Paddling Maligne Lake

Posted by Robert N Pruden on Jul 31, 2007

Paddling Maligne Lake in 2007

I first paddled Maligne Lake during June 2005 with my kayaking buddy, Elliot. Maligne Lake is surrounded by some very inspiring alpine beauty found within the boundaries of Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada. Well, Elliot has since fulfilled his northern fantasies by moving to Anchorage, Alaska, where he hunts and kayaks to his hearts desire when he isn¡¯t working for the large oil company that hired him. Me¡­I stay here in Edmonton where I continue to squeeze in what little paddling time that I can find in-between the self-inflicted drudge hours of sweat labour I do while working two jobs, sometimes, it feels, simultaneously.

The weekend of July 21-23 was time I planned for myself. I¡¯ve been running dog-tired lately as I struggle with eliminating business start-up debt and finishing the legal ends of my divorce. Many of the people who I know, are away on weeks-long vacations while I carry on doing what I do best: bustin¡¯ butt for other people. Well, dammit, now it¡¯s my time and my time it is. I got my weekend extended by one day by taking Monday off as a holiday and I made the best of it.

Sunday was the day that I paddled Jarvis Lake with my friend, Marianne. Paddling Jarvis Lake was not on the agenda for the weekend but since we are both relatively open to new paddling experiences, we opted for this spur of the moment excursion. The day went well and you would know that if you either read my trip report or at least examined the many images that I took during that trip.

Monday¡¯s trip along the full length of Maligne Lake was even better not so much for the time spent on the water but for the alpine setting and incredible water color. Especially important to me was that we managed to paddle all the way to the south end of the lake. Back in 2005 when I did this paddle with Elliot, we fell short of the entire distance due to uncertainty regarding changing weather patterns. Today would be different, and I would learn more about weather patterns along the length of Maligne Lake.

I packed minimal camping gear for this trip but I made sure to bring along some red wine, snacks and coffee. I didn¡¯t want to waste time cooking meals so I convinced Marianne that we would eat in Jasper, Alberta, only two kilometres from the Wapiti campsite where we stayed. Apparently, she isn¡¯t mad about the idea of camp cooking and dish washing so she readily agreed to eat in town. The red wine served us both very well, like a good dose of pain-killing medicine. It dulled the muscle pain we both felt after paddling for 11-hrs through all weather conditions from sunny skies to horizontal rain and drove us straight into REMville as soon as our heads hit the bags. Not surprisingly, we built a fire only during the first night of camping; we were too tired to do so after the Maligne Lake run when combined with the red wine.

Maligne is the largest glacial-fed lake in the Canadian Rockies and second largest in the world after Baikal, in Russia. It is 22.5 kms long if you paddle straight along its length. If you do what I generally do and doddle along the shoreline, taking time to breathe and photograph birds, beasts, flowers and whatever looks interesting, well, the paddling distance increases considerably, as does the time spent on the water. It¡¯s maximum depth approaches something like 93 meters. Maligne Lake is an oligotrophic lake, which has low nutrient concentrations and low plant growth. It is, however, a source of brook and rainbow trout, which can get as large as 20 lbs and yes, that is trophy size at world record standards. GPS coordinates for the lake are 52¡ã38¡äN 117¡ã30¡äW for anyone who desires to Google Earth its location. I took underwater photographs at different locations of the lake so that you can see how the color changes from somewhat green/blue to swimming pool blue. Interestingly, the level of glacial silt was considerably higher (by sight and taste, of course) this year than during my 2005 paddle. The silt adds a pasty white coloration to the lake and does indeed affect the waters appearance and taste.

When we got to the put-in point at the north end of the lake, we spotted two fine looking horses grazing next to the road going down to the boat launch area. One horse had a cowbell tied around its neck. I believe these two horses belong to the park ranger who works in the area. The horses seem to be allowed to roam freely around the north end of the lake so it¡¯s my guess that they are wily animals when it comes to the local mountain predators. The bell-less horse was fairly vibrating with energy as we watched it. It was frisky and stamping around like it was ready to run the Kentucky Derby.

Marianne¡¯s kayak is a Carolina 14, one of those tougher composite plastic kayaks that can take quite a beating. She has sold (transfer of ownership in late October) it in favor of spending the winter building her first wooden boat, a Waters Dancing Solace (length uncertain). I have considerably with Marianne about building and have convinced her that it is easier than it looks, especially if she is building from a kit, where all the panels are ready-cut and only need competent assembly. I¡¯m arranging to have a 4-yr old when the need for competence is necessary. It¡¯s my bet that I spend some of my days off this coming winter in her basement coaching her through some of the more risk-taking building stages.

Marianne and I launched the kayaks under dubious weather conditions at 1000h. Clouds hung low over cooler air that barely moved on the lake. The air temperature was not lower than 14 C my best guess) but because of impending rain, it felt cooler. I got the VJ onto the water after Marianne and no sooner did I launch then it started to rain but only lightly. Marianne was fairly well excited to be out there. She paddles the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton often, way more often than I do, and wanted to be out here on Maligne Lake ever since I told her about my trip with Elliot back in 2005. Well, today she got to fulfill her Maligne Lake cravings, as did I. As you can see from the images that I linked to this write up, initially weather conditions looked misty, gray and cool. There was some thin fog over the water but most of the gray came from the low hanging cloud cover; it sure didn¡¯t come from my spirits, they were high and ready to challenge whatever was blown my way. It wasn¡¯t long before the sun found a few cracks between the clouds to warm us with its beams.

No sooner did we start paddling before one of the familiar tour boats came charging toward the north shore where the Maligne Tours, Ltd. docks are located. See the web link to check out their site: For those of you who can¡¯t kayak this magnificent lake, I would strongly suggest that you ride one of the tour boats; the trip is well worth taking. I actually don¡¯t mind when one or two of these boats speeds by while I am on the water. They kick up such a wake that I can surf right across the lake on some fairly good-sized swells. I lucked out at one point and caught some good wave action when two boats passed by each other heading in opposing directions. I managed to surf for roughly 200 meters before slamming the VJ sideways onto the rocky shore. I opted to hit the shore because the last twenty or so feet before the waves hit the shore was where they really kicked up to add an interesting ending to the surfing. The graphite-coated hull of the VJ was merely lightly scratched by the pebbly shore. Ah, quit rolling your eyes, y¡¯all should know me well by now so this kind of behavior is to be expected. Hey, at least I didn¡¯t spot a bear swimming across the lake and try to catch it - been there-done that ;). I did manage to ¡°try¡± to surf a corkscrew wave that rolled off the back of one of the tour boats. I couldn¡¯t keep control of the VJ as she was swept first one way then another. I am not sure how these waves form from the wake of the tour boats but they were interesting to watch and a good workout to try to surf.

If you take a quick glance at all the images I took that appear to have only color on them without any defined images, those are the underwater images that I took to show the color changes as I moved further along the length of the lake. The first image (kinda greeny/bluey) was taken just minutes after launching at the north end of the lake. The next one was taken after about two hours of paddling or 1/3rd the way toward the south of the lake. The next was taken at the Narrows, where the lake pinches to width of only about 100 meters and color change is most noticeable.

Now, near the Narrows, Maligne Lake contains a World Heritage site called Spirit Island. It is basically a spit of land separated from the mainland by a very minor gravel/rock bar that is barely covered by water. I know yer all gonna sit back and hiss at me for what I am about to tell ya but I couldn¡¯t help myself. I took bread, cheese and the aforementioned red wine onto this island of spirituality and committed several sacrileges, I mean, aside from desecrating the island: I planted my tired, stinky, sweaty butt and body on its holy shores, ate, drank and smirked at the tourists who paid in time and money to ride the tour boats for 90 minutes just to discover old me dropping crumbs all over the sacred stony shore. I even deigned to posture like the queen waving to all her loyal subjects as digital flashes intervened upon the natural light of the day. And you know what the worst of it was: I was having fun doing it all. Hee! Hee! There is no cure for some people, ya know! J I think the kayaks impressed the tourists and I believe they liked my hat. I know they would have deleted their images had they been standing to close to me: I stank and I knew it.

I am not going to say much more about the paddle today. We made it to the end of the lake where I photographed flowers, rocks and Marianne who tried to avoid being recognized. The images have descriptions that add to this write-up and I am already getting too wordy for a trip that was relatively uneventful, except during the horizontal rain during which the battery for my camera died. I know Jesper Bach (and family) - Denmark, Guillemot member) was going to be in British Columbia and I did hope to connect with him at Maligne Lake but that appears not to have been possible.

One last note to make here is that the battery for my camera died during the last hour of the paddle. There was an amazing rainbow that formed after a particularly heavy rainsquall and incredibly, the rainbows beginning was just 200 meters from my kayak on the shore ¨C I could see through it into the forest so easily. The rainbow had a translucent solidity to it. No, there was obviously no pot of gold but the intensity was such that I could have easily photographed it. You know, the ¡°dead battery when I really needed it¡± scenario has happened to me many times before. I am just going to have to break down and spend the dollars to get at least two more so that I don¡¯t miss such amazing photo opportunities. I hate when that happens but I just can¡¯t help taking lots of pictures because it¡¯s so easy and cheap with a digital camera. My main problem with buying new batteries is that I also priced out a new battery for the motorcycle; $267 CAD, plus tax. Not sure what to do now but I want to do a long motorcycle trip sans kayak to visit my sister in BC ANNNNDdddd I want to do a kayak trip on salt water some time later this year.

I¡¯ll have to think of some kind of solution to my financial insecurities. Aha! I¡¯ve got it! My solution is this: I am now taking donations for the ¡°Save Rob¡¯s Sanity Charity Fund¡±. If you donate, I promise to post great pictures of me posturing in a semi-clad, kind of muddy state of inebriation somewhere near the beach campsite that has great scenery. I¡¯ll also toss in a trip report based on actual the facts of what I can remember and also of what I have to make up to help it sound more adventurous than a binge weekend.

Robert N Pruden July 31, 2007

Honest, I didn't mean to desecrate a World Heritage Site