Posted by Andrew Holota on 2014 Jul 22nd
Generally electing to paddle wherever our whim or circumstances lead, as opposed to “destination” lakes, Heidi and I decided to change it up this summer, and picked Murtle Lake, billed as the largest paddle-only body of water in North America, which was one of the deciding factors.
Murtle is in Wells Gray Provincial Park, about a 45-minute drive from Blue River, which is a three-hour drive from Kamloops.
Having done trips all over B.C., especially ocean treks on both sides of Vancouver Island, the concept of not having to share the water with power boats was appealing.
Murtle did not disappoint. Although the Aug. 18-23 trip began with heavy clouds, rain showers and an afternoon thunderstorm, the weather was just a day’s challenge, turning to gold by the next afternoon.
We stayed in Blue River on the Sunday night, and drove out to Murtle the next morning. The portage trail into the lake is billed as “level”, but be prepared to work over a bit of elevation variation.
Given the rain squalls sweeping across the lake and surrounding mountains, we elected to put the spray deck on our 18.5-foot Sea Clipper, before we set out from the end of the lagoon into the lake. The provincial parks rangers saw our covered canoe at Sandy Point (Camp 3) and highly approved before we set off for a crossing over to the west side of the north arm in the rain and mist. They recommend doing the crossing from about Camp 19 on the east side, as it’s shorter, and less exposed.
Nevertheless, we lit it up and stroked from Camp 3 to 14 in about an hour and a half. We were rewarded later that wet afternoon with a fabulous low level, fully curved rainbow over the lake in the afternoon, as the sun broke through the clouds for a few moments.
We highly recommend paddling up the north arm. It’s less crowded (there were over 50 vehicles in the portage parking lot!) and the scenery is more spectacular than the west arm, which has by far the most popular campsites.
Heidi and I started out on the west shore of the north arm, but by 11 a.m. the wind was starting to build whitecaps on the lake, and we made a fast crossing to the more sheltered east shore, thinking that we might cut the trek short and camp at Moonlite Bay (Camp 17) or Eagle Point (18). At Moonlite Bay, which is a pretty little spot, we ran into the rangers again, who were checking on a young couple and their two little kids, and the rangers sold us on another five or six kilometres of windy paddling up to Camp 16, the furthest camp on the north arm.
In short, it’s the icing on this cake of a lake. Long sandy beach. Huge moose meadows behind the campsite. Stream and lagoon to be explored. Time didn’t permit us to stay two nights, but if we do this paddle again, that will be the plan.
Up early the next day to cheat the afternoon winds, which are common, we paddled over glass-like water. Camp 19 (Strait Creek) was unusually unpopulated, and we lunched close to to there, debating whether to stay or to push on to the first camps at the lagoon mouth. We chose the latter, but in hindsight, 19 (which is usually the case, but wasn’t at the time) it would have been a better swimming beach. It’s about an hour’s strong paddle from there to Camp 1 and 2, from which you have an easy 15 minutes back to the launch and portage.
It was a committed five and a half hours of paddling time, not including a break or two, to go from Murtle Beach, the far end of the north arm to Camp 1 and 2, although we did slow to troll a lure along part of the way. No fish that day, but we did pick up three rainbow trout the day before, and two more the day after. Two little ones we released, one 14-incher we gave way to another group of paddlers at Murtle Beach, and two we ate. Karma duly observed…
Camp 2 was surprisingly free on Wednesday night, and we based there, doing a paddle out to Fairy Slipper Island in the west arm on our last day.
As noted earlier, the scenery is not quite as dramatic as the north arm, but it’s very popular, and still worth the tour. Just expect to share your camp area with others if you’re going in the high season, which actually, can be anywhere on the lake, but more likely on the west arm.
If you’re wondering whether you are capable of paddling Murtle, which is a big lake and can blow up to serious conditions, it always comes down to best judgment, canoes and skills.
We saw a number of very amateur paddlers in less than well-designed boats, loaded high with gear, and a disconcerting amount of freeboard. Nevertheless, hundreds of folks manage to make their way around this lake with what we’d consider the minimum or less in terms of paddling and packing skills.
Thank goodness for the ever-present rangers!
If you’re experienced paddlers, with good gear and excellent canoes such as the Clipper Tripper, Prospector or Sea Clipper (we also saw several couples navigating the lake in double Necky kayaks), Murtle is a must-do cruise to put on the B.C. paddling bucket list.
Looks like an awesome trip. Thanks for sharing the pictures and words. We are excited to see where you paddle this year! – wck