Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Amor Lake

Vancouver Island Mapbook - Map 40 A3
Atlas of Canada Link: Amor Lake
Latitude and Longitude: 50o 10' 0" N - 125o 32' 59" W

Trip Date: May 4th, 2008

The day before our trip it rained. The next morning the sky was grey and wind chilled our hands as we strapped the canoes onto the Tracker. The weather forecast said the sun would come out; there would be some late afternoon wind, but not a drop of rain. The next day would be clear and calm. I read several different reports and said a prayer. Then we headed out.

Just past Courtney the sky lightened and by the time we reached Campbell River the sun was out. We arrived at the lake in the early afternoon, backed our Tracker to the water’s edge and loaded our supplies and gear into the canoes. The put in is a pretty spot where the lake funnels all the water collected from surrounding Mud, Twin, and Surprise Lakes, and several smaller un-named bodies, into the creek that leads to Blackwater Lake, then Farewell Lake, and on down to Amor de Cosmos creek which flows through McCreight Lake before finally exiting into the Johnson Strait.
Several aluminium skiffs bumped gently against logs with powerful looking outboard motors raised and glinting in the sun. In a campsite on the far side of the creek a Great Dane and another large dog barked menacingly at us till their owners shushed them. The two beasts stood erect watching us with the slight tremors you see in animals trained to stay, but itching to give pursuit.

We pushed the canoes into the channel and began paddling away. A robin sat on a log watching us as we made the small adjustments of gear and foot pegs necessary to get comfortable in a boat with a larger load than usual.

Then we were pushing out, past the confines of the protective cove, past three men in a power boat attempting to negotiate a shallow channel that connects behind one of the numerous small islands on the lake. A jovial and somewhat inebriated bowman informed us that there were no fish in the lake, at least as far as he could tell, while the captain in the stern lifted the prop creating that guttural growl props make when taken from their usual environment. We pushed on around the corner, the wind at our backs, gliding along in the joy that rises as you begin to realize you are leaving it all behind while the pines and firs and cedars luff around you like sails, the wavelets lapping against the hull.

As we paddled through the sheltered water behind the island that marks the transition from the south western arm of the lake, to the main body of the lake we could see that it was blowing north to south down the lake, creating a moderate chop. We paused in the shelter of a promontory and then headed into the wind. By sticking close to shore, we avoided the hard work of paddling directly into a wind and soon were nosing our way into a sheltered bay with a sandy beach. We went ashore and explored a pleasant campsite with a kitchen station created from a tree root mass.

It was a nice spot, but we were keen to check out some other sites so we headed north again, then spied the island we suspected contained the Sterling Island Rec Site and headed for it.

We approached from the North, running with the wind, and navigated easily around the small island to a lovely quiet spot on the South eastern shore. There we beached the canoes and had a look around.

I have to confess that the site has a magic about it. Like passengers from the fated Minnow, we knew at once that this was the place we would be spending the night. The campsite itself is located on a relatively flat area in the centre of the island surrounded by trees and salal bushes with an impressive fire pit constructed with some skill from large angular stones. An L-shaped bench on one side of the fire pit is constructed of a weathered cedar log and an equally weathered plank. We immediately hauled our canoes to high ground, set up our tent, and strung a tarp between trees on the north side of the site against the brisk north wind. I was worried that we might regret the choice of the Northern most island directly in the teeth of the gale, so to speak, but behind our tarp we were comfortable enough and the wind certainly kept the bugs away.

We found our container of fire wood (I always like to bring my own when I don’t know how much is available on site) and assembled our
Portable Buck Saw and found a large pine limb that had fallen, we surmised, in the recent heavy spring snow and proceeded to buck it up. I also found one weather worn piece of cedar on the beach which we set aside for the evening fire.

In the interest of keeping the carbon release low I broke out our Little Bug stove and soon had a roaring little fire which quickly mellowed into the sort of flame that begs for hot dogs. It just so happened that we had such culinary delights along and set to the task of roasting them.

Before long the sun was setting and we shook out the coals from the Little Bug stove and mounded the wet pine and weathered cedar so that we could enjoy the crackle (and hiss) of a full blow fire. Nothing, and I say this without hyperbole, creates a more receptive and peaceful mind than the gentle act of fire gazing after a relaxing day of paddling. The silence expanded as the wind died down and the embers dropped into a dry hush, such a soothing experience that language seemed too rude to bring to voice. These shared moments of contemplation are silken raiment’s on a day of rest. We left the dying coals and went to the beach to stare up at the stars. We stood, blinking at the universe before heading back to camp and our bed rolls.

The morning broke cold and calm. Canada Geese surrounded the island and seemed to be engaged in some sort of territorial dispute that required goosy conversation at full volume.

After watching the sun rise I started a fire in the Little Bug Stove and soon had water boiling in the Kelly Kettle. My son took charge of the frying pan and the smell and sizzle of sausages filled the camp. Combined with steaming scrambled eggs and store bought cinnamon buns it made a mouth watering meal. As is often the case in the outdoors, the food was tastier by far than the same meal would have been prepared at home.

After breakfast we dismantled camp, loaded the canoes and headed out. I tried fishing and we cruised the lake, now beautifully calm, admiring the rocky shoreline and thick second growth forest, and enjoyed the sensation of gliding over a sunken world.

We made our way to the Mr. Canoehead Rec Site and found it silent and spacious under a full canopy.

We wandered up the short portage to Surprise Lake, saw fish rising, and headed back to Amor Lake to fetch one of the canoes. We then spent a happy two hours fly fishing, both of us reeling in firm cutthroat trout from the crystal clear water.
http://rrpowell.homestead.com/files/amorlake/slides/Amor-Lake_203.jpg While my son was on the water in the canoe I made my way along the shore casting from the logs and releasing the trout I caught. When it was time to head back I went into the forest thinking it would be shorter than battling the bushes at the lake edge. I immediately surprised a Ruffed Grouse who I had heard drumming earlier. As is the nature of these curious animals, this male did not take flight but simply walked around behind a tree. I walked around the same tree and he walked around another, the erect feathers on the top of his head arching forward and back. When I followed him around his second tree he fanned out his large tail and gave me a shock of beauty I hadn’t had for awhile. “Ok,” I said to him aloud, “If you are going to play the I’m-too-gorgeous-to-eat card, I guess I will have to leave you alone,” and I ventured past, while he sidled casually behind another tree like a gentleman exhibiting a ballroom courtesy.

Back at Amor we pushed off and made our way over more sunken mysteries (lilly pad roots? Waterlogged docks? Is that a train tressel?) and all too soon we were pulling our canoes out of the water surrounded by a new collection of campers. We chatted with some folks who had been coming to Amor Lake for years and wished them luck as they headed onto the water, willow leaf lures flashing from their rods.
Summation: Amor Lake is a moderately sized lake that epitomizes the paddling pleasure of the Sayward Forest area. Multiple small islands and coves provide that, “I wonder what’s around the next bend” feeling and multiple arms (5) allow for many optional destinations. We only explored the southern reaches of the lake, not even half its area, and I think it is reasonable to say that you could spend three happy days on the lake exploring its various coves and islands. We counted 4 obvious campsites not counting the 8 or more sites located beside the boat launch. The map indicates that there are two more campsites on the eastern arm of the lake and I suspect there are others on the two northerly arms as well. Regarding fishing, there were three small power boats and a row boat at the boat ramp when we arrived and in past visits I have observed numerous power boats. The folks we talked to had trolling gear and Vancouverisland.com lists the following resident species: Cutthroat Trout, Dolly Varden Char, Kokanee Salmon, but Amor Lake is not scheduled to be stocked by the Freshwater Fisheries Society in 2008 and does not appear to have been stocked in recent years. So I would not expect good fishing from such a heavily fished body of water that is not stocked.
Recommendations: Wind does seem to be a common complaint made by folks who have paddled the lake as part of the Sayward canoe route and I know that nearby Brewster Lake routinely produces whitecaps on summer days from noon to dusk, so if you are interested in paddling Amor consult your weather forcast and pick a calm day or alternatively plan to paddle during the morning or evening hours. Even during the mid-day bluster if you keep near the shore you will have lots of opportunities to duck behind rocks and logs, and into bays and coves for respite from the wind. None of the sites we looked at had outhouses so bring a shovel or trowel and use common sense when burying your business. The Sterling Island Rec Site has a makeshift toilet (an upturned bucket with the bottom cut out) and while this arrangement is functional, I wonder about its long term viability. If you are of the enlightened and forward thinking tribe who pack out even your pooh, well, I salute you. I don’t think the pressure is currently strong enough to warrant this level of diligence at Amor Lake, but once people find what a treasure this area is, it might need to be practiced before long by all of us. For a handy reference to this subject see: Pooping Perfectly in the Woods By Kevin Callan
For more photos (and larger versions of the ones pictured here) go to: http://rrpowell.homestead.com/files/amorlake/index.html

©Richard R. Powell