Friday, 18 January 2008

Sarita Lake

Vancouver Island Backroad Mapbook - Maps 7 and 8

Atlas of Canada Link:
Sarita Lake

Google Earth: Type in Sarita and zoom out a bit, the lake is East of Sarita
Latitude: 48°54'18.85"N
Longitude: 124°53'17.03"W

Trip Date: January 16, 2008

After morning errands I loaded up the Tracker and left Nanaimo at 10:35 heading for lakes located along the road to Bamfield. At the Summit of #4 Highway between Cameron Lake and Port Alberni I took the connector road over to the Cameron River Main, down past Bainbridge Lake and on to the Bamfield Road. I arrived at Lizard Pond at 1:20. Finding both Lizard Pond and Hawthorn Lake frozen over, I returned to Bamfield Road and continued on the Sarita Lake, arriving at 2:25.

The bridge right before the lake that spans a tributary of Sarita River gave a glimpse of a very large log jam, cleaved in the middle by the creek. Just past the bridge on a muddy landing was a drilling machine of the sort used to drill into rock during road building. “hmmm...” I wondered, “did they dynamite the log jam?”

The Atlas of Canada map indicates a campground on the southern shore near the Eastern end of the lake, and the Backroad Mapbook placed the campsite further down the lake, so I watched intently for a road access. Recent grader work was evident creating a large furl of rock and gravel at the road edge, but I spied no turn off until reaching a road further down the lake, which I turned into. This turn off revealed the campsite nestled under deciduous trees, right where the Backroad Mapbook said it would be. It is a pleasant forestry style campsite with direct access to the lake via a gentle grassy boat ramp. The campground and boat ramp seemed oddly cluttered with logs and woody debris. I unloaded the canoe and headed out onto the water, my attention drawn immediately to a large white bird gliding along the far shore. A determined but stealthy paddle towards the bird nevertheless scared it into flight. I took several photographs of it winging its way to the far end of the lake, but it was too far away to make out the exact species. It was probably a Trumpeter Swan. Turning east I paddled towards the inflow of the Sarita River and was completely dumbstruck by the view. I had been so focused on the Swan, I had not fully appreciated it. White barked trees of the type at the campground, probably alders, were showing a red haze about their branch tips, the tightly bound buds waiting for spring. Sunlight, breaking through the cloud cover, striped the hillside behind.

As I approached the southern shoreline again, I noted a number of large logs and tree stumps clustered together in an odd tangled mess. Spanning between two of these stumps were other pieces of driftwood. Could it be that the forest company had, in fact, blasted the log jam causing a wave of water to wash these specimens into the lake? If that was the case, the water level must have risen to depth 10 or 12 feet above the level I was resting on?
Pondering other possible explanations I rounded the next small point of land and drifted past a flock of Golden Crowned Kinglets peeping to each other in the underbrush. A Junco and Winter Wren were also gleaning the shoreline logs and their activity drew my attention to a graceful piece of driftwood.

Rounding the next promontory where I had initially expected the campsite to be I startled into flight two black and white ducks, probably Ringnecks, from an area of shore where a creek had recently deposited large amounts of sand and gravel, arranged on the lake bottom like a multicoloured fan. The water turbidity was moderate, though the river had seemed relatively clear when I had crossed it.
After paddling around the eastern side of the lake I headed back toward the put in, sun descending behind snowy mountains. A mist was forming as I took the canoe out of the water and the temperature was dropping steadily. My thumbs were feeling it, even through my titanium lined neoprene gloves. As with all paddles during the winter months, the limited daylight hours, and temperature mean the paddling time always seems a little too rushed. Nevertheless, I was pleases to have paddled the lake on such a calm and tranquil day.

Summation: Sarita Lake has a nice shoreline with moderately interesting hillsides surrounding the lake on all sides. The most striking aspect of the lake is the long line of Alders (?) on the Eastern shore by the inlet from Sarita River. This panorama is breathtaking. I would like to see it both in its spring raiment and summer greenery. I expect that the lake is used heavily in the summer, being so close to a main road and less than two hours drive from Port Alberni. It may, however, be overlooked by many who are heading to and from the West Coast Trail, providing for them only a brief visual break from the miles of forest and clear cuts. I will not make Sarita Lake a destination lake during the warmer months, but if I should happen to be in the neighbourhood, I will definitely swing by to check it out again.

Recommendation: If you plan to visit Sarita Lake in the winter months, be prepared for cold water and possible changes in water level. The roads this winter are heavily used by forest vehicles and graders will most likly be working, I passed one on the trip. I also passed two loaded logging trucks, and another with its trailer piggybacked, and numerous of the ubiquitous white forest company chevy pickups. Also two cars. Tracks in the snow indicated that at least two vehicles had visited Lizard Pond, the snow being over a foot deep in places. This is a high use area because of the active logging.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Cowichan Valley Lakes

Vancouver Island Backroad Mapbook - Maps 9 and 10

Google Earth: Type in Cowichan Lake and zoom out a bit
Mayo Lake Latitude: 48°48'8.89"N by longitude: 123°57'15.06"W
Beaver Lake Latitude: 48°48'45.75"N by longitude: 124° 4'45.54"W
Mesachie Lake Latitude: 48°48'42.39"N by longitude: 124° 6'32.37"W
Bear Lake Latitude: 48°48'52.75"N by longitude: 124° 7'41.78"W
Kissinger Lake Latitude: 48°55'6.90"N by longitude: 124°28'46.76"W
Trip Date: December 12, 2007
After a late breakfast I headed south from Nanaimo to the Cowichan Valley to scout out six different bodies of water for paddling.

The first stop was Mayo Lake located on map 10 at D3. Reports indicated that it was a beautiful little lake suitable for paddling and I found the lake on Mayo Road just off of Old Cowichan Lake Road. The lake was partially iced over and smaller than I expected. The western section of the lake which appears on the map to be open water is now filled with vegetation. Great place to sit and eat your lunch, but not large enough to paddle, even for me.

From Mayo Lake I drove up the Old Cowichan Lake Road, through Cowinchan Lake municipality, observing the towns lovely waterfront, and on to the Beaver Lake turn off. The only access road to this lake takes you to a private campground with signs indicating access for guests only.

I continued on to Mesachie Lake (Map 9 A3), which is a pretty little lake right beside the South Shore Road.

The lake is dominated by Camp Imadene which occupies a peninsula on the south shore. It would be possible to drop a featherlight canoe into the lake from the South Shore Road, but not comfortably, there is a fairly steep bank from the road down to the lake.

I continued past Camp Imadene and turned right down the Mesachie Lake village’s main street, looking for an alternative access to the lake. There did not seem to be one. I crossed a small bridge that spans the creek that runs between Mesachie and Bear lakes, and looked at the creek carefully. It may be possible to paddle between Bear and Mesachie Lake along this water way.

I then turned around, and drove to the public beach and boat ramp on Bear Lake. Several empty boat trailers suggested that boaters were on the lake, but I could not see them anywhere.
The picturesque public wharf gives a good view of the entire lake. I later examined the lake on Google Earth and discovered that a wide channel connects Bear to Cowichan Lake, so I suspect the absent boaters were out on Cowichan Lake.

The water of Bear Lake was high and muddy and not inviting, so I decided to continue on along the south side of Cowichan Lake to Kissinger Lake. I had never driven the South Shore Road before so took my time, consulting the map at several intersections. The road turns to gravel just past Honey Moon Bay but it is an exceptionally good surface and I drove along at 70 km/hour on the good sections. I stopped the vehicle on a height of ground across from Youbou. The lake was calm and the winter afternoon light soft on the distant hamlet.
I made a wrong turn past Nixon Creek and went left (South) up the Caycuse Main. It was a fortuitous error as the valley contains Nixon Creek and was beautiful. Large Broad Leaf Maple trees are covered in moss and I stopped the vehicle near a bend in the creek to examine a large heap of logs recently deposited at a curve in the channel. Sand and stones were mixed in with the wood detritus so the creek must have really been thundering when it deposited these logs. Clearly this valley gets a lot of rain and subsequent run off.

Caycus Main

Nixon Creek

North End of Cowichan Lake

I turned the vehicle around and headed back to the intersection where I made the error and headed on to the end of Cowichan Lake and stopped to take a few photos of the Heather Campsite across the water from the boat launch. Smoke and RVs indicated that people were there.

The map (9 A1) indicates that access to Kissinger Lake is off the Nitinat Main and I inadvertently passed the Nitinat Main and turned left instead at the North Shore Road intersection. The Mapbook has a dashed line where this road continues away from Cowichan Lake, so I didn't immediately realize I was on the wrong road. I guess the old the road has been re-activated.

I drove for some way along this road into an area of active logging, turned right in what I thought was the direction of the lake but ended up on an old road that was paved! This must have been the Nitinat River Road, but why it is paved, I’m not sure.

I backtracked, got my bearings, and found the Kissinger Lake Recreation Area, which had a gate, but the gate was open. A large sign said the gate closes at 8:00 pm, so I drove through the campsites and found the lake.

A group of fellows in their twenties had a fire going in an iron pit on the rocky bank overlooking the lake. I chatted with one fellow who informed me that they had been doing a little fishing, but only caught two small trout which they threw back.

He told me they were leaving, and with good cheer they load their ATVs on three large trucks and roared off leaving me with their dwindling fire.

The lake shore was picturesque, with a little road running right up to the edge of the water and curving in a loop to go back to the campground.

There was a little dock and two small sandy/muddy beaches on either side. Several Alders stood at the lake shore and several more shaded the picnic area on the small hill. The lake’s prominent island was attracting the last rays of light off to the left (see photo).

Red stemmed bushes; willows maybe, lined the shore on the left side, and evergreens on the right.

I took down my canoe, launched, and coasted out onto the glassy surface.

The smoke from the remains of the fire drifted to mingle with a mist rising from the lake surface and I listened to a grader working somewhere in the distance, the changing pitch of the engine and the odd clunkof rock and metal. I could see my breath in the dying light.

A fish broke the surface somewhere beside me and I watched the trees lose color on the shore. By 6:00 it was too dark to see much so I put on my head light and paddled back.

Kissinger Lake is completely ringed by logging roads now, and active logging has left a large raw area to the west of the lake.
None of this is visible from the water, however, because the loggers have left a band of trees that give the illusion that all is well.

Back on the road again, I passed two large trucks, burly young men grinning at my little Tracker and canoe.

I imagined what the place would be like in the summer and decided that I probably should not find out. Better to be somewhere a little less utilized at that time of year.

© Richard R. Powell 2008

Monday, 7 January 2008


(WARNING: This post contains a discussion of Pothunting)

George Washington Sears, pen name Nessmuk, wrote a series of letters to Field and Stream Magazine from 1880 to 1885 about his solo canoe trips through the Adirondacks. The canoes he paddled were small and light because he was an older man with asthma. He went to the woods for his health, believing clean air to be a balm like no other. “Go light,” he advised, “the lighter the better, so that you have the simplest material for health, comfort, and enjoyment.”

I like George, meeting him all these years later though his stories. He was an observant person who loved remote places but did not shun people....well most people. He did shun certain types of people.

“I love a horse, a gun, a dog, a trout and a pretty girl. I hate a pothunter, a trout-liar, and a whisky-guzzling sportsman.” Sears wrote these words and others like them because he saw how men of this sort spoiled the woods, lakes, and rivers.

A pothunter is a hunter who hunts with disregard for rules and conservation and who lacks appreciation for the value of animals apart from their role as objects to kill, possess, or display. A pothunter seeks a prize to show to his friends, a trophy to give him bragging rights. Sears liked to hunt and fish, but not as a means to build his ego, not for show or prestige.

When I first came across references to him, I expected not to like him. I generally don’t like people who start movements. They are driven. Driven people make me nervous. The movement he started (solo canoeing) is sometimes twisted into pothunting of a different sort. I’m talking about outdoor types who show off their survival skills, endurance, courage, and competitive edge in order to impress or awe others.

But Nessmuk isn’t like that. He is a bit the opposite, and while he was not a saint or heroic icon, he comes close to embodying a way of being in the wild that feels right to me. In this he reminds me of my father. Like Nessmuk, my father loved fishing and hunting for their own sake, and cared little what others thought of the sport or his prowess with a gun, bow, or rod. He just liked it and when we went out together it wasn’t overly important if we arrived home empty handed. Dad didn’t brag and while he told stories of “the one that got away,” they were almost always relatively accurate. I knew they were accurate, because most of the time I had been there.

I plan to write about dad, our times together, and the values he passed on to me, but for now, I just want to be clear that what I am after, the reason I am doing this project, is to define one of many alternatives to pothunting. I’m certainly not the first to attempt such an exercise, but I do want to include my voice.

Another reason I am going is to learn to read again.

Karen Armstrong in an interview with Tapestry Producer Mary Hynes describes a time in her life when she was defeated by poor health and life circumstances and turned to the study of the great texts of world religions. Because she was no longer surrounded by noise and activity, all alone in her apartment, she was suddenly able to hear the poetry of the writers, and enter into the realities behind the words.

Much of my reading lately has become speed reading, rushing through one book or another looking for content, for a specific answer, for data, facts, information. I want more than that, I want the meditative absorption that comes from reading a book in the company of great silence.

So I will be reading Nessmuk, and other great nature writers. And I will be reading Taoist texts and maybe some other religious texts, I’m not sure yet. I want to read Ursula Goodenough’s Sacred Depths of Nature because I intuit that Ursula knows something important, something I need to know.

I also want to learn again to read nature, to “notice” it in the great Buddhist sense. This is why I paddle, why I have embarked on this experiment. The Japanese poet Basho spoke of his travels across Japan as a journey into the deep interior of his country. I will be traveling into the deep interior of this island I call my home.

Sunday, 6 January 2008


In September of 2007 I purchased a new canoe from Placid Boatworks.

The large fibreglass and wood canoe I inherited from my father, and still own, would not be sufficient for what I wanted.

I needed to be able to carry a canoe, by myself, to and from a variety of small bodies of water; some with minimal or no easy put ins.

After much research I decided that the Spitfire (pictured above) was the best canoe for the task. Light (22 lbs), strong (graphite and Kevlar construction), and maneuverable it is also a beauty to behold.

Here are a few of the reasons I chose the Spitfire:

  • Placid Boatworks' quality is well known and their response to my inquiries and requests were prompt. They delivered my boat clear across the country with a minimum of hassle and confusion.

  • No other canoe company that I researched produces a canoe this light with a gel coat and two tone hull - white bottom to hide scratches, tinted transparent clear coat sides for good looks and abrasion resistance.

  • The canoe is virtually maintenance-free; the seat and gunwales are carbon composites as well as the hull.

  • The design is attractive, the seat is comfortable, and the performance on the water consistent.

  • Local retailers and large canoe manufacturers proved to be unwilling or unable to help me find the boat I needed. Retailers were more interested in selling me a kayak and those that did try to help confessed that their suppliers would not be able to get me a boat for months. Placid Boatworks delivered my canoe in under a month.

I plan to purchase a second canoe so that family and friends can accompany me on some trips, and this boat I hope to purchase locally. At the moment I am waiting to try the Wenonah Wilderness canoe which is new for 2008. I also hope to travel to the mainland to try out several of Clipper’s boats.

I am also considering small tandum canoes as an option for my second boat.

My vehicle is a 1999 Geo Tracker outfitted with a Thule rack. This little fuel efficient, no frills, 4x4 has taken me on many miles of back roads and over some truly impressive washouts. What a shame that there is no small 4x4 like this being sold in North America today. How can we satisfactorily enjoy the wilderness with carbon spewing monster SUV’s?

This shot is taken on the road to Lacy Lake.


Vancouver Island is the biggest island on the west coast of North America. Almost twice the size of Hawaii it has an area of 32,134 sq. Km (12,408 sq. miles).

Over 700 miles of coastline, almost 400 of which face the wide open Pacific Ocean, make Vancouver Island the destination and home of open sea kayakers who love to paddle among whales, see lions, otters, and a myriad of other sea creatures. The prowess, skill, and courage displayed by those who ride the surf and ply the stormy reaches have captured the imaginations of thousands of people. Have a look at the trailer for Pacific Horizons to get some idea of what these daring folks do.

Less adventurous paddlers experience the Pacific Ocean’s beauty and grandeur by exploring its many sheltered coves, island groups, and bays. They gaze on scenic vistas at every turn.

But this 451 kilometres (282 miles) long island also contains many hundreds of lakes, some in the heart of towns and cities, others so remote that virtually no one ever visits them.

Though I am an occasional ocean paddler and love the ocean and all its wonders; my temperament, philosophy, aesthetic values, and my current life situation and interests draw me more to lakes than oceans. I will be unpacking this attraction for small waters as I go along. For now let me say that marshes, ponds, and small lakes and streams, hold subtle attractions for a paddler that are very different from the rolling waves of Vancouver Island’s rugged coast. Not better or more beautiful, but worth experiencing in their own right. This is where I will be - these next two years.

Image of Vancouver Island captured from Google Earth