July 02, 2012

Atlin Lake: Grand Adventures

I never take for granted that I live in a place that people dream about visiting - and, once they've visited, dream of going back.  Going to Northern Canada for most is like going on a Grand Adventure.  It is exotic.  It is exciting.  It's my home.

There is so much to see in Northern Canada that, when people ask me what they should do, I turn it around and ask them what they're interested in.  We probably have it.  For my friend, Norris' fiancee, who was visiting from China, it was to see a glacier.  For Norris' mom, who was visiting from Vancouver, it was to go fishing.  For Norris, who doesn't count as a visitor, it was to go sailing.  Wanting to show the north off to Norris' fiancee and mother, we decided to combine the three and sail Atlin Lake to the Llewellyn Glacier.  I'm always happy with an excuse to take the sailboat out to Atlin Lake.

After launching the boat and sailing across the lake, we motored up the Torres Channel.

It has been an unusually cool and wet summer and the cold weather wasn't easy on our visitors.  Fortunately, they came prepared and dressed warmly.  All part of the adventure!

We stopped at the base of Cathedral Mountain to throw some June snowballs and fill up our water jugs with some mountain run-off.  It makes for delicious tea. Mmm-mmm good!

We spent two nights on Sloko Island, where I spotted fresh caribou and wolverine tracks.  We eventually saw a caribou, heading right toward us along the shore until it got wind of us and headed over the height of land.  It was skinny and I suspected it wouldn't be long before the wolverine had something tasty to tide it over for the rest of the summer until it could leave the island on the winter ice in search of more food.

On our second day, we made our way into Llewellyn Inlet where the runoff from the glacier gives the lake a beautiful, distinctive colour.

I wasn't sure if the trail into the glacier would be any good.  I had heard last summer that it had been flooded out.  That's partially true, but not the the extent that I expected.  Some beavers were hard at work on the right side of the valley and built a dam that obstructed part of the trail.  It was still possible to get to where we were going after a half-kilometer of walking through ankle-deep standing water and the occasional stream.  The deepest part was about knee-high, though it would have been higher if we hadn't found a good place to cross.

It was impressive to see the changes in the valley from just two years ago.  The river was running a very different course than it had been.  We spent part of our time walking up a now-dry river bed that, two years ago, was a foaming torrent of ice-cold water.

The level of the lake in front of the glacier was lower than it had been, too.  I wasn't sure if that was due river's change of course or the cooler summer.

As usual, it was a great hike and, as usual, it left me wanting to spend a lot more time in the area.

Unfortunately, as we were heading back to Sloko Island, I discovered that I had made a most egregious, unforgivable error.

In boating, there is a rule called "The Rule of Thirds".  The Rule of Thirds states that a captain should plan for 1/3 of the fuel for getting to one's destination, 1/3 for getting back, and 1/3 in reserve for those "just in case" situations.  I had swapped out one prop for another and did not take into account what effect that would have on the boat's fuel consumption.  The new prop was better-geared to pushing weight, but was not made for speed; It was easier to get the boat up to speed, but was less efficient, distance-wise.

In the middle of Llewellyn Inlet, I ran out of gas.

Fortunately, only one tank ran dry, but the second tank didn't have enough to motor back to Atlin.  Ultra-fortunately, my boat is also a sailboat.  We sailed back to Sloko Island and planned to sail back to Atlin the next day.

Back at the island, we cooked a delicious bison steak supper over the fire and Norris and I showed our guests how to make bannock-on-a-stick.

We took our time getting started on our last day.  The lake was glassy from the total absence of a breeze.

We motored part-way down the lake and stopped for lunch on one of the many, many islands.  I had a hunch that the wind would start to pick up in the early afternoon and I was right.

After two days of mostly-overcast weather, the sailing was easy and we ran down the lake at a comfortable speed, baking in the hot afternoon sun.  Around supper-time, as we rounded a point on Theresa Island, the wind died off.  I wasn't certain that we had enough fuel left to get back to Atlin and wanted to make sure I had enough to get the boat back onto the trailer, so we decided to wait it out and cook supper.

When we were done the supper dishes, as if it knew exactly what we needed when we needed it, the wind shifted and picked up, blowing at us from down the lake.  Will full sails and the boat heeled to a perfect 15o, we beat up the lake to Atlin with four tacks.  After an afternoon filled with the comforts of running down the lake, the crew enjoyed the excitement of sailing into the wind.

We got in to Atlin later than planned, but with our long summer nights, it didn't matter.

After getting the boat back on to the trailer, we drove home, spotting a moose along the way - a great way for our guests to cap off a grand adventure.

I know I learned a valuable lesson about preparation and patience.  It's easy to motor everywhere and it's even easier to get conditioned to the idea that we want everything on demand.  Running low on fuel forced me to slow down, enjoy the lake, and accept things as they come.  As a result, I was rewarded with some of the most enjoyable sailing I've ever done.  If I had been in a rush to get back earlier, I would have missed all that.

I will, however, ensure that I have enough fuel next time - just in case.


Catherine said...

What an amazing experience! How I would loved to have been with you! Your photos are gorgeous!

dogsled_stacie said...

Wow! Looks like a great trip, how awesome to have a boat to do more exploring!