NOTE: I’m about a week behind in my blogging. I’ll try to catch up on several posts over the next couple of days.
It’s been a week of tragedy. The Las Vegas shooting and the disasters in Puerto Rico weighed heavily on my mind, as well as the ineptitude of the current administration’s dealings with these. Then there were the closer, more personal tragedies. Two friends lost their spouses suddenly – one younger and one older, but age has no bearing on grief. There was the passing of a Facebook acquaintance and classmate and another friend lost her close sister. I learned that a respected colleague and mentor was quite ill and had entered hospice care. To top all of that off, we were still dealing with Laura’s mom’s estate. It seemed that death was all around us. If ever I was in need of some quiet respite in a kayak, this was that time. This was one of those days where the weather was perfect, but the tides were not cooperating. I decided to head into the mountains and explore Baker Lake.
I’ve been on Baker Lake once before. In 1988 Laura’s father brought his small fishing boat up and we used it to explore the lake. That’s the only time I’d been on the water. Since then I’ve had lots of picnics along its shore, the latest being just after Mrs. Wright’s funeral back in June. At that time we already knew we would be moving out here, so I was watching for potential launch sites. Panorama Point looked to be the best, so that’s where I decided to go.
I got a later start than I had intended and I also forgot how far it is up to the lake. If you are planning to visit the lake, it’s compulsory you need some sunglasses and good SPF lotion as it can get quite sunny at times. It’s not just around the corner like Samish Bay or Larrabee, but 60 miles up the Skagit River Valley. I reached the put-in at about 11:30 and found no one else there. I had the place completely to myself.
Panorama Point is so named because there is a panoramic view of several snow-covered peaks and glaciers in the Cascades. I got underway just at noon with a wonderful view of the peaks.
Behind me Mount Baker loomed large. It would dominate my view for most of the trip.
I decided to paddle out of the Panorama Point cove and across the lake. From there I would head south, downstream toward the dam. Back in June we had explored the upper reaches of the lake from the road at this time I wanted to go in the other direction. However, it seemed that my sense of scale had gone awry. It’d thought of this as a narrow lake, but it felt like it was taking forever to get across it. The trees and rock faces were larger than I thought, so the distance was actually greater.
Finally across the lake I explored some of the coves on this side. The lake is entirely within the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, so there is no development along the banks. There are just a few campgrounds. The main road runs along the west side of the lake, so this side is quite wild. The deep green coves of glacial water reminded me a bit of Lake Jocassee.
The water was glassy and smooth, with just an occasional ripple. Paddling conditions were perfect. Duff later told me that this is rare. The Baker Valley can act like a wind tunnel with whitecaps churning up on the lake. Today, though, it was mirror-perfect. From this side of the lake I had a commanding view of Mount Baker. I had to resist the temptation to photograph it every five seconds.
Continuing south I found a couple of small tributaries, following the sound of falling water. I pulled into one small cove and had my lunch while listening to that soothing sound.
My problem is that I always want to see what’s around the next bend. However, I knew that my time was very limited. I had another Bring Your Own Guitar event this evening and I wanted to get back in time for that. I had a dilemma. Paddling conditions were perfect, and were unlikely to be so again for quite awhile. The guitar group meets every other week. I decided to head back leisurely. If I made it back in time for my guitar gig, great. If not, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. I started back across the lake, aiming toward Baker.
Paddling back north along the west bank I found the spot where Boulder Creek enters the lake. The main access road crosses the creek with spectacular views back toward Mount Baker. Laura and I have stopped there for photos many times. It was interesting to see where the creek came in.
The area near the confluence was shallow and silt was being churned up as the creek’s waters hit the lake. The result was a swirl of…yuck. It wasn’t very attractive.
I continued north back toward my cove. I reached a point where all of the peaks, including Mount Baker were visible.
So far I’d had the lake completely to myself. There were no other boats…nothing. Now a white and red Coast Guard helicopter swooped low across the lake and circled back. A military jet dipped down close to Mount Baker. Its roar gave me pause for a moment, with images of the dormant volcano coming back to life.
I made it back to the ramp and got loaded up as another couple pulled up to admire the view. I had paddled 5.14 miles, just enough for a taste of the lake. Next time I’ll have to get an earlier start and not have early evening obligations.
Here’s a time-lapse of the trip. Click on the image to view the video.
I managed to make it back to the island in time to rest, shower, get a bit of dinner, and make it to BYOG. Both the paddling during the day and the music in the evening did help deal with the sadness of the week. Good medicine.