Friday, 23 August 2013

Sayward Forest Canoe Route- 2013 Fast & Light

Mohun Lake-early morning. A perfect beginning to my day.

I set out from the boat launch on Mohun Lake at exactly 7:00 a.m. on August 20th. The challenge of trying to do the Sayward Canoe route on my stand-up board in a single day had been on my mind since I had first done the route in 2012. I had used the same Surf-Tec board then but had carried gear and food enough to stay out for two nights as I really didn't know what to expect or how long different sections would take or what problems I might run into along the way.This time I knew the route,could pack much lighter and do each portage just once.


The 48km Sayward Forest Canoe Circuit
The light that morning was just exquisite, that kind of  clear golden light that saturates and enhances all the colours. The water was a vivid deep blue and the sunlit trees such a luminescent green, they seemed lit from within. There was still a faint white mist slowly rising off the surface of the lake - what a place to be paddling on such a morning.

 It took me about 50 minutes to cover the 4.74 km to the start of the first 1.6k portage. I had made an over the shoulder sling with 2 loops in the end to help carry my board- as it is way too tiring on the fingers to carry the full weight of it that kind of distance. I also had a medium sized dry bag with backpack straps on it that my daughter had bought me for Father's day to carry my food and bivi gear. It took about 20 minutes to hike the portage and I was soon back on the water again. Due to the very dry July we'd had, the water level was a little lower than last year so I had to move up closer to the front of my board more often to lift the fin up enough to get through some of the weedy, shallow sections.

The channel leading from the end of the first portage- leads into Twin Lakes

  There was a young couple with a canoe tenting at Twin Lakes and they were just starting to wake up with the warming sun when I landed on the beach. I made short work of the .8 km portage and launched my board into Amor Lake just before 9:00 a.m.
After about a kilometer, I began to hear the sound of loons coming from somewhere up ahead. That classic, iconic call that is so unmistakable, so inseparable from our ideas, our memories of wilderness places. And Amor Lake has that feeling of being a place of wilderness. It's the only major lake on the circuit that does not have any easy road access, so there were no power boats, jet-skis or clusters of campers and RV's along the shoreline like there is near the end of Brewster Lake and along part of the shorelines of Fry and Campbell Lakes.

Amor Lake still has the feel and look of an untouched and unspoiled  place. The water was still calm and the sun was beginning to warm me up. There was no one else in sight and no other sounds other than those made by my paddle moving through the water and the calling of the loons not far ahead.

And there wasn't just one or two, there were over a dozen of them all in some kind of mysterious loon gathering which I'd never seen or heard before. And they were all calling out at once. Both together and with as many different calls as there were birds in this amazing and highly complex acapella collage of wild sound. I needed to stop and hear this. I felt the urging, the pushing of my agenda for the day. But as I began really take in the sounds of this amazing chorus of loons, my paddle hesitated and then stopped and came to rest. I knew I was witnessing something quite remarkable.

For the next few minutes, I just stood still on my board and simply listened. Drifting at rest after the physical efforting to get to that place, I felt very present, very absorbent. I closed my eyes and just surrendered to this exquisite experience. The sound of the loons seemed like it was being somehow woven into the very fabric of this special place. Into the silence, the stillness. Into the waters, into the surrounding evergreen forest. 
Perhaps when I return to that place again, I will still be able to hear the songs of those loons- whether they are actually there or not. 'I will remember this place.'

Turning the corner and reluctantly leaving the loons behind, I began paddling south down the last 2 km of Amor Lake. I was now exposed to the NW wind which had just begun to build. Luckily, it was going with me and I made really good time down to the end of the lake and then again on Surprise, Brewster and Gray Lakes with my body acting as a kind of sail. 

Only needing to do the 2.2 km portage between Surprise and Brewster lakes once was really nice. And this time I carefully avoided the really deep quicksand like mudtrap at the end of Brewster Lake where in 2012 I'd had what I referred to in my post as, "The great mud Battle." I had stepped off my board a little further out than canoeists would- due to the fin on the back of my board, and promptly plunged in up to my waist in deep mud. It had not been easy getting out. If I hadn't grabbed onto my board so quickly, I would have been up to my neck in it. So beware! Land a little to the right of the obvious canoe stop and test the ground before putting your weight on it.
At the end of the 2.2km portage; start of the channel leading to Brewster Lake. Note the carrying sling for my board.

After about 6 1/2 hours of steady going with the only stops being for the loons and later a Snickers bar, I paddled out of the creek leading from Whymper Lake to Fry lake. And there was my good friend Terry Browne in his small inflatable boat with a cold beer in one hand and fishing rod in the other.

Time for a break. Terry had offered to meet me there in case I decided to bail due to strong winds or some other reason- but all was looking good so far. I very regretfully declined the offer of a cold beer knowing that my motivation and momentum would likely fizzle to a halt. I still had a long way to go. Instead I chugged down the Bolthouse chocolate protein drink he'd brought for me. I now believed I was going to make it all the way around before nightfall, so I gave Terry most of my bivi gear but kept my headlamp and extra food just in case. I still had plenty of daylight and energy left and I was past the halfway mark.

Unfortunately, the NW wind which had been such a help up to that point now started blowing directly against me from just past C3 on the Guide Map for the remaining ~4.5 kms to Gosling Bay on Campbell Lake. I took another break there and went for a quick cooling off swim as Terry packed his boat up.

 Lucky for me it wasn't blowing anything like the forecast 20 knots there, but it still made for much harder paddling for most of the remaining trip. Especially on Gosling Lake and most of all, for the final 5km of Mohun Lake back to my starting point.

There was just nothing for it but dig deep and paddle hard at a steady pace. Other than in the stronger gusts, I kept making slow but steady progress and I used every headland and every shoreline indentation I could find to reduce my exposure to the full brunt of the wind. It was hard work but manageable.

The steeper hill portage from Gosling Bay up to Gosling Lake was the last of the longer carries as there was only a few hundred meters each separating each of the the four remaining lakes; Gosling, Higgins, Lawrier and Mohun.

Lawier Lake; last one before the short portage to Mohun

The wind was the strongest on Mohun as it had a good long fetch to build before it reached the south end where I put in for the last stretch. But it was only 5km more to go at that point and I still felt really strong so I just started paddling and except for one quick stretch break on a lovely little whitesand beach about 3/4 of the way, I didn't stop until my board nosed into the same beach I had left from that same morning- and what a great feeling that was!

It had taken me 11 hours and 16 minutes, so faster than the 12-14 hours I had been prepared for.

Finished- and still sunny outside. Pointing to my start and finish point on the map at the boat launch on Mohun Lake.

Whether doing the the whole route or just a shorter section, there are lots of different options with all the logging road access points to most of the lakes. The lightness of the board makes it a lot easier for one person to carry over the portages than a canoe or a kayak- but you do need some kind of sling to go over your shoulder. 

 As far as I know, I'm still the only person to have done the whole route on a SUP board- and this is a surprise to me as it's such a great way to explore this very special area of Vancouver Island.
 So I hope this blog posting will get out there and inspire someone else to pick up their board and paddle this very accessible circuit of lakes. Whether taking a day or a week, it is great paddling country to be out in.

Cheers, Paul Kendrick        

1 comment:

  1. Great writing and adventures Paul.
    It feels like we are there with you.