Thursday 2 July 2009

Anutz Lake

Vancouver Island Backroad Mapbook - Map 36 D1
Atlas of Canada Link: Anutz Lake
Latitude and Longitude: 50o 17' 59" N - 126o 55' 0" W

Trip Date: June 21st, 2009

I arrive late Sunday afternoon, wind blowing straight at the beach, sun bleaching the view. An assortment of robins work the Thimble Berry and Pacific Ninebark bushes. No one is at the site but there are deep ATV ruts along the beach and in the middle of the field, a circle where an ATV went around and around. It feels a bit like a ghost town.

I decide to camp close behind the row of bushes that separate the beach from the campsites.
I cook dinner, read for awhile, then explore the beach to the west and discover a place where water has created a flow of limestone out from a small opening in the rock — a white tongue of stone. I climb up onto a 14 foot high rock outcropping and watch the waves, listen to the wind in the forest.
Red Paintbrush shocks from side to side in the wind. I scramble down onto some lower rocks worn by water, the waves making hollow gurgling sounds below my feet somewhere under the rock.
Then around the corner I find a sculpted stone with a hole right through the middle.
I explore the forest; find a trail that leads back to the campsites through a nice mature second growth woodland, stopping briefly to admire a patch of Pacific Lilly of the Valley.
Still no-one at the campsite when I break out of the forest into the open field. The 10,000 clusters of Pacific Ninebark blossoms bob at the margin of the meadow, Yellow Salmon Berriers, gone pink where eaten by some animal shine in the growing dark.
I photograph a Nootka Rose and examine the berries forming on a twinberry bush, the woundlike bracts somehow disquieting my mind when I look at them up close. I crane my neck to look at mares tails in the sky, listen to a bird call I don’t recognize, the sound like a child’s toy whistle, a single rising note, as if questioning, tentatively, the coming night.
I accept that the wind is not letting up tonight, return to my camp, try to read but the noseeums find me. I put on bug spray. A male grouse thumps his call, almost too low to hear, while the robins give up their evening melodies to a scattered ramble of chirps. Sky goes pink, then a few puffy clouds are left, orange around the edges.
Then the silence after climbing into my sleeping bag inside my tent. I fall asleep sometime after 10:30, wake after midnight chilled and pull on my sweater, the tips of the trees out the tent window are still against the dark grey sky. The night never gets completely dark in June. At 3:00 I wake and listen to the grouse call, It is the only sound in the darkness. At 6:00 I scramble out of the tent and walk to the beach. The sun is just lighting up the peaks of the Karmutzen Range (Nimpkish Lake was named Karutzen lake for awhile) and a mist is rising from the lake.
I hurry back, put my down vest over my wool sweater, then the PFD, pulling on my paddling boots and gortex pants. I take down my canoe, load up some food and other supplies and am on the water in a few minutes, paddling towards the western area where two creeks empty into a marshy estuary.
Fish that have been lolling at the surface break away from me in the early light and disappear amid the Lilly pads.
The current moves in swirls between the floating pads and I can see that a beaver has been at work attempting to bridge the entire estuary with a low dam. I find an opening and push through.
There turn out to be three inflows; all but one shrouded with sedges and rushes and the middle one has a curious feature. A log is wedged between the banks, forming a natural dam so that the water on the other side of the log is several feet higher than where I float in my canoe. There is a deep hollow sound of water like the sound of a bathtub filling as the water flows from beneath the log into a collection of smaller debri and I wonder how long this tiny cascade will exist. I listen to it for awhile before exploring some of the floating gardens growing on the ends of a half submerged logs. Yellow Monkey Flowers bob over the water along side Fire weed and gracefully curving sedges, each blade pointed with a shinning drop of dew.
I turn and paddle down the western shore towards the river that connects Anutz and Nimpkish Lake. Stickleback cruse in the shallow water along the river banks, a king fisher skims the surface going past fast, his flight arch taking him sharply up to light on a tree branch, scold me, then head off down river. The current picks up over the shallow bars of gravel, then deep clear pools green towards the stony bottom. Widgeon grass sways like the skirts of a Hawaiian dancer as I go around a corner and under an overhanging tree.
I pass two side channels which I know are oxbows from examining the area on Google Earth. Then the final long stretch and the narrowing just before Nimpkish Lake, where the old pilings are. I drift out into the lake on the current, paddle to shore and stroll the beach, eating a granola bar and drinking some water.

The sun crests over the mountain but only flashes briefly before disappearing behind clouds; there is a tiny riffle far out on Nimpkish Lake. I take off my down vest and drink some more water.
The paddle back upriver is slower, working only slightly harder against the current. Robins, always lots of robins, call in the salal and I turn in at the first oxbow to listen to them. There is a family of mergansers, the young fledglings lanky and shy, and as I drift towards them the hen takes flight, the ducklings disappear under the brown surface like skin divers. I turn around and head back, but some of the ducklings have surfaced behind me, lurking under the edges of Lilly Pads, and I startle them back underwater. Out on the river again I turn upstream and the hen angles in behind me to find her offspring.
I notice a beaver lodge I hadn’t seen on the way downstream. New branches are piled on one side, leaves wilting, the bone-white cuts concave and drying in the still air. As I turn the corner and make my way up the straight run to Anutz Lake a bald eagle circles above the tall pine trees that grow along the eastern shore. I suspect these trees are old; beyond the reach of loggers in the marshlands. As I stop to look at them the waves from my boat reach the shore and rebound back, so that I am rocked gently in their soundless echo.
Half way across Anutz the sun breaks out, I take a picture of the vista, with sunlight on different altitudes of land. In the middle of the lake I can not hear anything.
The green of the new sedges along the shore glows in the sun, a warmth that goes deep into the brain, gentle x-rays etching solitude in memory.

For More photos of this trip, see the gallery here:


  1. Great pictures ! Will take delivery of SpitFire mid July.Looking forward to exploring some of our Washington lakes......Jerry

  2. Thanks Jerry,

    Is your Spitfire coming via Steve (KAS)or a regular shipper? I have a friend who has ordered a Rapidfire and expecting it also mid July through Steve. I was happy with Steve's service.

    Any idea which lake you will christen your new boat in?

  3. jkcdowd@comcast.net8 July 2009 at 11:50

    Yes , Steve will be in the Seattle area July 16-17th.We have 140 lakes in King County alone ,one of them will work for the christening, probably Lake Alice Nice little lake.Never paddled with a double bladed paddle. Will be interesting. Looking forward to using the Spitfire.

  4. Sounds good,I had a quick look on Google maps, is it the Alice Lake near Snoqualmie Ridge Golf Course, just north or Our Lake? Looks like it has some nice wetlands on the western shore.

    You will get on to the double paddle quickly. My advice is get a good one that is light. I purchased the Grey Owl Zephyr, a wood blade, graphite shafted wonder that is a pleasure to use.

    Look forward to hearing how you like your new Spitfire!

  5. Richard, your photographs and prose that reads like poetry is inspiring. How much more enchanting than the life of a tick!

  6. Oh, Richard, what stunning pics!!! How did you take the ones of yourself? I'm guessing you mounted your camera on a tripod and used the timer feature.

    Am sitting in an internet cafe at the airport in Johannesburg, waiting for a flight to Switzerland. My computer time is running out, and in any case I'll have to make my way to the departure gate soon. Don't have time to comment at greater length now, but just wanted you to know I was super impressed.

    All the best to both you and Marilyn.

  7. Great pictures! There are large karst formations in the area. I camped there two years ago on a solo north island dual sport motorcycle exploration and will be back next weekend with my truck and fishing kayak. Tell me about your canoe. What make?
    Mike, Victoria

  8. Hi Mike,

    The canoe I paddle on Anutz Lake is my Placid Boatwork Spirtfire. This is a 12 foot 23 pound composite pack canoe with an elliptical hull. You paddle it like a kayak, but it has an open top, so gear is accessible, and, of course lighter than a kayak of similar dimensions.

    The Spitfire does actually paddle nicely with a single stick, like the one I had Larry Bowers make for me. I paddle it Indian style. Generally people, including the builders of this boat, designate this hull as a double blade boat.

    I have paddled the Spitfire in some big waves, but I was not comfortable. It has fairly good secondary stability, meaning that once you sit down in it there is a good feeling of stability, but it is a twitchy boat even then. No sudden movements!

    The wind on the water the day I visited Anutz was a steady strong blow, probably about 15 km per hour, and in such winds, the Spitfure is hard to paddle because the wind catches the back end. I generally watch the Weather Network and paddle in areas where the wind is predicted to be below 10 km/hr.

    I also have a Wenonah Solo Plus. This is very stable compared to the Spitfire and tracks well. It is a low canoe as canoes go, but presents more sail than the Spitfire. I paddle the Solo Plus on longer trips, on bigger lakes and the ocean, and when I want good tracking and stability. Because it has very little rocker, and is 16 ft long, the Solo Plus is much harder to turn than the Spitfire. I prefer the Spitfire for small lakes with intricate shorelines. It is responsive and easy to turn and maneuver.

    Let me know if you have any other questions, I love to talk about my boats!

  9. I love your story. I was a young logger here 35 years ago and experienced this wilderness through much different eyes. Peace..

  10. Hi Richard
    Beautiful pics of a place I haven't been to for a long time. I spent 7 years living in Camp 'A', (short for Anutz) from age 3 to 10, when I was a child. My Dad worked in the logging camp as a mechanic for Canadian Forest Products (CFP). The camp was situated on the gradual slope right above the lake where we could see Anutz Lake from our kitchen window, with the glacier on Pinder Peak glowing in the far distance on a sunny day.
    Where the park now sits was a large open area where we had Easter egg hunts, played baseball, had Mayday celebrations and many other events over the years. I have old film footage my Dad took of the tough men in camp, all loggers, dressed in women's dresses and wearing high heels playing a rowdy game of baseball in the open field. Lots of fun. You have to remember there was no TV nor even roads into Camp in those days, so the people who lived there made their own version of homemade, good clean fun.
    When I was 10, the camp was torn down. All the residents moved to one of the other logging camps, or moved to town. The houses that could be moved were towed up to one or another of the CFP logging camps. The ones that couldn't be moved were burned down. Years later, I heard a campsite had been built where Camp A had been but I've not been back since we moved out.
    So thankyou for the beautiful pics...they were great to see. of my favorite memories from childhood was listening in the early morning hours to the robins who woke me with their sweet songs...I am so happy to know they're descendants are still singing:)
    Thanks for the memories...Bonnie Helsdon

  11. Bonnie,

    What a wonderful vignette of your time at Camp 'A'. I have decided that it is my favorite place on the island -- that I have explored so far. I wish they would extend the Nimpkish park over the hip of the mountain and down to include Anutz. If only some of those houses were still standing maybe we could call it a heritage site!

    I wasn't exactly clear from your description where the "townsite" you lived in was, but I have a general idea. I'll have to see if I can find my way around that side of the lake on the logging roads -- that view you describe sounds fabulous! Many spots in the area seem magnified by the noble presence of Pinder Peak.

    I collected oddly colored stones in a creek near Wolfe lake which I imagine were spewed from the volcano that was looming close over my head.

    Thank you for taking the time to share your memories. It really enhances my appreciate of the spot.

    Hope you are able to return and enjoy the Robin song again sometime.