Below are two recounts of a canoe camping trip at Waldo Lake at the end of June. Chris and Kristin (below) are friends of employees Andrew and Steve, and this was a personal trip, not a commercially guided one. Boats and gear were rented from Alder Creek.
Waldo Lake, looking to the north.
Attention adventurous but low-level-outdoorsy-experienced humans: canoe camping is a must!
Recently, the fiance Chris and I decided to put our lives in the hands of what we must assume are two of Alder Creek’s finest guides and had a freaking blast. There were definitely challenges, but the gentle learning curve (and the knowledge that we came away with at least some canoeing foundations), the awesome other humans and totally gorgeous scenery lead to one seriously remarkable outdoor excursion.
Honesty time: learning the beginning steps of proper canoeing technique (that is to say, the knowledge required to prevent you from just going in circles) took some grunt work. Over an image of a nearly pristine lake surrounded by trees and not-surrounded by humans, please add rain, wind, kinda creepy fog, a record low personal cold intolerance and no sense of where you are headed. Guess what though guys: as the old trope goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you.. feel a little bit like a badass.
After loading us up with some Personal Flotation Devices (pronounced pffffffd) and helping us lower all of our fave camping gear into the center of a rather swanky looking agua-vehicle (a Wenonah Itasca), guru Andrew gave me a few tips about being the “rudder” of our boat. The person in the back, it turns out, has the most control over the steering (person in the front impacts direction but seems to mostly function as a momentum-generator). Our two-person canoe was stuffed because canoes are patient, gentle creatures that will schlep about as many things as you can fit into your four-door without all of the grumbly loud gas-guzzling nonsense. With ourselves and three other boats, we left our car and the launching dock behind.
The majority of the learning curve is difficult to put into words (particularly when you lack any technique-related vocabulary). There were about 15 minutes of what-the-crap-is-happening when I seemed to be working really hard to turn left but we did nothing but make a lot of progress in a quirky zig-zag pattern. Fortunately, trial and error, friendly pointers shouted over the water by guru Andrew, and the insulated, waterproof gloves guru Steve leant me meant we totally survived the first hour and half long trip across Waldo Lake.
It’s a little unclear if the guides were humoring us, but Andrew and Steve seemed to think our first ride over in the windy rain was a tad difficult. Luckily by the time we made it to the campsite that evening the rain had all but stopped and we set up our tent. With tired hands, arms, and upper body muscles I hadn’t even known about, we basically flopped onto our sleeping pads.
The next morning Chris and I quietly mumbled to ourselves that after the difficult experience the night before, we would probably just explore the forest and rocky edges of land on foot all day. (Truthfully I said something to the effect of “Do not make me get into that boat please”). Fortunately for my naive self, a few hours later that Saturday afternoon I ate my words: when faced with spectacular water and sunshine, despite our sore bodies we could not resist the temptation to play.
Back in the boat for round two, we learned a few things:
1) The second time you get into a canoe, paddling motions make way more sense and even start to feel a bit intuitive.
2) If you are working really hard in a canoe while the water is calm, you’re definitely doing it wrong so ask for help.
3) It may be chilly on the water but for the love of what is holy, do not forget to put sunscreen on your face.
4) Staying closer by the shore gives you a much greater appreciation for how much ground you’re covering/how fast you’re traveling. This is a great idea if your patience for arriving somewhere starts to dwindle.
In fact, you will recognize the basics of canoeing proficiency when you travel where you intend to travel while feeling totally relaxed! The arms have to continue paddling, but there was so much coasting (probably in part due to our lovely boat) and so little involuntary water contact that we could have gone out comfortably in our pajamas.
What we thought would be a short water outing that day turned into several beautiful hours hanging out with mother nature. Dudes: lovely things happen when you leave your cellphone an hour and a half paddle away from your sleeping bag.
The next morning we enjoyed wizardry at breakfast (blueberry muffins made over a campfire!) and more solid canoeing tips from our guides as we packed up our stuff-and-things. Our final canoe expedition was leisurely and punctuated by a greater appreciation for how the wind affects your flight path (guru Andrew directed us straight at a distant mountain, which eventually cleverly angled us far to the left of the mountain towards the dock).
Between our Alder Creek guides, the stylish canoes, and gorgeous and instructive mother nature, we had an ideal trip. Next time (there will definitely be a next time!) I am determined to learn what the heck a “J-stroke” is and how we can use it to be even more efficient with the paddles.
Waldo Lake trip group photo.
Gigantic digital bear-hugs of gratitude to the crew that made this possible! Thank you thank you thank you!!
I’m a complete novice at boats: this was my second time in a human powered boat of any kind and my very first time in a canoe. My first surprise: the canoe is a very forgiving craft – it resisted all my efforts to tip it over as we loaded up our camping gear and I hopped in. Good start. My second surprise: the canoe held a TON of gear – our guides Andrew and Steve brought some sweet amenities that would’ve been burdensome for even car camping with a routine 50 yard walk to the campsite (battery powered turntable? Yes please!). Our group of eight got launched pretty quickly and proceeded to learn the basics of paddling, turning, steering, and our personal floatation devices (which thankfully were not called upon to do any saving during our adventure).
My fiance Kristin and I were placed in a boat together, just the two of us…team-building time! As we set out after our safety lesson, the wind picked up and the water got choppy. Even the biggest waves didn’t make us feel unstable, but a trickle of adrenaline got us moving quicker and more deliberately.
Once we had the rhythm of paddling and steering, there was time to look around and really appreciate where we were. Waldo lake is majestic even on a slightly stormy, overcast day; fog clung to the trees along the shore and gave a sense of mystery to the unfolding scenery as we made our way towards the campsite. A light rain combined with the wind made us glad we layered up and had waterproof jackets and gloves – especially the gloves! I am a man’s man but I also have the hands of a princess and even those with tougher mitts will want some insulating protection in the wet. By the halfway point my better half had a pretty strong grasp of the rudder and our efforts were noticeably more effective at moving us in a straight line. A simple thing, but it gave us pride.
Waldo Lake, Chris and Kristin exploring the area.
We kept at it and ended up working ourselves pretty hard to keep up with the group, but our guides stayed in sight the whole time and called out their encouragement as we pulled ahead for the home stretch into the campsite. Getting ashore was a team effort and we were glad to only have to haul our gear a very short way to our tent spot. Our dry bags were doing their job quite well and despite the rain all of our things stayed dry – comfort bonus! We packed a full size, crazy-heavy and luxurious 4-man tent for the two of us and after our exertions we slept like we’d earned it.
The next morning gave us a truly gorgeous view of all that had been half-shrouded by fog the evening before – mountains in the distance, lush forest all along the shore, and the clearest sapphire blue water that I would not have believed to exist in North America. After a good stretch and some breakfast, we were happy to be in decent condition and ready to get out and explore the woods. We came back to camp for lunch and all hung around relaxing and taking in the big views in every direction.
Kristin and I were glad to find our arms and backs feeling up to some more paddling that afternoon so we took a canoe out by ourselves to do some exploring, soon to be followed by another couple in our group. I got to be in the rear seat this time so it was time to learn how to be an effective rudder – easier said than done but thankfully Kristin has developed a superhuman level of patience as a result of our relationship so the process was overall pretty playful.
Our first inclination was to take it slow and look all around us, including straight down to the bottom of the lake since the water was so clear. After a bit of that we felt adventurous and took our friends up on the suggestion to check out a cove further down the shoreline. We were shocked to find vivid red pebbles ground almost as fine as sand all along the cove, such a contrast with the deep blue water around it. We landed our boat and tied it off to take a brief walk around before the desire to be on the water overtook us again and we set off.
By the time we arrived back at camp it was almost evening – few experiences in my life have gone by so quickly. We had an amazing chili stew for dinner as a couple of us contributed some music and we talked over what we had seen that day. Andrew and Steve gave some intermediate level pointers for us to try out the next day on the paddle back to the dock – we all felt like we’d made some progress and could try a few fancy moves on our way back. It’s a good feeling when you try something a bit out of your skill-set and actually pull it off so I was looking forward to a little more learning to round out our adventure.
The next morning we reluctantly packed up our gear and loaded up the boats. The bittersweet feeling of leaving a beautiful campsite was softened by getting to do another medium-big paddle on another day of fine weather. I was feeling really into the rhythm of it and Kristin was getting more efficient too. We were starting to see where some of the real skill had room to develop which felt like yet another reason to get back at it and spend some more time on the water. We took our time getting back and went a different route to get a look at the opposite shore before we made it to the dock and unloaded. Talking about it on the drive home, she and I agreed that our Alder Creek guides took great care of us the whole way through and gave us the right mix of challenge and achievement. This was definitely a thing to be repeated and shared – I think we’ll try it as a ruggedly romantic vacation after a little more guided practice.
Waldo Lake, Chris and Kristin gaze south while their moment is unknowingly captured on camera.