Kinbasket Lake

June 28/13 to July 3/13Invermere to Kinbasket Lake
July 3/13 to July 12/13Kinbasket Lake
July 12/13 to July 28/1 Valemount to 108 Mile Ranch


Kinbasket Lake should be called Kinbasket Reservoir as it’s the reservoir behind Mica Dam and it never was a natural lake.  Before being dammed in the 70s it was the Columbia and Canoe Rivers.   Recalling what I read when researching Kinbasket, it’s about 200 kilometres in length with a shoreline of more than 700 kilometres.   The reservoir level can vary 150 feet annually.  Like the Arrow Lakes the shoreline, in many places, is either rock wall, or too steep to get a canoe out of, and presents a danger should sudden winds make this necessary.  I’d say though that overall Kinbasket is safer in that regard than the Arrow Lakes – although a change in the water level of either lake would likely present an entirely different shoreline.   During my time on Kinbasket, it was rising a foot a day which was hard to believe considering its size.
Only the shoreline was logged prior to its flooding.  What I’d read made mention of the amount of debris on the lake as a result of flooding the forested valley bottom.  I didn’t find this to be true and assume this is due to salvage operations over the years.   But there is a lot of debris ashore at the highest water level too.   There are many stumps along the exposed reservoir rim though and these make for a very unaesthetic shoreline.  Dangerous to boaters as well as they vary in height and there are always some just hidden below the surface.
My Kinbasket research also mentioned that for years after flooding, trees deep underwater would eventually become unrooted from the forest floor and then launch to the surface with the power to do serious harm to any boater unfortunate to be in their path.    I thought this was a bit of a stretch – that they’d be so waterlogged after a few years underwater that they’d rise slowly if at all.   Steve, a Valemount resident, assured me that the story was true.  He recalled being on the lake with his dad in the 70’s and how frightening it was to see these released trees suddenly eject from the depths.  Also, how their boat would, at times, be entrapped by floating debris and they’d have to wait for a wind change to be set free. Disorder.   The transition from land to water necessitates juggling where the gear is stowed.
Disorder.   The transition from land to water necessitates juggling where the gear is stowed.
Order.  Gear properly stowed and the canoe ready to begin the Kinbasket leg.
I had only been on Kinbasket for a couple of hours when I heard what sounded like a bear cub drowning.  Cubs make a noise ‘mea’ like the ‘m e’ in memory.  This was different though, as every cry ended with a water in the throat sound like a toddler playing in the tub might make.  I was searching the far shore expecting to see mama bear anxiously searching the water for her cub.   Then I noticed three black dots in the water and realized it was a sow swimming the lake with two cubs following.  The first cub was thirty feet behind her and was not making any noise, unlike the sibling who was another thirty feet behind and crying with every breath.  Mama reached shore and shook herself off before re-entering the water.  Swimming out to the first cub she mouthed it by the neck and swam it to shore.  She repeated the process for the little mouthpiece who never stopped his cries until she picked him up.   The lake was at least  500 metres across and I wouldn’t have thought such small cubs could swim that distance.  Possible too that this was their first swimming lesson.  I paddled to halfway across the lake and the sow never noticed my presence.
The one I dubbed the mouthpiece finally reunited with his ma and safe ashore.
Kinbasket Lake Lodge at the mouth of Beaver Creek, at a location the voyageurs called Beavermouth.  Thanks to Rick for answering my questions about the lake.  The lodge is located only 5 kilometres from Highway 1.
The Kinbasket shoreline has many stumps remaining from when it was logged in the 70s.  Most of these are cedar and it’s likely the stumps of less durable timber species have long since been washed away.  The cedar stumps were dry and easy to ignite and aside from campfire needs, I burned a few doing my bit to make for safer boating when the water rose.
Not only a hazard to boaters the stumps make trolling difficult.
This narrows was Surprise Rapids to the voyageurs, but like many other rapids on the former Columbia River, flooding has inundated them.  David Thompson was the first to navigate the length of the Columbia and a trading post he called Boat Encampment, further downstream, remained as a B.C. location on maps until the flooding.
This photograph of Surprise Rapids was taken in 1936.  What’s shown here is now, and likely forever, under hundreds of feet of water.
The mountain views did make up somewhat for the less than pleasing shoreline views.
Morning sun reflecting on the westward mountains.
Made with the same mold?
Three torrents and many more like it contributing to the reservoir rising a foot a day during July.
I believe this is the aptly named Thunder Falls.  I was aware of its presence long before it came into view.
Not only scenic but provisional.  I caught three fish at this location.
A Kokanee and two Dolly Varden, a nice addition to my mostly carb diet.
Kinbasket Lake trying hard to present her scenic virtues.
In my books, Kinbasket rates as a 3 as a lake, but gets a 10 for its intended use of supplying water to the Mica Dam generators. The number of generators is presently being increased from 4 to 6.  This BC Hydro photo shows one of the German-made generators being barged from Valemount to the dam site.
The reservoir at its widest location looking west towards the Mica Dam site. This is where the Columbia River turns from flowing northwest to south. Prior to flooding, the Canoe River joined the Columbia at this point.  Kinbasket Lake now extends northwest, almost to Valemount, along the former Canoe River valley.
Just a little bit of beach but a welcome sight after ‘sneaking’ around the rocky shores of the widest opening in the lake while the wind snoozed.  This was at the start of Canoe Reach and I’d hoped it would offer more take-out spots than the southern section but it had less with more windy days.
On one of my days on the Canoe Reach section, I started with a good tailwind that continued to increase to likely 30 kph.  This was my first time running downwind in whitecap conditions and it made for easy paddling, although I felt like I was consorting with the enemy.  I was staying reasonably close to shore when this sandbar came into view a few hundred yards ahead, extending a third of the way across the lake.  I angled out to clear it thinking I’d allowed plenty of room.  However, the shallows, extending out from the sandbar, caused the waves to break sooner and with more force against the side of the angling canoe.  This caused the canoe to be pushed quickly towards the beach.  I was in full power mode as I cleared the point by only a boat length.  Being dumped on the sandy beach would not have caused any damage and I was thankful for another lesson learned without incident.  Once on the lee side of that spit, I called it a day until the wind subsided late in the day.
The end of the strong downwind day.  When the wind finally subsided I crossed the lake as I didn’t like the looks of the rocky eastern shoreline.  Darkness was approaching and I was ready to accept anywhere I could land as a camping spot when I rounded a corner into this ideal spot.
For four nights in a row on Canoe Reach I slept without the tent.  Quite amazed that there were no mosquitoes or noseeums.   On the fifth night, there was lightning and rain, late night and early morning.  Thunder in the mountains certainly has extra pop!
And no, a sasquatch didn’t take this picture.  It’s a selfie and I’m not sure how I did it.
With forty kilometres to go, to the Valemount end of the lake, the rocky shoreline and sudden winds had me deciding I’d take out and bike the remaining distance to Valemount.  I had spotted old quad tracks on this beach and figured that if the road was OK for an ATV I would make it through.  The decision to bike came after being five kilometres further down the lake and experiencing the lake changing from calm to whitecaps in ten minutes.  That plus seeing nothing but rocky shores ahead.  I then paddled back to this location to get the canoe up to the road.
Accessing the road by the most direct route.
Loaded and ready to begin the forty kilometre ride to the end of the lake.
The reason why there was no vehicle traffic on the road.  Access had been intentionally blocked by the Ministry of Forests.  Lucky for me ATVers had made a trail through although I did have to unload all the gear from the canoe and do some smoothing of the bypass.
I cycled to 22 km as indicated by the logging road kilometre signs and then camped in a Trails BC rec site.  I mentioned this in a message using my personal locator and was surprised the next morning to see my brother-in-law and sis drive into the campsite. They had driven from 108 Mile Ranch to Kinbasket thinking they’d boat down the lake and surprise me there.  Their description of the road ahead, and my dislike at pushing the bike up gravel road hills, saw all my gear being loaded into their camper and the canoe inverted on their boat trailer for the remaining miles to Valemount.  They also lightened my biking load by taking the rowing unit home with them as I would have no need for it on the Thompson River.