Waldo Lake is a massive lake in the Oregon Cascades (2nd largest in the state – Crater Lake is the largest) that has water so pure and clear it’s basically distilled water. Rain and snow are the source of water for the lake so there’s little sediment and algae, etc and even fish struggle to survive (the lake has been stocked with fish in the past but they don’t live because there’s nothing for them to eat).
I’ve been taking an annual canoe camping trip to Waldo for over 12 years now. Gas motors are not allowed on the lake anymore so it’s a great destination for a canoe or kayak trip.
Wind can make paddling tough but it usually dies down at night so it’s best to arrive in the evening to paddle an hour or so across the lake at sunset when the water is calm. This year, I loaded up the canoe and dog and started across at just before dusk. We stopped briefly at a rocky island on the north shore to check out the scenery (see photo below)
There were a lot of dark storm clouds moving in. As I continued paddling across, it became like a dream. Floating and dark and there were wispy shrouds of fog blowing across the water. The sunset was just a bare sliver in the clouds. It was exactly like being in the middle of a dream. This photo barely does the actual sensation justice.
We made it to our campsite and set-up in the dark. In the morning, I took a hike on a trail above the campsite and there was fresh snow and fresh black bear tracks. That’s the first time in over a dozen years that I’ve had snow while visiting Waldo (this was late September so it’s not unheard of but rare) and also the first time I’ve seen any sign of bears.
Rain kicked in about mid-day and continued for the next three days. I was prepared with rain gear and rubber boots and gaiters and paddle pants but I still got fairly wet. It’s nice having a water dog though because he didn’t really care about the rain.
Temperatures in the 30′s and rain don’t always make for the warmest conditions so a campfire was mandatory. Keeping a fire going during heavy rain is a tough task though – you need lots of wood and you have to keep it hot to dry out wood so it will burn. I found myself heading out to collect firewood just about every hour to keep this fire going. But it was worth it. Just hanging out in the cold rain without a campfire would have been virtually intolerable.
It was so wet and cold that after two nights, I decided to load up the boat and potentially head back to the car.
The wind had whipped up the waves and it was tough paddling. There were two and three foot swells and waves crashing on the rocky shore. Had to take several rest breaks. But then we got around one point on the lake and the wind was blocked and it was actually calm and the rain had stopped.
So I decided to stay one more night. Found a nice campsite on the north shore and got everything set up just in time for HEAVY rain and wind to kick in. I tried another campfire but this time the wind was whipping sparks all over the place (sparks and a nylon tent and nylon rainfly don’t mix well). Seriously, this was some of the heaviest rain and wind I’ve experienced while camping. I don’t normally trench around my tent but I had to here or there would have been an inch of water inside. It was so stormy I went to bed at 9:15 p.m. which of course meant I was up before dawn to take the dog on a hike. The rain stopped for about 15 minutes and I was able to grab a couple of photos of my campsite.
The photo above shows off my Waldo Lake hilton. There’s no room service or towels or amenities but it’s still pretty deluxe for backcountry camping. The great thing about a canoe is you can take lots of gear – weight and space really isn’t an issue like it can be with backpacking.
We were camped near the source of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River which is kind of ironic. The Willamette flows through Eugene, Albany, Salem and Portland and despite it’s ultra clean source, by the time it gets to Portland, it’s gone through one Superfund site (in Albany) and ends in another Superfund site in north Portland. Here’s how pristine it looks before it starts that dirty, polluted journey!
Here’s a photo just before we set off across the lake to the car.
Boy oh boy was the lake choppy now! Easily equivalent to class II and III whitewater. I had to ferry across waves, battling the wind and basically riding three foot troughs between the waves. I have a lot of whitewater experience (luckily) or there’s no way I would have made it. Taking even a snapshot while on those waves would have been dangerous so the camera stayed put. A couple times me and the dog and were surfing waves with the bow catching air (in a fully loaded canoe) just to make progress. That was definitely the most adrenaline fueled canoe trip I have made on Waldo. Rain, wind, waves, rocks and frantic paddling at times to keep upright – and we eventually made it!
Here’s a photo on an island near the boat launch after we had paddled for several hours on choppy, crazy conditions.
I was quite happy to have made that canoe journey safely and pretty much soaked through. My elation was short-lived though as I got to my car only to discover it wouldn’t start. Due to the weather conditions and the late season, there was no one around. No cell service either. I was able to flag down a car after about 45 minutes and explained my situation and asked them to call a tow truck if they headed to town.
I keep my car very well-maintained and my battery is only two years old so I knew something was up. I checked around under the hood but didn’t see anything and unfortunately the rain was as steady as ever and it was 36F so I was done being out in the rain. And though sitting in a car keeps you out of the rain, it’s the same temperature as outdoors. By the time a tow truck arrived, three hours had passed and I was freezing! The tow truck driver poked around under my hood and discovered the wire to my starter had been cut! Yes, cut! Someone crawled under my car and cut the starter wire! That is definitely the most bizarre thing to happen to me at a trailhead/boat launch ever. We got the car started and that was the only damage so fortunately I was able to make it home. I’ll tell you though, that is sure an awful feeling to have your car not start at a remote wilderness trailhead (it’s about 13 miles to the nearest highway).
Back to regular blog posts later this week. Just wanted to share a personal post about what I do when I’m not photographing beautiful people.
And a huge thanks to the people who called a tow truck for me!