August 27, 2013
After a summer of day trips and a single overnighter, Erik and Anita were ready for something I’d been waiting 6 long years for: A multi-night canoe trip.
Destination: Murtle Lake, BC.
Rating (out of 5):
Important Things to Know:
The Lake: Murtle Lake is the largest canoe-only kayak-only self-powered-only lake in North America. There are NO MOTORBOATS and you can only imagine how great this makes the whole place. The North and West arms are 20 kms long, and the lake averages 3 kms wide. There are islands and inlets and streams and loads of shoreline to explore. There are several destination hikes that are only accessible from the lake that range from 1 km (to Henrietta Lake) to 7 kms of alpine trails with camping sites.
The Start: The trip starts with a 27 km drive on a winding, narrow, gravel road to the parking lot. From there you’ll enjoy an easy downhill 2.5 km trail (canoe-cart accessible) that leads to the canoe launch. Of course, on your way out this is a 2.5 km uphill trail! Thankfully all your food should be eaten by then and the load will be lighter.
The Sites: There are 69 wilderness tenting sites along the shores. Most of these are single-group sites, but some are large and are shared among strangers. We shared an island site with some other people and everyone stayed quiet and kept to themselves. So don’t panic if you end up sharing a site!
Water: In my opinion you can probably drink the water straight from the lake and survive, but you shouldn’t. You never know when you’ll drink a mouthful of invisible things that can ruin your trip, so use a filter of some sort. It was warm enough to swim in (your mileage might vary!) and so, so incredibly clean and clear.
Fishing: You’ll need a fishing license, like anywhere in BC. There a loads of Rainbow and Kokanee trout, and I’ve seen plenty of trip reports where they’re pulling them in left, right, and center. We, of course, were skunked! Apparently I’m a terrible fisherman.
Safety and Isolation: This is a popular canoe / kayak camping destination, so you’re bound to see someone at some point even though the lake is large and there is a lot of shoreline to explore. There is a ranger that lives there and patrols the lake daily. We only saw him once up close though, so don’t worry that this is an in-your-face ranger who is there to bother you. He’ll come if he needs to do maintenance at a site (like felling trees) and he can help with an emergency extraction if someone in your group needs it.
Wood: Naturally, keep an eye on BC’s Fire Danger Rating. If you’re allowed to have fires, you can burn logs that the ranger leaves at each site. You are advised to avoid using wood from the woods. Bring an axe, a little hatchet is not enough!
The Trip Report: Getting to Murtle Lake isn’t too bad, it’s around 6-7 hours from Vancouver, Edmonton or Calgary. But once you pull off the highway, you have an hour long drive on a rough dirt road to get to the start of the portage trail. This rough road is completely accessible to regular cars, you do not need a 4×4. We were just fine in our Jetta. The joy of Murtle is that it is inaccessible to motor boats! The pain of Murtle is that the whole trip starts with a 2500 meter portage!
So keep that into consideration if you plan a trip there. If you’re far enough away, like Vancouver, you may want to consider driving to Blue River and staying overnight there. That’s what we did, and woke up nice and early so we finished that dirt road drive and dastardly portage around noon on our first camping day.
The portage finally lets you touch water in a shallow swampy lagoon in a corner of the lake. A short paddle up and out and the beauty of the area finally reveals itself.
We paddled just to the first campsite and made it our home for the night.
Having a short first day would give us a chance to ease into the whole situation. Remember, this was Erik and Anita’s first long trip, my first mission was to make the whole thing fun. Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate, but I made the best of it. We had a roaring fire and I pitched the tarp so we’d have a dry place to sit and cook and eat. All you need to be fully happy in the outdoors is to be warm, dry, fed, and well rested. The rest takes care of itself.
The next morning we woke up and kept the shore on our right side and headed North. We didn’t have a destination in mind nor did we know how busy the sites would be, but we hoped to find a place to ourselves for another night or two.
Site 20 looked great, but was very busy. We ate a snack and plowed across the lake to Site 13, halfway across two fast paddlers blew by us and claimed it first. That was a bit of a dick move, but we headed to Site 14 and saw it was empty and perfect. We had an amazing view of the Wavy Range, and once the rain stopped we even enjoyed ourselves!
Since the weather wasn’t great I put the family to work. Erik had small tasks like filling our water jugs, and I taught Anita how to make a fire in the rain. She loved this, and happily took care of her flaming baby while I chopped wood endlessly. You know the expression, never bring a knife to a gunfight? Well, don’t bring a hatchet to Murtle. bring a splitting axe. The ranger fells trees that need felling and leaves logs for campers to use. This is preferred to having everyone forage for branches, which often enough means people will rip living trees apart. These logs were impossible to split with the hatchet, and I had to resort to hacking off chunks. 20 minutes of hacking meant 40 minutes of fire, and it rained the first few days. Phew.
By Day 3 the weather still wasn’t cooperating. We stayed another night and celebrated my birthday, yay! Erik surprised me with an amazing treasure hunt (caramels) and I ate like a king the rest of the day. Anita made me a birthday cake! A birthday cake on a camping trip!
On Day 4 we packed up and headed out. The weather wasn’t that great but it wasn’t pouring and we were alive. We headed South and kept to shore right, then turned West to what looked like a few islands off in the distance. One of them promised to have a campsite, and that was our goal. Just before turning West we could see an ugly pile of whitecaps and churning water coming from that end of the lake. We took a minute to pull over and pee and get more water, and to ask ourselves if we were ready to do battle with the wind. Anita was gung-ho, Erik was excited (of course, he wasn’t paddling!) and I’ll go anywhere. We rounded the corner and took a pounding, but made our way slowly into the wind to the islands.
Once we got there the wind died down, of course, and the sun came out. We planted our flag and made this our home for the next two nights, and it was worth the fight with the wind.