Thursday, August 29, 2013

Waldo Lake Summer Fun

Waldo Lake Summer Fun

There are some weekends when you just have to take off of work a little early and take your best friend and partner to the clearest lake in the world. And this is the story of one of those weekends.

View Rhododendron Island Trip in a larger map

One of the cool by products of vulcanization (not the rubber making) is the creation of lots of places that water just naturally wants to pool. We have already visited Hosmer and Sparks but we have not yet visited Waldo Lake (hell, I think we did Waldo last year, but NOT with a partner. Well, not with a girl partner. Things get so complex). Waldo is the second largest lake in Oregon (next to Crater) and has a water story similar to Crater lake. The Story is: There is no major in flow stream or river source. All of the water seeps in through the volcanic soil and so it doesn't have a lot of dirt or debris in it. It is crystal clear. So clean and clear that fish can't live in it (hey, there are trout in Crater lake). In an effort to keep Waldo pristine, gas powered engines are prohibited. So you can use Electric, you can use wind, and you can use muscle. As such, Waldo is a favorite for Kayakers. Hell, it seems like every other car on the way up and back had at least 2 kayaks loaded on the top. So many Subarus !!

On this particular trip, my partner and I are traveling as official members of OOPS. The Oregon Ocean Paddling Society. More on them later. For now, suffice it to say that getting reservations at the one of the national park campsites in the summer is pretty hard and it was wonderful to be able to rely on the organizational skills of the OOPS club. I hope you guys liked the spaghetti !!

My partner and I arrived after a very quick transit from the Portland area at around 5:00 (just 3 hours of driving). You must head south from Portland, make a left with the Willamette (right after Eugene) and follow the Willamette highway pretty much due East until you hit Waldo. Well, first you hit the thriving metropolis of Oakridge, be sure to check out the General Store and the Plutonium Discount Market. I got 3 grams of refined Plutonium for only $5,000,000 !!! Cheap !! (dear NSA, this is a joke centered around the coincidence of the name of the town and the name of the WWII secret Nuke base. You would have got the joke if you weren't off-shoring your intelligence translation to foreign call centers).
Oh, and Oakridge is your last chance for Diet Dr Pepper and Gasoline. So fuel up.

As a travel advisory, at the time of this writing, the highway tunnel just 20 miles east of Oakridge (and 4 miles short of Waldo Lake turn-off) is under construction. It is closed nights during the week and has only one lane of traffic (i.e. a flagger) during all other hours. So..... some delays. Unless you have our luck, then you just slow a little and drive right through. Sweet.

This year the OOPS gang had reservations on the South side of the lake in Shadow Bay. The camp sites there are very nice, though rustic. So very nice trees, and decent vault style toilets, but no hot water or electricity. Bring plenty of propane and batteries. And paper towels.

But Don't bring any Firewood. Why? Because there is a big push in Oregon (and perhaps the entire fraking world) to Burn Local. Don't import fire wood, because that is a disease and insect vector. Why do you think they chopped down that tree? Because it was dead !! And why was it dead? Because it had a disease or a bunch of tree eater bugs. And where are those diseases and bugs? In the Wood !! And what happens when you Burn that wood? The disease and bugs are ALL KILLED. Hmmm. Wait. No..... They RUN OUT INTO THE FOREST !! yeah, that's the ticket.

Anyway, firewood is $5 a bundle at the camp host place. Just like it is at Fred Meyer in Portland, so why not?

A lot of the OOPS people arrived on Thursday. So they had all been out doing major paddles all day and were just starting to wander in, many wearing their emersion gear and looking tiredly happy. We said hello to those we know (well, my partner knows them from her trip to Mayne island. Did you know, she is writing a guest blog about that trip. Should appear right here on these very pages just a few weeks after she gets back(that was humor) (update: Mayne Island trip)  )  and then wandered around looking for a open campsite. We actually were looking for an open tent setting up place, because all of the campsites had at least one group in them to hold the area. We found a very nice and secluded place back in the back of the loop. Far away from any other tents. This is good because we are a very newly minted partnership and often stay up to late hours laughing and playing cribbage.

Hard at work setting up camp

So what kind of camping/sleeping devices do you use? I have been looking for the right sorts of bedding for like a year now. I had settled on a nice queen size Areo-bed. They are very comfortable and, if you carry a 120 volt AC source (which I do) very easy to inflate. But I have learned the hard way (and continue to learn, evidently) that they have a insulation rating of 0. Which means thermally, they are just like sleeping on the ground. Which can be cold. They are pretty much death in the winter, unless you put other pads on top of them. This trip I thought would be warm, but damn if I didn't underestimate what the temperature drop would be at 5000 feet in the Cascades in August. We got a bit cold the first night.

Friday evening, the OOPS people had a get together to talk about the paddles of the day and to describe the trips that were coming up for Saturday. OOPS is very organized. They have a bunch of group paddles, of various difficulty and distance ratings, planned for throughout the day. My partner and I picked the half day paddle to Rhododendron Island. Mainly because it was starting at 10:30, which was later than any other planned trip and we wanted to enjoy the morning. I went over to talk to the guy that was leading it. There is this Dam thing someplace on the lake which has to do with some strange plan to drain the lake and I wanted to see it and read the sign. He told me (in a deep melodious voice) that we were going to stop there. But there was no hurry. OK. Sounds like the trip for me.

And we went back to our campsite to cook our stew. And the sun started to set. And the Mosquitos came out. Oh Mammy, save your baby. I guess a couple of weeks ago the mosquitos were really bad. This weekend, they were mainly a benign nuisance . They buzzed and flew all around, and tried to eat you, but they were pretty slow and easily shooed or smashed. And once the sun went down, and it started getting cold, they were gone. Snow Mosquitos. They tolerate the cold so well you can even find them out on top of the snow during the day. But they can only be active when it is warm enough for their cold blooded biology to operate. And, like other mosquitos, they don't like the light, so they need warm darkness. At Waldo lake that means just at sunset and sunrise.

This keeps away Mosquitos. The Smokey Fire, not the singing

The OOPS experience is pretty casual around the campfire. We had someone wander in to our campsite with a box of wine to share and she sat and enjoyed our fire and conversation. OOPS is an interesting organization. Seems to be made mainly of older professionals. Lots of Doctors, Lawyers, Mental Health Professionals, and Intel Engineers. People out to have good safe but serious adventure. Very organized. Very friendly. Sometimes political. The political aspect of this weekend was this new idea that was being pushed through that everyone that goes out on an OOPS trip should have some minimum amount of safety training. To wit: each person should be certified as able to wet-exit their boat and then be able to assist in their rescue (i.e. get back into their boat if someone was holding it). On the one hand, it sound pretty reasonable. Just show you won't die. Right? But on the other hand, many people go kayaking for years and NEVER flip their boat over. Why should I prove that I can do it to some guy that decided he is authorized to certify me. I mean, I took the safety course from the store where one of the certifiers works, isn't that good enough? This is how I imagine the arguments were running. Personally, I love doing rescue drills, if someone wants to come out and watch, and thereby make me and my friends safer and wiser, I am good with that. In this case, the guy that certified me and my partner had some particularly insightful comments. Hey Free Lesson !! (well, sort of).

We got up with the sun (and the mosquitos) and had some breakfast. Blueberries are still in season and we have been gorging on them the last few weeks. Yogurt and Blueberries and Granola. Yum. Then we loaded our gear into our kayaks and strapped them to their wheels and rolled them down the road to the beach where we met up with the rest of our paddle trip. All told, there were six of us. A perfect size for leisurely little trip around the south end of the lake.

I almost didn't get to go. I have been having a hell of a time with the stern hatch cover on Journey and this morning I just couldn't get the damn thing to go on. It took like 10 minutes and no one had any good ideas on how to make it work right. But we did finally get going. And that was good, because that is when I really got to see the lake. Oh my.

This lake re-defines Blue. I mean, forget what you have ever seen. Paul Newman's eyes have nothing on this lake. So Blue. So Deep. I guess this is the color when you have a few hundred feet of really clear water. Wow. It would have been nice if the water had been completely calm, we would have had a wonderful mirror effect. But what we had was a pretty good wind out of the south west and a 6 inches to a foot of chop pushing us around and breaking over our bows. Kept threatening to get my camera wet when I stopped and took it out of it's dry box (note: Foreshadowing).

Waldo lake has a very dynamic bottom shape. Where we launched, it was very shallow. A couple of feet deep out for like 100 feet off shore. Then we ran into some very deep water (at least very deep blue) and then out in the middle it shoaled again and there were rocks just below the surface (I really should have gotten out and stood up. But I wasn't sure it would be funny enough to risk the waves). Then there are other places where it is very deep right up close to shore. Off in the distance, looking east, you can see the Sisters and a big dead grey area that is what is left after a big burn like a decade ago. When you look on Google Earth, the dead area looks like it may be a lava flow. You can even see places where it looks like a liquid flow type pattern. But I guess that liquid flow was Fire.

The Burn. And a Tree.

When we got up to the west side the coastline blocked the wind and the lake quickly took on a wonderful quiet aspect. Up on the shore, in a few places, we could see canoes, kayaks, and tents, where people had paddled around and set up camp. There are something like 50 primitive campsites set up around the lake perimeter. They have picnic tables and perhaps fire rings and you can't get a reservation for them. You need to paddle (or hike) around the lake until you find an empty camp that you like, and then go for it. Paddle or Hike; there is a trail that goes around the lake. Maybe 20 miles? But there is no road on the North, West, or South sides of the like. Just one that runs up the East side. But the camping looks to be incredible.


We turned the corner on another point, working our way North, and there we found our midway destination; Rhododendron Island. This is the only really big (has a nice stand of trees) island on this end of the lake. There are 2 developed campsites on the island (nice picnic tables) but camping is no longer allowed out there. It was just too nice a place and got over camped. The 6 of us stopped for a look see on the protected sandy beach on the South West side. Walking toward the trees on the north end we encountered a little stand of blueberry surrounded by nice plump mountain huckleberry. The huckleberries were huge and purple, not the little red ones you get down in the coast range. 

Rhododendron Island

While we were hanging around, resting, and enjoying the sun, another group of kayaks joined us. At first I thought it was another of the OOPS trips that was circumnavigating the lake (counter clockwise) but when they got within 100 yards I could tell it couldn't be our club, no grey hair. It turned out to be 10 or so freshmen enrolled at Lewis and Clark (my Partner's Alma Mater) out on a Freshmen orientation trip. Freshmen Orientation Trip? At MIT all we got was some Senior showing us where the Student Center was and advising us to get over to our temporary dorm and get a room. Not a week of kayak camping in one of the most glorious spots on the planet. Makes me want to go back to school. Except, of course, I couldn't afford it.

Onward. We are now heading around the south end of the lake counter clockwise. The wind is whipping up again, so we hug the coast until we get to a very pleasant little bay. It has a rock beach, but we know how to get out of our kayaks in the shallow water. There is a large flat natural log bench on the beach and we sit in the sun and enjoy our lunches.


My partner has been bugging me (hell, everybody) for the last hour about wanting to get wet. She just wants to go for a swim, to flip her kayak, to have some fun, to GET WET. She is always wanting to be getting out of her boat. She can't stand it anymore and strips down to her suit and goes into the lake. I am much too much of a coward not to join her. We swim out to some local rocks and in general have a good time in the chill (but not too cold) water. Then, since we were already wet, we grabbed the kayaks and she practiced her roll and we both did some bow rescues. You know a bow rescue? This is where you flip over upside down (yes, on purpose) but you stay in your boat (upside down). Your boat won't flood because you are wearing a skirt that seals around your body and around the cowling on your boat. You then lean forward and bang on the bottom of your boat (which is sticking up in the air) and wave your hands in a search pattern hoping against hope that your partner will ram her bow into your boat (and your waving hands) before you run out of air. Such Fun. Oh yes, once you grag the bow, you use that to easily haul yourself upright. Easy Peasy.

Mermaid Attack !!

When the rest of the gang joined us we paddle further south until we come to this very interesting (and perhaps unique) lake feature. There is a man-made and man-plugged tunnel sticking up out of the rock. It has 5 or 6 control handles on it and was clearly made to let water into,....... something... there in the side of the moutain. Turns out it was a strange plan in the early 1900's to use the lake water to run a hydro-electric plant and to provide water for irrigation to the Willamette valley. These engineers drilled a tunnel through a few hundred meters of rock to a little creek on the other side of the hill. They were all poised and ready to go but they couldn't get the funding they needed to complete the project (presumably to install the turbines). Why? Because electricity just wasn't in that high a demand and because the farmers were afraid of getting addicted to someone elses water. So the project was never finished and the forest service eventually cancelled the license and took over the tunnel and sealed it up. Damn good thing too, since someone did the calculations and figured that in one year the tunnel would have lowered the lake by 25 feet and that it would have taken 10 years to fill back up. Just as a reference, 25 feet would have put the tunnel above the level of the lake. So that would have been that.

This next section of the lake was the bluest yet. Such an amazing color. Our group lead said that this was the deepest section of the lake. Wow. Go there. See Blue.

Our next (and last) rest stop was at south beach. A low lying area at the south end that must be down wind most of the time since there was a lot of scum built up right at the edge of the sand. This is where the certifier caught up with us and my partner and I convinced him to take us out to deep enough water and let us do our OOPS certification. Just show him that you can exit your boat with and without the crap strap and assist in your own rescue (which means don't drown while your boat is emptied and then crawl back in whilst your partner holds the things still).

The last picture my camera ever took.

I went first. Why the hell not. Flip right over. Grap the strap. Pop out the other side. Don't bother emptying the boat this time, since I am just going to flip again. So get back in. Roll back over. This time don't use the strap. Just grab the.... well grab the side... grab it and. Crap.... where the frak is the the..... ah....and come rolling out. I guess this is why we practice. Hey. I need a picture of this. I flip my boat back up upright while floating in the water reach up to grab my waterproof case that contains my good camera. My partner will take my picture !! Just hand her my waterproof case that contains.... nothing. It is empty. Where is my........... FRAK FRAK FRAK, my not a bit waterproof camera is in my PFD pocket. And completely swamped. And ruined. Sigh.
This was by far the most expensive kayaking lesson I ever had.
But we finished up. My partner did her dumping (she had my waterproof camera in her pocket) and I rescued her and since the wind was blowing and we are both really wet and tired, and now very cold, we head back for the launch site.

This entry is getting much too long.


The End.

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