Spellbound at Kelsall Lake, B.C.

It always seems that for other people things happen quite easily. They have an idea and voila — there it is.

I don’t know; maybe it’s true for some, with some things. Anyway, it took me 20 years after I first dreamed about it, to finally float on Kelsall Lake, B.C.

It was better than I ever imagined.

One weekend in August, after buying a B.C. fishing license on-line, the blueberries certainly ripe in Rainy Hollow, we loaded up the old orange van; our canoe, our camping and fishing gear, the berry buckets, rain gear, and our new four-stroke engine.

Don had been up the Shakwak again during this summer, working on the Canadian segment of the Haines Road. He, in fact, has known of the trail to Kelsall Lake since working on the Shakwak when it was initially paved in 1977.

When we turn off the highway onto the winding trail he invariably says, “Somebody just put this road in, and I don’t know who or why.”

I know a good reason, for me anyway. Kelsall Lake has always held me spellbound.

Coming from Haines Junction, the trailhead is on the left side of the road. This year there is a big highway camp there, as a stretch of highway is being resurfaced. It is just before what Don, who is a grader operator, calls the graderstation, which lies on the right side of the highway, just before the grass airstrip at Mule Creek.

The road to the lake is rough. In the beginning, there is a creek flowing across it; later, there are creek crossings. There are also very slippery downward sections with big boulders. The road is all downhill, so when you drive down this road, make sure you can go back up; there is no other way out.

Skill and the right vehicle are both a must. The road is around five kilometres in distance. Luckily, Don is an amazing off-road driver.

The residents along it are always the same. Today, we flush out a few ptarmigan families, their bodies: dark, their wings: white, changing colour for the season to come.

Before leaving, we agreed if the weather was good we would go to the lake on Saturday and pick berries at Rainy Hollow on Sunday. From home there are no guarantees regarding weather. We were extremely fortunate; it was warm with blue skies and puffy white clouds.

The clouds made breathtaking patterns on the already spectacular mountains. The mountain falling into the lake at the north has extensive ice fields on its backside. Straight east, an amazing, long tumbling waterfall cascades down, fed by yet more ice fields from east and south.

After we got the new engine running on the boat, we aimed for a beach on a point halfway down the lake on the south side.

The beach is pristine.

Besides water patterns, there are only animal tracks in the sand. Adding to my surprise, I found that large patches of moss campion — alpine flowers — are still in bloom.

I swam. Don fished.

From there, we canoed to the far end of the lake where the mountaintops, full of spikes, came into view. We rounded what turns out to be an island. Miraculously, we didn’t hit any sandbanks, as we did on the way back.

This was as far as we could go.

Tying our boat to the shore, I hike upward to what seems like a coarse talus, a vast deposit of enormous angular weathered bedrock fragments. These are usually found at the base of a cliff or steep slope, and are caused by landslides. The area is about a football field across and 50 feet high. It is hard to estimate size in the grandness of it all — like trying to gauge the size of a grizzly mom and her cub I suddenly see below scampering through blueberry fields.  I holler to Don on the shore, to tell him I am coming back down, because…

And then… how big is that seemingly very large crack in the mountain top? Looking up, it might be smaller than it looks, but for sure it is ready to come down in the next….

Hmm… there is no calculation for time here, either.

We visited several more beaches on the way back. One was very peaceful with old lone firs and buckbean bogs. Another lay beside a brown, violently rushing creek.  The last one — I walk it — leads me all the way back to our camp.

It is here the lake flows into Kelsall River. We, and the family of big, dark, young and fluffy seagulls, know there are fish here, though Don never catches one.

Don and I love the water. Besides playing in it, I lay back in the boat to enjoy the put-put motion as well as the paddling and crashing through waves.

We boat, but I sense I am not a true boater.  

For me it’s all about the distant unexplored shores.

In the evening Don ferried me across the Kelsall where I walk towards the clay-cliff lakeshore with wide-open tundra on top. Wanting to keep going up, I still make it back by nightfall.

On Sunday, we picked berries at Rainy Hollow in the pouring rain.

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