Sunday 31 July 2011

Jim Mitchell Lake

Vancouver Island Backroad Mapbook 4th Edition - Map 23 A3
Atlas of Canada Link: Jim Mitchell Lake

Degrees, Minutes, Seconds: 49° 31' 5" N 125° 36' 1" W
Decimal Degrees: 49.518° N 125.601° W UTM
Coordinates: 10U 311780 5488306
Topographic Map Sheet Number: 092F12

Trip Date: July 29, 2011

The Road up to Jim Mitchell Lake is actually pretty good -- but steep, really steep. Virtually no pot holes or washouts and several stretches of new gravel and fill. Someone is doing a good job of keeping this road in shape.

Near the top of the road, on a level spot, sits the parking lot for the steep hike in to Bedwell Lake. We pass a large silver Chrysler sitting in the parking lot and look at each other in disbelief. We turned the hubs in on the Tracker 10 minutes ago because of deep loose gravel on a steep hill.

We continue to the lake. It isn't much to look at from the put in. A smallish body of water under the shoulder of nearby Mount Myra, the summit hidden behind the nearness of the slope. There is snow within sight on some of the surrounding hilltops. A wind blows at us and a few drops of rain hit our faces. We sigh and unload the canoes in silence, having driven up that steep road when we could have had a perfectly nice paddle at the bottom of the road in Buttle Lake.

The Put-in at Jim Mitchell Lake
On the water we head across to explore a waterfall which we can see dropping through the dark forest but there appears to be no place where it enters the lake. Once we reach the other side we discovery a hidden jog in the stony shoreline which reveals the icy water bursting into the lake with some force.

We turn and head towards the western end of the lake.

Dark forest gives way to steep slopes of fractured stone.


As we near the first curve in the shoreline the colonization efforts of the flora is impressive.

 Both the forest and the water have a feeling of great depth.

We paddle around the corner to a part of the lake that is hidden from the parking lot view and discover another waterfall, and the amazing ability of trees to grow in very rocky conditions.

At the far end of the lake we find the spot where Thelwood creek flows in from Thelwood Lake.

Paul practices his eddy turns in the current.

Then we sit and listen to the whiteness of the water, the silence of the sky, and the gentle lap of waves against stone.

Back at the put-in the Tracker seems small on the exposed road down to the water's edge and the snow-chilled air reminds us of how quickly the elements can turn on you in the mountains.

James Scott Mitchell was described as a "six-foot youngster of quiet habits and a good bushman" who left the main camp of the British Columbia Topographical Survey for a camp near a lake known then as Crystal Lake. The main camp was situated where Price Creek joins Thelwood Creek, in the wide delta at the head of Buttle Lake. Mitchell made his way to "first camp," slept the night, and headed on for "second camp" in the high country beyond. He never arrived. No trail existed beyond first camp, so he was following blazes. He had packed supplies in 11 times already so knew the way well. At a place known as the "upper ford" the 17 year old Jim set down his 50 lb pack and surveyed the creek to find a way across. How he received a concussion and died, is not known, but most likely he fell on the slippery rocks. The creek washed his body downstream where it was found lodged on a sand bar.

in 1947, 10 years after the accident, Crystal Lake was re-named Jim Mitchell Lake.

Sunday 24 July 2011

Collier Dam Park -- Lower Lake

Date Visited: July 22, 2011

Collier Dam Park contains two small lakes and a stretch of second growth forest, well on it's way to maturity. The lakes are small, and mostly man-made. I walk through the park almost every day. On one walk I watched an otter dive and retrieve freshwater clams, crunching and slurping like a medieval king. A few weeks ago I watched a beaver cruising under the cedar bows that hang out over the second lake. Once I watched a merganser diving and swimming underwater, a trail of bubbles describing it's progress.

Creek in Collier Dam Park

I have watched and been chased by barred owls. This year two families at least occupy the forest around the lakes. On the trail by the parkway I startled a buff colored rabbit for several days in a row, actually for about a month. I would round the corner and it would dart into the salal. Not a big rabbit. I haven't see it for several days. The young owls are flying on their own. Two nights ago I stopped with a young couple enraptured by one of the owlets sitting on a low branch, several robins scolding from nearby trees.

First Lake

There is a family of ducks that travel between the two lakes, but I can't identify them. Yesterday when I was paddling on the first lake I saw them and put the glasses on them. A mottled body like a mallard's but with a white circle around the eye and a patch of solid grey on the back of the head. While I was looking at it, I tried to memorize the details, but already they are fading. I will look for them again tomorrow.

Put in

I have seen canoes, skiffs, and anglers in both pontoon boats and float tubes. There is almost always an angler on the shore of one lake or the other. I thought they had caught all the fish but then, the other night, out near the centre of the first lake, two rings, one after the other. At least one fish remains uncaught.

The nook where the water flows in from the second lake.

When the lakes were last stocked, a few months ago, I stood one night near dusk and watched a school of the stocked fish circle past me, rising and diving like porpoises together. I recognize the anglers now, the regulars. They don't notice me much, intent on their goal. It is a community park, well used.

 On this visit I put the canoe in at a little spot near the old stone wall where the anglers stand. I paddled up to the place the water flows in from the second lake. Paddled under the newly laid water main that now stretches across the creek. I paddled back out and around the lake. People were throwing a stick for their dog to swim for. A young man was swimming. It was peaceful and quiet. Is anyone as blessed as I am to have this lovely spot so close at hand?

Anglers Heading Home -- December

Saturday 23 July 2011

Placid Boatwork's Spitfire -- Ready for Service Again

In my last post I noted finding a crack in the gel coat of my Spitfire and so I took James up on his kind offer of his workshop to do some restoration on the little pack canoe.
The Crack
Repaired -- Yes there are carbon fibers close to the surface, but under a coat of gel.
Along with repairing the crack, I also used rubbing compound on some of the cosmetic scratches above the water line, and the entire bottom of the boat. Then I waxed the whole canoe with 3M 09009.

Then I sanded the decks and painted them, and the gunwales, with spar varnish.

First outing after her spa treatment

Look at those diamond wood decks!

Such a thing -- to paddle a work of art

It seemed to paddle faster too -- but perception is everything...

I just can't get over those beautiful diamond wood decks. ;-)

Time will tell how the varnish holds up on the gunwales, but for now they look great!

Sunday 17 July 2011

Waiting for My New Canoe

A few weeks ago I sold our old tandem canoe. It had been in the family since some time in the 70s. My brother bought it, my dad fixed it up, and I inherited it.  I paddled with my own children in it for many years.

Graham and me on Brewster Lake
It went to a family from Duncan. They moved from Northern Quebec to be closer to relatives here on the island. The fellow explained to me while strapping it to their van that he had a kayak, but wanted to teach his kids to paddle a canoe. I felt deep gratitude knowing more kids would enjoy that trusty old hull. She has always been around kids, starting off her life at a summer camp on Kootenay lake before joining our family. Who knows how many more kids will experience the joys of cruising a remote shore in the quintessential Canadian icon. Many more I hope.

So I saved money and researched a new hull to compliment my little pack canoe. On a recent paddle in the Cowichan Valley  I discovered a crack in the Spitfire's gel coat.

So I e-mailed Joe at Placid Boatworks and he gave me instructions on how to fix it. I chipped away the compromised gel, and then with Paul's supervision mixed up some new gel coat and filled it in. Lots of sanding and buffing followed and now it is repaired and ready to paddle again. While I was at it I varnished the gunwales and polished the entire hull, first with rubbing compound on the deeper scratches, then with wax. I can't believe how nicely it turned out. I'll post some photos when I get her back (I did the work in James' workshop -- Thanks James!)

A few weeks ago I ordered a new canoe after a marathon research project over the winter comparing a variety of boats and getting wonderful advice from the long suffering folks over at CCR -- see the exhaustive, and perhaps exhausting, thread on the subject here.

The canoe I ordered was a Bluewater Mist from Peter Harris at Pacifica Paddle Sports. In the end it came down to a decision between the Mist and the Clipper Packer. I had paddled the Packer with Paul in moderately windy conditions on Cameron Lake and was impressed with the performance of this understated canoe. Here is a video I took of the Packer, paddled ably by Paul:

The Packer handled the wind and waves well, and I think I would have been happy with one, but delays sorting out details with Clipper presented an opportunity to reconsider the Mist. 

It's funny how circumstances and timing effect a decision. We were driving back from Cameron Lake and Paul and I were talking about canoes, and he told me again about his favorite navel architect /philosopher, Phil Bolger,  who once alluded to the number of boats that sit unused in marinas and he said they were bought to fulfill fantasy uses. Paul finished the story by saying, "And then he added perceptively, something to the effect of, 'but fantasy is a real pleasure too'".

That quote stuck with me like a bur sticks to a dog. So much of paddling for me is participating in a way of life. A romantic ideal that sustains me and reminds me of beauty, solitude, freedom and quiet pleasure on the water. What's more, paddling is a compelling metaphor for the ideal way to navigate life's journey.

Here is an old flyer for the Sawyer Autumn Mist, which is a close sister to the Bluewater Mist:

I liked in particular this line:
"The hull is a vee/arch/vee of uncommonly refined shape, with hollow entry and exit lines for efficiency at touring speeds, a gentle transition curve from working hull to freeboard to slip waves easily, a radical step flare at the bow for dry running in waves, and a slightly rockered hull to both facilitate turning and provide a more efficient displacement line."

I decided that this beautiful and versatile hull was the best fit for both my romantic ideal and my practical need for a stable boat I can take out in wind and waves. A little longer than the Packer (10 inches) and a little wider at the gunwales (2 inches) with slightly less rocker and a higher bow. And of course that radical step flare at the bow. The main factors for me,  however, that shifted my preference from the Packer to the Mist, are a few small details of design that really please my eye: plumb stems, the classic David Yost tumblehome, a slightly more graceful shear line. Small things, but aesthetically significant ones.

I hope the Mist will live up to it's reputation. Here are a few choice quotes about the canoe from online reviews and comments:

"versatile and capable solo canoe for both open water and Class I streams."

"The Autumn Mist was my second solo boat and my favourite and most used of the various canoes I have owned."

"Tracks well, turns super, sheds waves, and has a surprisingly high load capacity for so short a boat...I take it out when it is so windy other canoeists stay ashore and it has never given me any cause for concern."

"If you've not paddled a solo in seas you won't believe the advantage you have. Have both a flat, bent and twin paddle for this boat depending on the circumstances and I have little problem keeping up on any paddle used. I've had the Autumn Mist on two BWCA trips....Of all the Sawyer canoes I think it was the best."

"Mist was an under-appreciated boat in its day. It was pretty quick, tracked and turned pretty well and hauled gobs of flesh and gear."

"Just a great all-around solo canoe if you want stability, speed and decent river capabilities..."

"I have been paddling the golden glass version of the Sawyer Autumn Mist for years. This is a very versatile and capable solo canoe for both open water and Class I streams. It paddles very easily with great glide so you can go for miles without getting tired."

Joco on CCR posted these photos:

 Ozark Paddler on the BWCA site posted these photos:

I ordered my Mist in Navy Blue, influenced by the stunning photo on the Bluewater website of the Splitrock in that colour.

Waiting is hard, but the unseasonably cool weather and rain is helping. Well, ok, not much. But soon I will be filling this blog with photos of my new Mist, and celebrating a fantasy I hope many others can enjoy too.