Canoeing Up Lake Chelan

10/17 to 10/22/14′ – When you sit in a canoe all day for 6 straight days you learn a few things about this timeless style of exploration.  Here are a few things Grete and I picked up while paddling up the 55 mile-long Lake Chelan in late October:

1. Canoeing is like backpacking on water.  You have a maximum speed you can achieve — and that is as fast as it gets.  Also, your shoulders are going to be sore… very sore.  A strong sense of perseverance is essential.

2. Canoes are relatively dry.  Considering that we were rained on 4.5 out of the 6 days we spent on the trip. And, in contrast to other water-travel-focused activities such as rafting, kayaking, tubing, and swimming, it is dry (so long as you don’t flip).

3. Canoes are brilliantly social.  Throughout the day our conversations ebbed and flowed naturally.  It was an easy way to pass the time and forget about paddling.

4. Even very amateur canoeists can conquer a multi-day trip.  Grete had (probably) never canoed before attempting this glorious adventure.  Also, a loaded canoe is far more stable than we thought.

5. Canoe camping is all about the luxury items.  Cooler? Of course. 10 days worth of food? Why not?  Two stoves… sure! Next time, I plan to bring more because you simply have space and it doesn’t slow you down.

Well anyways, I’m sure there is plenty more that Grete and I learned but I ought to move on to the adventure.  We concocted this idea while driving back from CO — with Grete’s ankle resting on ice.  After a wonderful wedding celebration for the new Dave and Julia Reed, we were unsure of the ability to put her freshly sprained ankle through 2+ weeks of bikepacking in Oregon, and so we racked our brains for a non-leg focused adventure to supplement our outdoor cravings.  The idea of sea kayaking came up, then slowly evolved into canoeing and the idea stuck.

When the time came to head east to attempt the week-long vacation into the North Cascades, we rallied over to my family’s old cabin on Lake Chelan to rest up.  That evening we borrowed a beautiful vintage aluminum canoe from friends at Kelly’s Resort, and got Grete her (possibly) first canoe-paddling experience on the short paddle back to the cabin.  The unloaded canoe’s stability (or lack there of) brought concern to Grete, but she was confident that packing it might help… And thankfully it did.

We loaded Gwendolyn, the canoe, up the next morning and set off to cover roughly 80 miles of the lake (40 to the top of the lake, a village called Stehekin, from our cabin and 40 back down) over the next week.  From then on we spent the majority of each day paddling, talking, taking in the remote scenery, and trying to keep dry.  We camped at five different boat-in only campgrounds along the lakeshore: Safety Harbor, Prince Creek (crawling with bears apparently), Weaver Point, Domke Falls, and Coral Creek. During the six days, we came in contact with only two other human beings (bear hunters), even with brief stops in both Stehekin and Lucerne, and saw only a couple of boats pass by each day.  The slow pace and unexpected remoteness really grew a new appreciation for Lake Chelan within both of us.  This adventure is not one I will soon forget.  Here are some pictures from the excursion!

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4 thoughts on “Canoeing Up Lake Chelan

  1. Great trip report! I found this through a Google search because I’m considering taking a group of Boy Scouts (ages 14-17) on a similar, albeit shorter, canoeing adventure on Lake Chelan next July. I’ve never been to Lake Chelan before and after reading some other information about it I’m concerned about the possibility of wind problems. Sounds like the wind can be pretty strong at times and create 2-3 foot swells, which I imagine would be difficult, if not impossible, for inexperienced boys to canoe in. I was wondering if you had any problems with the wind and if you think I should be concerned about it or not.

    1. We only really fought wind on our last day, but it certainly was a deuzy! I’d be cautious about wind as well as potential open water crossings (because Lake Chelan is rather deep). Considering the boys – if they’re the adventurous types – I’d guess that they’d do fine!

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