to Maligne Lake up in Jasper National Park. Its a high mountain lake, glacier fed, with erratic winds and gorgeous scenery. Before setting out I finally named my boat, her name is Sage. Shes been giving me some good advice and guidance along the way.

The view down the lake from Home Bay. My destination was a point just to the left of that mountain in the centre. To the right of it is the Maligne Creek trail, a multi day back packing trip that is probably quite spectacular. The lake narrows beside the mountain, becoming only a couple hundred meters wide.

As you paddle up the valley you go from being surrounded by low hills, to towering peaks, with amazing side valleys opening up. This valley empties out near Four Mile Point, making for some interesting winds. You basically buck a head wind to this point, then it immediately shifts to a tailwind the rest of the lake.

My first and fourth nights were spent Fishermans Bay, located about 14kms from the end of the lake, and pretty close to Spirit Island. The campsite is tucked into the bay on the left hand side of this picture.

Once you get past Spirit Island (which is just behind my kayak in this picture). The lake opens up into a grand vista. The tour boats, which ply the waters on the near end of the lake stop here. So you don't have to deal with their noise, wake and crowds from now on.
It stayed flat calm like this most of the way, but as I neared the far end the wind came up something fierce. Till I was soon taking 3 foot whitecaps over the stern. The situation got more entertaining as I realized that to get to the campsite I would have to take the waves broadside for a bit. I pulled in close to shore so that if I dumped I would have a short swim, and turned my side into the waves. Oddly enough, I didn't capsize. I just bobbed up and down, dropping and rising three feet with each wave. I used my paddle to brace the kayak, and my hips to keep it level, and it felt calm and reassuring. Those Aleuts really knew how to build a kayak.

After taking a bunch of broad side waves, I got sick of the 3 foot drops, so I turned my boat around and ferried across the lake. This gave me a nice downwind surf to Coronet Creek.
Parks has switched from the food hang to the locker system at these sites, so it makes storing your stuff easy. The lockers also function as kayak storage after one learns that there are porcupines inhabiting the area. Leather deck lines that have seen salt water and large rodents don't mix well.

The mornings were quite cold, in part owing to the 1670 meter elevation (5400'). It took a while to work up the courage to hop out of the tent. The rising sun made it worth while though, so I had breakfast out on the dock. Coronet Creek faces out on a wide bowl, surrounded by towering mountains.

On my third day I decided to hop out of the kayak and stretch my legs. There is a trail that runs from the Coronet Creek campsite up the valley to Henry Macleod campground. Its a long trail, about 17kms return, with ~300 meter elevation gain. You travel up parallel to a creek till you hit high meadows, and get close to those glaciers in the distance.

The view back from that shot above. Along the way there are cascades coming down from the peaks, and some amazing twisted folds in the rock.

The creek is quite impressive as well. The only knock for the place, like most of the lake, when the weather gets warm the horse flies come out. I don't mean the regular cute horse flies, I mean the 3cm long take a chunk out of you horse flies. When I was paddling down the lake they were munching on my knuckles. It did become a fun sport though plucking them from the air, or seeing how to bat them into the water with my paddle.

This is the view from the far end of the lake, where the creek pours in. The Coronet Creek campsite is located on the shore on the left hand side of the picture.

Back on the water, heading towards Spirit Island. The valley is just ringed by glaciers and waterfalls.

I tried my hand at fishing again on day four, it was a short trip, just down the shore from the Fishermans Bay campsite. As I got into the narrows I looked down the lake to see a wall of black enveloping the entire valley. I stood for a while to mark its progress, and gauge my required pace to the campsite. It moved slow but wow did it pack some dense rain. On its approach the light in the valley got really gorgeous.

I awoke on my fifth and final day to find a dense blanket of fog covering over the valley. The peaks were gone, and the water was dead calm. Looked more west coast than northern Rocky Mountains.

As I passed through the narrows the fog thickened till the visibility fell to less than 100 meters. I've never tried navigating in fog before, but I read about it once. I avoided the the extra paddling round the bays by heading straight down the lake, trusting in my compass. Its an odd feeling to be enveloped by gray, with no reference points at all. That little magnet on the deck works a treat, and I found my way back to land after a few kilometers.

As I neared the end of the lake the fog was lifting, and the mountains came out to see me off. I was happy to see the last of the fog; the tour boats had started up again. I could hear their motors through the mist, and I prayed that my memory of their previous course was still accurate.
Hitting shore was a shock, it was a long weekend so the crowds were thick. Quite a contrast to my previous five days.

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