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 Post subject: Murtle Lake Trip Writeup
PostPosted: May 21st, 2003, 10:03 pm 
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For those who haven't been following these topics, Murtle Lake in Wells Gray Park is the largest lake in North America where powered craft and commercial operations are prohibited. The north and west arms of the lake are about 20km long, and the put in is at the outside of where the arms join. The gravel road to Murtle Lake was washed out for all of 2002. We planned the trip with Soloman, as a sort of "Western Gathering". (Chris McCue's idea.)

On the Tuesday before the trip, Soloman and I agreed to call it off because the weather forecast had turned bad and it looked unlikely the road would be fixed in time. I tried to organize some other trip, but nothing panned out. So we didn't finish packing, and were still moping around Friday morning when I checked the weather for Wells Gray Park. The forecast had changed for the better, so I called Ralph at the Blue River Campground to enquire about the road. He said it had opened on Thursday.

With some urgency, I tried to contact Soloman, and found he had left a few hours earlier for Bowron Lakes. We decided to go by ourselves, and just be that much more cautious on the lake. So we threw things together and left home before noon.

High winds and snowstorms on the drive made it a white-knuckler. I never did relax about whether the canoe was going to stay on top of the truck. Just north of Clearwater there was deep slush on the road. I stopped to investigate some skid marks, and found a fellow who had destroyed his $45,000 pickup rolling down the embankment. He was basically ok, but was busy salvaging valuable things such as a $.99 bungi cord. I was amazed no one else stopped before us, since you hear stories about people going off those roads and not being found for days.

We paused to meet Ralph at the Blue River Campsite (250-673-8203). He's extremely friendly and helpful (and loud enough to scare Nova). He offered us cheap accommodation, but we pressed on. There was no registration and no fees since the new park operator hasn't organized them yet. The road from Blue River to Murtle Lake was sufficiently rough that it took us an hour and we were glad we had the Nissan Repairfinder - though 4wd wasn't needed. The 23km road took about an hour.

No one at the parking lot, which we reached at about 6:30pm. The notice board warned of trees down and snow on the portage trail, so we decided to camp there and tackle the 2.5km trail in the morning. Later, I noticed the note was from May 16 of 2002. More snowstorms, but it seemed quite pretty like the first snow of winter, since it was light, dry snow. In the morning, the canoe cart trundle took at least an hour, since I had to handle the canoe and virtually all the gear myself while my wife walked with Nova. But no problems and parts of the trail are beautiful.

We decided to go to the more popular west arm of Murtle Lake, because being alone, having some other paddlers around would be desirable. But the empty parking lot indicated we were by ourselves.

We put in at the "Fear Factor" dock, paddled through Murtle Lagoon to the lake proper, and skirted around to the west, stopping at every campsite, plus the odd peepee stop and off the lake once for about 15 minutes when the headwind turned furious. Two sets of waves coming from the west and north arms converged around Sandy Point, so the going was a bit lumpy for a while. There were snowbanks along the shore, with fresh snow on the mountains starting about 500 feet above the lake. It snowed about a quarter of the time, but it didn't quite get cold enough to require using mitts. We were choked up a bit more than usual on the paddles to try to keep our hands out of the icy water. I'd rather have the dry snow than rain, and the lack of bugs was a luxury. The sprayskirt was simply wonderful.

The lack of human footprints on the beaches made it sink in that we were totally on our own. In fact, we had never been so isolated while canoeing, or while travelling with a 3-year old. In the event of a mishap, there would be no help. We redoubled our commitment to travel safely. So we skirted around the bay west of the ranger cabin, and along the shore to Tropicana. The lake level is very low, with exposed and barely submerged rocks along there. This unfortunately forced us offshore, and required some inching alongl, trying to see the rocks through the waves. The stern got dropped (lightly) on one, reminding us of the possibilities. Much of the lake topography is a lava flow, so the submerged rocks are unpredictably located and razor sharp. The hiking book for Wells Gray Park has a very interesting chapter about the geology of the area, and how Murtle Lake probably once changed outflow rivers.

Tropicana must be one of the most beautiful campsites I've seen, with beaches facing two directions, and sun exposure all day. More snow, plus a popcorn graupel storm thrown in. I don't really know why, but we were never really cold. It certainly was nice not having bugs around.

In the morning (Sunday), we watched the loons pretending to be speedboats. They were tirelessly zooming around on the lake in some sort of a mating ritual, leaving rooster tails as they propelled themselves by beating their wings on the water. We crossed the lake to the north shore, and discovered four guys camped on Smoker Islands. They had come in after us, and had been stuck ashore for an hour the previous day. They knew they weren't alone because they'd seen our truck. But up to this point, we assumed we were utterly alone, and it was a great feeling. None of the tracks on the beaches were from people. There were no signs of bears, suggesting any bear problems at the lake are actually people problems.

One of the guys was from Clearwater and had been in last year, and told us how they'd gotten around the washouts (just past 6km marker, it was possible to squeeze around the first slide, then took fork uphill to left, which eventually came back down past the washouts).

The predicted sunny and warm weather finally arrived. We went ashore at the Henderson Lake trailhead, changed to hiking mode, and walked in past the collapsing trapper cabin. Nova exclaimed: "a chicken" at a black Spruce grouse on the trail. Ran into snow, which eventually became almost continuous. Fortunately a grizzly had broken trail, but unfortunately it was a badly pidgeon-toed grizzly. Henderson Lake was half frozen, the views weren't that great, and there was no place to sit out of the snow and soaking wet ground, so we turned around and returned to Murtle Lake. A relative waste of three hours. But a good place to pick up wood for balast and the evening's fire.

Back on the lake, a Grumman Goose buzzed us a few times, then landed on the lake. It disgorged an inflatable motorboat, which the plane's occupants used for fishing the rest of the day. I took a picture of C-GYVG and will be contacting the authorities. We also considered the irony of the private wealth represented by the airborne fishpersons, compared to the public purse being unable to afford to fix the road last year.

We continued counter-clockwise around the west end of the lake, despite the wind which continued changing direction to oppose us. We poked into Diamond Lagoon, but it struck us as being dangerous and we nervously got back out. I suspect a capsize could easily result in going over the falls or rapids below the lagoon.

And so along the shore, in to see another wrecked cabin, back to Tropicana where we spend the warm evening lounging around in the sun on the beach, and playing games with Nova.

A somewhat colder night resulted in frost inside the tent. For those not in the habit of kicking their covers off all night, our bags were more than adequate. On the last morning, the idea was to cover the distance to where we could easily finish the trip, before any strong winds had a chance to trap us. We had a bite to eat, packed and paddled into a light breeze back to Sandy Point. Partly sunny, partly cloudy, and the occasional little downburst snowstorm. At Sandy Point we stopped to have a delicious pancake brunch in the sun, then proceeded to Murtle Lagoon. There we ran into an almost violent headwind, so it was a fight to the finish. The portage trundle back was generously sprinkled with more graupel, just in case we got overheated pushing the canoe up those hills.

At the parking lot were a couple of nervous young Australians, who had driven a small rented, front wheel drive car there, with a canoe from Ralph. They were concerned there was no one else around (the four others were also leaving that day), but I didn't ask how much experience they had - just suggested they proceed with caution, stay close to shore and get off the lake if it turned bad.

On the road back to Blue River, and to Nova's delight, we encountered three moose.

Overall, we were very impressed by the trip and the lake. Like a good mountaineering trip, there was lots of uncertainty, circumstances requiring judgement and some skill, snow, and a goal achieved. We revelled in being somewhere new, and in the solitude, knowing we'll never experience that place like that again. I've never seen anywhere in Canada with such a density of campsites with sand beaches. Except for not liking the cold air at night, Nova had a great time. We can't wait to go back and visit the north arm of the lake, and even in the west arm there's still lots we didn't do.

We are presently feeling out the possibility of organizing a 4 or 5 day trip at the end of June.


Last edited by SGrant on June 11th, 2003, 12:26 am, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: May 25th, 2003, 9:54 am 
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Joined: July 2nd, 2002, 7:00 pm
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Location: Vancouver
Thanks for the update SG, I'm glad to hear that you had such a great time and that the lake is open.


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PostPosted: June 10th, 2003, 11:34 am 
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Location: Sechelt, BC
Great write up. I had the opportunity to canoe in there many years ago when we lived in Kamloops but for what ever reason it didn't materialize. :cry:
Sounds great. Whats interesting is the name of the island the others were camped on....Soper Island. Thats my last name.
Hmmm...maybe I was there in spirit?
Dan


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PostPosted: June 10th, 2003, 10:44 pm 
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Right on! We are coming through Kamloops, Vancouver on our way to Sooke on the Island to do some sea kayaking. Let me know if a Gathering gets organized. Maybe I will haul the canoe when we come.


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PostPosted: June 11th, 2003, 12:25 am 
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Merlin wrote:
Great write up. I had the opportunity to canoe in there many years ago when we lived in Kamloops but for what ever reason it didn't materialize. :cry:
Sounds great. Whats interesting is the name of the island the others were camped on....Soper Island. Thats my last name.
Hmmm...maybe I was there in spirit?
Dan


Dan,

I mistakenly called the Smoker Islands, Soper Island, and hadn't gotten around to fixing the article. Maybe you were there in spirit and this is all your fault. :D


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PostPosted: June 11th, 2003, 12:30 am 
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drzandee wrote:
Right on! We are coming through Kamloops, Vancouver on our way to Sooke on the Island to do some sea kayaking. Let me know if a Gathering gets organized. Maybe I will haul the canoe when we come.


We haven't had much luck yet finding another party or parties to go to Murtle Lake on June 28-July 1. So maybe we'll default to Sechelt Inlet. A safe number of boats would bring Desolation Sound, Broken Group Islands, or the Tofino area into the picture.


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PostPosted: June 11th, 2003, 1:10 am 
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I can't commit to anything right now as I am going through a lay-off and a possible move. So things are up in the air.
Is this a spot for canoes or sea kayaks. I'm kinda out of my element in the ocean. What about the North Thompson River?
Anyway, keep me up to date on the plans.


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PostPosted: July 2nd, 2003, 2:26 pm 
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SGrant wrote:
Back on the lake, a Grumman Goose buzzed us a few times, then landed on the lake. It disgorged an inflatable motorboat, which the plane's occupants used for fishing the rest of the day. I took a picture of C-GYVG and will be contacting the authorities.


Did you ever hear back from the authorities in regard to this?


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PostPosted: July 2nd, 2003, 10:41 pm 
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I informed Transport Canada. They soon responded that they contacted the plane's operator and pointed out the regulations regarding Murtle Lake. Transport Canada also informed the BC Parks Branch of this incident, but I heard nothing from that. I sent a request to the aforesaid BC Pranks Branch to determine what they had done, but as is normal for this government, they did not answer my email. I've been procrastinating about sending them a real letter.


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PostPosted: July 3rd, 2003, 1:02 am 
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I'm glad you reported him. There's a thousand other lakes he can fly too, he can certainly leave Murtle for the canoes.


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 Post subject: Road Information??
PostPosted: July 9th, 2003, 11:44 pm 
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I am planing a trip to Murtle Lake in Mid August but have heard conflicting stories about the access road from Blue River. Some info I have is that it is only accesible with a 4x4 others say they have used a car in the past. I have a front wheel drive mini van. Has anyone been to Murtle this year and know what the access road is like?
Would appreciatte a response and any other information you may have that may prepare us for our trip. Thanks.


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PostPosted: July 10th, 2003, 12:10 am 
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As I wrote earlier, we were there in the spring. At that time, the road had just been opened. We used an SUV because we'd heard the same thing. We did not come close to putting it into 4wd, but the clearance was handy. I wondered what to say about the road during the trip, and decided I'd recommend it only for vehicles with decent clearance. But then, when we returned to the parking lot, there was a rented Cavalier, or something like that.

So unless the road has been upgraded or degraded in the meantime, I'd say a minivan could make it ok. Just take your time and expect the 23 km to take as much as 1.5hr. You may have to get out to move some rocks out of the way. Maybe take a little trenching shovel in case there are some deep ruts.

I still would not take our fwd car since there's too much risk of arriving to find the road in worse shape, and I prefer not to pound the car that much.

I see the Parks website says the road is open for 4wd only. From what I saw, they're just being conservative. To verify the latest road condition, you could phone Ralph (his number is in my writeup). Hope you have an excellent trip, and tell us about it.


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PostPosted: July 14th, 2003, 11:08 pm 
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Location: Pickering, Ontario Canada
We literally just got back from Murtle Lake. The road in was really rough and some cars, as well as a load of mini vans made it in. We came in and the road was not that bad (we were in a Jeep) but on the way out, there had been a whole whack of storms and some parts of the road had washed out again, plus there were numerous rock slides where big boulders came down and blocked the road. We got out pushed them off to the side.
The drive in, though, is well worth it, the sites are some of the best I have seen anywhere, the fishing is fantastic (I caught an 8 pound rainbow!) and the scenery is great. Just watch out for the sites near Diamond Lagoon, they were really buggy, so bad, that at night you could hear them hum, louder than MacDougall Falls! Be prepared. Even with the bugs, well worth it. We Cannot wait to get back. Thanks again Soloman!!!


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PostPosted: July 20th, 2003, 1:33 pm 
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Andy,
Do you mind sharing what kind of lures you used to catch the fish?
Did you go up the North arm and how far.....see any bears or moose?
Terry


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PostPosted: July 21st, 2003, 5:38 pm 
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Location: Pickering, Ontario Canada
Not at all, when trolling we caught the biggest fish. We tried every lure and combination we had but the most successful was a 5 1/2 Crocodile Spoon, silver plated. They would not stop hitting it, and that was what I caught the biggest rainbow on. In Diamond Lagoon, small to mid-size red devils are killer, we nailed so many 3-5 pound rainbows on them. It made myself and my friend believers of the spoon. The best place in the North Arm is a drop off near the North end. It is kind of hard to find, but once you do, the action is great.


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