Sunday, September 2, 2012

Adventure 35: Lake Helen McKenzie

Great day for an adventure
This adventure is another in a long list of places that I have been wanting to bring Natalie for years. She has visited the lake several times, once when she was about 18 months, and last year with her school class. This lake has given me some of the best trout fishing that I had ever experienced on Vancouver Island, and bringing her here to catch trout and hang out in a beautiful spot in the Comox Valley had to be shared.
It is hard to see, but there is frost on that wood
I warned Natalie the morning of our adventure to pack a sweater. She looked at me like I was nuts. The sun was full out and the house was warming, even at the early hour we were preparing to leave. My warning was how different it will be up on the mountain, the temperature could be drastically colder, and it could rain or the wind could blow with little warning. I even tossed our fleeces into my pack just in case. We hit the Inland Island Highway and soon were climbing the hill to the trail head. I love that the road to Mt. Washington is paved. We have such easy access to this wonderful place. The sun was still bright in the sky, absent of clouds and the heat coming through the car windows was deceiving. Upon parking, we opened the door, and holy smokes, it was so cold. Wow, much chillier than I expected. We could see our breath. After two months of amazing summer weather, this was a system shock. Glad we brought our Merino sweaters.
Our destination
Lake Helen McKenzie is located in Strathcona Provincial Park, British Columbia's first provincial park. Strathcona Park was created in 1911 and is the biggest park on Vancouver Island, at over 250,000 hectares. It contains the highest waterfall in Canada, Della falls, the tallest peak on the island, Golden Hinde, salmon rivers, endangered Vancouver Island marmots, and spans the island from west coast to east coast. Hikes from an hour to week long island crossing, it has something for every skill level and outdoor pursuit. The Forbidden Plateau section of the park is the easiest to access from the Comox Valley. One can either drive to Mt. Washington Alpine Resort or to the old Forbidden Plateau ski area, and hike up the hill. Trails are interwoven this area, accessing many lakes and mountains. My experience with Strathcona has been mostly car based, and I endeavour to spend more time backpacking and checking out some of the lakes and peaks that are within my skill level.
Not afraid of me
Natalie, Dusty and I began walking the wheelchair accessible trail that loops around Paradise Meadows. The crushed gravel and wide wooden bridges are usable for all skill levels, and soon we were turning onto the slightly more challenging trail to Helen McKenzie. This trail can be more muddy, with roots and has some climbs. Many boardwalks are mixed in, and they are a bit sketchy. Twisted from snow and ice, they are slippery when wet. Especially with frost on them. I couldn't believe it. It was actually that cold. We had to be very careful in many places, and I wonder why the Parks has not put expanded metal on these boardwalks, it just seems like this is an injury waiting to happen.
Who is your friend
We arrived at the lake, the surface was like glass, and through the gin clear water on could see the shoals, and I could picture trout swimming around. We had a quick stop at the elevated outhouse, then carried along to the island where I wanted to fish. The island is surrounded by fishy looking shoals and deep water, a perfect blend for trout habitat. The rainbow trout in this lake are strong, hungry and plentiful. Well they were. For some reason I did not have very good luck fishing this day. I tried for over an hour and managed to catch two fish, both of them spitting the hook. I intended on releasing the fish anyways, but wanted Natalie to have a look at one before it went back. The successful fly was a black Doc Spratley cast with a 5 weight flyrod. I tried with a casting fly bubble with a variety of flys, as well as a spinner. I have had days fishing this lake where it was hard to keep the fish off the line. Oh well that is why it is called fishing not catching.
Mt Brooks
Natalie was not very interested in fishing. Right after we arrived, she wanted a snack. She brought out some nut mix and soon the Grey Jays were on us. More commonly known as Whiskey Jacks, these birds are very friendly and not afraid of humans. They just want to eat. Pictures with a Whiskey Jack standing on your hand are a customary souvenir of a trip to Mt. Washington. I suggested bringing a container full of hulled raw sunflower seeds for the birds because it was a given that they would be around. She had so much fun with her feathered friends. She had names for all to them, she knew their personalities. Grub, Fi, Bebe, and so many more names that I can not remember. It was very cute. She sat with them and fed all the seeds. When she moved to come and watch me fish, the birds followed.
Look at the rod loading
She was observing me using my flyrod, and asked if she could try. Absolutly! I gave a few instructions on how a fly rod works, how to hold it and the concept of casting the line not the rod. She gave it a whirl for quite a while. I was impressed that she could pick the line up off the water, bring the rod back and launch it forward. I will have to bring her to a field somewhere and let her cast along side me and give a proper lesson. I was pretty excited and proud that she wanted to try. I will have a fly fishing buddy soon. I mentioned that next summer she can spend her holidays tying flies for us. She will learn the Gartley Poacher.
She looks like a pro
We ate lunch and had to get moving. I promised to have her home by 4 so she could be picked up to go camping for the weekend with her mom. The day had warmed up significantly and was much more pleasant, although the boardwalks were still slippery in places where the sun had not hit. The frost was gone, but the wood was slick with moisture. One thing about packing fishing rods around up there is that everyone who you cross paths with asks about the fishing, did you catch any, there is fish in that lake, oh man I got tired of answering those questions. I saw several backpackers hiking in with rods strapped to their packs so I don't think that fishing the lakes of Forbidden Plateau is some sort of secret. To get Natalie to walk faster I started to poke her in the back with my rod butt. Then tried kicking her playfully. She found these games fun and it made her feet move faster. It has been my biggest challenge in this endeavour to get her to move her feet. She just loves to saunter, talk, play with stuff, very distracted. This is probably a good thing, and I have no figured out how to balance her natural curiosities and my motivation to get to where we need to be. If we had unlimited time, her pace would be fine, there usually is some reason that we have to be back.
Her buddies, I bet she knows their names
Both of us had a really great time on the mountain. It is such a beautiful place with so much to see. As Natalie grows we will probably have many adventures hiking the meadows and peaks in Strathcona, exploring as the original surveyors did over 100 years ago. Find Adventure.

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