The moment I decided to head out on the first paddle of the season, I had a frantic urge to get on the water as soon as possible – like a horse rearing to bolt out of the confines of its corral for a trail ride after a long bout of poor weather. Plus it was getting late in the day by the time I had the car packed up with the gear.
For several years I had in the back of my mind the idea to explore where the Ghost River enters the reservoir. Today was the day to check it out. My goal was to paddle as far upstream as possible – wading and lining if required – and maybe practice paddling strokes in a few eddies, then run a rapid or two back down into the reservoir. I brought rubber boots for wading.
I wasn’t sure how much ice I would find on Ghost Reservoir. I was fortunate to discover it was mostly ice-free. This was not surprising considering the above-average warm weather we had this spring. The temperature had hardly dipped below freezing since mid-March, and crocuses were blooming in the last week of March, a few weeks earlier than usual.
It took a while to recalibrate my brain to adjust to my 20 pound weight gain over the winter, which made the canoe feel noticeably more tippy than last summer. Plus I hadn’t paddled since June last year!
Paddling along the shore I reached a dead-end of open water – and had to backtrack to get around the ice. The ice was too thick to break through and I doubted it was thick enough to portage across.
I was surrounded by the music of melting ice, which sounded like distant, ultra-high-pitched wind chimes. Shafts of sunlight streaked into the dark evergreen forest along the nearest shore, illuminating patches of green moss.
Quietly entering the Ghost River I managed to paddle to within 5 meters of a muskrat, the closest range I can recall managing in recent history, but it was too quick for me to photograph. I wasn’t in a hurry, as a kayaker had entered the river ahead of me and I didn’t want to catch up with him.
Around each bend I watched for evidence of current. I continued further than I expected before encountering the first rapid and sudden velocity coming at me. I went on shore to scout the rapid.
The rapid was very shallow (maybe 30 cm max depth) and fast flowing. There was no way I could paddle against the current. I saw the kayaker relaxing just upstream of the first rapid, so I decided to take a snack break in the sun on shore and wait for him to head back before lining the canoe upstream.
Eventually the kayaker floated past, later than I would have liked, and we chatted briefly. It was his first paddle of the season as well.
The canoe proved more difficult than I expected to line upstream. The water near shore was rocky and too shallow to float the boat, so I had to wade into the deeper current where it was difficult to keep my footing. I proudly managed to make it past the first rapid without falling in, although there was a close call or two.
Just upstream of the first rapid there was a small side-pool, out of the current, which I paddled into. I planned to beach and remove some gear to see if I could paddle further upstream and practice some eddy turns.
I was moving quickly because by now it was getting late in the day and I was running out of available daylight hours. As I was reaching behind me to pull a pack onto shore, I suddenly found myself losing balance and in the water with flailing splash! Fortunately the water was only thigh deep, but damn it was cold! I was wet from the chest down from water that still had ice in it.
I quickly brought the gear on shore and removed my quick-dry pants so I could ring them out. I changed into a dry shirt I fortunately had packed along. I dumped the water out of the canoe and let the pants dry out in the sun and light breeze. I quickly downed some calories to fuel the reheating of my cold-shocked body, and drank some warm tea from the thermos.
By now the sun was within an hour or two of dipping below the sides of the valley. I was running out of time for practicing some eddy turns and the cold water shock drained a lot of my energy.
After the pants were half-dry I reloaded the boat and paddled out to try the eddy a few times – but immediately realized this was not a safe place for practicing strokes. While the eddy line looked great, it was created by a pile of rocks that created a large strainer. Being alone and not on my game after the cold water dump, it was clear it was time to head back, rather than pin myself underwater on a strainer.
Without any further stops I paddled directly back to the car. I passed 2 or 3 paddlers in inflatable kayaks and one motorboat along the way. Otherwise the lake was quiet, much quieter than a hot summer day.
Overall the paddle was a success – and a bit more refreshing than I planned!