Friday, August 28, 2015

SIERRA HIGH, LOON LAKE PART II


The day ended with a Dan Crandall bear story by firelight. We had just gotten off the water after viewing the Perseid Meteor Shower on the lake. The fire was slowly fading and in Dan's story the bear was closing in. Across the glowing embers, I saw other campers melting into their camp chairs as their sleepy eyes and yawns were revealed by the fire's flicker before sinking back into the shadows. Their muscles were stiff and sore from the day's paddling across the lake. Many had already retired to the comfort of their tents, while others put off the inevitable crash into their sleeping bags hoping to make the day last just a bit longer.

"I think a lot of people want to go back to basics sometimes," wrote former Canadian Prime Minister and paddler Pierre Elliott Trudeau in his memoirs, "To get their bearings. For me a good way to do that is to get into nature by canoe – to take myself as far away as possible from everyday life."

Current Adventures Kayak School and Trips has hosted this two-day overnight one-of-a-kind  camping experience in August for almost ten years. During the days, paddlers escape the heat while exploring the pine scented Loon Lake in the Crystal Basin Recreation Area east of Lake Tahoe, while at night campers are treated to a night-time paddling experience to view the Perseid Meteor Shower. All the meals and paddling gear are provided, freeing kayakers up to only de-stress and unwind in the realm of nature.
"I don't know.  I lost count." said Dejaun Archer, when asked how long she has attended these camp outs.  "It's probably been about seven or eight trips. I like the group, I like the people. It's just really great. The food is great. The scenery is great. It's just a lot of fun.  As long as they keep doing them, I'll keep coming."

Pristine blue water, textured granite shore and clear skies greeted the group of 20, mostly women boaters earlier that day for their first trip on to the lake. I was along for my second year as a guide for the trip but still felt the same thrill as everyone else while lowering the kayaks into the water. While most had paddled a kayak before, with each cast off I sensed their brimming excitement of exploring the unknown. At 6,378 feet, Loon Lake features 10 miles of boulder-lined shoreline with awe-inspiring views of the Sierra Nevada, however the California drought had taken a toll on the mountain reservoir this year. At about 50 percent of its normal level, the lake's crystal clear water was significantly lower than my last visit. Our usual hidden-away paddling destinations and coves were now parched and dry. The popular visit to the tunnel on the east end of the lake turned into a hike instead of a paddle. Loon Lake paddling veteran Archer, didn't let the drought soak up  the fun.

"I don't think it (the lake) is any different, but it is lower." said Archer, "We got to walk into the tunnel. I have never done that. I have been here when you couldn't see the tunnel at all. I have been here when the tunnel was very short and you couldn't go in it, and I've been there when we kayaked in it. Now this time we got to walk in it, which I thought was really cool."

The lake might be low, but the trip was full of laughter and springing with new friendships as the boaters paddled along the lake shore. Each paddler shared the enthusiasm of kayaking with one another. Some speeding ahead together, while others hung back embracing the beauty and calm of the day's journey side by side.  Dinner and the campfire afterwards provided more laughs, some wine and camaraderie.
"It's a pretty good group," said Current Adventures' Dan Crandall, "Most of them are doing something they have never tried before and enjoying it. They all came as strangers and are leaving as friends. They will all probably end up paddling together. That's kayaking."

The smoldering embers ignite one last time, while the bear in Dan's story backs off and ambles back into the woods. Above me the last meteor, shoots through the stars perfectly framed by the silhouettes of towering majestic pines. I look into the night sky and ponder Trudeau's profound words...
"A canoeing expedition…involves a starting point rather than a parting. Although it assumes the breaking of ties, its purpose is not to destroy the past, but to lay down a foundation for the future. From now on, every living act will be built on this step, which will serve as a base long after the return of the expedition…. and until the next one." 


Friday, August 21, 2015

STARRY STARRY NIGHT....LOON LAKE PART I

“I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”--Jack London

"There goes one!" a voice calls out in the darkness.
"Where? I didn't see it," says another.
"Through the Big Dipper. It had a bright tail."
"Oh man! I missed it. What is that?
"An airplane." says another.
"Geez, were not going back till I see one."

Lost in space between the stars in the heavens and the serene of the lake, we are adrift in the magic of the night. The constellations, Pegasus, Cassiopeia and Ursa Minor shine brilliantly in the moonless sky as our eyes focus toward the east in anticipation of catching falling star.
There are less than a dozen of us floating in the tranquility of Loon Lake. Our bobbing armada of kayaks are lashed together by our fingers tips as each boaters holds tightly to the boats between them. Colored glow sticks dangle in the shadows of our figures while some of our headlamps give an eerie glow. It's just after ten and there is a slight gleam over the mountains. It seems like the whole universe is presented before us.
Loon Lake renders the perfect backdrop for the annual Perseid Meteor Shower during its peak in the month of August. The Crystal Basin Recreation Area's lake on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains just west of Lake Tahoe, offers scenic beauty, limited crowds and no light pollution. Tucked away and only a short drive from Sacramento, California, Current Adventures Kayak School and Trips have been providing overnight camping trips for the meteor shower for nearly 10 years. With meals, camping equipment and kayaks provided, paddlers and first time campers enjoy a cozy "roughing it" in-style camp-out.

"I love the night time paddle,  says long time lake visitor Djuna Archer, "It's looking up at the stars. This time we have no moon so its beautiful. It's quiet, serene and lovely."
 This is our second time out on to the water. We had kayaked the length of the lake earlier during the day, however at night, the lake takes on foreign appearance. The California drought has taken a toll on Loon Lake, dropping it excessively. It is lower than most can ever remember. Just finding our kayaks on the shadowy lake shore is an adventure in itself. In line, we are an illuminated parade of headlamps over the rocky beach to the boats and then, one by one we drop our kayaks into the water and drift into darkness. We follow the leader,  Current Adventure's Dan Crandall's glowing headware to the center of the reservoir.

In the middle of the lake we group together and lean back looking at the stars. The day time heat is gone and a coolness brushes over the water. Our voices and the sound of the kayaks bumping together breaks the silence of the lake. We feel the slight vibration of the water below us as the rocking bows gently remind us we are not on solid ground. There is the mystery of water below us and a dazzling array a stars above. Our thoughts navigate us through time and space... How long does it take the light of the stars to touch the earth? Can those satellites see us from above? I wish I could stay here forever.

"Especially in the dark nights," naturalist Henry David Thoreau said long ago while night fishing on Walden Pond, "When our thoughts had wandered to vast and cosmogonal themes and other spheres, to feel this faint jerk, which came to interrupt our dreams and link you to Nature again."  

Our thoughts are disrupted by a flash of a meteor's trail. Fourth of July oohs and awes charge the air. But, the shooting star is gone much to quickly to fully enjoy its splendor. The Perseid shower is known to rise gradually to a peak, then fall off rapidly afterwards. We have just missed the peak by a couple of days. The meteor shower is more of a sprinkle but intermittent with wonder and laughter from our group on the lake. Seeing a falling star is always special, however catching it with new friends while kayaking a high Sierra lake is simply magical. It is an experience we will remember for a lifetime.

Dan left a light flashing on the shore so we could find our way back. We had a campfire, a couple of bottles of wine and a full day of paddling waiting for us tomorrow.

 

Part Two of my trip to Loon Lake  next week in Outside Adventure to the Max.

Friday, August 7, 2015

OVER THE BOW: LAKE NATOMA

  The path of the paddle can be a means of getting things back to their original perspective. – Bill Mason, Path of the Paddle

 Its was a quiet morning on Lake Natoma earlier last week. A slight breeze passed over the water, causing barely a ripple. I could feel its coolness coming off the water and in the shade of the trees. It was a welcome relief from the daytime heat that usually blasts this valley.
I had beaten the rush. The parking lot of the Negro Bar access was still empty along with the rest of the lake. The usual array of Huki boats, sit-on-tops and fishermen had yet to arrive and the lake was pretty much mine for my own adventure.

I wasn't lost in the wilds of the BWCA or Desolation Wilderness. I was only a couple of miles from home and could hear the hum of traffic buzzing over the Folsom Avenue Bridge. But, I might as well have been. Because with each muffled stroke of my paddle, I slipped further away into nature's domain. 
Environmentalist and wilderness guide, Sigrud Olsen said  'There is magic in the feel of a paddle and the movement of a canoe, a magic compounded of distance, adventure, solitude, and peace. The way of a canoe is the way of the wilderness, and of a freedom almost forgotten."'

Alone in my thoughts and on the water, I felt a certain exuberance in this calm of tranquility. On a simple morning cruise around my neighborhood lake, I felt that same deliverance and enchantment that Olsen pontificated about his beloved northern lakes and forested wilderness.  I was minutes from the freeways, gas stations and fast food restaurants, yet the lake was still home to things wild. Ducks, geese, beaver and deer find the same sanctuary that I do near its waters.

It was effortless paddle for me, through and around the slough of the lake. The lake level has been a bit higher in the past few weeks making it easy way to navigate through the tiny rocky islands without scraping the bottom of the kayak. In the stillness, I brushed past the prickly blackberry bushes tangled up against the water. The berries hang over the water like gaudy ornaments. They were a lush tempting red, far from being ripe enough to pick and very tart to the taste. The black ripened juicy ones are few and out of reach.

Up near the Rainbow Bridge, the river has joined the lake. The cold water released from Folsom Dam only runs a short way as the American River before being captured again by the Nimbus Dam, creating the lake. I felt the slight tug of the current and hear the gentle sound of water flowing over the rocks. I marveled at the three-story canyon walls embracing the narrow river on both sides. Further up the Folsom Prison cable sign lets me go no farther. I put my kayak into the current and felt it turn me back downstream.  
 
 Over the Bow is a feature from Outside Adventure to the Max, telling the story behind the image. If you have a great picture with a great story, submit it to us at nickayak@gmail.com